Last summer, while sitting at local haunt Brotherhood Nantucket, two 20-somethings swayed into the bar. The bartender immediately approached them with a round of unidentifiable shots. The duo took them like champs, and after a quick conversation, they took their surprisingly swift departure. This interaction — and a handful of follow-up trips to the Massachusetts vacation destination, which lies about 30 miles off Cape Cod — is how I learned about the Paul, a once-beloved local ritual that’s become the bane of some Nantucket bartenders.

The One True Paul

The Paul’s origins are a little wishy-washy, but the story traces back to the 1970s when a Nantucket bartender (you guessed it, Paul) allegedly visited some industry friends for a quick drink post-shift. As the act became habitual, bartenders began swapping his shots of hard alcohol for small tipples of beer in hopes of deterring Paul from getting more drunk. Paul remains a local legend, and his influence persists on the island in the form of an eponymous shot of beer.

One night at Cisco Brewers, my friends and I were rewarded for being the last patrons at the popular island brewery with its Last-Call Paul, or the traditional shot of beer. But some establishments have tweaked the Paul to suit their clientele: At seafood restaurant Or, The Whale, a Paul was delivered to me in the form of a shot of on-tap Truly, and I’ve heard rumors that some eateries really get the night going by swapping out a Paul’s low-ABV element for hard liquor. I didn’t experience that first-hand, but I can confirm that I didn’t actually order any of the Pauls I drank — they were simply put in front of me by local bartenders after they found out I work in the drinks industry.

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It turns out that the once-popular island tradition has gone back underground and returned to something of an industry handshake. After an increasing number of Nantucket visitors caught wind of the Paul over the years and spread the word, the ritual became more of a tourists-only treat. Now, bartenders feel like patrons are expecting a Paul, which has strayed very far from its (albeit blurry) roots.

The Pauls of the Past

“In my experience, asking for a Paul is rare,” shares Garison Beale, general manager of Greydon Hotel Group and a longstanding Nantucket resident. “It’s a gesture that might be offered by the bartender if you leave a good tip or if they’re inclined, but I wouldn’t recommend requesting one.”

“Just like many ideas, it is always one thing that ruins it for everyone. Let me just say that after I kicked ‘Paul’ out, I reduced my weekly purchasing of Casamigos by 50 percent.”

Beale’s sentiments are echoed by bartenders who find it a nuisance that tourists feel they’re now in the know; many of them recall their own first meetings with Paul — the shot, not the man — which some say no longer feels as special. While chatting to a former year-round islander who asked to remain anonymous — that’s how polarizing Pauls have become — they shared: “I remember taking my first one, it was the first time I felt like I was part of the [food and beverage] scene on Nantucket.”

Justin Gonzalez, general manager of food and beverage for Faraway Hotels, shared a similar story. The first time he heard about the drink was when a local bartender asked him to go to a nearby watering hole to meet “Paul” for a quick drink. He quickly came to love the industry-specific practice — which, at the time, you needed to be in the hospitality world to take part in.

“Coming from New York, with lots of industry friends, it was very cool to see that this unspoken industry tradition was memorialized and standardized,” he says.

Paul’s Low-Key Future

Even though Gonzalez’s first memory was fond, he’s since decided not to offer it at Faraway Hotel’s Sister Ship restaurant, simply because of how popular it’s become.

“I attempted to have this be a part of our restaurant, but after running with it for one season, we decided to nix it,” he explained, adding that his short-lived version of a Paul was a shot of tequila. “Just like many ideas, it is always one thing that ruins it for everyone. Let me just say that after I kicked ‘Paul’ out, I reduced my weekly purchasing of Casamigos by 50 percent.”

Don’t get them wrong – Nantucket’s bartenders still want to serve you – and may even do a shot with you. Just don’t feel entitled to ask for a Paul, says Beale.

“Our island community has a strong, tight-knit hospitality industry, and receiving a Paul is a pleasant surprise rather than an expectation.”