It was a particularly violent storm. And a television news crew was filming the wind and rain on a small strip of beach in front of the Ocean Mist bar when the camera panned up to the deck.
There stood regular Edgar Logee, looking none too concerned about the howling sea below. The reporter's question was almost inevitable: Aren't you afraid the pub will collapse and wash away?
"See those piles," Logee responded, gesturing toward the wooden beams that extend from the porch down into the sand. "They go straight to hell — and the devil is hanging on."
Few of Rhode Island's houses of sin inspire the allegiance that attaches to the Ocean Mist, a gloriously run-down watering hole in the South Kingstown village of Matunuck that offers up live reggae, pool, and no great assurance that it will remain upright.
The place is solid for now, no doubt. But the long-term prognosis isn't good: the beach at its foot is eroding worse than any stretch of shoreline in all of southern New England.
Kevin Finnegan, who has owned the bar since 1988, stood on the sand on a recent Friday evening and reached in vain for the deck a dozen feet above; around the time he bought the place, he told me, the degenerates on the porch could pass down drinks with no trouble at all.
The precise cause of the erosion is a matter of debate. Scientists suggest everything from global-warming-related sea rise to an unusually large collection of natural, underwater chutes ferrying sand far out to sea.
After a night of intense field research, I have my own theory about the fate of beach materiel.
One woman, a bit unsteady, told me she recently passed out beneath the deck and awoke with a ball of seaweed in her hand and piles of sand in her pockets. I call it the "Jack Daniel's effect." I've got a call in to Save the Bay.
Drunken disregard for the elements, it seems, is a defining feature of the Ocean Mist crowd. And no wonder.
Staffers ply the regulars with beer and whiskey, of course. But they also serve up a devastating concoction named after the apparently demented bartender who created it; the "Mary Ann" combines Bailey's, Kahlua, Jameson, butterscotch schnapps, vanilla vodka, double espresso vodka, chocolate syrup, and a touch of iced coffee.
I wasn't about to surrender to her dark seductions on this night. Not with Satan looking over my shoulder. But I had to know what double espresso vodka tasted like. And after a shot and a beer, I approached a few bargoers to ask what draws them to the Mist — night after night — in the face of certain aquatic doom.
Jay Barry, a poet and painter from Providence in tortoise shell glasses, was rather blunt about the appeal of the place: "I come here to dance, to drink, and later, to fuck."
His friend Christine Casey of Wakefield, a regular since 1989, spoke to her own base inducements: women — and a handful of men skilled in the arts of crossdressing — once drank for free on Tuesday nights until 10 pm, she said.