All’s Unfair in Love and War in “Indignation”

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

Boston Jewish Film Festival did a real mitzvah on Sunday, July 17 when it treated local film lovers to a free sneak preview of Indignation, the film based on the 2008 Philip Roth novel that opens at the West Newton Cinema and local theaters on July 29. Even better, BJFF further indulged the sold out audience by bringing director and screenwriter James Schamus, (co-founder and former CEO of Focus Features) and his lead actor, Logan Lerman (Fury, Percy Jackson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), to the stage for a post-screening Q&A.

 

Semi-autobiographical, Roth’s dark story fictionalizes his own early-1950’s college experience at Bucknell University in rural Pennsylvania. Schamus picked up the slim novel in an airport and fell in love with the book. “It is contemporary but shocking,” the producer and frequent Ang Lee collaborator said.

 

Set in 1951 against the backdrop of the Korean War, Indignation introduces us to Marcus Messner (played by 24-year-old Logan Lerman). He is the straight-A, straight-laced only son of Max, an overbearing Newark kosher butcher, and Esther, his practical, well-meaning wife (played by theatre veterans Danny Burstein and Linda Emond). Marcus is also the film’s narrator, and his voiceover story has a single simple message: the choices we make determine our fate.

 

When Marcus’ buddies start coming home from Korea in body bags, Max’s spiraling anxieties fuel his transition from paternal protector to paranoid oppressor. “The tiniest mistakes can have consequences,” he relentlessly warns his son, worried he will squander his future in a pool hall or behind the wrong closed door.

 

As much to escape his suffocating parents as to avoid the draft, Marcus accepts a scholarship (awarded by his synagogue) to the fictional, elite and very WASP-y Winesburg College in bucolic Ohio. Instantly, the cinematographer Christopher Blauvett’s pallet changes from the overcast skies and gloomy browns and greys of working-class Newark to the sunshine and lush lawns of the collegiate mid-West.

 

Marcus’ emotional pallet, however, retains its muddy hues. A defiant loner by choice, he avoids getting too close to his two roommates and chafes at any action he interprets as controlling. He resents mandatory chapel attendance not because he is Jewish, but because he is an atheist. He is an equal opportunity religious objector, a rebel for whom the whole world is his cause.

 

He joylessly slogs through his days, excelling at his studies and working in the library. Then one day, the dreamy creamy Olivia (Sarah Gadon) awakens his slumbering id. Simultaneously calculated and insouciant, she casts her line in Marcus’ sight line and reels him in with the lure of her twitching foot. Schamus’ light directorial touch subtly alerts us to impending danger and ultimate doom. She is Eve, and Marcus is ravenous for whatever she is serving up.

indignation-02

Olivia (Sarah Gadon) and her alluring twitching foot.

 

During their first date at the only French restaurant in town, the two seem an easy intellectual match, but there’s an unsettling emotional power imbalance at play. He’s as naïve and unscathed as she is cynical and damaged. Even later, during and after the unsolicited sexual favor she performs on him in the front seat of his roommate’s borrowed car, there’s a steely premeditation to Olivia that puts Marcus (and the audience) on edge. This is the least intimate intimate act imaginable, and that disconnect bodes ill for our protagonist.

Indignation

Marcus (Logan Lerman) and Olivia (Sarah Gadon) on their first date.

Marcus may be sitting in the driver’s seat, but Olivia’s clearly behind the wheel. With that single shocking act, she has changed his life forever, and she knows it.

Their initial infatuation becomes hopelessly complicated, careening from snub to obsession to mutual self destruction. This unravels the stoic Marcus to the point where he draws the attention of Dean Hawes Caudwell (played by the terrific Tracy Letts, lately of “Homeland” fame), who summons him to his office for a little chat. In an 18-minute scene that is the unequivocal showpiece of the film, Marcus sheds his melancholic reserve and demonstrates his High School debate captain chops as he rips into the Dean’s defense of all things Winesburg, including mandatory chapel.

 

Admiring the precocious Marcus’ considerable oratory skills while clearly loathing his message, the Dean treats him as an intellectual equal, and the two go at it tooth and nail. There is no deference to status or age; this is intellectual trench warfare, and each is prepared to fall on the blade of his razor sharp wit.

