Tavern in 1896 barn serves up cheap eats

One evening last week, we – five retired Record editors and soon-to-be Williams alumni – were in search of an evening of good food in a casual, but appropriately tasteful atmosphere. Heading down Route 7 towards Five Corners, we decided to stop by the 1896 House and try out the recently-opened Colonel Bullock’s Tavern, located in the hotel’s large pink barn. The tavern offers two menus, a rather pricey restaurant menu and a much more student-friendly budget tavern menu. After consulting our wallets, we opted for the latter.

The decor was very New England and masculine, feeling like a Nordic hunting lodge. Cast in deep, dark and woody colors, a pleasantly oversized circular bar with all the normal accessories dominated the tavern. The restaurant was very homey, with large, comfortable chairs instead of the rickety, Shaker-esque kind normally associated with dark, cavernous restaurants that one finds in pink, lofty converted barns.

As for the actual dining experience, it fell into the average-to-good range. They have Berkshire Brewing Company’s (BBC) pale ale and porter on tap, the latter a rather unique occurrence even for the local area. Ever the Californian, Dan managed to give up wine for a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

After perusing the classic tavern menu (in which every price inexplicably ended with ._6), we opted to complement our drinks with apple and corn fritters ($.36 each), buffalo chicken tenders ($5.26) and nachos ($3.96), or at least we thought we did. The nachos came as promised, were quickly gobbled up, and were, on the whole, decent, although Dave said they were not “worth a special trip” like some nachos he’s had in Boston. The cherry tomatoes were a nice touch along with the standard cheese, olives and jalapeños. The fritters, included with the entrées in the restaurant, drew mixed, but generally positive reviews. Due to a foul-up in the kitchen, some other table ended up with our chicken tenders, and we agreed to take their hot wings in exchange. According to the meat eaters, the wings seemed standard and the sauce may have come from a bottle. Surprisingly, Dan assessed them as pretty good – postmodern, even – while Mark, hailing from Ohio, found them a little hot for his wholesome Midwestern palate.

While good cuisine does make up a substantial part of the aspects of a fine meal, the conversation inspired by the venue accounts for a not insignificant part of its assessment. Spurred on by a desire to block out the elevator music playing in the background (the highlight of which was a kitschy piano rendition of “Phantom of the Opera”) and to overcome the hunger brought on by a lengthy wait for our food, we five former Record editors felt like we were back in a board meeting, engaging in heated discussion of the topics of the day. With four political science majors in attendance, we had to get into national affairs; of course, we achieved this through the only real medium available, NBC’s “The West Wing.”

Conversation then moved on to campus affairs, focusing on the new Baxter and Dave’s plan to simultaneously make students and faculty happy by building more office space somewhere and turning all the small office buildings into co-ops and “Chadbourne-type places.”

As we are all seniors, the conversation eventually gravitated towards job-talk, and after speculation about Dave’s salary, the other four unemployed folk didn’t really want to talk about jobs anymore. Before the dinner, everyone would have agreed that the only conversation topic more likely than jobs was fantasy baseball. Although Ronit proscribed the topic, Mark, Sergio and Dave didn’t disappoint, with talk of Mark’s last place positioning in the “Curse of the Lanbino” league behind Topher “Spends more time on his fantasy NASCAR team” Goggin ’02.

Dan and Ronit’s reckless and disproportionate “Vanity Fair talk” response may well deter fantasy baseball talk in the future.

The spirited conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the meals. Mark ordered the scallops and noted that “the broiled scallops were served very hot.” They were served lightly breaded in a butter sauce, “not overcooked, but a little greasy in the sauce – not light like I like them.” Small-sized scallops for $9.96, but on the whole, not bad. The waiter was able to replace the cole slaw with a baked potato and sautéed veggies, which lacked a distinctive taste, but weren’t bad. Sergio and Dan: the Rachel ($5.56) and the Long Island Steak Sandwich ($8.96).

As one might expect, the tavern menu does not look very promising for the vegetarian crowd. In fact, other than nachos, the onion loaf and side salads ($4.96), nothing vegetarian was offered, although there is a fish sandwich of some sort for those who eat fish. When first asked, the waiter seemed a bit surprised by Ronit’s question about vegetarian options. After consulting with the chef, however, he returned to inform her that “the chef would hook her up.”

Not too sure what that meant but hopeful, she ordered her own chef’s special. When the meals came, Ronit received an open-faced Portobello mushroom sandwich with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and a dash of parmesan. It certainly looked the most impressive of all the sandwiches we ordered; the chef evidently enjoyed the opportunity to use his creative expertise. She could taste the olive oil in which it was presumably cooked, but overall it was an excellent, very filling sandwich, well-priced at $6.96. It was nice to see a restaurant accommodate a vegetarian in a unique way – no substitute garden burgers as the last resort at Col. Bullocks.

Finally, Glick opted for the classic pub meal: the Bullock Burger ($5.96). It was “okay, but frankly nothing special.” It was a large piece of meat, served on a very good bun – which is always key to a good burger – but it was a little dry and overcooked. Overall, he felt that the pub menu was very average, “but this is not surprising because it’s not really what they do. I’ve recently eaten in the restaurant and had an excellent meal, but as a tavern it’s very average, except for the BBC Porter, which is exceptional.”

Dan was generally satisfied with his sandwich selection, but found it rather difficult to eat and had trouble grappling with a dinner eaten with one’s hands.

While we were eating the meal the conversation shifted to our time at the Record, which allowed for the biggest bombshell of the night. Dan confessed what everyone who’s ever worked at the Record – or the Snack Bar for that matter – already knew. He admitted that his abuse of Record Snack Bar privileges was “absolutely morally repugnant.” The only way to express the significance of this revelation is that it effectively ended the conversation for a while as we were so shocked to hear those words coming from Elsea’s mouth; one only wonders what else we could have gotten from him had we had a few more drinks.

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