Jaci Taggart stood behind the bar and watched the water level reach the third brick near a table just past “Mount Hemingway,” the raised door sill at the joint’s entrance that requires patrons first step up, then down, before making their way to the taps.
On this day the obstacle was underwater, and people were wading to the bar.
The flooding was the draw.
Taggart, wearing Keds, stood in six inches of water behind the Hemingways Bistro bar. She’d opened the place hours earlier, around 10 a.m. Monday, as Tropical Storm Irma’s rain bands lashed Beaufort.
“We’re always open,” Ann-Marie Foster, one of Hemingways owners, said Friday. “We’re open for every hurricane. We have the reputation for never closing.”
The first couple of hours of Taggart’s shift — when the Bay Street waterfront, basement-level bar was dry — were slow, but things picked up when the river rose and crested the wall along its banks, flooding Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park and the nearby parking lot at the Downtown Marina.
A couple of skimboarders were her first customers, she remembers.
A couple wearing yellow raincoats — calling themselves “the Gorton Fishermen” — soon joined.
And then a man on a paddleboard floated over Mount Hemingway and up to the bar.
“I had just been joking about five minutes earlier about people with floats or boards floating into the bar — that I was going to buy the first person I saw do it a drink,” Taggart said.
The recipient was Tim Lovett.
“Tequila,” Lovett said, when asked what he’d ordered.
Friends near the entrance had tipped him off to Taggart’s offer, so he paddled in. He left about 15 minutes later.
Meg Hanley took off her shoes and rolled up her pants before scaling Mount Hemingway. She’d come downtown to see the flooding when two men in a pickup truck told her Hemingway’s was open.
She found the place still had power, and noted a floating trashcan in the bathroom. She took a seat, propped her feet and ordered a Bud Light. It was her first time in the place.
“It was a great first impression,” she said.
At its peak, the water was eight inches deep in parts of the bar. The kitchen, which sits a bit higher, had just two inches, according to Foster. She kept an eye on the flooding, at one point unplugging a refrigerator as water neared its power source. But Foster, an electrical engineer, she said, did not worry about electrocution — the bar’s wiring is raised, it being a basement joint and what not.
Hemingways didn’t flood during last October’s Hurricane Matthew, she said.
Of course it was open.
“We have awfully loyal customers to come stand in eight inches of water,” she said.
At one point, between rain bands in the early afternoon, the sun came out, and several men waded out to Hemingways patio. They sipped beer and settled into chairs, the bottoms of which were barely above the foot or more of water that flooded the area.
“They were sitting low and dry,” Foster said, chuckling. “I can’t say they were sitting high and dry.”
Taggart would end her shift early that night as folks followed the receding water and filtered out of the bar.
“It was just people wanting to have a good story to tell,” she said.
It was her first time tending a flooded bar.
Two days later she fell getting out of the shower.
She broke her tibia and fibula — a spiral fracture.
“I mean, the irony’s not lost on me,” she said Friday morning as she recovered from surgery following the accident.
“If anything, I’d rather bar-tend than take a shower,” she continued.
“I was safer behind the bar in my Keds, in six inches of water.”