If you’ve ever worked behind a bar in Newport, Rhode Island, you’ve answered these questions before. “Where do I go?” “What do we do?” “Where do we eat?” It’s like clockwork. I find myself making a list for guests almost on a nightly basis in the summertime, which I actually enjoy doing contrary to popular belief.
I take a lot of pride in where I live and I enjoy traveling when I can to explore new places and see new things. In a world filled with diluted review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, I’d much rather give a guest a recommendation that is not seduced by cruise ship tourists or aggressive advertisers. What does that 5 star review truly mean? There are restaurants in town that I have learned to love that have moderate review averages at best but I still share them with others because that’s where I enjoy going on a day off. I know that when I travel, I’d much rather seek the advice of a local bartender than turn my attention to my phone and fumble through a bunch of review sites trying to find a cool place to get a cold beer.
Take Benjamin’s Raw Bar for example. If you live or work in town, you love Benjamin’s. It’s a local dive that isn’t a dive. It’s got a great neighborhood atmosphere, good food for a better price and it’s a bit rough around the edges at times. Benjamin’s is not for everyone, I think we all know that and if you ever need a good laugh, read the Yelp reviews (seriously, there are some hilarious reads). Many of those reviews are authored by guests who do not understand the establishment and it’s unfortunate because others may write it off because another spot may have one more star online. But, at the end of the day it’s Benjamin’s and I love it and I will continue to recommend it to the right kind of guest.
Then there’s the couple who’s in town for a few days. They’re away from the kids and want a nice spot to go out to dinner without having to wear a tuxedo and drink $15 Coors Lite bottles. There are so many great date night spots around town and some of my favorites include Fifth Element, Stoneacre Pantry, Fluke and Perro Salado. The atmosphere, food and service at all these establishments are perfect for a nice night out without breaking the bank.
I’ve eaten at Fifth Element twice this week and still want to go back to check out some more of Chef Marina’s new menu items. Conveniently, I live next door but I love the atmosphere that Fifth gives off and always feel comfortable there. You like cheese, charcuterie, French wines and spectacular service? Check out Stoneacre. You like a cool, hip, Mexican restaurant with great cocktails that’s situated in an old 19th house? Check out Perro. You want to catch a killer sunset over Bowen’s wharf while enjoying fresh local seafood and craft cocktails? Check out Fluke. It’s important that you feel out your guests when making a recommendation. Some couples enjoy different types of cuisine and are welcomingly adventurous. Other couples just want fish n’ chips and a Budweiser. Finding out your patrons’ interests and preferences will only help you to serve them better.
Activities. This is an easy one in the summer months and not necessarily so easy in the fall. Thankfully, Newport holds its fair share of events and festivals to keep things active in the offseason. The Bowen’s Wharf Seafood festival is one of my mother’s favorite weekends of the year here in town. The upcoming winter events like the tree lighting, holidays at the mansions, the opening of the skating center and the inaugural debut of the Newport Holiday Stroll (an editorial about this wonderful event is coming early next week!) will make it easy to guide your guests in the right direction during these fall and winter months.
Summertime is easy for recommending activities. Take a hike around Cliff Walk, rent a scooter and go around Ocean Drive, check out the beaches, go for a sail with 12 Meter Charters. All are very straightforward choices yet extremely rewarding experiences for people new to Newport. When making a suggestion, you don’t always need to hit it out of the park. Rather, find something that will interest your guests or something they’ve never done before. Last Fall, I sent a couple from Idaho to try some oysters and go for a Save The Bay seal watch tour. They loved their time in Newport so much that they returned almost exactly a year later for a second trip and came into Midtown to thank me personally. Little things like that can go a long way. Although it’s commonplace for someone who lives in Newport, it’s outstanding for someone who’s visiting.
When I first started bartending, I worked with a gentleman who was as bright a bartender that you’ll ever meet. This gentlemen taught at RISD and worked part-time as a bartender for supplemental income. He was extremely clever, always remembered his guests’ preferences and knew exactly what was happening in sports, politics, movies, etc.
He taught me that being behind a bar is so much more than pouring drinks. He would say, “you’re not just a bartender, you’re also a weatherman, a journalist, a politician and a sportscaster. You’re there when needed and invisible when not.” I’ll never forget the lessons he instilled on me while I was a young college student and think of his simple techniques quite often. He taught me how important it is to stay in the loop as to what’s happening around the city so when a guest asks, you’re able to answer.
WhatsUpNewp is a valuable resource for those in the community who are looking to keep up with what’s happening in our City by the Sea. Ryan Belmore, owner and editor or the website, spends a significant amount of time researching and does a great job in putting together live music listings, updating festivals and calendar happenings, articulating when city meetings are being held, etc. Having constant access to information about local events is one of the most valuable assets I’ve garnered since I started writing for the company back in May.
Next time someone asks you where they should go or what they should do, take a minute and think, “What if I were visiting their hometown?” before writing them off and sending them to a tourist trap. Instead, take the opportunity and provide them with a handful of places you’ve learned to love here in Newport. It’s more rewarding than it seems.
Tyler is a local hospitality professional, bartending at Midtown Oyster Bar Wednesday through Sunday nights on the Burgee Bar and at Caleb&Broad on Monday nights for their award winning $10 entree dinner special.
Tyler is a graduate of Providence College and a true Rhode Islander, born and bred.
Email him at TylerBernadyn@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram at @tylerbernadyn.