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'Don't Expect Something Big To Make You Happy': Advice From Behind A Newport Bar

Bar owner tends bar, wearing a mask
Erica Heilman
/
VPR
Kristy Griggs has owned Jasper's Tavern in Newport for over 23 years. Erica Heilman stopped in to hear about how she's weathering COVID-19.

Jasper’s Tavern in downtown Newport features live entertainment, beer, pool and a pinball machine. Erica Heilman stopped in to find out how they’re faring during the pandemic.

Jasper’s Tavern is a longtime Newport local, but you have to know where it is, because it’s up a long alley off Main Street, and if you’re driving, it’s up a one-way street on a street behind a street. But pretty much any time of day, you’ll find it full of regulars. Kristy Griggs has owned the place for over twenty-three years. We talked for a while at the bar, through masks.

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Kristy: “I’m 61-years-old. I been in the bar business since I was 18.”

Me: “Why?”

Kristy: “Because I frickin’ love it. I just love it. I love people. I genuinely really love people.”

Masked bartender behind the bar at Jasper's Tavern
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
Owner Kristy Griggs tends bar at Jasper's Tavern in Newport. She's been tending bar since she was 18.

Me: “What do you know about people that other people probably don’t know given that you’re a bar wench?”

She laughs at that.

Kristy: “And I am proud of it. I’m a bar wench from way back – absolutely. I believe that a good gin mill serves a very important social function. It’s a social thing, you know? People are always going to drink. They always have since the beginning of people, I’m sure. There’s always going to be a segment of society that wants to be a little altered, you know? And our founding fathers, when they were starting our country, they weren’t in the church. They were down at the pub drinking, I would dare say, ale. It serves a very important social function.”

Me: “How did COVID hit you here?”

"There's always going to be a segment of society that wants to be a little altered, you know? And our founding fathers, when they were starting our country, they weren't in the church. They were down at the pub drinking, I would dare say, ale." - Kristy Griggs, owner of Jasper's Tavern

Kristy: “Well, when we got the call that we had to close, it was March 17. We had to be closed by two in the afternoon. And that was St. Patrick’s Day. So when we found out we had to close, we called a bunch of people. So we were busy. It was sad because we didn’t know when we’d all see each other again. We see each other every day, a lot of us. So we didn’t really know what was going to happen. So I was like, ‘It won’t be too long. Whatever it is, we’ll get through it.’ But man, after a while, I was getting really lonesome for people. I would be driving in my car and every other human being I saw I had this overwhelming urge to wildly wave at ‘em and stuff. And sometimes I would. They’d wave back, you know. Wave at a bird going by…”

Me: “And how did you… How did it… What’s the hit been?”

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Kristy: “I’m broke. Is that succinct enough? But you know what? I’m not scared of being broke. I’m not going to starve to death. I’m always going to have a roof over my head. There’s people that live in war torn countries, so I’m not going to bitch about it too much, ‘cause I can get through it. And I will get through it. It’ll take me a while to get back to where I was, but that’s alright. I’m not in this game to get rich anyway.

Sign reading, hippies use back door, at Jasper's Tavern
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
A sign directing traffic inside Jasper's Tavern in Newport.

"You know? I grew up here – I grew up on a farm in Derby. And up here, I think generally most everybody is used to living pretty close to the bone, you know? And it’s like, we always scrape by. There’s not a lot of people up here getting rich. But this whole pandemic thing? We’ll get through it. Eventually there’ll be vaccines. We are so fortunate. We do not live in and we didn’t grow up in a war-torn country where terrible things like genocides and all that kind of stuff [are happening] – now that’s crappy living. This? I mean you go out and look at the chickadees and look at the sunset. I mean, it’s pretty nice. Don’t expect something big to make you happy."

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