August 10, 2008 — If you’re a friend of mine, you have to be wary anytime I’m entrusted to make the plans. I have a habit of turning what’s supposed to be quality social time for the enjoyment of all involved into a thinly veiled oddity hunt to satiate my own peculiar desires. In addition, if you are the closest person to me, you have to be doubly wary, as for some reason I assume that you are mandated by law to put up with every one of my foibles, no matter how blatantly I indulge them. Thus it happened that on the occasion of my fiancée’s birthday this year, I took her to a haunted restaurant.
In my defense, I did ask around (we’re new to the area, you see), and this restaurant was definitely recommended to me. In my prosecution, I was also recommended four or five other restaurants, and I still chose this one...solely for its ghost.
Well, almost solely.
Despite its generic name, the Country Tavern Restaurant and Lounge is a gourmet restaurant located in Nashua, New Hampshire. Much of its appeal is derived from the fact that the restaurant was converted from a farmhouse built in 1741, giving the place a pleasant, aged, historical ambiance that a lesser writer would simile with wine...or not simile at all, instead opting to just reference a bad simile. As a result, the restaurant really is a nice, classy place to take somebody for their birthday dinner. Honestly. It just happens to be haunted, too.
I’ve already given my whole spiel on the dubious relationship between businesses and spooks in my article on the Ghost Room of Northern Ireland’s Ballygally Castle Hotel. And one day I’ll fascinate the world by debunking in florid prose the generally held equation that age of location plus untimely death equals trapped undead. What’s relevant here, though, is that the world has, according to the latest official U.N. census, hundreds of thousands of buildings that are rumored to be haunted. Naturally, I don’t go tramping into every building with a blurry face in its window. So why this one in particular? Well, why do you go to any restaurant? The menu, of course.
For of all the restaurants in the world that claim to be haunted, few are so brazen as to tout it by devoting an entire page of real estate on their menu to the assertion. The back cover of the Country Tavern’s menu is an undated, type-o ridden article reprinted from the local paper about a ghost that purportedly inhabits the restaurant. If that still seems like a weak reason for me to choose this location, then keep in mind that the restaurant is also only minutes from my house.
The ghost’s name, according to the menu, is Elizabeth Ford, and she was a previous tenant of the establishment back when it was a residence. She was murdered by her sea captain husband and thrown down a well after he returned from a year-long voyage to find that she had recently given birth. That nine-month gestation clause in our biological contracts can really trip us up sometimes. In addition, because all existence is punishable by death, the baby was murdered and buried under a tree. If this had happened today we’d be horrified at the state of society. Because it is supposed to have happened 200 years ago, it’s an interesting story worth relishing in polite circles and for some reason doesn’t put the damper on an intimate candle-lit dinner celebration.
The article on the menu also details some of the instances of ghostliness that have occurred throughout the years at the restaurant. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before. Common symptoms include archaically dressed apparitions, invisible presences, on-site séances, and flying dinnerware, the latter being a great out for the serving staff when one of them accidentally drops the lobster bisque into your lap.
Before you start thinking that I’m taking a vinyl-covered, bi-folded, oversized piece of wine-stained paper too seriously, keep in mind that the Sirloin Au Poivre really was $19.95 and each entrée really did come with a salad, rolls, and your choice of sides. That establishes the necessary pattern of honesty to the appropriate degree for me. But I’m not totally just trusting the menu (as much fun as it is to cite a restaurant menu as a source), I’m also trusting unimpeachable television shows like Inside Edition and Hard Copy, both of which apparently featured Elizabeth Ford’s spectral trespassing on each of their programs. Before you ask, I did try to independently verify this claim of national television attention, but unfortunately couldn’t, which astounds me in this YouTube age.
Anyway, the Country Tavern is located on busy Amherst Street, and I’d actually passed it a couple score of times before without noticing it, despite its lighted sign and moving-message LED screen. The exterior of the restaurant is rustic and humble looking, dimly lit at night, and pretty much looks like the house it once was. Unfortunately, it’s also somewhat hemmed in by the less rustic retail noise of Amherst Street with its many strip malls and traffic lights. Inside you won’t notice the outside, though. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m in awe of that statement. Due to the layout of the house, the dining area is divided up into separate rooms, which I always like in a restaurant as it allows for a much more intimate eating experience. If I’m wearing a jacket and trying to pretend an air of culinary cultivation at odds with the truth, I want as few witnesses to the event as possible. We patronized the place in the middle of the week, and only three or four of the ten or so tables in our dining room were filled.
I can’t remember exactly what we ate. Knowing me as I sometimes do, it was something steak or shellfish-ish. Knowing her as I pretend to, salmon or chicken, one probably stuffed with the other. We’re big adherents of gender stereotyping, you see. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. As much as I want to take advantage of the subject matter and pretend to be a restaurant critic right now, the truth is, I only have three taste buds, and they only register some of the more intense brands of sour candies and a couple hot sauces a the higher end of the Scofield scale. All other foods I eat for texture, and my life is probably sadder as a result. That also might explain why I’m omitting some of the more relevant aspects of my dining experience at the Country Tavern. You know, décor, service, presentation, restroom theme. I definitely enjoyed the restaurant, both the food and the ambiance, but I’m admittedly not a standard of measurement you should probably use in this area, so I’m not going to try to be.
And speaking of ambiance, you probably won’t be surprised to find out that it wasn’t once interrupted by any ghostly manifestations. Between you and me and every undead entity out there, I’m kind of tired of ending my adventures at supposedly haunted places (and the articles about them) with the report that I didn’t see or experience any ghosts. I’m not asking for much. Just once I’d like the opportunity to use the proton pack I keep in the trunk of my car for such contingencies. Ghosts hate me and make me feel like a needy ex-girlfriend. And they ruin my chances for a genuinely interesting article by not showing up.
In summation, all that happened at the Country Tavern was that my fiancée and I went to the restaurant, ate an enjoyable meal, celebrated her surviving another year of life without being thrown down a well, and departed with the beautiful flush that a bottle of wine shared in comfortable surroundings can give a person. Not exactly a menu-worthy story, but I can always hope.