Friday, November 23, 2007

Jose's Mexican Restaurant

Plymouth, NH -

**This article marks the continuation of the Granite State Watering Holes series begun in September, a collection describing the places that voters and journalists get their booze on in New Hampshire**

Plymouth, the gateway to the North Country in the foothills of the White Mountains, is a college town without much else to it. The Pemigewasset River flows down its eastern border with the town of Holderness, and building up in every direction outside of town are mountains. It’s the kind of town where you will hear packs of students stumbling around at 9PM on a Friday tying to hit each other in the nuts (true story) and where a drunken merry-maker might puke on your door handle sometime between the hours of 11PM and 1:15AM (also a true story).

Nevertheless, there exists a tight community of professors, skiers, nature lovers and rural pickup drivers with Confederate flag decals on their rigs. The town common sits off of main street between downtown and the college, and two blocks north or south in either direction and you are back in the heights of rural Northern New Hampshire.

But in the center of Main Street, down a flight of stairs and around a dark corner, exists a remarkably good Mexican restaurant. Jose’s Bar is one of those holes in the wall that you always look for in a small town, but more often than not turn away from once you set sights upon it.

I have been into Jose’s about a half dozen times, and it wasn’t until the latest that I actually gained the courage to try their food, and it was probably the most pleasant culinary surprises I’ve had since I’ve been in New Hampshire.

Jose’s looks like a basement crash pad where high school kids get together to have parties, jam out with their beginner guitar skills, and ultimately feel like shit the next morning. Even in the middle of November, cobwebs from the Halloween party still adorned the ceiling above the bar, along with the paper bats that were glued all over the vertical support beams. The corners are dark, the floors seems dirty (even though they aren’t) and the bathrooms are down a long, dim hallway nearly a minute’s walk away from the main room.

Did I mention I like this place?

These are exactly the types of endearing qualities that make it the kind of place where you can feel comfortable. There are a three flatscreen televisions behind the bar, playing whatever the bartender or the drunkards want to watch. I have seen everything from Red Sox playoffs and Celtics games to Jeopardy, sitcoms and Monster Truck rallies.

There is also a stage in the back left section of the main room where a few different bands play every week. The décor is sparse, yet kitchy where it exists, with souvenirs like a Hawaii license plate and a wire cowboy boot sitting on the shelves, and jalapeno novelty lights strung across the liquor cabinets. There is also a locally famous four-foot tall chair in the corner next to the stage.
Jose's Big Chair

But perhaps the bar’s best attribute is it’s owner, Joe Capuzzo, known around these parts as Jose. Capuzzo has been in the business for over twenty years, first running a series of Jose’s bars down in Boston before retiring with his family to a nearby mountain town in 2005. But after a couple years off, Jose started to get restless, and decided to bring his beloved restaurant to Plymouth, although on a much smaller scale.

“Life is boring without good work,” Capuzzo told me. “It keeps you young.”

Jose’s is only open from 5PM-1AM because Capuzzo, who is also the head chef, has two school-aged children and wanted to have a larger role in their life. That role superseded the need for a lunch menu. When he isn’t cooking, Jose can almost always be found hanging out in the bar talking with customers and getting a sense for what they like and don’t like.

He is also constantly singing along with the music, whether it is the Beatles, Creedence, Tom Petty or a mixtape playlist of reggae. Just a few days ago Jose added three folding tables to the bar’s game repertoire, along with a pool table and a game of bubble hockey, so the patrons could play Beirut with water while they drank their beer.

While I was there last week one of the customers, a woman in her 40s who worked at PSU, challenged Jose to a game of Beirut. He humored her for a few shots without drinking and imparted some wisdom while he clanked his ping pong balls wide.

“Never play Beirut with any hard alcohol,” Capuzzo told his opponent with a wry smile. “You know why? Because the liquor commission doesn’t like that.”

A truer statement has never been made. I took over for him and drilled a few shots while I sipped my PBR, the taste of a delightfully sweet and spicy chicken enchilada still on my tongue. Something about the atmosphere made it feel like it was my home court. I missed twice, then hit three more consecutively to win. I’ve never played better in my life.

Jose’s has a full bar, emphasizing Mexican beer and tequila in addition to their food menu.

On Tap is PBR ($2) and Dos XX ($3.50).

Their selection of Mexican cervezas includes Corona, Corona Light, Dos XX, Dos XX Amber, Tecate, Sol, San Lucas, San Lucas Light, Carte Blanca, Cantina, Pacifico Claro, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, y Bohemia at $3.50

Domestics: Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Miller Chill, Coors Light, Rolling Rock and Michelob Ultra are $2.75

Imports and Micros are $3.50: Magic Hat #9, Heineken, Amstel Light, Harpoon UFO.

Guinness is $4.

Better still, the beer selections written on a surfboard.

They have eight different tequilas, and sausage on a stick for $1.50.

Jose’s also has the potential for a great conversation with an enthusiastic and convincing businessman. Its they kind of joint you’ll only find in a small college town, and its why I’ll be sure to head up to Plymouth a few more times before I beat trail out of the Granite State.

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