Roger Miller brings Surrealistic game night to Portsmouth Book & Bar

The very word “surreal” is an appropriate summation of guitarist, composer, artist and gamer Roger Clark Miller.

His interests have taken him on a path of existence that would be very hard to make up. From his days as a co-founder of seminal Boston rockers Mission of Burma, to the heady arrangements constructed by the Alloy Orchestra, and all of his musical endeavors in between, Miller knows no artistic bounds. Chase that which calls to you and navigate as best you can. Let the muse be your guide.

When Miller sets foot in Portsmouth Book & Bar on Saturday, May 17, he’ll be continuing to carve out another path he’s ventured down lately: that of the coordinator of his very own surrealistic games night.

The evening also will showcase his DJ skills, as he’ll provide the soundtrack to the night’s events.

If there’s any certainty of what will occur on Saturday, it’s that no matter what preconceived idea one may have in mind as to what may occur, the evening will definitely be out of the ordinary.

SPOTLIGHT: Tell me a bit about the evening you have planned. What inspired you to create this type of event?

MILLER: When I delved into Surrealism in the mid-70s, I found a way to create dream-like settings without the psychedelics, if you know what I mean. My friends and I would play the “Exquisite Corpse” drawing game on a regular basis. I expanded my interest in Surrealism during Mission of Burma (see our first 45, “Max Ernst”), and incorporated imagery and stories from my dreams in the lyrics. As I delved further, I discovered the word games, frottage drawing (using a pencil or other drawing tool to make a rubbing over a textured surface), and my son ended up creating “The Dream Game” for his fifth-grade project in Quincy (Mass.)! This “Dream Game” is played on a board with dice: by following the directions on the board you spontaneously write down a very phantasmagorical/dream-story, and it really works.

So eventually I had a good pile of games that I enjoyed playing with my friends, so why not do it in public? So far I’ve done it at Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn., and the I.C.A. (Institute of Contemporary Art) in Boston. It’s always great fun.

The setting is that everyone sits at a table supplied with paper and drawing/writing tools. I explain the “Exquisite Corpse” drawing game, and people go at it! I stroll the tables explaining the various word games, and explaining the rules to the “Dream Game” and how to utilize frottage drawing to create interesting visual compositions. An extra plus is that everyone at a table quickly gets to know each other as they play the games.

The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. It’s up to the players, really. I love walking by tables and no one is talking, they’re all concentrating on writing words or drawing. Then when the paper is full, they open the paper up and read the surrealist sentences to each other or show the drawings. It’s really a blast, and sometimes astounding results are achieved, all through surrealist activities. Of course, these are the same games the Surrealists played in the ’20s and ’30s in Paris and other places.

SPOTLIGHT: The other element of interest here is the fact that you DJ these events. Tell us a bit about the soundtrack you provide. How does music enhance the overall experience?

MILLER: A very wide variety of music and styles will be included. From rock, there’s Roxy Music and Brian Eno’s early work, some Mission of Burma songs qualify, especially with my use of dreams in lyrics. Both the “Dream Interpretations” from my “Elemental Guitar” CD, and music from some of my other bands: Exquisite Corpse (of course!) and with my brothers Benjamin and Laurence, M2 and M3. Of course John Cage, Steve Reich, and some just abstract sounds. Not all of this music is ‘technically surrealistic,’ but it suits the evening. Often people will come up to me and ask what piece is playing. I like that.

Basically the music is mildly disorienting — helpful for surrealist activities — and encouraging towards the unusual — also helpful for surrealist activities. Often abstract.

SPOTLIGHT: What do you know about the Book & Bar? What excites you about producing this event at the venue?

MILLER: I know (co-founder) Jon Strymish — isn’t that enough? He has taken a number of pretty cool photos of Mission of Burma, the Binary System, and other ensembles I’ve been in. On the CD called “Monsoon” — me; William Hooker and Lee Ranaldo (from Sonic Youth) — most of the photos are by Jon. I like his style. I figure his club would have style as well, based on that. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about the place, and it seems a great venue for the games. Good size, casual vibe, high-quality beer!

SPOTLIGHT: Do you have any history with Portsmouth, N.H.? Did Mission of Burma ever play the (late) Elvis Room by chance?

MILLER: The Alloy Orchestra has played The Music Hall on a couple of occasions, always fun. I don’t think Burma played Portsmouth, but I can’t always recall where we played way back in the day (1979-1983). It kind of p——- me off that my bands don’t play New Hampshire much, so here’s a chance to change that, even if this ain’t a band …

SPOTLIGHT: What are you looking for people to take with them when they experience an event of this nature? What’s the communal feel?

