You Asked, We Answered: Why Does Portsmouth Shut Down at 9 p.m.?

Sep 18, 2017

New Hampshire has long been graying. And without a major metro area that draws young adults, it can reinforce a stereotype of the state as that quiet, bucolic territory in the middle of New England.

With that in mind, one listener asked our Only in NH series: Why does Portsmouth shut down at 9 p.m.?

NHPR’s Jimmy Gutierrez stepped out for a night on the town looking for answers. It's a question often asked in some towns. But Portsmouth? Doesn't the Port City have a bustling night scene? 

Editor's note: We highly recommend listening to this story.

The night out features a round of Jell-o shots, a velvet rope line with real-live young people in their "Tinder best," a pancake so magnificent you may actually swoon, and a chance encounter with a former New England Patriots player - and his Super Bowl ring.

Did we mention there'd be Jell-o shots?

By now you know: There's little we won't do in the name of social science. Or the social scene. So come along on this assignment: A couple of NHPR producers walk into a bar.

And another bar.

And another.

All to explore the nightlife. Or, some might say, the lack thereof, in the Granite State. 

This story begins in earnest at The Rusty Hammer and a rendezvous with the listener who raised the question. He and his wife moved here a year ago. They were chagrinned by the options, given their work schedules. A second shift will do that.

Our journey takes us by The Press Room, the venerable live-music venue. Which is ... closed. Yes, but it's temporarily shuttered for renovations. The Daniel Street landmark has new owners and it should reopen and be rockin' again soon, as a few listeners and musicians (thank you, Mary-Erin) let us know after Word of Mouth aired over the weekend.

Our non-scientific pub crawl moves on down the road. Just a few doors down, thankfully, we find Daniel Street Tavern. The big, bald bouncer invites NHPR inside - after a wee question about our big microphone.

Its townie-bar ambiance is a welcomed oasis. The regulars are engaging, funny, and ready with a few nightlife tips. Our curious, thirsty listener soon says goodnight -- that's right, the same one who asked, "Why does Portsmouth shut down at 9 p.m.?"

The night is young. The search for more nightlife continues.

The Portsmouth Gas Light, with its upstairs night club, provides a demographic far from the AARP card-carrying set. And, as Taylor puts it, some radio magic: a chance encounter and chat with Patrick Pass, the former fullback for the Super Bowl champion Patriots (again, it's a must-listen chat above).

As the evening stretches past midnight, NHPR mingles in Market Square. Some 20-somethings kvetch about "last call" being too early. At least compared to Boston and New York. We eventually end up at The Friendly Toast to enjoy some late-night eats. 

So Portsmouth, like the rest of New Hampshire, is graying. A couple of feature stories have highlighted it as a great place to visit - and retire to. There is even a self-described curmudgeon who complains (among other gripes) that the Prescott Park Arts Festival, which brings world-class music to Portsmouth, is too loud.

Yet, after a night out in Portsmouth, NHPR can confirm that there is a nightlife "there" here. With or without the heavenly pancakes.

(Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected – the original version stated that The Press Room was closed permanently. It will re-open under new management this fall.)

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