The trip to Old Orchard Beach starts with a trick. Pirates Patio is somewhere in this milieu of sweat, candy and neon, and I’m bracing for double-barreled kitsch.

Anxiety turns to shock making the turn onto tiny Walnut Street. Instead of plastic scabbards and costumed waiters asking “Rrrrrrr you ready to order?” there is an unassuming beach shack awaiting, a world away from the screaming rides and hullabaloo a bit down the shore.

It’s quite a surprise to discover this humble hut that overlooks the Atlantic. The Sox are fighting tooth and nail with the Rays, but of more interest is the door out to an ideal beachside seating area and the soft reggae in the sound system. In a neighborhood where you can expect to be assaulted with solicitations, Bobby the bartender simply asks if he can get me started with anything in particular.

I forgo the Sassy Parrot (Svedka Citron, raspberry liqueur and Sprite) and the Happy Wench (Svedka Raspberry Vodka, apple schnapps, coconut rum and lemon juice), and instead try a staple: pina colada. It’s a cool dream on a day that hit 100 degrees.

How could a plum spot like this possibly escape notice? Scores of people must slake their desert thirsts here on a muggy July day, not to mention fill their kids up on summer-perfect burgers, fries and pickles.

It’s no surprise to learn the Patio is closed from October to May, because the beach is so integral to its identity. A fitting Hold Steady lyric comes to mind: “Citrus and liquor/ I love it when you touch each other.”

Precisely — and even better with toes in the sand.


Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.