 

“I knew the film would live or die on that scene,” Schamus said during the Q&A, and he’s right. It’s the most riveting and emotional scene of the entire movie. It’s a shame Marcus doesn’t show half the passion and urgency with Olivia that he does while lacerating the Dean. The two lovers just don’t share the same on-screen chemistry.

 

shamus

Director and screenwriter James Schamus

Eventually things go from not great to worse, and Esther shows up at Winesburg when Marcus lands in the hospital after an emergency appendectomy. She meets Olivia, immediately spots the suicide scars on her wrist, and quickly evaluates the danger her son is in. The scene where she exacts Marcus’s promise never to see Olivia again in exchange for her remaining married to his increasingly abusive father is both devastating and tender.

 

In his directorial debut, Schamus has made a classy, painterly film. As Marcus, Lerman gives a focused performance of subtlety and depth. Although Marcus is clearly Jewish, he is more engaging and accessible than the neurotic clichéd stereotypes popularized by Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Allen. Each time he bristles at some real or imagined oppressive authority figure, his indignation brings home the film’s point.

 

Gadon’s Olivia is impossible to look away from. She is as complicated as she is stunning, equal parts Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelley and Rebecca Pigeon. Letts, however, is nothing short of brilliant as Dean Caudwell, the roguish academic autocrat whose concern for Marcus is both intrusive and sincere.

 

Schamus has made a good, entertaining movie, especially considering it is the industry’s “Summer Season”. But for Jay Wadley’s trite and overbearing score, and the fact that we really don’t care enough about Olivia and Marcus because they don’t seem to care enough about each other, it could have been a very good one indeed.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Salem Farmers Market returns to Old Town Hall every Thursday, 3-7 p.m.

Salem Farmer’s Market keeps a tradition alive and well

Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

Although the 2016 Salem Farmers’ Market may bear little resemblance to its 1634 originator, the Commonwealth’s earliest settlers would feel right at home in downtown Derby Square in front of Old Town Hall — the oldest surviving municipal building in Salem.

 

Today, as then, the market offers much more than local fresh produce and other dry and baked goods. It also offers a place where people can gather and feel a real sense of local community.

 

Hundreds of smiling people of all ages did just that last Thursday, braving the wind gusts and threatening skies, to be part of the festivities marking the Salem Farmers’ Market’s eighth opening day. Many lounged on Town Hall steps, munching and talking. Others gladly sampled the vendors’ wares.

 

SAlemMkt1

Amy Glidden looks at one of the plants for sale at the Gibney Gardens booth during the Salem Farmers Market at Derby Square, Thursday, June 9, 2016. Wicked Local Staff Photo / David Sokol

 

“The Salem Farmer’s Market creates a community center where residents can catch up with other,” said Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets.

 

In fact, according to Kylie, whose downtown Salem revitalization organization runs the market, the city’s deed actually requires the use of Derby Square as a market. “The Salem Farmer’s Market physically transforms the feel of downtown for a little while in a way that’s very relevant to its history,” she added.

 

The volunteer-run market will be held at the square on Front Street in downtown Salem every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. through October 13. Each week features live music and other entertainment.

 

 

Among the 30 vendors lined up for 2016 is “Balloon Man” Lawrence Levesque, who lives in Peabody and is also a magician. He met some people who were “in balloons” eight years ago, and he’s been twisting balloons into fanciful shapes to the delight of youngsters of all ages ever since. “I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else. It’s the best career choice I ever made,” he said as he handed a preschooler a perfect latex dachshund.

 

IMG_2293

Lawrence Levesque, who is also a magician, delights Salem Farmers Market shoppers of all ages with his balloon creations. Photo by Shelley A. Sackett

 

Mandy Williamson of Marblehead’s “Fishwives Specialty Foods” started her business on a friend’s dare after she lost her job as regional director of biotech in a wastewater management company. She makes all natural, gluten-free chowders and bisques and “on-the-go” gazpacho that comes in a 16-ounce bottle ready to crack open and drink “much as they do in Spain.”

 

Because the chowders are gluten free, Williamson can cut back on cream and butter without cutting back on taste resulting in an “absolutely decadent” taste with only 200 calories per 10-ounce cup.

