There’s been talk of how Ships Lounge—the infamous dive that closed last year and reopened in July under new ownership—has changed. But when my friends and I walked in on a recent Monday night, it all looked pretty familiar, from the crackly neon sign out front to the ripped-up fabric along the bar, where two equally well-worn men sat nursing Bud Lights. The bald bartender barely lifted his eyes, and it was dead quiet until we played “Turn the Page” on the jukebox. There was, however, one fundamental change: booze. As in: you didn’t have to schlep liquor from home or make do with beer or wine. The bartender poured me a Bulleit and Coke, emptying the last dregs of the bottle into my glass. “Good ’til the last drop,” the old man to my right said with a laugh.
When I asked the bartender what he thought of Ships in its latest incarnation, he shrugged. “I’d never heard of this place before,” he said. “But every so often, people still try to bring liquor in. I have to tell them the rules have changed.”
“It’s just not the same,” pouted my blond friend, a fan of the original Ships’ bring-your-own-liquor policy. Also: there’s a fancy upstairs seating section now.
“Careful,” the bartender said as we ascended the wooden steps. “It’s haunted up there. Some lady killed her husband. And herself.”
The upstairs didn’t seem haunted, but it was like being in a different place entirely—an immaculate, nautical-themed seating area, fashioned to look like a captain’s cabin.
And actually, it wasn’t a bad place to hang out. We emptied a few glasses of liquor each, grooved to the throwback jukebox tunes, and watched as the still delightfully divey bar downstairs filled up. Soon a rowdy crowd was shooting pool, drinking beer, and yelling the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” when it came on the jukebox.
There’s no denying it: Ships is different now. But, we decided, it’s kind of the same, too.