The Not-So-Tall Tale of The Paul

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
August 2013


In an industry with average 100-hour work-weeks and unrelenting pressures, a little appreciation goes a long way. Whether it’s a specially prepared staff meal or a personalized shift drink, we love taking care of one another just as much as we love taking care of our guests. And on the tiny island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, this industry camaraderie has been codified, and the name of the code is “Paul.”

When an industry worker on this summer-home outpost—a stone’s skip away from Cape Cod—walks into a bar and requests a Paul, the bartender serves up a small nip of beer, wine, or spirit. The worker will imbibe said demi-beverage and no exchange of funds shall besmirch the interaction. Generally, the gratis booze is bartender’s choice, and it’s more than a mere nightcap—it’s a nod of recognition and appreciation from one professional to another.

Mixologist Clinton Terry of <em>The Pearl</em>

Mixologist Clinton Terry of The Pearl

DJ’s Secret: Don Julio 1942, Strawberry Bitters, Bartlett Farms Strawberries

DJ’s Secret: Don Julio 1942, Strawberry Bitters, Bartlett Farms Strawberries


Mixologist Clinton Terry of The Pearl

What I Learned at Wine Fest with Boozy Fruit

What I Learned at Wine Fest with Boozy Fruit

“It’s a simple gesture,” says Jenny Benzie, sommelier at Cru. “Nothing complicated or overthought. It’s easy and refreshing.” And in a resort market where busy season calls for non-stop hustle for at least ten consecutive weeks, a little reciprocal refreshment is not only nice, but necessary. “Nantucket is a very communal place,” says Mixologist Clinton Terry, of The Pearl, Boardinghouse, and Corazon del Mar. “For these ten weeks of craziness when we’re out here by ourselves, everybody knows one another and we’re all in it together.”

While most barkeeps will pour a few fingers of Bud Light when the magic name is uttered, some places are starting to get creative. Terry has followed the trend with interest. “I started doing cocktail Pauls because that’s what I like [to drink],” he says. When we visited The Pearl he was pouring a white wine sangria—small in size but big in flavor—to bouy the spirits of his brethren. “A Paulsecco is Prosecco,” he went on to explain. “At Corazon we do Pablo’s with Tecate. The Clubcar does blackberry brandy. Cisco Brewery does beer with a vodka floater, sometimes stout with vanilla vodka, or Leffe with blueberry vodka.” For those of you not up on your mixo lingo, that’s beer with a shot of vodka poured carefully on top to form distinct layers of booze. You can even upgrade by asking for a Paul Bunyan, which approaches the volume of a regular drink by doubling the size of a typical Paul. Cru is on board, too: “Carlos, one of the owners, does a “Carlito”—a little bit of grapefruit juice and tequila,” says Benzie.

And then, there are the Paul Crawls. Without forking over a dime, workers go from bar to bar and have a little nip of whatever’s on offer. “The first weekend of December we do a Santa Paul Crawl,” says Terry. “Last year I did an apple cider Paul with bacon bourbon [for it].” The carousers on this festive outing deposit gifts and cash at the different Crawl stops, to be donated to Toys for Tots.

All of this begs one question: who’s Paul? We tried to track him down and the trail led to Michael Sturgis, Food and Beverage Director of the Nantucket Hotel and veteran of the island’s industry scene. Sturgis is one of the few remnants of the old guard who knew the original Paul.

“I got to Nantucket in 1981,” says Sturgis. “One summer I worked as a bartender at Atlantic Café. There was a gentleman by the name of Paul Grady; a wonderful waiter, an intelligent, articulate, dry-witted individual from Michigan.” According to Sturgis, wait staff on Nantucket generally prefers to wait tables at night so they can go to the beach during the day, but Paul preferred working days so he could party all night. “When I was bartender at Rose & Crown, [Paul] was there almost every night after his day shift, often till 1 am.”

As Sturgis tells it, bleary-eyed Paul would arrive at work next day and ask the bartenders for some help to make it through the shift. “If he was good and worked hard, halfway through the shift we would give him a short beer to keep him going. Just enough incentive,” says Sturgis. “When the other servers found out, they wanted one too. They wanted a Paul.” Soon enough, word of mouth carried the practice to other establishments, and Paul’s name became the code word for a bit of insider indulgence. The quiet custom shared among industry kin endures to this day, long after Paul left the party and the island.

Besides rewarding hard-bitten workers, Benzie sees The Paul as a way of welcoming new staff into the fold. “When someone’s new to the island, you take them around town and introduce them to everybody.” Naturally, mini-beverages are imbibed at every stop along the welcoming route. “You don’t see this in Aspen,” she says, “they’re not doing it in Palm Beach. In NYC you’d actually buy someone a drink. The Paul is a local custom, more than anything.” As Terry puts it, the Paul is “an appreciation for staying out here. We’re super isolated, but for those who enjoy it, it’s awesome.” Free flowing booze and brotherly-love? Sounds totally Paulsome to us.