MATUNUCK — This coastal community in the far reaches of South Kingstown harbors all the working ingredients of a self-sustaining village. The corner store, surf shop, pizza parlor and hometown pubs play host to local residents, tourists and daily beach-goers every year.
In the heart of Matunuck village stands the Ocean Mist, sitting high on pilings above the Atlantic, a virtual dock of hedonism, enjoyed, remembered and revisited by people of all walks of life. Together, The Ocean Mist and village of Matunuck have evolved over the years.
“I wouldn’t be here without the people of Matunuck and the village wouldn’t be the same without the Ocean Mist. We are a community here, one that works together, says Kevin Finnegan, who’s owned the bar since 1988. Nodding to Tara’s, the Ocean Mist’s sister pub next door, Finnegan tells the story of a unique banding of peoples. “People come in here and migrate to Tara’s. They come back and forth. We work together – share coolers, customers, onions, whatever we need to do.”
Chuckling, Finnegan reminisced about his unabridged ride as the Captain of the ship and long-time resident of the village. “I’m from Providence, grew up in the city. I was fortunate that my parent’s had a house at Roy Carpenter’s beach. I spent all my summers here as a kid.”
Living at the beach house as soon as he was able to drive, Finnegan began his bid for the Ocean Mist. “It took four or five years, but I finally got the previous owners to sell it to me.” The bar which had previously only been seasonal, opened in May 1988 under Finnegan’s reign and has been open year-round ever since.
Now a full pub, breakfast haunt, live music venue and beach bar, an eclectic venue where all are welcome, the Ocean Mist is the community hub.
“The crowd is so diverse. Where can you sit down for a cold beer and have the hell’s angels to your right – a grandmother to your left? The mayor, the police, senators are all here together,” says Jack Hanley who’s worked for Finnegan since the beginning.
When asked his thoughts on the possibility of the Ocean Mist being washed out to sea, Hanley turned somber. “I would be heartbroken.”
The Ocean Mist is the first building in the line of defense against severe ocean tides and beach erosion in Matunuck. The town, Coastal Resources Management, (CRMC), private property owner’s and environmental agencies are caught in a net of red tape that has tested the limits of time and Mother Nature. Finnegan and several property owners to the east on the tiny stretch of Matunuck shoreline are awaiting a resolution that will allow them to protect their properties.
“I have people who depend on me,” says Finnegan time and again. “My employees, vendors, the musicians, the list doesn’t end. I’m not just in this for myself. This is a community. If the Mist goes, the situation – erosion will just continue down the beach.”
The erosion issue, not unique to Matunuck is a growing concern up and down the east coast. Whether it be the shoreline of Block Island Sound, Long Island or Virginia Beach, coastal erosion and sea level rise have become a global concern. Those coastal areas occupied by homes and businesses, by families and communities are of critical concern.
Legal maneuverings, meetings, research and agendas are now taking Finnegan’s time away from the business that he has nurtured for more than 20 years. When asked what he would be doing if the situation were resolved, Finnegan had a quiet answer for a quiet day at the beach.
“I’d be selling beer,” he said. “It’s what I do.”