Aug 15, 2014

A visit to the Shot & Shell conjures fond tales of boilermakers, bumps and more. Oh, the etymology!

Angie behind the bar
Doc’s report:

Our unbroken string of happy visits to Bay City’s bars continued at the Shot & Shell, thanks in large measure to bartender Angie, a  veteran of Hooter’s, Bemo’s and the Circle Bar.

Angie knows where to aim the ice cube when you’re getting too bossy. 


She presides over a long straight bar in a clean bright room, with three 50-cent pool tables, perfectly balanced cues, and trophies awarded to such local billiards teams as “Chix and Dipstix.”

Like any modern existentialist, Angie thrives in an environment of contradiction and ambiguity.

It starts with the name -- or names -- of the bar: “SHOT&SHELL” on the sign outside; “Shot ‘n’ Shell” on the handwritten sign inside; “Shot N Shell Bar The” in the phone book.


The location is problematic, too. Angie tells us the bar is in Essexville, and that across the street is Bay City. A Google search offers entries for both “Shot N Shell Bar Bay City, MI, 48708” and “The Shot N Shell Bar Essexville, MI, 48732”.  Same address for both.

Perhaps this ambiguity can be explained by the bar’s location in the north-northeast corner of Bay City's east side. Hamlet explains his pretense to madness by saying “I am but mad north-northwest,” meaning “depending on your perspective.”  Hitchcock took the title of his 1959 film about mistaken identity starring Cary Grant from that phrase: “North by Northwest.”  Identity is a matter of perspective.

Are you entering Essexville or leaving Bay City? Or vice versa? It’s a matter of perspective.

The alliterative drink of the eponymous establishment is also complex in its etymology. Etymology is literally the study of bugs, and drinks named after bugs or bug parts, like a grasshopper or a stinger.

No, actually, it’s the study of the origin of words -- often words that bug us.

At first blush, a shot and a shell is easy to understand: a shot of whiskey and a chaser of beer. Any whiskey, any beer. At the Shot & Shell, it’s the deutschfreundlich peppermint schnapps and Busch Light. (“Deutschfreundlich”: “German-friendly” e.g., Eva toasting Adolf: “You had me at ‘Heil’.”)

Both “shot” and shell” refer to the measuring glass in which their respective drinks are served. “Shot” is a backward formation from “shot glass,” originally a jigger or measuring glass: 1.5 U.S. fluid ounces. It means “dose” or small amount, as in “flu shot.”

"Shell," again, is the measuring glass, 10 oz. of Pilsner. But why "shell"? You could speculate that it’s from the meaning of “shell,” as a small hard outer covering of a life form like a nut or a snail, or of a ballistic weapon, and that a shell of beer could be either restorative or damaging.

But you’d be speculating -- and probably on your third shot and shell and ready for its take-no-prisoners cousin: scotch and soda.

Some trace the term “shell” to the Detroit area, where a waitress might ask: “A shell or a pint?” In 1971, I was at a Wayne State campus bar where the shells were a dime, and you’d remind the bartender that the fourth was on him.

Elegant variations include the alliterative “beer and a bump,” which reverses the order in which the two are consumed.

A Detroiter who surfaced in my Google search claims that his father used the term “shell” for a “small” or “short” beer. (Shakespeare’s villain Iago lists the duties of a housewife as “To suckle fools and chronicle small beer.” A warning to aspiring barmaids.)

This same Detroiter claims that that his father also called a large beer a “bumba.” Here’s a heads-up to Angie and our friends at the Shot & Shell: Watch for a South End competitor called the Bump and Bumba. Bump Bumba, Bump Bumba -- there’s your polka beat.

Another familiar variation is the "boilermaker," whose origin is unknown. It may have been the drink of choice of the hearty craftsmen who formed metal into the boilers for the first
Inside the Shot & Shell on a quiet afternoon
steam engines. It may have been the campus drink of choice at Purdue, where, in the 1880s, the engineering curriculum included work in the forge. A journalist first applied the term to the school’s football team following a drubbing of Wabash College. It stuck, and is still the school’s mascot.

Also well known is the “depth charge,” which echoes the bellicose context of both “shot” and “shell.” In a depth charge, the shot glass of whiskey is dropped into the beer, served in a wide, flat glass. The two are “chugged” at once. This drink also gives its name to a movie title, the WWII submarine thriller “Run Silent, Run Deep.”

I’ve seen boilermakers drunk in the South End after work, after Sunday Mass, after Holy Name breakfasts, on entering a friend’s house, at wedding receptions and at wakes. I have a group of friends who watch the University of Michigan football games on TV. They drink beer throughout the game, but when Michigan scores they all have a “Hail to the Victors” shot (something blue like Curacao), and when the opponent is inside our 10-yard-line everyone has a defensive shot (something maize, like Galliano).

To honor Michigan coaches Chalmers W. (“Bump”) Elliott and his 1968 successor, Glenn E. (“Bo”) Schembechler, we could call this three-hour group shot and shell “A Bo and A Bump.” Perhaps the last round could be served out of a communal “Punch Bowl,” which is as close to the Rose Bowl as this year’s squad is likely to get.

As you read Harry’s account of his unhappy experience with the Grapes of Wrath drink, you should know that Grape Pucker was only one flavored liqueur plus Sprite plus booze possibility offered at the S&S.

The “other puckers” (pun intended):  watermelon, cherry, strawberry, peach, blueberry, sour apple and raspberry. Each suggests its own drink. Each drink suggests its own literary reference.

For a novel set in the segregated South: Watermelon Pucker, Sprite and mezcal. The drink: Tequila Mockingbird.

Creativity was on prominent display at the S&S during our visit. A TV ad offered the irresistible Miracle Grill Mat. Easy clean-up, even cooking, no leakage through the grill. It’s yours for $19.95, or you can have five shots and shells. Life’s full of tough choices.

O.K. smarty, how would you pluralize “shot and shell”?

Harry also offered up his idea of a pro-am competition to make Bay City’s best BLT, his favorite sandwich, as part of next year’s Makin’ Bacon festivities within the West Side’s larger Party Graw celebration.

Harry is also considering an Oktoberfest celebration of our cash crop, the sugar beet. It would feature all sorts of decorative art, cooking contests, recipes, poems honoring the odiferous root, environmentalist projects (Where does the run-off go?), science fairs, tours of the refinery, lectures on the role of the beet in our local economy, a parade led by Miss Sugar Beet (The sweetest gal in the tri-county area), and the endless playing of our theme song. It’s down to the wire between Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” and The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat.” Bay City Beet would complement food festivals in the neighboring communities of Auburn (corn), Linwood (pickles) and Munger  (potatoes).

Creativity and word play always bring us back to the living memory of Dan Nowak, who co-founded this blog and co-authored it under the pen name Baldo until his death in April.

He showed me how to drink a shot and shell. With him, it was a blended whiskey and Miller High Life.

You swirl the whiskey and raise the shot to your mouth with your four fingertips and thumb, consider it, throw it and your head back in a whiplash, place it firmly but not loudly on the bar, and exhale sharply and audibly. The toast comes after the shot: “To the girls of youth.” Brief, over, but with a warm afterglow.

You have the shell ready with your other hand and sip off the head. Then the toast: “To friendship.” Cool, refreshing, perdurable.

Then you drink slowly, and you don’t let go of the glass with which you toasted your friends until you’re both finished. 

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See the hairy guy's report on the Shot & Shell: Clean beers, pool tables and burgers, and a wrathful drink you've (luckily) never tasted

2 comments:

Kellie Gerow said...

Who owns this wonderful bar?

Kellie Gerow said...

Who owns this wonderful bar?