Archive for December, 2009

A Saloon Christmas

Most of you will probably think that it is a very sad story to see people sitting in a Saloon on Christmas Eve. I am sure you are all thinking that they are lost souls with no family and nowhere to go.

Of course I beg to differ.

Most great Saloons are filled with people who feel they are family.  As a person who has not had much family in his life I can tell you that I have never had a lonely Christmas.   As a matter of fact some of my fondest Christmas memories come from my associations and friendships that were cultivated sitting at the mahogany of some warm Saloon.

When I was a young bartender Christmas Eve was a great night to work.  All the boys and girls would come in for a snort or two before heading off to the family and they were all usually in an unusually generous mood.

That means big tips.

I had a Christmas Eve tradition with two pals.  Billy Owen Coughlin and Wayne Wade and I, all bachelors, would go Christmas shopping together.  First we meet for lunch and have a few beers. Then we would head off to Fordham Road in the Bronx to shop.  Of course between the three of us we knew every bartender or Saloon owner from here to there so we stopped in most of them to spread a little Christmas cheer.

We would hit a very big department store on the corner of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse called Alexander’s.  The three of us would do all our shopping in about an hour.  I know that sounds unbelievable but it’s true.  We would then head off stopping in all the bars we missed on the way home.

Needless to say we would consider it a Christmas miracle if we made it home with all the gifts we bought.  Yet,every year there was that Christmas miracle.   God takes care of drunks and children, especially at Christmas.

One of my favorite Christmas Saloons is Butch Maguire’s in Chicago. 

It has been there since Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocked over the lamp.  Butch always claimed his gin joint to have been the first single’s bar in America.  I would have a hard time arguing with that considering anytime I have been in the place there has always been a great collection of attractive Chicago Gold Coast types.

Maguire’s is at it’s best during the Christmas season.  Every inch and I mean every inch of wall and ceiling is decorated with the most intricate and wonderfully imaginative Christmas decorations.  Even the most strident Scrooge would get into the Christmas spirit after just a few minutes in this magical place.  I spent only two Christmas Eve’s in Butch’s fine place but even though I am a die-hard New Yorker those kind, polite Chicagoans took me under their wing and made sure I was taken care of.

To all of them this season Slainte my old friends. Happy Christmas.

In San Francisco, Perry Butler’s great Saloon had a wonderful Christmas Eve tradition.  Perry’s is a true family place.  He just celebrated his fortieth year in business and even though the old man is still going strong his children are now running the joint.

Perry’s would close early on Christmas Eve, usually about ten o’clock or so.  Instead of calling last call and hustling everyone out the door the bartenders, Mike McCourt, Seamus Coyle, Hanna Ankhi and Ramsey Mousarwehy and various waiters and waitresses would all get on top of the bar and end the night with a solemn rendition of Silent Night.

There was usually not a dry eye in the joint.  Not out of sadness but out of joy and happiness to have all these wonderful people in your life.

The two former fellows are Irish from the other side.  The two latter guys are from Jordan. 

When the Arabs came to this country as very young men they took entry-level busboy jobs at Perry’s and the Irishmen took them under their wing.  Taught them the Saloon business and the ways of America.  They even helped teach them the language and of course that wonderful Christmas song.

Those of us at the bar who were aware of their story knew it to be one of love and respect.  That was why the water works would get started.  It was so special to witness the bond that was forged between them and us.  Four men of different ages and different cultures sharing with all their friends and customers a song.   A beautiful Christmas song. 

This year when I hear Silent Night sung at Midnight Mass, I will as always, think of the baby Jesus and Joseph and Mary and the Wise Men. 

I will also, as always, think of four bartenders, Mike and Seamus and Hanna and Ramsey. I will pray that we all learn to have the love in our heart and respect in our character that my two Irish friends showed my two Arabic pals and visa versa.

So as you pass a Saloon in you travels this year. Don’t feel bad for those of us sitting there we are probably right where we want to be.

There is something to be said about sharing special moments with people you choose to be with as opposed to people you have to be with.

Happy Christmas to you all.  Thanks for all for your support and comments through the year.

Steve

Tiger’s “tail” is none of our business.

This week the world was shocked to learn that Tiger Woods was having multiple affairs.

Really, a wealthy powerful athlete was unfaithful to his wife. In the immortal words of Sir John Gielgud in the move Arthur ” I’ll alert the media”.

Of course the media needed no alerting. Every news program, talk show and fake news show, were all Tiger all the time.  Morning shows, afternoon shows, night time cable talkers all picking the bones of the worlds most recognizable athlete.

