Mary Boucher moved into her Clifton Park home in 1987. She and her neighbors became friendly acquaintances who would greet each other when they happened to pass outside, but they didn’t exactly socialize.
All of that changed 21⁄2 years ago when she and her husband, Tom Boucher, transformed their living room into a miniature Irish tavern. These days, if neighbors see a parrot posted on the front lawn (the couple are big Jimmy Buffet fans) on Friday nights, they know it’s time for happy hour at the Bouchers.
The Bouchers’ frequent social gatherings have helped to change the character of the neighborhood, transforming acquaintances into good friends and encouraging others in the neighborhood to engage with each other socially.
Settling on best idea
The Bouchers considered a few options for the room before they chose the pub route. The couple’s main goal was to move people out of the kitchen when they entertained, as people tended to congregate there. Tom Boucher knew the room had to have some kind of draw for that to happen.
They thought about making it a movie room, but they’re not big movie fans. A second option they considered was turning it into a gaming room with a pool table, pinball machine and Wii setup. That option, like the first, would have had their kids using the room a lot more than they would.
“I said something about a bar, and that’s when the lights went on,” Tom Boucher said. “It seemed like a good fit because we do like entertaining, and it seemed like a nice way to do it,” he said.
Mary found an old wooden bar on Craig’s List, from an old barn in Stephentown. They determined that it had to be at least 80 years old, having been relegated to the barn for decades. Tom fixed and refinished the hardwood. There are shelves for bottles on the wall behind, as well as a wine rack. A rack for stemware hangs overhead, and there’s a small refrigerator under the bar.
A comfy couch sits by the wall across from the fireplace with a television hanging above it. Despite the entertainment available, the bar is the main attraction, where everyone gathers to relax and catch up with one another. Tom plays bartender, pouring drinks from behind the bar, subtly monitoring how much everyone has had to drink and who will be driving home. He’ll take keys if he needs to, or offer friends a ride home or a place to crash if they’ve had too much to drink.
On the Bouchers’ street, their home is the place to be on Friday evenings. Tom sees it as a way to de-stress from the work week. “Everybody comes in and lets their hair down and gets off their chests what they want to get off their chests,” he said. “By the time they leave, they’re feeling better.”
It’s a friendly gathering, often with 14 to 18 friends and neighbors gathering on Friday evenings in the fall, winter and spring. Summer get-togethers are more sporadic. There’s no charge, although friends will occasionally bring a bottle of wine, a new drink they want to try, or something to eat.
Close to home
The couple likes having created a place where people can come and relax with friends, and still be close to home.
And not only have the Bouchers gotten to know their neighbors well, other neighbors have become acquainted with one another. Martha and Steve Paraszczak lived a couple of blocks from the Bouchers since 1991 but didn’t get to know them until the Friday evening events began.
“It’s a great way to meet people in the neighborhood,” Martha said. “We met so many people on the street we never would have met,” she said.
The Irish tavern has helped neighbors make connections. Paul Russman moved onto the street five years ago. Until the happy hours, his wife and Mary Boucher didn’t realize that they had gone through school together, from kindergarten through high school.
The couple often opens their home on Sunday afternoons during football season and for what Tom calls “Beer 30” on Sundays. “This is after work around the house is done. Rakes will go down, shovels will go down,” he said. Boucher, who loves to cook, will whip up some pub fare for everyone.
The Irish tavern room has inspired other neighbors to host neighborhood-building events. Mark Burroughs and his wife, who live across the street, decided to find their own niche for bringing neighbors together. They have a brick patio with a portable fire pit, so on many Saturdays or Sundays, they invite people over via Facebook message.
“It lets people just get together and hang out,” Burroughs said. “We’ve certainly gained more friends spread further out in the neighborhood,” he said.
They also started hosting Halloween night. They move the fire pit to the driveway and set up tables where neighbors can bring bowls of candy. Burroughs lines the driveway with tiki torches and sets up the grill or, one year, a deep fryer. The adults sit around the fire talking and eating. As trick or treaters approach, they invite them to take candy from the bowls on the tables. The Burroughs’ sons work on scaring the visitors.
In a time when people may or may not even know their neighbors, the Bouchers’ neighborhood has turned itself into a close-knit one, where friends gather to chat, joke around and enjoy each other’s company. It’s so popular that the Bouchers’ original bar is about to be replaced with one that he is building himself in a horseshoe shape to accommodate more people.
“I really couldn’t ask for a better place to live,” Burroughs said.