Friday, 2 October 2009

inns and taverns: Old Jonas

A rickety, cramped narrow dockside inn, Old Jonas is a sailor's bar with a ship's wheel sign and perhaps the most dubious clientele outside a free port. Many sailors found here are toughened by sun, salt and strong rum and some say made mad by the same things.  It attracts equally the desperate and depraved - if you have a ship and need a crew, or a pretty face - you're best avoiding Old Jonas unless you'll fit in.

Outside, the inn looks dingy and dilapidated, made of ship timbers, driftwood, nails, pitch and caulking to provide shelter.  The long-neglected and faded scene of a mermaid beckoning clients hides beneath cracked paint, damp patches and bird lime that gives her a haggard, leprous aspect.  In the long afternoon shadows, more than one sailor can be found unconscious from drink and empty-pursed outside the front door.

Inside the inn is dingy, tallow lamps and greasy candles gutter on rough-shaped tables around which sprawl unwashed patrons in various states of drunkenness and spilt alcohol.  Tattoos, scars and missing body parts are worn proudly and knives are concealed.  Woven rope nets hang from the ceiling and support jugs, small kegs and tankards which are brought down to serve diverse individuals.

Drink is cheap, either sour ale that churns the stomach or dark bottles of spirits that burn the palate and fill the drinker with bravado.  Requests for food are met with laughter and presentation of a cut lime and a dry tack biscuit.  There are two bar staff, usually sullen bearded men in leather breeches and waistcoats that grudgingly serve anyone but who serve sailors and fishermen in preference to merchants and adventurers.

As may be expected, working girls and fishwives can also be found here, red-faced from drink and shouting at drunken sailors.  Equally tattooed, drunken and potentially violent, they are often the cause of brawls that rattle the timbers of Old Jonas.  Brawls here are often ugly, bloody affairs before someone calls for the port watch.  Few people die here, that honour is reserved for elsewhere if a local hates someone enough.

Old Jonas is never closed, despite numerous problems with the port watch.  It's whispered the bar is owned by pirates who bought the inn and the magistrate with it.  There is a private room upstairs that can sleep six in three cramped paired bunks available for a gold a night.  This room is the only place that privacy is assured in the inn - everywhere else has at least one pair of eyes and one pair of ears with an interest.

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