Theater Around the Bay: Gabriel Bellman and Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”

The Pint-Sized Plays open TONIGHT so we’re bringing you another in our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays. Here are writer Gabriel Bellman and director Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”!

“Polling Place” satirizes the current political climate and the heated rhetoric of the 2016 election. In it, a highly strung woman who’s just cast her ballot goes into a bar and confronts a laconic man with the question “Do you think it’s fair to vote for a candidate based on whether they sit down or stand up when they use the washroom?” Caitlin Evenson plays the woman, Claire, and Ron Talbot is the man, Ian.

Gabriel Bellman

Writer Gabriel Bellman has his eyes on you.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Gabriel: I’m proud to have been in this festival before. I enjoy the challenge of writing something on deadline, so when I saw the call for entries post into the clouds via a proxy-streaming server third-party service that takes encrypted pieces of digital information and converts them into the written language, I decided to write a short play using keystrokes and symbols to make words that were then used as a key to unlock language from digital chunks of electromagnitized green-chip circuit boards.

Megan: I directed a Pint-Sized show several years ago and had such a blast! Pint-Sized is one of my favorite SF Theater Pub events so I’m excited to be a part of it again this year 🙂

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Gabriel: I think it’s to avoid thinking of it as a short play. When you envision a three-inch photograph, for example, you might be thinking of only a corner of a mouth, but (possibly) a better photograph is a three-inch square-size photo of the planet Earth, as cliched and trite as that photo may be at this point (unless of course an alien is in the corner snapping a selfie and it isn’t a blatantly poor Photoshop-job). So if you set out to capture a micro-cosmonaut, then you can still explore heaven and earth, right? A small version of the entire experience of humanity, I guess is the goal, and that’s hard to fit into anything. I feel like I didn’t answer the question. The hardest thing about writing a short play is the constant comparisons to William Shakespeare from strangers on the street.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Megan: The show I’m directing is absolutely delightful! Gabriel has written thoughtful and intelligent characters whose lives intersect in an unexpected way on Election Day. We had a fabulous time unpacking these characters and discovering the humor that comes when you mix politics with uncertainty. I also adore my cast. Caitlin Evenson and Ron Talbot are two fantastic performers and I’m very excited this show marks the first time they are working together on stage!

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Gabriel: Getting to see different human minds, each encapsulated in uniquely shaped skulls, interpreting and engaging in the process of making art in live performance. Writing is such a solitary act that it can be a form of self-flagellation or affliction, but when actors come along, that all changes. Actors are a jovial bunch, on balance, and are attuned to human emotion to such a way that they can call it upon demand with strangers looking at them — it’s pretty amazing. So the best thing is to play in creative space with other artists — it can seem too good to be true.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is, what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Megan: I think Stacy Ross is an incredible performer! She excels at both comedy and drama and by all accounts she is a dream to work with.

Megan Briggs

Megan Briggs is a frequent Theater Pub performer and now, a Pint-Sized director!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Gabriel: There are a lot of different ways to answer that. For one, I could say parents, teachers, other artists, I could point to the times we live in, I could recount a midnight screening of Gremlins, or a Bob Dylan concert, or a Shaquille O’Neal dunk, or a Pop-Tart. Let me say something more guided: here are a few writers I felt impressed by as an adult. Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, Mary Shelley, Seamus Heaney. Allen Ginsburg’s Howl is still the best poem ever written (although not as good as Whitman’s Song of Myself – which is basically a rip-off of William Blake). Is that an answer? My biggest influences are gangsta rap, existentialism, Atari 2600, and Indian food.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Megan: I would have to say Emily Blunt because I would really love to see how this play would change if we had a British actress playing the part of Claire. It would bring up a series of entirely new questions about her character and why she is so intrigued by the political process.

Gabriel: Penelope Cruz because I have loved her since I was 19 and saw Belle Epoque. Actually, I wouldn’t want it to be weird, so maybe a better answer is Magic Johnson, since i have loved him since I was 15. Wait, was that a trick question? The answer is Madonna.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Gabriel: I’m working on a feature play about a historical figure from New York at the turn of the century. I would say who and what it is about, but I’m too excited about it because I don’t think anybody else has done it yet, and it’s a good idea, and when you share those ideas early on, it bursts the bubble. What’s also next for me is a bubble tea. Very, very soon.

