“Manchester by the Sea” is a terrific film, achingly poignant and well-written, and I’ll be surprised if Casey Affleck doesn’t win best actor at the Oscars on Sunday night.
But what’s with that scene showing a bunch of townies brawling in a divey bar in the middle of one of the toniest towns in Massachusetts?
In pursuit of the truth, and an expense account meal, I headed up Route 128 to the real Manchester-by-the-Sea. As I suspected, there are no real bars there, just bars that are really restaurants.
At 7 Central Public House, the pear and prosciutto salad is a fine choice. I was tempted to order the avocado fries but had visions of some crazed townie grabbing one and gouging my eyes out with it.
Seventy-two years ago, Larry Kirby was a young Marine storming the sandstone on Iwo Jima. Now he negotiates the mean streets of Manchester-by-the-Sea.
“We don’t have any brawls because we have no place to brawl,” Kirby, 92 and a genuine American hero, was saying.
Years ago, there was a great dive in the middle of town called Al’s Cafe. But Al’s is gone, as are most of the townies.
“There are very few townies left, and they are really old because their kids and grandkids live elsewhere and cannot afford to buy in Manchester,” Kirby said.
Paul Murphy, assistant principal at Manchester Essex Regional High School, said writer-director Kenneth Lonergan and his crew spent four days at the school filming scenes that amount to about 35 seconds in the movie.
He said Lonergan and his crew were exceedingly nice and pumped a lot of money into the local economy, but he said locals all over Cape Ann who’ve seen the film recognize that it’s more about Gloucester than Manchester-by-the-Sea.
As a title, “Manchester by the Sea” is simply more lyrical than “Gloucester.”
In fact, that bar brawl in the movie was filmed not at one of the high-end establishments in Manchester-by-the-Sea but at Pratty’s, a wonderful dive in Gloucester.
When I walked into Pratty’s the other day, the bartender, the great Bobby Turvey, said they were out of avocado fries. But that’s because they’ve never served avocado fries.
A pint of PBR will set you back $2.50, and while the place is packed with friendly locals and not a few fishermen, it is true that, while exceedingly rare, a closed fist and a profane word have been known to fly around Pratty’s.
Bobby Turvey said they shut the bar down for a day for filming. He said the Hollywood crowd couldn’t have been nicer.
Nick Pratt, who manages the place for his dad, Jimmy, said the filmmakers were drawn to Pratty’s authentic feel and atmosphere. The old-fashioned wood-paneled walls and kitschy decor don’t exactly scream Manchester-by-the-Sea.
“If you watch the movie, there’s a lot more of Gloucester in it than Manchester-by-the-Sea,” Pratt said. “I guess they could have called it ‘Gloucester-by-the-Harbor,’ but I don’t know if that works at the box office.”
There’s a poster from “Deadliest Catch” displayed prominently above the bar, a souvenir from when the cable TV series followed a Gloucester fishing crew and filmed at Pratty’s. But nothing from “Manchester by the Sea” yet.
Some of Pratty’s patrons acknowledge they have yet to see the film, though all say they want to. More impressive, however, was how many of the regulars were aware that this week marks the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and that Larry Kirby, the old Marine who fought and survived, lives right down Route 127 in the neighboring town they all call Manchester.
Turns out Pratty’s full name is Pratty’s C.A.V., for Cape Ann Veterans.
Say what you want about Pratty’s. They don’t have avocado fries on the menu, but they know their history and have their priorities in order.