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@Work: Betsy's Bar

Dec. 10, 2004 – Betsy's Bar in Frenchtown is more than a bar. It's home for her ever-growing family, and that family treats it as such – wedding receptions, baby showers, birthdays, anniversaries, even memorial services are celebrated at Betsy's.
And who is Betsy? She is a University of Wisconsin graduate with special education and recreational therapy majors who owns one of the most successful saloons on St. Thomas. You could say in a sense that she is putting her recreational therapy background to use, though not in a classroom setting.
After teaching for a couple years in the states, Betsy decided that she wanted a change in scenery, climate and vocation, so she came to St. Thomas to visit a friend of a friend. When nobody was there at the airport, she called Cindy McKay, the friend's friend, who said, "Just take a cab; tell them the Normandie, and I'll be behind the bar."
That was 20 years ago. First Sheahan worked as a waitress at Le Bistro on the patio of Bar Normandie, but bar-owner Ted Luscz soon plucked her from waiting on tables and put her behind the bar where she stayed for about 10 years.
The Normandie has been know to have its rambunctious customers, but Betsy soon tamed them with smiles, laughter, and, it must be said, her bouncy personality. And her kindness. She had found her home away from home.
After leaving Bar Normandie, she ventured to Tickles in Crown Bay, but when an opportunity came her way to own her own bar in Frenchtown, she grabbed it. She opened 10 days after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.
"Frankie Quetel had closed the Side Pocket, and wanted a new tenant; he wanted me," Sheahan says. "It was really scary at first, but I would be back in Frenchtown, and that was important. I had to take a chance."
What made it so scary, she says, is that statistics show that almost all bars and restaurants fail in the first two years.
It was at first a difficult location, because it's dark – located at the back side of the building, but nobody seems to care as long as the camaraderie is there. The bar faces a courtyard where Sheahan leases two food operations. One for early evening, and the other – a great favorite for bar and restaurant employees after work – serves breakfast from midnight to 4 a.m. Last year, she expanded toward the rear of the bar, opening up a pool room where another food operation had closed.
With its Christmas decorations in place, the bar looks like a fairyland with lights dripping from the long entranceway, tassels, ribbons and bells all over, and 118 Christmas stockings hanging from the lattice siding. Everyone pitches in for all the bar's events. "The Chili Cookoff team is always great; they always help me," Sheahan says.
One of those events is the annual Princess Party, ladies only, and they must all dress in pink and wear some kind of tiara. Men aren't allowed in until later, which usually leaves them gawking at the door, or, on a few occasions, to dress up as a princess and crash the event. They have never been successful in drag, Sheahan notes.
Thanksgiving and Easter are celebrated with free-for-all potluck dinners. Betsy's primary pal, Tom Schmuldt, cooks deep fried turkeys just outside the bar, and everybody else brings everything else.
Like most bars, Betsy's Bar has its T-shirt. But it doesn't feature bar stuff. It's a logo of Sheahan at her other love in life – windsurfing, which she purses every time she gets a minute off. "I'm addicted," she says, "I really love the feeling, the freedom."
Weekends feature music and dancing with RJ Nuisance, The PopTarts, and whoever else is handy. Oh, and for the past two years, there has been Betsy's Bizarre Bazaar where you can bring all those things you want to get rid of, and go home with even more things.
Sheahan is tired Friday morning, having tended bar the night before until 4 a.m. But she's not too tired to talk about important things like why would a stateside college graduate move to a little Caribbean island miles away from the farm in Wisconsin where she was raised, and open a saloon?
"You have to find out what you do well, and do it," she says. "I had to do it – it's my thing."
As she is talking, the old friend of a friend walks in the back door of the bar for a morning chat. The two have become fast friends over the past 20 years. "It's because I can depend on Betsy," McKay says. "She's always been there for me."

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