Megan: I’m very excited to be performing in Theater Pub’s production of King Lear this fall! I like my Shakespeare to be fast paced with high drama, and I think Theater Pub is the perfect venue for presenting Shakespeare that’s anything but boring and stuffy.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Megan: I’m excited about seeing the musical Chess for the first time at Custom Made Theatre Company this fall. I’m also super pumped for Hamilton next spring (although I have to be willing to wait for it).

Gabriel: I’m looking forward to the Lit Crawl, I believe I’ll be performing in that, and also seeing Hamilton, and plays that actors and playwrights from Pint-Sized are doing. It’s a talented group, excluding myself, since that sounds weird.

Finally, what’s your favorite beer?

Megan: I’m more of a cider girl myself, and Stella Cidre is my absolute favorite!

Gabriel: For anybody who was raised in the shadows of the Willamette Valley, it’s Black Butte Porter. But honestly, I love a nice Jamaican ginger beer.

See “Polling Place” and the other Pint-Sized Plays at PianoFight on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29!

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Theater Around the Bay: Announcing the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays

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Theater Pub is thrilled to announce that our Pint-Sized Play Festival returns this August for FIVE performances at PianoFight — August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29. That’s right, we’ve added a fifth performance by popular demand!

The Pint-Sized Plays – short plays by Bay Area playwrights that take place in a bar and involve characters drinking beer – have been Theater Pub’s flagship event since 2010. This year, producer Marissa Skudlarek and deputy producer Alejandro Emmanuel Torres are pleased to present 11 new plays by a mix of Theater Pub veterans and new faces.

Many of the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays deal with endings and beginnings. A man and woman meet to sign their divorce papers in “No Fault,” by Christian Simonsen. In Marissa Skudlarek’s “Cemetery Gates,” two moody and self-dramatizing teenagers sneak into the bar, while in Shirley Issel’s “Angel of Darkness,” Death himself comes to the bar and targets an unsuspecting patron.

Two one-woman shows depict women on the brink of major life changes: “Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah” by Jake Arky features a 36-year-old woman who has finally become an adult according to Judaism, while Caitlin Kenney’s “Why Go With Olivia” is about a woman who’s ready to put her old life behind her and start anew.

National and world politics are on everyone’s mind this summer, so some of this year’s Pint-Sized Plays have a political bent. “Polling Place,” by Gabriel Bellman, satirizes the anxieties and rhetoric of the 2016 election, while in “Don’t I Know You,” by Elizabeth Gjelten, a woman confronts the trauma of her past in a war-torn country.

On the lighter side of things, “Beer Culture” by James Nelson satirizes just how snobby San Francisco millennials can be about microbrews, and “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove pays tribute to Shakespeare in this #Shakespeare400 year by imagining his visit to a modern-day bar. Alan Coyne’s “Bar Spies” presents a dizzying array of false identities and double-crossings in a spy-fiction pastiche

As always, Pint-Sized Plays’ mascot, the drunken llama played by PianoFight’s Rob Ready, will return with a new “Llamalogue,” written by Stuart Bousel.

Full lineup of plays, with a quote from each, is as follows:

“Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah,” written and directed by Jake Arky—“After the bar mitzvah…it’s just the bar. Okay, so technically this is a bat mitzvah, but let’s not split hairs, yeah?”

“Polling Place” by Gabriel Bellman, directed by Megan Briggs—“What if I did choose a candidate based solely on whether they share certain characteristics with me or not, does that mean I’m voting for myself? Because I’m terrified of narcissists.”

“Llama VI” by Stuart Bousel, directed by Emma Rose Shelton—“Look, I hate tradition as much as the next person, okay? But one day, probably, I won’t be here—and you’re gonna miss that.”

