The value of a good bartender

There is a tavern on the shores of Bois Blanc Island, Michigan that feels like home.  Barb’s Boblo Tavern is a meeting place for island folks where I can hear the surf of
Lake Huron and drinking is not required, but encouraged.  What are island folks?  Well, the island is a different sort of place and likewise attracts many of the uncommon characters in my novel life story.  There are year-rounders, usually about 60 of them, which live and work on the island and travel to the mainland over an ice bridge in the winter.  There are the seasonal islanders, most of which can tell you stories about their ancestor’s primitve adventures on the island.  Looking for a unique perspective?  Head over to Barb’s and I guarantee you will find one that has nothing to do with your rung on the income ladder and everything to do with your philosophy.  There are more interesting stories to be told within this small population than there are bar hours to hear them, many rich with the history of the island which was opened to settlers in 1884 .  The seclusion from mainstream America lends itself to conversations that simply are not heard in polite company (the best kind), yet people have no problem bringing their kids to the tavern for dinner and a game of pool or shuffleboard.  We all just try to limit the cussing when kids are there.

Barb Schlund, the owner of the Boblo Tavern, has created a comfortable place where someone will offer to drive you to your cabin if they see you have imbibed too much and are unlikely to keep your truck between the trees, and new visitors are welcomed like old friends, at least until they prove themselves non-island material by asking, “what is there to do here?”.  There is no sense in making friends with them because they will not be back.  What there is to do is evident to islanders that appreciate the over 30 square miles of undeveloped forest and dirt roads, many of which are only tracks, and it is not shopping.  Our friend, Dan Reynolds, is a singer/songwriter who also plays the guitar and created a CD of island songs titled This Ain’t the Mainland.    My favorite is “Ring that bell”,  a ditty about a red bell in the tavern that sports a sign “Ring the bell, buy the house a round”.  We are fortunate that Dan is a true islander that plays at the tavern without charging us a dime, because he loves being a part of the fabric of Bois Blanc.  Even if he became famous, he would still play at Barb’s and graciously take requests from drunkards that sometimes ask him to play The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald more than once in an evening (sorry, Dan).

My husband and I have been the only islanders in the tavern and have been two in a crowd of dozens, yet received the same excellent service from a team of bartenders that somehow maintain a laid-back friendly demeanor even when rushing to insure no one runs dry and the food is delivered hot and timely.  Barb is a demanding boss whose
team of bartenders says they love their work because they love her and because she works as hard, if not harder, than they do.  From the expansive menu to the anything-but-weak drinks, her attention to detail is as obvious as her desire to provide her patrons with a clean, inviting place to swap stories.  This past Saturday we, along with approximately forty other people, watched the Michigan State versus Michigan NCAA football game at the Boblo tavern.  Barb and Jen fed us while keeping our drinks full, all without breaking a sweat.  They even visited with many, not out of a sense of good business, but just because they seem to genuinely like their customers.  Barb and her team have taught me that the value of a good bartender reaches far beyond serving drinks, into the familiar ground of caring.  A simple gesture – Barb giving me her bar stool earlier this summer when the bar was packed and standing room only – is only one of many that have led me to love Barb, Jen, Courtney, Tom, and Lani, the most talented, fun-loving, and genuine bartenders/island folks I have ever met. 

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