At 80 years old, Nathan Harris is three times older than many other regulars at Hemingway's Bistro. But with his laughing blue eyes, British accent and effortless charm, it's difficult to imagine a patron of any age who wouldn't be drawn into conversation with this interesting man. Harris, who was once a freelance writer for major English publications, said he's fascinated by people and that Hemingway's is one of the best places around to see characters of all types.
The restaurant does a brisk lunch business, and some patrons spend their happy hours drinking under the dollar-plastered ceiling. But about 11 p.m. is Harris' favorite time to hang out at "Hem's."
The bar "comes to life from about 10 o'clock onwards," Harris said, and that's when you'll most often find him there, enjoying the "happy, nice crowd of people, a lot of younger people."
He said he usually comes on weeknights "because weekends get very, very crowded."
Though he could go anywhere for a beer, or even have one on his nearby porch, he chooses to hang at the bar because, "The people who come in here are really very interesting, and there's no one particular type."
Sitting at the bar, "You might meet a fighter pilot from the (Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort), a project engineer from some big company who's in town. You might meet a freelance professional. You might meet ordinary working people. They're all so interesting."
A beer man
The bar's history is as interesting as its clientele, Harris said. Carved out of the basement of a building owned by the prominent Thomas family, Hemingway's is a hole in the wall, literally.
Original owner John Casanova opened the bar 15 years ago, before "leaving for different climes," said Harris, who's been coming to Hemingway's since it opened its doors.
Harris is a beer man, but he's amused by the huge variety of drinks and shots mixed at Hemingway's — "some of them are quite weird," he said — and the secret lingo of the barkeep.
"The girl who runs the bar, Maureen, has a knowledge that is absolutely encyclopedic," Harris exclaimed. "She mixes all these extraordinary drinks of all varieties. And they have their own language: a Grand Marnier is a Grand Ma."
Many of his pals at Hemingways drink those shots, but Harris rarely does, unless someone "dumps one of these extraordinary things in front of me. Then, just to be social, I'll drink it. But it's not really my thing."
Asked about Hemingway's renowned Jell-O shots, Harris calls them "really quite amazing. Until a few months ago, I ignored the Jell-O shots. Maureen makes 1,000 of them a week. It's probably the best value in drink in this world. You get a Jell-O shot for a dollar, and it's half a drink. And two of those you can drink for two bucks."
Say hello to Jell-O
Despite the bargain, he'd never sampled one until a few months ago, when "a gorgeous young thing came rushing away from the bar with a pile of them, and stuck one in front of me and said, ‘I want you to have a Jell-O shot with me.' I said, ‘Why?' and she said, ‘I just want to.' I said, ‘I don't really think so,' but she insisted, so that was my first Jell-O shot."
More captivating than the gelatin-and-pure-grain-alcohol treat to this man who finds "people fascinating, colorful and interesting," was the woman who gave it to him.
"I got to know that young lady," Harris said. "She's a single mom, working her way through school, and comes down here, has a hell of a good time, but she's very serious. She's had a hard time, but she really is going to make it."
Even in a brief visit with Harris, it's clear he is particularly fond of the fairer sex, but he's fondest of all of his girlfriend Carol, who is 45 years his junior. She comes with him to Hemingway's sometimes, or he comes on his own on his hot pink bicycle and keeps in touch by phone or text.
Harris has been living in Beaufort for more than 30 years, and when asked if he knows pretty much everyone who walks through the bar's doors, he stated confidently, "I know everybody in Beaufort."
And those he doesn't yet know, if they stop by Hemingway's while Harris is there, will surely feel like they leave having met a new friend in this extraordinary "regular."