MILLER: That by working together you can create something totally unexpected. The end result is inherently collective. The Surrealists claimed that the unconscious/subconscious of the players was revealed, and I have found that, to some degree, that is definitely true. I’ve walked by tables where people are discussing why they drew a particular image, based on what was going on in their life. And it’s just plain downright fun in a social fashion. Everyone’s making art, even if they don’t normally do that! What’s the problem with that? Nothin’ but fun.

The Surrealist games inherently produce imagery rubbing up against imagery that wouldn’t normally happen. So one sees connections in things one normally wouldn’t think of. I believe that is useful in day-to-day life, to make life more interesting. The unexpected — it can be marvelous.

SPOTLIGHT: What is the most surreal experience you’ve had while hosting one of these events?

MILLER: For me it’s mostly work! For three hours I don’t stop talking and explaining and listening to people’s word-games or looking at their drawings. Honestly, most of my life it’s about ME creating things. Here, it’s about me supplying the experience to OTHERS, making it easy for them to create. I love it, actually. When I see participants amazed at what they created, or just laughing at them, that makes me totally happy. I love seeing things being created, by myself or others. But I’m usually pretty tired by the end of the three hours! Probably the most surreal part of these events is the dreams I’ll have later that night …

Says the aforementioned Strymish: I’m really excited about this event …; Watching Roger play guitar in Mission of Burma when I was 17 was a life-changing experience, and seeing his integrity and thoughtfulness in everything he’s done since has been an inspiration. So I am stoked to be able to bring this to Portsmouth and see the inspiration go forward.


Yankee magazine awards Portsmouth Book and Bar as best new bookstore 2014

BOOK & BAR, Portsmouth

Owners John Petrovato, Jon Strymish, and David Lovelace realize that books and beer or wine are even better together. Pick from high-quality used books while sampling from their menu of beers, wines, gourmet sandwiches, and pastries. 40 Pleasant St. 603-427-9197;



Press for our Marissa Nadler show at Portsmouth Book and Bar


Portland Phoenix:  One of the new crop of emotionally dripping, hard-hitting dream-folk artists to come along the last few years, MARISSA NADLER has, along with artists like Jolie Holland, Liz Harris, and Sharon Van Etten, carved out some necessary new terrain among US folk scenes, infusing the craft with gothic sensibilities and irreverent existential hangups. It’s good fun. Nadler’s new record, July, reaffirms her place among this unique set, and seeing her perform its songs should be plenty memorable at Portsmouth Book and Bar, 9 pm; $10 at 40 Pleasant St. in Portsmouth, NH. 617.908.8277.


New Hampshire public radio:

The Boston Globe describes MarissaNadler‘s  voice as “an intoxicating soprano drenched in gauzy reverb that hits bell-clear heights, lingers, and tapers off like rings of smoke.”

On Sunday, March 9th, Marissa Nadler will be performing at the Portsmouth Book and Bar. Producer Zach Nugent spoke with Marissa and asked why her new album is called July, when her music is often described as dark, sparse, and even frosty.

Marissa Nadler brings ‘dark and dreamy’ tunes to Portsmouth Book & Bar

By Christopher Hislop of Seacost online.
March 06, 2014 2:00 AM

Don’t call Marissa Nadler a folk musician. Her music is much more cinematic than that.

Take John Fahey, toss him in a blender with Patti Smith, whisk in some of the imagery found in dreams of the darker variety, slowly incorporate wistfully presented lyrics sung in the mezzo-soprano range, soak it all in a healthy dash of reverb, and you’re starting to scratch the surface of the brand of music Nadler is creating.

WHAT Marissa Nadler

WHEN 9 p.m. Sunday, March 9

WHERE Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth

COST $10

CONTACT 427-9197

Touring in support of her latest album, “July,” which came out Feb. 10 — her eighth album to date, Nadler will bag up her dark and dreamy tunes and travel north from the great state of Massachusetts for an appearance at the Portsmouth Book & Bar on Sunday, March 9.

SPOTLIGHT: Music. What is it good for? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it?

NADLER: A world without it wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful.

SPOTLIGHT: Music. Describe the sounds that you cook up.

NADLER: Atmospheric, subtle, heavy, dark, rooted in folk with shoegaze, country, and black metal infusions.

