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Article Published July 23, 2020

Pirates Take Over Tap Room at the Griswold Inn

By Rita Christopher/

Gilbert and Sullivan made the Pirates of Penzance famous. The Disney theme park ride and Johnny Depp, who starred in the movie, gave Pirates of the Caribbean their celebrity. Now Essex has its own claim to pirate fame: a band of buccaneers on display every day in the Tap Room of the Griswold Inn.

Geoffrey Paul, whose family has owned the Griswold Inn at 36 Main Street, Essex, for 25 years, will match his pirates against the Disney crew.

“I think this is even better than Pirates of the Caribbean,” he says.

Mark Adam Rampmeyer, hair and make-up designer, and costume rental manager at the Goodspeed Theater, designed the display of life-size mannequins. They are posed around some familiar Tap Room equipment, including the always-lit Christmas tree, moved into the center of the room.

Rampmeyer did far more than dress the pirates in appropriate costume. He researched pirate life and created a back story that helped him give both reality and a distinctly modern touch to the Griswold’s pirate scene.

The leader’s boots, standard gear for a pirate in any age, are a very modern take on traditional footwear: Harley Davison’s. What’s more, the leader is a woman, dressed in a fancy purple coat that Rampmeyer’s story line says was appropriated from one of the male pirates to show her dominance.

Her brother stands a behind her and off to the side. He once led the band, so Rampmeyer’s story goes, but a dalliance with a female member of the troop led to his downfall and replacement. That’s why one of his hands is resting on a violin: He is second fiddle.

Other figures include the pirate leader’s younger sister, perched on the piano and a sticky-fingered stowaway who purloined his shirt, which advertises the Griswold Inn, from the gift shop. Rampmeyer has dubbed one pirate “pretty boy,” posed so that visitors can stand next to him, and put one of his arms around their shoulder for a perfect pirate selfie.

“People love to do it,” Rampmeyer says.

The scene is rich with detail. The pirate queen, for instance, holds a watch set to five o’clock, a tribute to an old cocktail adage about the right time to begin drinking: It’s always five o’clock somewhere. A waiter not only has drinks on his tray but also the coins he has earned in tips.

Rampmeyer noted the pirates are accurate down to the smallest details.

“They are all wearing proper period undergarments,” he says. “The lass on top of the piano has bloomers on.”

‘People Are the Beating Heart’

Paul got the idea of creating a pirate scene as he walked through the empty restaurant during the early stages of the pandemic.

“It was devoid of life, of people, and people are the beating heart of this place,” he says. “An empty bar is not the right look; you need people, even fake people.”

He reached out to the Goodspeed, an organization with which the Paul family has had a long and close relationship to create the pirate scene.

The scene opened on June 17. The night before, Rampmeyer had brought all the mannequins to Essex. He and Paul draped sheets over them and carried them through the restaurant to the dining area on the back terrace. Paul was aware that it looked as though they were carrying lifeless but real bodies.

“We walked through with full size mannequins and boots sticking out of the sheets,” Paul recalls. “Maybe not such a good look for a restaurant.”

Paul says under state regulations the Tap Room is not yet open.

“I agree with that decision, by the way,” he adds, noting that bar crowds and lack of social distancing make it impossible to insure health requirement.

He pointed out, however, that patrons walk through the Tap Room to the dining room and the back terrace, and to use the rest rooms.

How long the pirate scene will remain once the Tap Room opens is unclear. Ultimately the furniture will be replaced and there will no longer be enough room for the swashbucklers. Perhaps before that time, a patron will solve the mystery of the tattoo on the stowaway’s arm, a heart with the initials P.K. + B.B. on it. Rampmeyer revealed that B.B. stands for beach bum but P.K. remains a secret.

“People will have to figure it out for themselves,” he says.