Backstage Bistro, a bar in Torrington that has grown to be my local during the past seven years, has announced that it will serve its last beer tonight. The rangy, high-ceilinged pub was a beacon for beer geeks in Litchfield County. Rising from the ashes of the failed Torrington arm of Cambridge House Brewpub, and prior to that the site of a much-revered department store, Backstage was aligned with Warner Theater. It was known by most patrons as the restaurant to grab a bite before a show at the Warner. For the rest of us, it was a thoughtfully managed beer bar with knowledgeable staff and some fun Thursday night tap takeovers.
I stopped by Backstage tonight to say goodbye, and it was bittersweet. I remembered my 40th birthday party held in the front room almost exactly five years ago. There was the night the bar expanded to 42 taps, and I lined up with 41 of my physically closest friends to pour 42 pints all at once.
I remembered the night I held my first book signing — a quiet night, if I remember — where I sat and hoped for someone to ask for my autograph and buy my book, two years ago. And then there were the many Friday late afternoons when I would perch myself on a stool to read a New Yorker and decompress over a porter and wings after a week of work. I would end up talking to someone I knew there every single time.
It was a busy tonight at 5:30 or so, and I decided not to interrupt the owner, who appeared to be eating with family, to get the scoop on why Backstage was closing. Maybe I’ll get the information later. “Our employees were well aware for months that we were doing all possible to prevent this from happening,” the Facebook representative for Backstage wrote tonight in response to the predictably hostile fringe. “For seven years, everyone that worked here got a good paycheck every week, and will next week as well.”
I decided, instead, to interview a few barflies: the hardcore beer enthusiasts who were there whenever I stopped by.
“I’ve been a part of this group of people who have been coming here since Cambridge House left,” loyal customer Paul Griffin said. “We’ve met a lot of great people who like beer and like to commiserate down here. It’ll be a real loss to the city. I just hope something will come out of this.”
Don Garrigan agreed. “It has been a gathering place for friends at the end of a hard week. We’re going to miss it greatly. But we’ll see. Life goes on.”
“We’re perennial optimists,” Paul said from his corner stool. “We just hope a new place comes and takes this over.”
Holding court near the bar was Al Corpus, celebrating his birthday. Al and I met at Backstage years ago, and he and his girlfriend continued to be friends with my wife and me. Al is a bear of a man who has a gruff appearance but a warm heart. Any bartender who had the pleasure of serving or drinking with Al knew the depth of his love for well-crafted beer.
“The crew and the staff were very inviting,” Al recalled of his first visits, when Backstage opened its doors. “They made me feel like I was welcomed. I’m a big guy and I sort of scare people. But they made me feel like I was home. It still feels like home.”
Over the years, Al said, he met a lot of great people.
“It’s so sad that they’re closing on my birthday,” he said, taking a sip. “I don’t want them to close. I was hoping last night that I would have won PowerBall so I could keep them open.”
Cheers, Backstage. Thank you for the pints and the memories.
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