“Bar Spies” by Alan Coyne, directed by Juliana Lustenader—“You asked for this meeting. I have what you want. Tell me what I need to know, or there’s no deal.”

“Don’t I Know You?” by Elizabeth Gjelten, directed by Jimmy Moore—“Here I am, a long way from home, and I see this one here, and I swear, we shared a beer. Back home. Maybe at Salim’s?”

“Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, directed by Vince Faso—“Thou thinkest thy sisters arranged a meeting but never had intention of coming hither? Forsooth, wherefore this deception?”

“Angel of Darkness” by Shirley Issel, directed by Jamie Harkin—“He’s probably going to finish that beer; and when he does… Are you listening? You’re gonna die. So, what are you drinking?”

“Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney, directed by Vince Faso—“I have accepted a new job and would like to pursue this without you beginning September 1st. This does not mean I want a long-distance relationship. Or much continued contact at all.”

“Beer Culture” by James Nelson, directed by Neil Higgins—“I’m really not cool about what just happened. He was going to drink a Stella! At my table! What would people say?”

“No Fault” by Christian Simonsen, directed by Alejandro Emmanuel Torres—“Look, if you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t sign yet. Nothing’s changed regarding Wendy. Still joint custody.”

“Cemetery Gates” by Marissa Skudlarek, directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin—“Every time you look at someone you love, you know they will never be more beautiful than they are at that moment, because they will never again be so young.”

The Pint-Sized Plays acting company will feature the talents of Layne Austin, Andrew Chung, Lisa Darter, Nick Dickson, Daphne Dorman, Caitlin Evenson, Sailor Galaviz, Jamie Harkin, Colin Hussey, Sarah Leight, Alexander Marr, Kyle McReddie, Brett Mermer, Courtney Merrell, Rob Ready, Paul Rodrigues, James F. Ross, Amitis Rossoukh, Jessica Rudholm, Ron Talbot, and Noemi Zeigler Sanchez. (Additional casting TBA.) Logo designed by Cody Rishell.

The Pint-Sized Plays will perform five times: August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight, 144 Taylor St, San Francisco. Admission is FREE to all performances. For more information, please visit www.sftheaterpub.com.

Theater Around the Bay: Announcing the 2016 Pint-Sized Play Selections

We are proud to announce the lineup for the 2016 edition of Pint-Sized Plays, our annual bar-specific short plays festival!

From over 45 submissions from Bay Area playwrights, we’ve chosen the following scripts:

Julie Kopitsky’s Bat Mitzvah by Jake Arky

Polling Place by Gabriel Bellman

Bar Spies by Alan Coyne

Don’t I Know You by Elizabeth Gjelten

Where There’s a Will by Tanya Grove

Angel of Darkness by Shirley Issel

Why Go With Olivia by Caitlin Kenney

Beer Culture by James Nelson

No Fault by Christian Simonsen

Cemetery Gates by Marissa Skudlarek

In addition, we are pleased to say that Pint-Sized 2016 will see the return of Rob Ready as the Llama (in a new “Llamalogue” by Stuart Bousel), and that due to popular demand, we have added a fifth performance!

 

See the Pint-Sized Plays on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29 in the PianoFight bar space!

Theater Around The Bay: Looking Back/Looking Forward At ON THE SPOT

Sara Judge, Empress of “On the Spot” and Co-creator/Director of November’s “I Like That” recaps her year with Theater Pub, and weighs in on the violence of theater-making.

It was around this time last year that I found out Theater Pub was preparing to rise from the ashes. I jumped at the opportunity to rejoin this group of friends and artists I had come to know so well in the earlier years of TP at Cafe Royale. In a way, I was in the process of rising from the ashes too—isn’t early motherhood one of Dante’s 9 circles of hell? (Well fuck you then.) I was coming out of those critical early months (17 months to be exact) that were a real struggle for me.

As is his generous way, Stuart met my enthusiasm with the gift of opportunity. He invited me to meet with the newly appointed Artistic Director, Meg Trowbridge to talk about the upcoming season. Meg and I worked together on my very first TP project in 2010. Here we were almost five years later, talking Theater Pub, this time with a history as friends and colleagues and a sense of purpose looking forward. Meg gave me a couple projects to run with!

