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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Road Trip: Poe's Tavern

Another entry in the bossman's travelogue, this one on the topic of—you guessed it—bars. We're beginning to see a pattern here.

By Steve Siciliano

During our vacation in South Carolina’s Low Country we spent a few days investigating several of the Sea Islands that lie off the coast. The natural beauty of the salt marshes, dunes and shell-covered beaches was a nice counterbalance to our excursions into Charleston and Savannah. If we happened to stumble upon a good bar, a lighthouse, or a historical location it was a serendipitous bonus.

On Sullivan’s Island we un-expectantly found and then explored Fort Moultrie. Built in 1776 to protect the port of Charleston, it was the site of battles during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The fort also was where a young artillery sergeant and unknown writer named Edgar Allen Poe had been stationed in the early 1800’s. A few miles away from the fort in the beach town of Sullivan’s Island we stopped at a bar that is honoring Poe’s literary legacy.

I have a slight antipathy for bars that feed off the fame of dead writers. Sloppy Joe’s in Key West and the Floridita in Havana, both favorite Hemingway haunts, are nice enough places if you enjoy hanging out with like-minded tourists. I've been to both, have enjoyed perusing their framed Hemingway memorabilia and even had my picture taken with the life-size statue of Papa leaning against the bar in the Floridita. But because they have morphed from idiosyncratic watering holes into commercial shrines I have no desire to return to either. Nor, I suspect, would Hemingway.

Poe’s Tavern somehow succeeds at avoiding this. Despite the restroom walls that are plastered with pages from Poe’s works, despite an eerie portrait of the famous writer painted on the brick fireplace, despite the fact that menu items are named after his poems and short stories, the tavern seems to be a tribute to Poe’s genius more than an exploitation of his fame. And while I’m sure that a good percentage of the tavern‘s clientele is comprised of tourists, I have no doubt that its popularity is due more to the excellent food and solid beer list.

We liked the food and beer so much that we returned two days later. I don’t think Hemingway today would be comfortable having a drink at Sloppy Joe’s or the Floridita. But I can easily imagine an intense fellow with haunting eyes sitting alone at a table in Poe’s, having a pint, and penning a horrifying tale.

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