CAMDEN — Imagine sitting at Cappy’s downstairs bar on a regular evening, nothing special, just a night you happened to pop in for a pint, when John Travolta walks in. First, you’re thinking, this can’t be real. There’s a look of concern on his face as he approaches you. “Hey, does anybody here happen to know where a veterinarian is?”
You’re now thinking, “OK, he just came from his house on Islesboro and one of his animals is sick.”
You try to give him some helpful suggestions of vets in the area, as does everyone sitting around at the bar.
Travolta’s straight face now breaks into a grin.
“Good, because these puppies are sick,” he says, flexing his biceps and giving each arm a kiss.
True story. Ann Flagg Campbell, a bartender who worked at Cappy’s Chowder House in 2014-2015 recalls: “It was hilarious, the funniest thing ever. Everybody loved it because it made him so real, down-to-earth and personable. He was the friendliest guy. He’d talk to anybody.”
Travolta was one of a few celebrities who stopped by Cappy’s Chowder House in its 37-year run. Former bartender Duncan Lockie (who made a mean margarita) had another funny story.
“Some years ago, John Travolta came in with Cal Ripken and friend on a quiet, chilly December afternoon with their own bottle of fancy red wine. They sat down at Table 2 and asked very politely whether it was OK to ‘bring their own’ and could they have some of our ‘great Happy Hour popcorn.’ Of course they could! They didn't order anything else and their bill, quite naturally, came to zero. They stayed for about an hour and after they left, there on the table was a $30 cash tip.”
Flagg Campbell said: “I’ve been in the restaurant industry for 25 years and that was, by far, the tightest knit group of people I’ve ever worked with. It was really a family there. In our off time, we’d go to one another’s birthday parties. If someone got sick, we’d all get together and bring them food or visit them at the hospital. ”
It was clear how much Cappy’s staff enjoyed their customers.
We covered Cappy’s when “Big John” Collins, one of Cappy’s veteran bartenders returned after 13-year-hiatus.
We also highlighted bartender Flagg Campbell’s killer Bloody Mary.
Server Kimberly Lockie said: “I worked at Cappy's for six years. I must say there's nothing better than bringing a kid a Giggle Meal for the first time. Sometimes the big kids enjoyed a fun straw in their margarita or a mermaid in their martini. It was a very rewarding job at times.”
Graphic designer Maggi Blue recalls her fleeting days as a server.
“When I worked there in college, I remember being often hyped up on espresso that Big John would make me (I was underage, so this was my vice while working). While working stupid busy weekend days/nights, I would get the question (a la tourist speak) ‘Where is Bangor’ to which I would respond ‘Bang-er, I didn't even know her.’ One never quite knew if the table of tourists would find that funny. It was always a gamble.”
Our own editor Lynda Clancy remembers it as the only job she’s ever held in which she got fired. “I was 17 the summer of 1977, living with my boyfriend at the campground and needed a job,” she said. “I got the breakfast shift. It was the old Cappy’s with the breakfast bar. One morning, all the fishermen and workmen were coming in and in my little apron, I filled the giant coffee maker with water and poured it through. Nothing was happening, so I poured through another. It went all over, everywhere. The floors, counters, everywhere. I was fired the next day.”
Just like Cheers, the fictional neighborhood bar in Boston, Cappy’s was the type of corner bar that drew its Norms and Cliffs. One such beloved customer who passed away in 2012 was Terry Voisine, a regular, who could always be found with a “low brow beer and a highbrow book” in front of him. “He came in all the time and was always reading at the bar,” said Campbell Flagg. “Whenever we did our own personal fundraising efforts to help one of our staff or customers, Terry was always the first one to give or offer help.”
Customer Rai Burnham had a memory that forever changed her view of her mother.
“When my mother and her partner visited me two years ago, I took them to Cappy's on their first night in town. My mother, who never eats dessert, decided to splurge and have the giant brownie sundae. None of us were prepared for the epic enormousness of what she had ordered. My mom is 5'1'. she had to stand up to eat it.”
We’re going to miss the free popcorn and hot wings, the Crow’s Nest and Deck Munchies, Girls’ Nights and after work gatherings, but mostly we’re going to miss the people who worked there and saw us as their “regulars.” Goodbye Cappy’s. We’re sorry to see you go.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org