Bar’s scene suits national pastime’s molasses pace

Bar’s scene suits national pastime’s molasses pace

by Dan Pearson (Originally published June 20, 1999(

New London — From the start, the Dutch has been a baseball bar.

Though he was a soccer fan, the Dutch’s found and namesake, Mauritz “Dutch” Nauta, hung a 1943 photograph on the wall behind the taps of the first meeting between Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

More than a half century later, the photo has become the most evocative bit of memorabilia in the bar. When Peter Detmold and Martha Conn bought the Dutch from Peter Burgess last summer, the picture was included in the sale, an essential piece of the interior.

“Every guy, at some point, who is having a beer in an old bar dreams of being behind the bar telling people why things are the way they are,” said Burgess. “Who doesn’t dream of leaning across the bar to tell you why the Giants are 2 (wins) and 12 (losses) or why the Yankees don’t have a chance?”

Detmold said the photo is important because it’s symbolic of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry that has long resonated among the bar’s regulars, a product, in part, of New London’s location between Beantown and the Big Apple.

It also represents the passing of the torch between two of baseball’s greatest stars. To see the young, smiling Williams, his sleeves hiked to reveal his muscular arms, shaking hands with the bloated Babe is to see a great moment of continuity.

At 66, The Dutch also symbolizes continuity.

Whereas typical sports bars are characterized by loud music, football helmets slathered with blue cheese and hot sauce, and the deafening whir of air hockey tables, the unassuming Dutch enables its dedicated clientele to enjoy baseball’s last-inning home runs as well as the intricacies of the game.

With its dark wood interior and a cool breeze from the Thames blowing through the screen door, there is something about the tavern itself that makes it conducive to the molasses pace of the national pastime. So much of the game is the sound of the wooden bat and the grunts of the umpire, the Dutch allows for a game’s total enjoyment.

It was Nauta who initiated the baseball tradition, not only by hanging the Ruth-Williams photo, but by serving beers to Yankee players Yogi Berra and Norman “Red” Branch and Chicago Cub Jimmy Gleason when they were playing in the Morgan Park League during World War II. Both minor and pro ball players, stationed in New London and Groton during the war, came to the Dutch to play cards, pinball, and to escape the limelight of being a superstar on the Coast Guard or Navy base.

Branch was so fond of the bar, he once hospitalized a man who treated Nauta with disrespect.

“Let me just finish this game of pinball,” Nauta’s son Bob remembers Branch saying when the man threatened the diminutive Dutch bartender. After finishing the game and handily finishing the fight out on Green Street, Branch returned saying “Dutch, I think you better call the ambulance.”

It was probably Edward Rothen, a co-owner of the tavern in the 1950s and ’60s, who made the Dutch synonymous with the game and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Rothen was a monomaniacal Red Sox fan who broke custom and traded in the tavern’s transistor radio to watch the games on television. Rothen put up another black and white photo of Williams in his youth, contorted like a corkscrew, swinging for Fenway Park’s fences.

“If you were to say anything, a single bad word about Ted Williams or the Red Sox, you were signing your death warrant,” said Rothen’s widow, Marjorie. “He loved the bar and he loved the Red Sox.”

Burgess, also a Red Sox fan, said one of his fondest memories was giving up his ticket to the 1978 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees, one of the most dramatic games in history, to watch it in the bar with more than 100 people.

“Bucky Dent still probably haunts the place,” said Burgess, recalling the light-hitting Yankees shortstop whose home run won the game.

During the summer, the sound of baseball games drifts down Green Street and greets a thirsty patron at State Street.

Detmold, a dedicated fan of the San Francisco Giants, has traveled across the country to see his team play in other National League Parks. This year, Detmold hung an autographed picture of Giants slugger Orlando Cepeda, who recently was elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Dutch patrons make up much of a coed squad that plays softball on Sundays at Connecticut College. This month, a bus of past and current regulars traveled to Shea Stadium in New York to watch an interleague game between the Mets and the Red Sox. During the fourth inning, the scoreboard welcomed the Dutch in billboard-sized digital letters.

In the Dutch, patrons’ recollection of baseball’s minutiae is celebrated. Some keep score while they watch televised games. The bartender resolves debates by consulting “the book,” a tome six inches thick called The Baseball Encyclopedia.

A couple of years ago, the entire bar crowd sat silently, their heads in their hands, trying to name every member of the 1973 Oakland Athletics. Shouts of “Rob Piccolo,” “Bert Campaneris” and the names of other utility infielders came forward as patrons rifled through the shoeboxes of bubble gum cards stored in their memories.

“Baseball has always been part of the Dutch,” said Al “Scottie” Devlin, who first visited the tavern in 1946. “Since I started coming in here, you talk baseball when you’re shooting the breeze.”

Copyright 1999 by The Day