It is Saturday night at the Lincoln Bar & Grille in East Providence and Big Bill is in firm command of the room. He's the kind of guy known in these parts as "funny as a bastard." Flirts with the women. Zings the men.
Best known for spinning records and running karaoke nights, Bill is — on this night — overseeing an event more peculiar to Rhode Island: a lobster and meat raffle designed to benefit the local little league and booze up the barflys.
The seafood and beef sit on two pool tables, pushed together. The bar patrons stand shoulder to shoulder with cocktails in hand and fists filled with raffle tickets. And behind the bar — a huge, figure eight-shaped monster — a blonde woman shows off the small of her back while grilling burgers and making gobbler sandwiches in the short order kitchen.
It's just a few days until Thanksgiving and Bill is in appropriate attire: a felt turkey hat atop his head. He has the energy to crack jokes but not enough to get off his stool.
He starts off small: a raffle for $5 bills is hardly a morsel compared to the toddler-sized lobsters up for grabs later. It gets the crowd warmed up, though, and Big Bill finds his stride. "Five dollars!" he says. "Good for beer money, pot money, crystal meth money. What do you want from me? I got my head up a turkey's ass."
The crowd goes wild.
"He's a riot. What a character," says a man to my right in his late 50s. He's drinking Bud Light and nodding along to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as it weakly pours from a distant jukebox. This is his first time at the raffle. If he wins a lobster he'll take it back home to Attleboro and eat it with friends around his backyard fire pit.
Along with the leviathan lobsters and Fred Flintstone prime ribs, the Lincoln is also raffling off an HDTV, turkey fryer, and several gift baskets. Every penny of the raffle profits will go to the Riverside Little League.
The bar has been holding charity raffles every winter for some 50 years. At this raffle alone, it will raise hundreds — if not thousands — for the young athletes living in one of the state's most cash-strapped towns.
And the men and women at the helm have fun doing it. "Don't forget we're open on Thanksgiving," Big Bill says after reading off a winning ticket number. "After spending all day with your family you know you'll need a drink."
At one end of the bar, two older women drink white wine with plastic cups filled with ice on the side — an instant chiller, should the need arise. A bartender asked about the bar's wine selection says the Bar & Grille carries "Pinot George-io."
On the other end, one of the tavern's more seasoned barkeeps is taking shit from some customers. It's playful and harmless, and she tosses a few ice cubes at them. One of the men picks up a cube as if to throw it back. She pulls her top down enough to give him a clear shot at her ample breasts.
"Go ahead," she says. "I'm sweating."