In July, Stuart called a meeting to talk about Theater Pub 2016. By this time I had been given the title, “Empress of On The Spot,” which in my world, is every girl’s dream—to be crowned an “Empress?” Even if only to a handful of people, and mostly online. The meeting lasted a few hours. The first person I saw there was, Marissa, “Pint Sized Tzarina” wearing a classic t-shirt that said, “I am a Llama.” I’ve always admired Marissa for her smarts, her writing on theater in SF, and for her excellent sense of style. I gave Charles Lewis III a big hug. Stuart was cooking bacon, adorable and welcoming. World famous Meg Cohen sat quietly, waiting for the meeting to start. I said hello to her and secretly wanted to sit next to her, but I sat two seats away. (I try to play it cool around my artistic heroes.) A handsome guy I never met came up to me and told me I had taken his seat. (So I got to sit next to Meg after all.) I also finally got to meet the talented comedienne starlet, Allison Page, in person. I introduced myself to her and she shook my hand kindly and said something like, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” in a lovely disarming way that only she (and maybe a few others) can get away with. I fell in love with Sam Bertken because of his amazing sense of humor, good looks, and very apparent talent. There were a lot of other wonderful smart talented folks I didn’t know. Stuart talked—a lot—and by the end of the meeting I wanted to vote for Stuart, for Mayor, Governor, President, and King.

The thing I admire most about Stuart as a Director, and in this case, Executive Director, is his ability to articulate without an obvious burden of what others might think or who he might offend. He says what others are thinking but are afraid to say. And the truth, however painful, always comes out around Stuart. Not the truth like, “Was this play any good?”—you can bet his answer is “Well, first of all…(insert lots of words and opinions here).” But like, when it comes to social dynamics, working relationships, and what is being unsaid between collaborators. I find it unnerving and comforting at the same time.

Stuart led a great meeting. Theater Pub was back on and cohesive, fully staffed, with a great group of people. I felt full of purpose walking back down the Castro hills and stepping down hidden staircases, into my wild city. I felt part of something pretty damn cool.

In September we started production on “I Like That,” a play I co-created with Gabriel Leif Bellman, one of the greatest writers of our time. And I’m not just saying that because he is the father of my child. Gabriel is a genius. And it’s okay to say that in SF because SF is a city full of geniuses. It’s akin to calling someone “hot” in LA. We wrote “I Like That” in 2009 and he told me to put it onstage. I told him he was crazy and the play was a train wreck. I put it in the drawer. I read it a few times over the years and changed some things around, and thought, “meh.” I read it in 2014 and thought, “This play is incredible and it was ahead of its time in 2009. That’s why I didn’t get it.” We workshopped it, Gabriel gave it several treatments, and then, once Theater Pub agreed to take a chance on us, I slipped back into believing it was a train wreck. I had no idea how we would get this play off the page and at the same time have anyone at all interested in watching it. Lots of experience with doubt helped me keep the faith.

Another miracle for “I Like That”—we pulled together some of the best actors I have ever worked with. Each actor was a total pro and fully committed to the project. After our first table read, I felt assured that yes, this was a special text, and this was going to be a transcendent process. And it was. Everyone involved in “I Like That” gave more than they walked into rehearsal with. We were an ensemble. We were connected. And we felt like we were doing something groundbreaking and sacred. And we were. I am not the same person I was before that production. I know more about myself, and I am full of gratitude for the actors, and the opportunity to put on my play.

And this is one of the reasons I love the kind of theater we do. There’s opportunity in the face of so many limitations—no money, no real stage, pillars blocking sightlines, and we’re in a bar full of people. None of that even matters. The only thing that exists to the audience when things go right, is the work, the actors, the text. Our limitations as theater-makers are where we jump beyond what we ever believed we were capable of.