 

Holly and Andy Varela started Maitland Mountain Farms, one of the seven major farms that anchor the market, after Holly’s 2009 visit to the Salem Farmer’s Market inspired them to ask her father about growing vegetables on his 2.5 acre Salem property.

 

He agreed, and the two revived the land, cultivating it and installing greenhouses. “Six years later, we’re actually an agricultural production,” Andy said proudly of Salem’s only urban farm.

 

These days, the bulk of their business is pickles, which they sell all over the Northeast through a food service. They still stay close to their homegrown roots, however, by doing local farmers markets and servicing farm stands and small “boutique-y shops.”

 

Among the market’s biggest fans is Mayor Kim Driscoll, who was excited when its June 9 opening day rolled around. “The market is such a vibrant and fun weekly downtown event,” she said, offering thanks to Salem Main Streets, the volunteers, City employees and all the vendors “who put in the hard work to make the market possible.”

 

Tucked in a corner in the shadow of Town Hall is Ann Counihan’s “All Fruit Inc.”, an all natural dried fruit and nut mix that comes in eleven varieties. The healthy snacks-in-a bag are attractively packaged for travelling and are meant to be eaten anywhere.

 

A large board labeled “Samples” generously offered smaller versions of each of the 11 varieties, each packaged with the same attention to style and detail. Not only were they the classiest samples at the market, Counihan’s encouragement to try as many as you wanted made doing so guilt-free.

 

Sullivan thinks these direct connections between business owners and customers are a key benefit of the Salem Farmer’s Market. “It becomes a pipeline for emerging businesses to grow their product and their reach,” she said.

 

For the latest updates about the Salem Farmer’s Market, visit salemfarmersmarket.org, “like” them on Facebook at facebook.com/SalemMAFarmersMarket or follow them on Twitter at @salemfarmmarket.

 

Redemption Fish Closes the Loop

 

Local startup farm grows fish in a sustainable way

By Shelley A. Sackett, Correspondent

 

Colin Davis, co-founder of Salem’s Redemption Fish Company, has a history of merging his entrepreneurial spirit and interest in “sustainability” (the intersection of ecology, economics, politics and culture). The 30-year-old Trinity College graduate had already launched two start-ups when he and his roommate (and fellow Redemption Fish co-founder), Andy Davenport, decided it would be fun to raise fish in a sustainable way in the basement of their Cambridge apartment.

 

Davenport, 27, who met Davis through Craig’s List when seeking a roommate, has a background in biology and chemistry and worked at Biogen. By the time the eviction letter came from their landlord, their “hydrofarm” had over 10,000 trout. “I talked Andy out of his job and into starting a fish farm with me. Basically, this was a hobby that got horribly out of control,” Colin said with a chuckle as he pointed with pride to the 10,000 square feet of space that Redemption Fish Co. now occupies in Shetland Park in the space that housed another seafood farming enterprise in the 1970s.

 

Andy1

Owner Andy Davenport goes fishing for some rainbow trout in one of the holding tanks at Redemption Fish Co. at Shetland Park in Salem. Wicked Local Staff Photo / Kirk R. Williamson

 

Davis and Davenport’s goal is to run their plant like an ecosystem, using the least number of inputs for the maximal output. There is no compost waste. There is little fish waste, and there is little water waste. “We try to close the loop on everything we do,” Davis said.

 

The basic principle behind what they’re doing is called “aquaponics”, the marriage of aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). Davis’ enthusiasm is palpable as he explains the process in a nutshell:

 

First, they feed the fish. The fish fertilize the water. That fertilized water gets pumped up to a grow bed of clay balls that biologically filtrate the wastewater through a nitrification process. Then, they grow plants in the grow bed.

 

Andy2

Redemption Fish Co. owner Andy Davenport looks over a verbina plant and an orange tree that are being grown hydroponically. Wicked Local Staff Photo / Kirk R. Williamson

 

Aquaculture currently occupies the majority of floor space. Although there are huge vats growing tilapia, bass, brown trout and experimenting with Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout are the only fish they are currently commercially producing. In the wild, it takes 18 months to two years for a rainbow trout egg to reach “market weight” of one pound. Davis grows them in about 12 months.

 

A couple of months ago, Redemption Fish Co. started harvesting a few hundred of its first trout eggs and selling them to a handful of restaurants and through Farmers Markets.