All this attention and I find myself , a certifiable news junkie, not really caring very much about it.

Why?

Largely my lack of concern comes from an age old feeling I have about peoples private lives. It’s none of my business.

I think minding ones own business is a long lost art.  One I really wish would come back into vogue.

There was a time when what athletes did away from their profession was treated with discretion.  Unless of course they broke the law.   The thought that because someone posses a great athletic ability they should be held to a higher personal or social standard than your neighbor is a bit of a reach.

When I was a young sportscaster in the seventies I used to frequent a Saloon called McTeagues. It was owned by Larry McTeague who had a solid friendship with many of the NY Yankees.  It was not unusual to find many of them in his place after a ballgame and staying till the wee hours of the morning.   It was also not unusual to see them leave with some lovely Upper East Side dollies.  Even the married guys.  Shocking.

One time, I witnessed a certain happily married Yankee canoodling with a well known young women who was well known by most guys on the East Side.   If you get my drift.

I thought I had a great story and went to one of my mentors with what I knew and asked him how he thought it would play if I talked about what I knew on the radio.  He told me it was a great idea, if I never wanted another player in any sport to speak to me again.

It just wasn’t done.  There was a trust.  If the players accepted you in their inner social circle you had to keep your mouth shut. 

It was none of your business.

I understood this because the thought that I should mind my own business was drilled into my head at a very young age.  In the old neighborhood a guy who could keep his mouth shut was a valued friend.

When I was a young bartender I hung out in a Saloon called Chambers.  It was owned by a great guy named Jack Chambers. It was also the most popular bar in the area and Jack ran it more like a club than anything else. You were welcome as long as you behaved yourself.  He was well known for not tolerating any shenanigans.

I was one of the young guys who hung out there. Most of my friend at Chambers were seven or eight or ten years older than me.  I was always mature for my age.

One fellow was named Mickey Butler he had a bit of a surly personality and a gruff voice that sounded like he had gargled with razor blades but like all the guys he was stand up all the way. One time a new fellow was coming around trying to make pals and get into the inner circle that almost every bar has.  He sat next to Mickey and decided to make him his new best friend.  He kept asking Mickey questions, “are you married”? “How many kids”? “What do you do for a living”? Mickey put up with this for a while and then said “why do you want to know so much about me” the guy said he was just trying to be friendly.  Mickey says to the guy “ well then you should know that my father lived till the age of 99” the guy takes the bait and says “ wow…what was his secret” Mickey without missing a beat says “ he knew how to mind his own fucking business”. 

Message delivered.

I also was taught that if there is one area of life that you really needed to mind your own business it was when matters were between a husband and a wife.

Most of the guys were married and to the best of my knowledge did not fool around.  However there is always the exception.

One fellow had a beautiful wife and two great kids. Yet for some reason he felt it necessary to dally in the valley of a women who barred a striking resemblance to a kitchen witch.  We all wondered why but non of us ever asked.

One evening about six of us guys were watching a ballgame and our other pal, the one cheating on his wife, was at the end of the bar with the girl.

The door opens we all turn to see who it is and low and behold it’s the wife. The whole place got so quiet I swear even the jute box shut up.  If this were a movie a cold wind would have blown the door open.  As the wife walked the length of the bar the six off us looked at each other, never speaking, silently we knew what we had to do, we had to do the manly thing, we had to get the hell out of there.  We picked up our money and walked outside.

The girlfriend locked herself in the bathroom, the bartender walked over to  the TV and pretended to watch the game.  Outside I was given the duty of checking things out through the window.

The wife was giving it to our pal real good. He looked like a fourth grader getting balled out by Sister Mary Battle Axe.

It occurred to me, that if it was none of our business, why was I nominated to spy.  I was told by the older guys it was to make sure nothing got out of hand.  I was to let them know if anything physical happened. “Either way” I asked?  They looked at each other and once again with out speaking to each other came up with the same conclusion.

She could whack him a few times but if he raised his hand to her we were going in.

Thankfully no one hit anyone.  The wife ran out in tears.  The girlfriend, once she felt safe to come out of the Jane, left.  Our pal was at the end of the bar his head in his hands.  I looked at my pals and once again asked with my eyes should we speak with him.  No.

 After some time we could hear our friend crying . A real cry. Sobs and loss of breath, heaving shoulders  and the whole ballgame. I got up to go down and console him and one guy grabbed me sat me back down and said. “ It’s none of our business, even if he was doing it in front of us, it’s none of our business”.

That’s how I feel about Tiger. Even though it happened in front of us. It’s none of our business.