“To be articulate in the face of limitations is where the violence sets in. This act of necessary violence, which at first seems to limit freedom and close down options, in turn opens up many more options and asks for a deeper sense of freedom from the artist.” -Anne Bogart, theater director and found of SITI Company

Another one of my artistic heroes, Anne Bogart, believes every action in creating theater is an act of violence—making a decision, a gesture, moving a chair a little to the left onstage. Giving actors blocking is violence. And she’s so right. Once you make a choice in theater, all other choices suffer a death. You create limitations when you make decisions. But the beauty is in how limitations contain us, and in that containment we are free to meet them, disturb them, and transcend them.

Which brings me to my last topic—As Empress, I’m producing On The Spot 2016, Theater Pub’s version of the 24 hour play festival (but with more rehearsal time and 4 performances)! What I love most about these festivals are the imposed limitations in the theater-making process. Not only do you have to write a short play in a handful of hours, you are randomly paired with a director and a group of actors, and you are given prompts that you haven’t chosen. All of these limitations invite you to explore new territories of your imagination. For OTS 2016 I want to focus on how these limitations can be enhanced. How we can open doors to more freedom in the writer’s mind. I want to work with writers open to using the limitations of the givens (actors, director, and prompts) to propel their creative process. I want to focus on how limitations can enhance the experience of a director who must make choices and let go of other possibilities in a short and condensed rehearsal process. I want actors to revel in the containment of a play written just for them, and commit to finding freedom within that containment. Look for our call for writers, directors and actors next month. Let’s get violent!

Theater Around The Bay: An Interview with I Like That Playwright Gabriel Leif Bellman

Tonight and tomorrow night are your last chance to see I Like That, our November show at PianoFight. We sat down with the playwright Gabriel Leif Bellman, to learn more about this great new play!

This guy fits right in at PianoFight.

This guy fits right in at PianoFight.

TP: Where did the inspiration for this piece come from?

GB: [My partner] Sara [Judge] and I had talked about writing a play together, and it was really her push that created this. One big inspiration was a lot of time thinking and arguing about the most recent generations and how art reaches them. I’m still thinking about it.

TP: How long have you both been working on it?

GB: I guess there are two answers here. One is since the dawn of time and the other is four years. I’m very happy with where it is right now.

TP: What was the writing process like?

GB: Working on a project with another artist as a writer is a real joy. So much of writing is just you and the blank page/screen, so to be able to interact and get feedback from a living breathing human made it a unique process. Sara is a fantastic director. To be able to write something very much without limitations and see her make it come alive is very gratifying. I wrote a lot of things that I didn’t think could be done in live theater, and she figured out how to do them. She’s amazing.

TP: You’ve seen it on its feet twice now at Theater Pub. Any surprises after watching it come to life?

GB: It’s just so incredible to see the impact it has had on audience members. People have been really moved by this play, and it is sort of surprising- because you really never know. I really feel like it’s not my work at this point- but some living breathing mash-up of bodies and music and words. It’s alive. I feel connected to it, but also I’m enjoying it along with everyone else.

As a writer, I never set out to write something for an audience. I always write for myself, for what I’d like to see in my head- so it is nice when something that I find interesting/funny/sad resonates with the audience. I believe sharing work with others is part of the job of being an artist, and once you put material out there it just goes where it will. It doesn’t have to be a positive response either- I don’t actually think that the role of art is to affirm. This piece has been giving people different experiences, and I have my own experiences with it that vary from show to show. It brings up a lot of different things for me, but I don’t believe as an artist I have the right to “explain” what that experience is. I’ve been surprised by the amount of strangers who have come up to me after the shows and are loving on the play. I think it speaks to a hunger for live art and also what an important public service Theater Pub is providing.

If you come to I Like That, you can meet Siri in real life!

If you come to I Like That, you can meet Siri in real life!

TP: You have some famous cameos in the play – do those historical figures have particular significance to you?