The goal is to be producing 1,000 pounds of rainbow trout per week by the end of the summer and to distribute them locally.

 

“Not shipping them across the country is the way this is better than mass produced trout from one of the three mega farms in this country. We leave a smaller [carbon] footprint,” Davis said.

 

Andy3

Owner Andy Davenport holds up a tilapia at Redemption Fish Co. in Salem. Wicked Local Staff Photo / Kirk R. Williamson

Hydroponics, the other part of the aquaponics equation, uses 5% of the amount of water growing plants in soil would, and the plants grow faster. “Growing plants this way actually saves waste water we’d otherwise have to dispose of,” Davis pointed out.

 

On the day of this visit, one grow bed had a three foot orange tree, tomatoes, lemon verbena and ghost peppers. They just harvested 20 pounds of basil, which Jean Louis Faber, owner of the Jean Louis Pasta Shop on Derby Street, took and turned into pesto. He also bought some of Fish Co.’s rainbow trout to use in his smoked trout ravioli.

 

“That’s the fun part about local small business. I can just wander in places and say, ‘I think what you’re doing is cool. Can we work together?’” said Davis. “There’s something really neat about being able to grow basil two blocks from where it’s turned into pesto, and the consumer can walk to the store. That doesn’t exist in urban areas in the United States anymore.”

 

Within five years, Davis estimates Redemption Fish Co. will produce 250,000 pounds of fish and the better part of one million pounds of produce yearly. Future expansion plans include large-scale hydroponic production; he also wants the company to help others start small hydroponic gardens for their own consumption.

 

Davis points out that it takes three gallons of water to produce one pound of trout and five pounds of vegetables. In dirt, one pound of broccoli alone uses 75 gallons of water, according to Davis. “Nature doesn’t have a concept of waste. We invented waste. Up until man, there was no such thing,” Davis said. “Resources in, resources out, this [aquaponics] is probably the single most efficient way you can possibly grow food for human consumption.”

 

Davis and Davenport closed their own loop on making their dream a reality through a fluke. Davis’ mother was telling her optometrist about her son’s interest in starting a fish farm. As luck would have it, her optometrist knew Peter Lappin (whose family owns Shetland Park), who had started Sea Plantations in the 1970s to raise fish and seafood for research and commercial consumption. The space was empty and still housed Sea Plantations’ equipment.

 

Davis got on the phone and called Lappin, who “forced me to read his book (‘Live Holding Systems’)” which chronicles Sea Plantations. Ultimately, Davis and Davenport were able to lease part of the 50,000 former Sea Plantations space from Bruce Poole, one of Lappin’s original partners who runs his environmental services firm in space adjacent to Redemption Fish Co.

 

“There are not a lot of people trying to start urban fish farms, and not a lot of other convenient things this space could be used for, so we were pretty lucky to run into this,” Davis said.

 

When Mayor Kim Driscoll (whose favorite fish dish is grilled salmon) recently welcomed Redemption Fish Co. to the Salem business community at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, she emphasized how excited she was that the company uses innovative and sustainable technologies to grow food. “This company’s products will offer a healthy and local option to Salem and the region’s restaurants and food suppliers, providing one more terrific ‘farm to table’ opportunity for customers and diners,” she told the Salem Gazette.

 

Although finding funding for a sustainable urban farm in a finite space remains Davis’ biggest challenge, he is as optimistic about the company’s future as Mayor Driscoll. “If we worked with every restaurant in Salem, we could feed thousands of people out of a tiny basement a quarter of a mile away,” he mused.

 

For more information, visit Redemption Fish Company’s facebook site or redemptionfish.com or email info@redemptionfish.com.

 

Northeast Animal Shelter rescues out-of-state cats and dogs

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Last week, Old Fella Animal Rescue in Burke County, Georgia sent 39 dogs and eight cats to the Northeastern Animal Shelter on Highland Avenue in Salem. It was their fifth transfer in 2016.

 

“Georgia has a high kill rate in their shelters. They don’t quite get the spay and neutering part of owning a dog,” said Jane Taubenec, whose job as canine coordinator includes deciding which out of state animals are eligible for transfer to the Salem shelter.

 

Georgia has no leash or spay-and-neuter laws (except for stray or unwanted animals adopted from a shelter). It is the Northeast Animal Shelter’s biggest source of animals.

