If you’ve ever been inside Two Shea’s bar on Wales Street, you know Eddie Pomainville. He’s the guy behind the bar with the warm, welcoming smile who greets you with a cheerful “hello,” and if it’s been a while, a hug or a handshake. He probably knows you by name, and chances are, he’s got your drink of choice poured before you’ve even ordered it.
In a city where, for better or worse, bars comprise a large part of our local culture, Pomainville is a fixture of the downtown social scene who has built his reputation not by pouring drinks, but through building friendships.
Often, we regard bartenders as two-dimensional figures – people who pour us a drink, make polite conversation, but whose back-story we rarely get to hear. I sat down with Pomainville recently at Two Shea’s to hear some of his story.
A Pittsford native, Pomainville grew up on a 600-acre farm where his family worked raising 80 milking cows. The youngest of six, he was the only boy – “I had five older mothers,” he quips. He spent his youth working on the farm before heading north to Johnson State College, where he studied writing – he and his friends started a campus newspaper that still exists today – and played soccer.
“Soccer was my life for a long time,” Pomainville said. His Johnson State team went to nationals, and afterward he spent some time coaching men’s and women’s teams at the college level around the state.
Despite his love for the sport, Pomainville decided to make his way back to Pittsford to help with the family farm. But much like today, running a dairy farm in the mid-1990s was fraught with difficulties. In 1994, his family sold their cows, and took steps to preserve the land. The Pomainville Family Wetland Preserve is now the biggest wetland preserve in the state.
Leaving the farm behind was bittersweet. It was a difficult decision, but there are some aspects of farm life that Pomainville does not miss.
“It’s hard to have a life outside of the farm,” he said.
After the farm, Pomainville began to spend more time in Rutland. He played on the Two Shea’s basketball team, and soon, owner Tim Shea was inviting Pomainville to pick up some bartending shifts.
It was also around this time that he began hanging out a group of local musicians called The Samples. “(Lead singer) Sean Kelly was a friend of mine,” Pomainville said. “They needed someone to sell their merchandise on the road.”
For the next three years, Pomainville toured the country with the roots rockers, learning the business, and eventually, taking on the duties of tour manager. The experience was memorable to say the least.
“You see the country, meet new people, learn something new everyday,” he says, recalling some highlights such as meeting bands like Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Hootie and the Blowfish.
As for true rock star stories, Pomainville has a few.
“Evan Dando (of The Lemonheads) was probably the most memorable. Let’s just leave it at that,” he says with a smile.
But the rock-and-roll lifestyle takes its toll.
“You play 23 straight shows on the road, you begin to lose your sense of time and place,” he said, “You go to sleep in one time zone, wake up in another; it starts to wear on you.”
So Pomainville decided to leave the road behind.
“I grew up on a farm, I’ve always had a strong sense of home,” he says. “I had a girlfriend I never saw, an apartment I never lived in; I wanted to get back to that.”
Pomainville likens getting off tour to stepping off a spaceship – “It takes you awhile to readjust.”
Back in Rutland, Pomainville returned to his post at Two Shea’s – a place, which for him, has always felt like home.
“Tim and Ronnie are the best employers I’ve ever had,” he declares, adding that the success of the bar owes much to their dedication. “They’re not just owners; they work here. They’re bartenders, too.”
Indeed, in a city that once held the record for most bars per capita, Two Shea’s has always stood out in the crowd. The recent downtown bar renaissance has yielded a crop of shiny new watering holes. Yet while they may be nice to look at, most are lacking in substance and character. Two Shea’s has both in spades.
“It’s the corner bar in the middle of the street,” Pomainville says brightly, “It always has the same feel.”
The license plates, the board games, the encyclopedias, the years of accumulated bric-a-brac along the walls – there is a homey, lived-in quality that you’ll find in few other bars in town. And it’s just this warm atmosphere that brings in a wide variety of customers every night. As far as clientele goes, Two Shea’s might be one of the most diverse bars in Rutland.
And what about the music? The bar has consciously bucked the jukebox trend, deciding instead to allow its bartenders to play the part of deejay.
“You get to control the mood of the room,” Pomainville said.
Regulars get to know the bartenders’ musical tastes, and even develop preferences to whom they like the best.
When I walked in for this interview, owner Ronnie Shea (who’s behind the bar this night) was playing Les Claypool. As Pomainville and I chat, she has switched to The Meters, a band that he notes is always a sure thing.
While many bar owners would likely take jukebox revenues over “creating a mood,” Two Shea’s sees the value in the latter. It’s part of the brand. It’s one of the many reasons it’s the place you take your friends visiting from out of town – the bar you want to show off.
Outside the bar, Pomainville keeps himself busy. He volunteers with local Special Olympics teams at Rutland Middle School, teaching soccer and bocce. It’s a job that he values highly.
“I learn more from those than they do from me,” he says happily.
And then there’s the poetry. If you’ve spent a little bit of time around Two Shea’s, you’ve probably heard one of Pomainville’s poems. Earnest and pastoral, his verses recall Romantic poets like Wordsworth, talking about love and nature. These aren’t just barroom musings; Pomainville has a way with words.
“It’s always been a hobby,” he says, characterizing his poems as the diary of his life – his observations and questions about the world. While he’s always considered it a hobby, Pomainville hopes to one day publish a collection.
As our conversation winds down, I notice that the bar has filled up. People are playing pool, and a group has arrived to celebrate someone’s birthday. The Meters are still playing. The interview is over, but we continue to talk – about music, old Rutland radio stations and mutual friends. Pomainville and I step up to the bar for a drink. It’s a Tuesday. Outside, it’s November. The cold weather is here to stay. But inside Two Shea’s, it’s warm and feels like home.
Expressed :: (Approximately) 5 Questions for Eddie Pomainville
The Express’ Jim Sabataso sat down with Two Shea’s Eddie Pomainville to chat about jukeboxes, life on the road with The Samples and exactly what is in an “Eddie Special.”
Jim Sabataso: You were tour manager for The Samples; what would be your dream band to be on the road with?
Eddie Pomainville: The Rolling Stones.
JS: You think you could have survived that?
EP: Keith Richards did.
JS: I’m not entirely convinced he did. What’s your favorite memory from your time with The Samples?
EP: The things we did together. Not as a band, but as friends – seeing the country together.
JS: Anyone who’s spent some time in Two Shea’s has probably heard some of your poetry. Who’s your favorite poet?
EP: William Wordsworth. He was a Romantic – lots of images of nature.
JS: Word. So Two Shea’s is like the last bar in Rutland that doesn’t have a jukebox. Thank you.
EP: [Laughs] You’re welcome.
JS: Final question: Can you tell us what’s in an “Eddie Special”?
EP: You’ll have to come in and order one.