Po-Boy Views: Bar None or Bottoms Up

November 21, 2021
By: Phil LaMancusa

My step father had a bar when I was growing up; it was called The Beach Bar and Grill, although there wasn't a beach within 10 miles; in fact, it was on the border of Greenwich Village in New York City, across from a trucking company in a blue-collar neighborhood awash with the salt of the earth.

This is how it was. The bar was open from 8 a.m. until 4 a.m., seven days a week (Sunday bar openings were 1 p.m. by law, allowing for church). It was closed on whims and election days. The space was about 25'' x 75'' with a galley kitchen in the back and the bar itself running from about six feet in, on the left side, for approximately 35''. There were minimal barstools (reserved for dames); most men imbibed while standing. There was a jukebox that took coins and you could watch records spin; Bing Crosby's "Happy Birthday" was on ALL jukeboxes in those days, just in case. There were a few tables (deuces) that sat two people, bathrooms center right, and booths along the right wall and in the small dining area in the back.

There was a local drunk that came in overnight to clean and mop. At eight in the morning, the day barmaid came in to dispense the morning special "medicine" to a waiting public: six ounces of straight gin for a dollar. No lunch was served; the "Grill" part of Bar and Grill was added to allow patrons to bring their kids in, making it family friendly.

Workers came over from the docks, meat-packing district, and day truckers for work breaks and possibly a bracer before heading home; they usually had whiskey with a short beer chaser called "a beer and a ball." My step father, Larry (the Greek) came in about 4 and worked the bar and kitchen until closing; sometimes he would have a 6 o'clock barmaid on that shift (that's how my mom met him) and the evening cronies were local salts and their dames (wives or other). The oncoming 6 o'clock bartender would, by tradition, serve everyone a drink on the house and the night would take off from there; it was also tradition to buy each person their third drink, women more often than that, and it was also tradition for patrons to buy the bartender drinks. Everyone smoked cigarettes and bought drinks for each other. It was serious drinking and boozy good times, most often.

There was always room for a little dancing, people sang along with the juke, and sometimes there were fights; conversation rules were cemented in stone: talk was to exclude any references to sex, politics, and/or religion. Period. Sometimes I'd get up in the morning and find Larry's shirts in the bathtub with cold water to loosen bloodstains and knew that I would be sent to the apothecary for a leech for another black eye.

There was one small television that was only turned on for boxing, horse racing, and the World Series; there was always too much going on in the bar to keep the "boob tube" on. If you were stuck for entertainment, there was shuffleboard (with puck) in the back by the empty beer bottled cases that were picked up by the delivery guys. The ice-man delivered ice. Guys drank whiskey and women drank mixed drinks called highballs. There were no cream, multi-ingredient, or blender drinks. Food was whatever Larry was cooking that night.

Sometimes Larry's patrons would get him drunk, take his clothes off, lock him out of his own bar, and drink his whiskey just for fun. The Beach Bar and Grill's regulars were like a club and went on picnics and day trips together. There were usually six guys and their gals that ran together, most guys had seen action in "the war" and were tough with each other and gentle with their wives, girlfriends, and anyone's kids; for us, that was lucky because there were five kids in our family.

Larry was always buying stuff that "fell off the back of a truck;" he would bring home stuff for us to sell to neighbors: belts, women's stockings, work pants, etc., and usually he would score a "procured" Sunday roast from one of the butchers. This was the world that I grew up in. My mother, a hash slinger; my missing father an itinerant cook; and this Greek guy, cook, and bar owner. One Sunday morning, I was awoken early because the cleaning guy was found passed out on the floor from drinking his way through Larry's inventory, and I was needed to clean and mop the joint that smelled of stale smoke, sweat, cheap perfume, and booze; I was 12, and I mark that day as the first in my career in the service industry.

In those days, men walked in and laid a $20 on the bar and drank (and bought for others) until it was gone; drinking was a pastime, like theater or shows, and there was just as much dramatics to see or be seen. Bartenders knew customers by name, drink preferences, and usually had their drink ready by the time they bellied up; the bottle was left in front of the customer and drinks were poured from it: Cutty Sark, Four Roses, Fleishman's, Seagram's, Beefeater, Old Grand Dad, Dewar's.

There were bars like this on every other street when I was growing up; there's few today and, when you spot one, it's usually called "an old fart bar." That's where guys like me go with our dames to sit and talk about everything except politics, sex, or religion. Cheers!

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