SPOTLIGHT: Your latest record is called “July.” Why? How do you feel about March? In particular New England style Marches — the weather, not the movement …

NADLER: The record documents one July to the next, and it was recorded in July. It couldn’t be further removed from a “summer” record. I like March in New England towards the end, when winter finally leaves us and the flowers begin to bloom.

SPOTLIGHT: What are you looking for a listener to take with them when they experience one of your records or your live show?

NADLER: Seeing music live is always more imperfect and more personal. There’s nothing polished. I think it can be more emotionally resonant to see a musician in the flesh.

SPOTLIGHT: When you walk into a bookstore that has a bar what’s the first thing you do? Crack a book, or hoist a pint?

NADLER: I don’t drink anymore. So it’s going to have to be a book!

SPOTLIGHT: What can fans expect when they come out to see you at the Portsmouth Book & Bar on March 9?

NADLER: Well, I don’t believe I’ve ever played in New Hampshire! Maybe once …; so I’m really not sure what to expect from people! I will be joined by cellist Janel Leppin, who will also play synth and sing some of the harmony vocals that are so prevalent on “July.”

Portsmouth Book and Bar reviewed in New Hampshire Business Magazine



Portsmouth Bars Put New Twist on Beer
Published Thursday, February 14, 2013



Portsmouth has long been known for its young, hip atmosphere and nightlife, so it takes creativity to stand out. Two new establishments are creating a buzz with beer: Earth Eagle Brewings, a nanobrewery with a tasting room that hung out its shingle in November on High Street; and Portsmouth Book and Bar, a used bookstore with a restaurant and bar, which opened on Pleasant Street in December.

While combining a bookstore and bar may be novel for Portsmouth, it’s nothing new for John Petrovato and his business partners, Jon Strymish and David Lovelace. The trio opened Montagne Book Mill 15 years ago in western Massachusetts, and it is still running. Petrovato also owns Raven’s Used Books in Cambridge and Boston, which he says had its best year ever in 2012. Still, the bookstore business is difficult. “I probably wouldn’t have come to Portsmouth and just opened a bookstore because rents are very high here and the bookstore market is a little bit smaller than it used to be,” Petrovato says. “Having the other revenue streams helps us be able to do this.”

Portsmouth Book and Bar, which employs 12 people, stocks more than 15,000 used books that sell for 50 to 80 percent off the cover price. While perusing books, patrons can also enjoy a meal and select from eight bottled beers and a dozen wines. Petrovato says it will take years to recoup the upfront investment, but initial book sales are better than expected. The store sold more than 4,000 books in December, according to its Facebook page on Jan. 4.

New Hampshire has more than its fair share of brewpubs and breweries, and while microbrews have been de rigueur, nanobrews have become the latest trend. Earth Eagle Brewings turned a hobby into a business, offering a tasting room that’s become standing room only. “We were trying to figure out how could we get into the game for the smallest amount of money. That’s where the tasting room idea came up,” says Butch Heilshorn, who co-owns the brewery with Alexander McDonald, co-owner of A & G Homebrew Supply in Portsmouth, where Earth Eagle Brewings is located.

The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday. Heilshorn and McDonald aim to have six beers on tap, and Heilshorn says the 20-person capacity room is often full. The nanobrewery has one 31-gallon barrel for brewing. The beer costs $1 for a 4-ounce taste, the size allowed by law, but they are working on legislative efforts to increase that.

Customers can buy the take-home version in either 32- or 64-oz. growlers (jugs). Heilshorn says the pair had been home brewing for a few years. One thing that makes their beer unique is that some varieties are brewed with herbs called gruits, instead of hops, the traditional ingredient. “It’s almost like people don’t think it’s beer without hops in it, but for centuries no beer had hops,” he says. To learn more, visit or Portsmouth Book and Bar on Facebook.

Review of Portsmouth Book and Bar



December 27, 2012 10:15 AM

The hybrid Portsmouth Book and Bar really did a good job at making itself equal parts bookstore and bar/restaurant. The small bar and dining area surrounded by walls and rows of books. It can be a bit awkward getting around, but the food and drinks are good — creative and perfect for the venue and the books, well, it’s tough to stop browsing and buying.

