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Bartender Tales: This drink ties the room together

Three Cod Tavern bartender and lifelong Marblehead resident, Gus Percy, serves a freshly poured White Russian, his favorite drink. Photo by Libby O'Neill

When I walked into Three Cod Tavern on a chilly Tuesday afternoon, I was immediately struck by just how warm and welcoming it felt. As I rounded the corner towards the bar, that sense only grew. The small crowd assembled around the bar at 4 p.m. seemed immensely comfortable, not just because of the seats they were sitting in, but because, as it became very clear, this place was a part of their routine. As one regular walked in, the bartender, Chip Percy, called out to ask if he wanted an O’Dools. The man said he did.

That’s the kind of experience one can have at the Three Cod Tavern, which Percy owns. In fact, Percy said, oftentimes regulars are known better by their drink orders than their names. To that end, Percy’s son, Gus, who has worked at the tavern for eight years now, follows his father from Maddie’s Sail Loft, where he worked as a bus boy beginning at age 14, was able to identify the drink orders of two female patrons sitting at the bar from memory.

I, of course, had Gus Percy make me a drink — dealer’s (or in this case, bartender’s) choice. He opted to make me a White Russian, a drink I had never sampled before comprised of Vodka, Kahlua (a coffee liquer), and milk. Now, I did know what a White Russian was as a fan of the film, “The Big Lebowski,” in which the main character can frequently be seen downing these concoctions, but, I had been hesitant to actually sample the drink considering the combination of alcohol and milk, two things that don’t exactly seem to be peas in a pod. Yet, in all honesty, I was impressed.

Percy said White Russians are among his favorite drinks, in part because of their sneaky-high alcohol levels.

“They’re delicious and dangerous,” he said, noting that the White Russian was also his father’s drink of choice before the elder Percy stopped drinking. “They sneak up on you. They don’t really taste strong but they are.”

They sort of taste like coffee, milky goodness. Like maybe a drink you get at Dunkin’ Donuts, but that also gets you … drunk,” he continued, censoring himself.

I have to admit, Percy’s assessment was correct — the White Russian he made me, nearly overflowing from a pint glass, did essentially just taste like coffee, though it also unmistakably tasted like alcohol and I opted not to finish the drink in an effort to not get arrested for operating under the influence. This was a strong drink to be sure, and it was easy to see how after one or two, the alcoholic taste could dissipate entirely, leading to some fun evenings.

While Percy had a difficult time recalling any stories that were newspaper-appropriate, he did note that a regular customer, whose wife, Jen, was sitting at the bar Tuesday afternoon, would sometimes order mozzarella sticks behind his wife’s back and ask Percy to cover up his indiscretion. When the mozzarella sticks were revealed, Jen said, her husband would just play dumb.

Percy, with a hearty chuckle, quipped that he had just “outed” the regular.

The rest of the stories, he said, begin with “this guy got so drunk that…” and don’t always end in a reader-friendly fashion.

A lifelong resident of Marblehead, Percy said he enjoys bartending because it gives him a chance to meet people, socialize, and tell stories.

“There’s a buzz that you get when it’s busy and you know you’re doing well and everybody’s having a good time,” he said.

Three Cod Tavern is more than just a bar, with a dedicated kitchen churning out dishes like fish tacos, steak tips, and of course, lobster rolls.

Percy said the staff is what makes the place run.

“We also have a great staff here,” he said. “They mean the most to us we have loyal, loyal bartenders, and servers and busboys, they’re always high school kids, family, friends, our kitchen staff is overworked in a sense,” he said. “We can’t say enough good things about the people who work here.”

A brief, three-month stint working at a tiki bar in Tampa Bay made Percy realize just how special Three Cod Tavern really is. He said it’s the familiarity that keeps people coming back, and that experience was completely absent when he left.

“There were no repeat customers. Here, it’s all friends and family and not only are you serving your friends and family, but you’re working alongside your friends and family,” he said. “That’s such a special thing. That really can’t be replicated too many places.”