 

The three different Georgia shelters and rescue services Taubenec takes dogs from send her pictures and a short description of prospective adoptees. She then sends them the list of medical and behavioral protocols the animals must meet to be eligible. A lot of them can’t meet those requirements.

 

Tink

Tink, a 1-year-old cat from Georgia, is up for adoption. Wicked Local Staff Photo / Kirk R. Williamson

 

“We always want healthy, adoptable dogs. Being the size that we are and the number of animals we can handle, we have to be strict about what’s done prior to them coming,” she said. Under the current arrangement, Georgia performs the initial medical work and the Northeast Animal Shelter reimburses them for a portion of it.

 

“These private rescue groups are like us. For most of them, it’s their own money or their friends pay for it,” said Laurie McCannon, who has worked at the Salem shelter for 25 years and is now its Executive Director.

 

Laurie

 

The Salem shelter placed 4,606 dogs and cats out its current space in 2015. With no local, state or federal funding, the shelter depends on private donors who are “looking to save pets.” McCannon estimates it costs between $150 and $200 per pet to pay for a portion of Georgia’s medical expense, transportation, and then follow up medical care in Salem.

 

Some of the pets arrive healthy and ready to be adopted. Others end up costing the Salem shelter a lot more money. “We don’t want to send people home with problems,” McCannon stressed.

 

One of the biggest issues is socialization. “Pets being in a shelter — it’s tough on them. Most of them are used to having a family, somebody who’s stable in their lives. They’re natural pack animals. When they don’t have their pack, you can understand why their behavior is tough,” she added.

 

For example, two dogs from the recent Georgia group will require extensive training before they’re ready for adoption. “They always lived in a group of nine or ten dogs, and now they’ve been taken away from their pack. They’re scared,” she said.

 

McCannon’s face reflects pride and compassion as she describes the shelter’s programs for animals that need behavior modification training before they are adoptable. “That’s a pretty regular subject around here. ‘What can we do for them?’ They’re here. Let’s help them,” she said.

 

The Salem shelter works with Loyal Canines of Beverly, a local trainer who takes the pets for a couple of weeks to try to work on specific behaviors. “We’re constantly putting in various programs,” McCannon said. There are volunteers who work with the more difficult pets. There is even a treadmill to help the animals “work off a little steam.”

And there is a doggie bed in each office so staff can either bring their own pet to work or have a shelter pet for company. “We try to keep them social and from getting frustrated and lonely,” she added.

 

Despite the training and the willingness of adopting pet owners, the match is not always made in heaven and sometimes the adoption just doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons. While there is no guarantee, there are situations where the Northeast Animal Shelter will take the pets back. “Sometimes we don’t have a big history, so we don’t know every situation that an adopter is going to run into,” McCannon said.

 

At some point, however, McCannon has to draw a line. “When you adopt a pet, it’s your pet. That’s just kind of a reality. You have to commit to them and try to work through things,” she said, emphasizing that that was her personal opinion and not official policy.

 

After New England’s big push for “spay-neuter” laws in the early 1990s, the Northeast Animal Shelter experienced a diminished list of pets awaiting placement. “It’s not fool proof yet, but we started to see the effects. There are still plenty of issues here, but it isn’t what it once was,” McCannon said.

 

The shelter took its first out of state group of pets from Nebraska in 1994. In 1995, the first group came from Puerto Rico, “basically street dogs that were rescued by private people.” The program has gone on from there, and expects to place even more pets in 2016 than it did in 2015.

 

For both Taubenec and McCannon, their greatest satisfaction comes after watching a particularly difficult pet that they have worked with go home with an adoptive owner. “When they finally get adopted, everybody is crying because they’re leaving, but they’re also crying because they’re so happy,” McCannon said.

 

But the biggest reward? “When the adopters get back in touch with us and tell us how great they’re doing,” she said with a huge smile.

275 Years of the Black Picnic

Salem United will focus on voter registration at July 16 event

By Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

Over a century before the Civil War, Salem was among a handful of Massachusetts towns that allowed enslaved and freed blacks to gather once a year and elect their own Black Governor, who spoke on behalf of all blacks and served as a judge, mediator and liaison.