Hopefully by the time you read this what I call the User Interface (to mix a metaphor) is better. There’s going to be a sign telling you to order at the counter soon but if there is not, here’s what to do. Stake a claim at one of the tables in the center of the room by leaving a jacket or some other personal but not too valuable object. Walk to the register by the front bar area, get a menu and order your food, wine and beer. They have a very good beer list. Sit back down and wait for the server to bring your food. Pop back up a few times to look at books. Sit back down. If you’re at the bar, just order from whoever is back there, maybe even longtime sommelier and chef Todd Cary.

It’s a bit awkward to sit in front of a wall of books if someone wants to browse over your head and walking around the tables can be tricky because they’re close to each other but in general, the feeling of eating and drinking in what seems like a big library is great fun, also the feeling of being in a museum dining area, where folks are talking about brainy things, not necessarily fluff. Although I did overhear a group of women older than I am talking about how some man they know changed his status on Facebook from married to it’s complicated. This is a good spot for meeting to chat, going out for a bite after or before the Music Hall and just writing your book, or reading one in the cushy couch section. The books have terrific prices and many are beautiful art books.

The menu is small, but mighty in creativity and execution. They make everything right behind the bar. We tried the Book and Bar Cobb, a large fresh salad with hard boiled eggs, incredibly flavorful and moist roasted chicken, ripe avocado, kalamata olives and smoked bacon in a creamy buttermilk dressing ($10). It’s a perfectly balanced and substantial salad. There is a section of “pressed sandwiches,” like panini but thankfully, more like grilled cheeses in texture. Panini can be too hard for the ingredients, but here, all the fresh veggies or meats shine through in flavor and texture. My pesto and parmesan pressed sandwich was buttery, crisp and soft enough with slices of roasted eggplant and peppers with snappy parmesan cheese and an earthy pesto sauce ($7). Other choices include a brie and quince with tart Granny Smith apple slices and one with fresh turkey and cranberry chutney.

There are specials so ask (on two visits, I was not automatically told about them). Cary makes some great cured salmon with aioli and capers and a duck confit that is tender and robust. A dish of Spanish almonds has a dash of rosemary and sea salt and makes a great snack with the soft, freshly baked bread ($4). A Spanish tortilla, served at room temperature is like a small frittata, here layered with a tangy Iberico cheese, thin potatoes and eggs with a creamy Romesco sauce and garlicky aioli ($6).

I did not try the charcuterie plate, but saw one go by and will. The serrano ham and artisan sausage is served with that soft, fresh bread again and chutney ($12). A polenta triangle with caponata of eggplant, celery, olives and capers is both sweet and tangy and the polenta is full of the flavor of sunny corn ($6).

Be sure to try the olive oil cake with lemon curd $5). The cake is moist and aromatic with a hint of olive flavor while the lemon curd gives it a lot of spark. Then linger while you enjoy that big photography book you picked out, catching up on Ginsberg’s Howl, or just chatting with your friends. It’s that kind of place, with good food, a glass of wine or beer and smart talk, you can get your brain back again.

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter. Her column appears Thursdays in Go&Do. Her restaurant review column, Dining Out, appears Thursdays in Spotlight magazine. She can be reached by e-mail at


Dining Out: Portsmouth Book and Bar

40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth, 427-9197,

Hours: From 10 a.m. daily


Food. *** and a half. Creative, casual and vibrant.

Service *** and a half. The ordering is a bit awkward but the staff is great.

Atmosphere *** and a half. A novel idea in Portsmouth. Get surrounded by books.

Overall *** and a half. A new dining and relaxing model in town. Good food and and fun vibe.

Local newspaper review of the soon to open Portsmouth Book and Bar

Portsmouth Book and Bar to Open in Two Weeks

John Strymish, one of owners, says they are shooting for Nov. 22.

The owners of the Portsmouth Book and Bar cafe on Pleasant Street say they plan to open for business on Nov. 22.
Portsmouth Book and Bar owners have already stockpiled lots of books and book cases inside the Pleasant Street cafe.
Inside the Portsmouth Book and Bar, there is one long book case that spans an entire wall filled with books.
Work to restore and refurbish historic crown mouldings above the Portsmouth Book and Bar bar area and elsewhere has been completed.
Here is what the lighting above the Portsmouth Book and Bar looks like located above the bar.
If everything goes as planned, the owners of the Portsmouth Book and Bar cafe say they will open for business in two weeks on Nov. 22.

It’s been about four months since John Strymish and his two other business partners began renovating the former Customs House building on Pleasant Street for the new Portsmouth Book and Bar cafe.

