In Bristol, Drink and Dabble is an artful experience

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While the weiner schnitzel remains the top menu item at Redlefsen’s Rotisserie & Grill, the popular Thames Street restaurant added another item that some recent customers, including artists, attorneys and even a professional athlete, devoured. But the draw is not the classic, traditional veal dish that Redlefsen’s serves, so much as it is the chance to let the customers explore their creative side.

Thanks to local artist and comedian, Charlie Hall, Redlefsen’s is one of a handful of venues around Rhode Island where friends can enjoy an evening out and go home with their own version of a classic work of art.

The event is called Drink and Dabble. Part art class, part social gathering. Mr. Hall calls it the “new, trendy, date night out.” And on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, about 45 singles and couples packed into the restaurant’s function room where he led them with stroke-by-stroke instruction, infused with humor, taking every opportunity to have some good-natured teasing at the expense of his paying followers.

Kelly Beckett and Shannon Casey of Middletown both took some art classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and decided to test their artistic talents. But that wasn’t their only motivation.

“It’s different than just going to a bar,” said Ms. Beckett.

Over the span of two hours, stark, white canvases became filled with color, shapes and textures until each resembled the classic Vincent van Gogh masterpiece, “Starry, Starry Night.”

“He cut his ear off, you know,” Mr. Hall said, offering his only insight into the artist.

From left, Tiffany Hofeldt of Bristol, Jamie Coelho and Chris Iannetta try their hands at painting at a Drink and Dabble event in Bristol.

Throughout the session, Mr. Hall brushed his own canvas with paint for the roomful of students to follow. His assistant, Gina Croce, who owns Hummingbird Studio in Swansea, Mass., walked around the room supplying the artists with paint, tips and moral support to counter Mr. Hall’s well intentioned sarcasm.

“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake,” Mr. Hall told his students.

Although more accustomed to catching 90 mile an hour fastballs thrown his way, Los Angeles Angels catcher, Chris Iannetta, appeared to be finding his creative side in art during the off-season. He, along with his wife, Lisa, and their friends, Jason and Elisa Hammel saw the event as a unique idea for a date night.

“I’ve never painted before,” Mr. Iannetta said. “It was his idea,” he said, motioning, as if to blame his friend for them being there.

“It’s something different to do,” Mr. Hammel said.

Even before the class began, Mr. Iannetta shared his plans for his first work of art.

“It’s going to be a grab bag gift for Christmas,” he said.

After the participants covered their white canvases with aqua colored paint, Mr. Hall demonstrated how to apply black paint to create a tree in the foreground. Then he roamed around the room, partly to observe his students, partly to make wise cracks.

“Let’s make some bold statements. There’s no wrong way to do this,” he said.

Wendy Almeida of Bristol sat with a group of her colleagues from Roger Williams University. Carefully, she dabbed black paint onto the canvas until a tree appeared, similar to what Mr. Hall brushed on his canvas. Mr. Hall paused to examine her work.

“There’s no wrong way to do this,” he repeated. Peering over Ms. Almeida’s shoulder he added, “Except yours.”

The unexpected jab did nothing to dissuade her creativity or her charm as she accepted Mr. Hall’s good natured critique.

Her friends, Ann Marie Thompson of Barrington, Kari Culpa and Phyliss O’Neil of Bristol, and Jolee Vacchi of Attleboro, Mass., brushed fervently, perhaps to avoid becoming the next target of the artist’s critique.

Mr. Hall circled the room to continue his comedy laced art instruction as each canvas came to life, depicting the distant village that Van Gogh eyed from an asylum window. Swirls of paint created the darkness of the sky, wrapping around the stars.

“If it doesn’t look exactly like it, don’t worry,” Mr. Hall told the class. “You’re not really artists.”

Ms. O’Neil also determined the fate of her painting before it was half-way done.

“Mine’s not going to leave the house,” she said.

Despite Ms. O’Neil’s plans to keep her painting in her private collection, her colleague had another idea for the group’s effort.

“We’re going to hang them in the admissions office in the law school,” Ms. Almeida said.

The Drink and Dabble event has become a hugely popular attraction and endeavor for Mr. Hall. He discovered the concept by chance and brought it to Rhode Island where it is continually sold out.

Even Walter Guertler, whose family owns Redlefsen’s, was impressed by the concept early on.

“Charlie walked in the door one day a couple of months ago and said ‘I have an idea.’ Before he finished, I said ‘yes’. When do you want to do it,” Mr. Guertler said.

So far, eight sessions have been sold out and four more sessions are scheduled through January. Mr. Hall plans to continue the fun for the foreseeable future.

“I was going broke. Now I’m not going broke anymore,” he said of his recent success.

Artists and others alike can view the upcoming schedule and register for Drink and Dabble sessions by going to drinkanddabble.com.

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