GB: I really enjoy “modernity” and many of the characters are icons of modernism, and also they speak to a bohemian ethos that I want San Francisco to hold on to. I’m not totally convinced that there is such a thing as post-modernism, and I wanted to position them alongside that ongoing debate. Each of the characters also has significance to me personally, as I’m sure they do to each of the actors and audience members (even if they don’t realize how). We live in an age of so much information but information is not experience, so bringing these figures out of Wikipedia for a spin felt right.

TP: What is next for you?

GB: Next for me? I have a writing project I’ve almost finished, which is a compilation of short fiction that was mostly published in different literary journals and also a new longer piece that I wrote which is a comedic parody of the type of nonfiction popular social science books that have become accepted as a genre to themselves. The title for that book is “Nonfiction Fiction and Other Fiction” and I hope to finish it by the end of the year. I have another play I’m starting, and a film project, but I don’t like to talk about those things that I haven’t almost finished yet. I believe if you talk about the details of creative projects before you get them close to finished, it fills the same space as writing them would, and then they don’t exist. Also, on December 20, I will have a piece of my writing performed by actors at Stagewerx as part of Action Fiction. I have another one of those in May as well.

I Like That! has two more performances at PianoFight on Nov. 23 & 24 at 8:00pm. $5 suggested donation at the door.

Theater Around The Bay: A List of Things That Meg Likes About “I Like That!”

Meg Trowbridge talks about why you should come see our new show, I Like That!

Sara Judge and I first worked together on Theater Pub’s The Theban Chronicles, a four-play series following the Oedipus story. We recognized right away that we were kindred spirits. Her positivity and creativity make her an incredible director, and when she pitched I Like That! to us as a project she’d direct, I immediately offered her our November slot at PianoFight.

Although that meeting seems just like yesterday, here were are in November, and I Like That opens tonight! In honor of opening night, I wanted to provide potential audience members with a list of what I Like about I Like That!

1.) I like the playwright – Gabriel Leif Bellman. Gabriel and Sara conceived this story together, and Gabriel put it to paper. He’s a beautiful writer, and this is the second piece he’s written that I’ve had the pleasure of working on (I also directed his short play “Listen” for Theater Pub’s second Pint Sized Plays).

2.) I like the live musical accompaniment! Sara Breindel and Ryan B. Kelley provide live music and sound to this show, transporting you through space and time along with the story.

3.) I like the cast! We’ve got a group of very handsome performers, many of whom are making their Theater Pub debut! You may recognize Jake Arky as one of the playwrights from On the Spot, or Alejandro Torres as a director from this year’s Pint Sized Plays, but they both make their Theater Pub stage debut this month!

Come out to PianoFight to see what all the fuss is about! You have four chances before we close this beautiful show down!

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I Like That! has performances at PianoFight on Nov. 16, 17, 23 & 24 at 8:00pm. $5 suggested donation at the door.

Theater Around The Bay: We Open Tonight!

Opening Tonight: On the Spot, a night of 10 minute plays written in 24 hours! Six playwrights will be selected on March 5th, and put “on the spot” the morning of March 13th to write a 10 minute play that must include a line of dialogue, prop, and set piece all provided by Theater Pub. Their scripts are due the morning of March 14th. Six teams of actors and a director will rehearse and stage these brand new works at PIANOFIGHT the last two Mondays and Tuesdays of March.

Our six playwrights (five, plus one team of two!) for the evening are Jake Arky, Gabriel Bellman & Sara Judge, Rachel Bublitz, Barry Eitel, Seanan Palmero, and Madeline Puccioni!

Our six directors are Mike Fatum, Neil Higgins, Christine Keating, Charles Lewis III, Rem Myers, and Sam Tillis!

Our fabulous acting company is Xanadu Bruggers, Andrew Chung, AJ Davenport, Jan Gilbert, Annabelle King, Michelle Navarrete, Annette Roman, Carole Swann, Jess Thomas, Meg Trowbridge, Steven Widow!

The show plays four performances at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, March 23 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 24 @ 8:00pm
Monday, March 30 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, March 31 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $5 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we suggest getting there early to get a good seat and remember to show your appreciation to our hosts at the bar!

Come early to PIANOFIGHT to try out their great new dinner menu!

See you at the Pub!