 

That day, called “Negro Election Day” in 1741, was the first occurrence of voting rights for blacks in the United States. Now known as the Salem Willows Black Picnic, it will celebrate its 275th anniversary on Saturday, July 16, and Doreen Wade couldn’t be prouder.

 

Salem United

Left to right: Su Almeida, Salem United Treasurer, Doreen Wade, Salem United Founder and President, Mayor Kim Driscoll, Ann Carlson, Salem United Historian

 

“During this crazy election year, it is especially important to let people know the role Salem played in the black vote and to show everyone the importance of voting,” said the founder of the Salem United Organization, which hosts the event. “Our goal is to bring the day back to its origin and maintain its mission to voter registration and family unity.”

 

To that end, the event collaborates with the Young Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts for a get out and vote campaign statewide and a day of voter registration. The group will host a voter registration table at the event. Wade said that anyone with a driver’s license or birth certificate would be able to register on the spot at the Salem Willows Black Picnic.

 

Wade stresses that the day is geared to the entire community, not just its black members. “We want everyone out there to understand the importance of the vote,” she said.

 

photo (4)

2015 Salem Black Picnic-kers

 

“With the republicans and Democrats in such disarray, we need to have all voters registered and educated to who they are voting for and what they are voting for,” she added. Salem United will be hosting family oriented vendors, including educational and health groups, as well as speakers to highlight the historical significance of the day.

 

The Picnic is also a day for family-oriented fun. Since 1885, Salem Willows Park has been the Picnic’s annual location and has always included barbecues, volleyball games, dances and more. This year, the musical entertainment on the Main Stage will feature the Dave Macklin Band, Purpose Music Group, and various other performers. Children ages 5 to 14 can enjoy free face painting, arts and crafts and other hands-on activities.

 

And, of course, there will be food. “The day is also a day everyone came together and cooked out. There are grills galore and all you smell is barbecue,” Wade said, reminding people that is it fine for them to bring their own grills.

 

Wade, who is Publisher and CEO of New England Informer dba N.E. Informer Newsmagazine, founded Salem United in 2015 to preserve and restore the Salem Willows Black Picnic. “As we celebrate its history and its 275th year anniversary, we felt it would be easier if we were a formal organization,” she said.

 

Organizing the 2016 event, she was impressed with the support from the City of Salem, from Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office to the City officials (many of whom are marching in the parade) and licensing departments. She is disappointed that Massachusetts didn’t embrace and support the July 16 event, but hopes the 2017 Black Picnic may receive more state recognition.

 

Nonetheless, Wade is upbeat and enthusiastic and steadfast in her commitment to the Black Picnic’s mission. “I hope people take away from this event that their voices are important. A day of unity is healthy and necessary. We can come together as a community,” she said.

CAPTION FOR PHOTO AT TOP: The Black Picnic, which started as “Negro Election Day” in 1741, at its first celebration at Salem Willows in 1885.

For more information, visit http://www.neinformer.net/BlackPicnic.html.

 

Let the Gaming Begin!

Bit Bar Salem: where two bits still buys what it did in 1980

By Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in economics to realize that 25 cents doesn’t buy what it used to. Armed with a single quarter, you would have to time travel to 1945 to use it to buy a pound of hamburger; to 1960 to buy a gallon of gas; and to 1970 to buy a loaf of bread.

 

Or, you could just walk into the new Bit Bar Salem arcade-restaurant-bar hybrid at the intersection of St. Peter Street and Bridge Street, plunk your quarter into a vintage Ms. PacMan or Donkey Kong arcade machine, and pretend it was still 1980.

 

“Yes, it really is a quarter for a game. We say inflation be damned!” Rob Hall, one of the five co-owners said with a chuckle.

BitBar1

Bit Bar co-owner Rob Hall plays his favorite video game, Mortal Kombat. Wicked Local Staff Photo / Kirk R. Williamson

 

 

The genesis of Bit Bar was Hall’s interest in classic arcade games (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, etc.) The North Shore native, who graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a concentration in programming and media, set up a Facebook page for people who lived in the Boston area and enjoyed talking about these classic games. He met Joshua Allen, a technician by trade whose hobby is collecting and restoring arcade games, through his page. Andrew Wylie, a vintage shop owner who is plugged into the creative and music community in Greater Boston, joined the group. So did Max Clark, the restaurant manager at Trident Booksellers in Boston. Last, Allen brought in a friend of his, Gideon Coltof, who had just earned an M.B.A. at Babson College and was looking for an interesting project.

