Girl walks into a bar

Out Wall Street Journal columnist Wendy Bounds spins a tale of the close-knit world of a special pub

BY Anne Stockwell

August 14 2005 11:00 PM ET

The story of
Little Chapel on the River (William Morrow,
$23.95) begins in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
With their World Trade Center–adjacent
apartment building badly battered, Wall Street
Journal
writers Gwendolyn “Wendy” Bounds
and her partner, Kathryn Kranhold, suddenly need a
place to stay. Weeks later, visiting in Garrison,
N.Y.—a microscopic settlement on the Hudson River
north of the city—they stop for a beer at
Guinan’s, a tiny bar attached to a general
store set right on the railroad tracks. Just that fast,
Bounds’s life turns a corner.

Little Chapel on the River—titled after the
locals’ affectionate nickname for
Guinan’s pub—is Bounds’s love song to a
place where the small human courtesies still loom
large. More than that, it’s a tribute to
79-year-old Jim Guinan, the Irish patriarch who in 1959
opened this unique tavern just off his own kitchen.

“What’s so amazing is, this is in
someone’s home,” Bounds explains, trying
to convey the family feel of the place. “You take two
steps and you are in Jim’s living room.”
Beguiled, the big-city lesbians rent a temporary place
in Garrison, and Bounds finds herself becoming part of
Guinan’s family. When Jim falls ill she works
alongside his children to keep the place open. Along
the way, she comes out to the old man as they watch
TV.

Bounds writes
about it this way:

“ ‘How’s your sister?’ he
asks politely. Kathryn’s not my sister, you
know, I tell him, feeling my face get hot.”

They never
mention the word “lesbian.” Recalling the
moment now, Bounds says it wasn’t needed:
“He clearly got it. And when he got it, his
response was perfect—[he said,] ‘Oh, well,
she’s a nice girl.’ And then we moved
on.” The difference is that Bounds and Kranhold are
now invited everywhere as a couple—because,
P.S., they still live in Garrison and still
“belong” to Guinan’s.

Asked if other
parishioners at the Little Chapel might be unhappy with
lesbians in the flock, Bounds laughs. “In terms of
hanging out at the bar with the guys, [we all] like
beer and beautiful women. It’s not that huge a
divide.” For Bounds, the biggest strides are made in
little places like Guinan’s. “The more
time you spend, the more cups of coffee you have, the
more breakfasts, the more beers—the more people begin
to see you as part of the woodwork—this is how
change happens.”

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