On Thursday afternoon, Strymish said they will open for business in two weeks on Nov. 22, just before Thanksgiving Day weekend. Strymish said they have completed all of the most challenging interior design, electrical and plumbing related work. Now they have to secure their New Hampshire liquor license and obtain their city inspection permits over the next two weeks.

He said the rest of the interior work to set up the new book store and cafe is pretty basic. In the rear portion of the new business are several bookcases filled with books flanked by one long book case that stretches along the entire wall.

A great deal of work has been done on the bar area and all of the historic crown mouldings and columns have been restored and painted.

When all of the work is completed inside the 2,800 square foot space, Strymish believes their patrons are going to love it. The timing of their opening at the beginning of the holiday season should also work in their favor, he believes.

In September, David Lovelace, one of the owners, said patrons will be able to order a glass of wine, a pint of beer, coffee and menu items such as small plates of cheese and fruit, salads, sandwiches and soups prepared by Chef Amy Mehaffey.

Strymish said then they also plan to hire 8 to 10 part- and full-time employees to operate the new book store/restaurant.

Lovelace said then patrons will be able to browse books as they do in other book stores, but they can also sit and visit with their friends in what the owners hope will be a unique atmosphere that preserves much of the ornate historic crown mouldings that were part of the original building constructed in 1850.

Recent article in Portsmouth Patch on our Book and Bar project

Article about our up and coming project “Portsmouth Book and Bar” as written in the Portsmouth Patch.  Sadly, it is filled with factual errors, spelling mistakes and the like. But here it is in any case.


Portsmouth Book and Bar Hopes to Open Next Month

New book store/restaurant owners are in the process of transforming former Customs House building space into a unique cafe that will sell books and serve food, wine and beer.

John Strymish said the idea behind the new Portsmouth Book and Bar is simple: “People don’t go to book stores just to buy books anymore.”

He, along with his two business partners, David Lovelace and John Tetravato, have 30 years of book store experience between them and are in the throes of transforming 2,800 square feet of space in the former Customs House building into the new book store and cafe on Pleasant Street.

On Thursday morning, Lovelace said they are shooting for a mid-October opening and when Portsmouth Book and Bar patrons arrive, they will see a bar with 10 stools and cafe tables surrounded by book cases and book shelves that will line the walls.

Lovelace said patrons will be able to order a glass of wine, a pint of beer, coffee and menu items such as small plates of cheese and fruit, salads, sandwiches and soups prepared by Chef Amy Mehaffey.

Strymish said they also plan to hire 8 to 10 part- and full-time employees to operate the new book store/restaurant.

Lovelace said patrons will be able to browse books as they do in other book stores, but they can also sit and visit with their friends in what the owners hope will be a unique atmosphere that preserves much of the ornate historic crown mouldings that were part of the original building constructed in 1850.

Lovelace believes Portsmouth is ready for this novel book store/cafe model.

“Everybody understands what a book store cafe is, but no one knows what a book store bar is,” he said. “But to me, it seems like a logical leap.”

Lovelance and his two business partners currently own and operate Montague Book Mill in Montague, Mass., a book store/cafe that was created from an old grist mill, and he said the college students who attend the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and the rest of the community really like it.

The three men are also involved with the Raven book stores in Cambridge and Boston, Mass., and the New England Mobile Book Fair, Lovelace said.

Lovelace said he first had the idea to create the Portsmouth Book and Bar when he sailed into the city two years ago and realized it would be good place for such a business. He and his business partners later found the perfect space inside the former Customs House and signed a lease.

The Nathan Sargent architectural firm in Boston came up with the interior design for the new book store cafe that called for raising the ceilings to let more light into the space. Lovelace said they will also reuse a window facing State Street that was originally a door as an entrance way to an outdoor sidewalk cafe with alcohol service in the spring of 2013.

Terrance O’Neil, the project manager, said they hired the Portsmouth historic restoration firm of Adams and Roy to help them restore some ornate crown mouldings along the top of the restaurant/book store walls that had suffered water damage. O’Neil said their goal is to create a modern book store cafe that retains as much of the former Customs House’s character as possible.

One feature about the Customs House building that O’Neil likes is that it incorporated a great deal of structural steel. He said there is also coffered brick on each floor.

Strymish said the new book store restaurant will offer patrons wi-fi so they can use their laptops and tablets. They will also sell a wide selection of used books along with cards and journals.

When asked why he believes the Portsmouth Book and Bar will do well when it opens, Strymish replied, “It just seems like what people want.”