 

The group tossed around the idea of doing “Bit Fests”, pop up arcade events that would take place mostly at breweries. The idea was successful in other areas, but untested locally. “We were always interested in having a permanent location, but even before that, we were thinking it would be fun to do a classic themes festival,” said Hall, who admitted that the idea of moving these 300-lb. machines to temporary locations for a day or two was “a totally crazy idea. Totally insane.”

 

Coltof thought it was a textbook way to get a feel for the market before taking the brick-and-mortar plunge. “It’s not often you come upon a completely unguarded market like this. There was nothing in the Boston area,” he said, referring to the Bit Fests as “three tons of fun”.

 

In December 2014, the group did its first pop up event. Over the course of a year, Boston Bit Fest had ten events, but as early as last summer, they started looking to make the brick and mortar a reality. Originally they looked in Cambridge, Somerville, Malden and Boston, but it was hard to find interesting, good space.

One day, Coltof saw a listing for the old Salem jail space that had been home to The Great Escape and most recently, A&B Burgers. Hall had been mentioning Salem as a possible location, but this was the first time a potential listing had caught his eye. “Gideon thought it was funny, like ‘Ha, ha, ha. Look at this, an old jail!’, but I live on the North Shore and had eaten here when it was A&B. I told him it was a great space,” said Hall.

 

Coltof came to Salem and was blown away. “I tried to get a sense of what Salem was like and I thought, ‘This is really cool. We can really make this work.” They signed the lease and began working on Bit Bar Salem in January.

 

The 3,000 square foot space features two rooms of classic arcade and pinball machines with total capacity of 106, including seating for 70. The outdoor patio accommodates an additional 60 people. There are 30 machines in the bar area and another 30 in a warehouse in Everett, which they rotate for variety. These are the original games, painstakingly restored, refurbished and spit shined to their original glory. Some of the most popular games are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and pinball machines Cue Ball Wizard, Hook and Cyclone.

 

Under Executive Chef Eric Hammer, formerly of Tavern in the Square, the attention-grabbing menu features Walking Tacos (“a tasty, traveling taco minus the mess”), snacks, sandwiches, entrees and sweets. Specialty cocktails are whimsically named “Pooka”, “Dankey Kang” and ”Pinky & Clyde”, among others. Local breweries are featured and Maine Root supplies Fair Trade Certified organically sweetened sodas

 

Most important to Hall and Coltof is that Bit Bar Salem be as green as possible, leaving the smallest carbon footprint and supporting the local community. “We pay living wages. We recycle our cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. Our meat is from Walden Meats (‘happy cows and chickens’). I want to be sure we are building something we can be proud of,” Coltof said.

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll is excited to welcome Bit Bar to Salem and to stake her personal arcade turf. “This creative business will add to our downtown’s growing reputation as a hip, vibrant and diverse dining destination. Beyond just the new jobs and economic activity this restaurant will bring, its innovative theme will make a real unique experience, not simply in Salem but for the whole greater Boston area,” she said, adding,” I look forward to setting their high score in Galaga.”

 

After a “soft opening” in June, the group is looking to tweak a few things before hosting its grand opening. Their biggest issue is managing all three things that Bit Bar Salem is: a classic arcade, a bar and a restaurant. During the day, it is more like a restaurant; at night, it feels like a busy bar. And then there are the 30 arcade games. “Our biggest challenge is how much floor space to devote to tables and how much to games. We are loath to give up a single game in our floor-plan, but if a bussing station has to go somewhere, or a server station is needed to make the flow of the place work ten times better, then we have to do it,” Hall said.

 

Like Mayor Driscoll, Coltof and Hall each have favorite games. For Coltof, it’s Rolling Thunder, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the pinball game Cyclone. For Hall, it’s more personal.

 

“Altered Beast”, a fun classic Sega game, is not necessarily the best game ever made, according to Hall. But for him, it is especially fun to play because it is one he helped fix and restore. “Just seeing that come back to life after you think it’s dead and gone is something,” he said.