To paraphrase Mark Twain, there was a time when the Saloon Keeper was thought of on the same line as the lawyer, the banker and the editor.

When you come to think of it, in the the confines of the Saloon, they perform all of those duties.   Sometimes it seems the actual operation of the establishment is an easier task then all the other obligations which fall on the Saloon Keepers shoulders.

The following are the best I have ever met.  I am prejudiced as most are my friends but the door is open to these hallowed halls to any suggestions.  Feel free to file your nominations.

Elaine Kaufman,  Elaine”s NYC.   Elaine has been holding court at her Upper Eastside eatery for over forty years.  Every night for over forty years she has served Princes and Paupers.   Greeting all with the same nod and smile.

Things are much the same now as they were the first day I walked in the door when I was nineteen years old.  The center piece is the grand lady herself but on any given night the crowd is the star.  That  crowd is made up of all sorts, every one from cops to legendary copulators .  It would not be odd for you to  run into a politician or a gangster.  A priest or a poet.  Much has been made of her celebrity clientele, which is no made up story, but the truth be told the place is a neighborhood Saloon. 

The neighborhood just happens to be the entire city of New York.  

There is also been some urban legend about how difficult it is to be treated well in the place.   Not true.  I believe Elaine’s basic theory is eat, drink, pay your check and behave yourself.  From personal experience I know she is not that committed to the behave yourself part.   If you can’t get into an interesting conversation with someone in Elaine’s you are either boring or drunk.   To me, she has been my friend for over thirty years, kind and concerned and loving.  I am only one of hundreds who feel privileged to be a member of  her  great group of friends.

Perry Butler, Perry’s, San Francisco.  Perry Butler is not your typical Saloon Keeper.  As a matter of fact he is the entire opposite of the stereotype.  He is no backslapping glad hander with a stogie and joke in a gilded vest.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a terrific guy with a great personality, he is just low key, more of a keen business man than anything else. 

He established his Saloon on Union Street in San Francisco back in 1969.  Some have called it the first fern bar.  That’s a crock.  Sure there were a couple of plants but the truth be told. Perry is an east coast guy who built his emporium in the like of P.J. Clarke’s and Martell’s.   I believe Mr Butler would agree with me when I say his greatest ability as a Saloon keeper was to hire well.  He has given us some great bartenders and waiters and mangers.  Almost all of whom have become part of the Perry’s legend many of whom are still with him.   Perry Butler has given a city that prides itself on it’s culinary superiority a place to have a good meal, an honest drink, in a comfortable and impeccably clean atmosphere and you won’t have to dip into the kids college money to pay the tab.   His brunch is nonpareil with the best Eggs Benedict I have ever had.  I guaranteethat when you walk into Perry’s you will feel welcome and comfortable.  As simple as that sounds it really is saying a lot.  Especially after forty years.

Jimmy Neary, Neary’s Pub, NYC.  If you visit  Jimmy Neary’s Saloon on Fifty-Seventh Street in Manhattan it is more than likely the first face you see will be Himself.   After more than forty years Jimmy still likes to position himself at the front of the room so he can glad hand his patrons as soon as they walk through the door.   Always with a hearty handshake and a great smile. 

Neary’s patrons are an eclectic group, like all great Saloons, from politicians to clergy to authors to federal agents and cops, to no doubt a few with lesser credentials.  It would not be unusual to run into the likes of Anne Ford or Roger Ailes or Mary Higgins Clarke in the dinning room.   Last New Years Eve, after the ball dropped in Times Square, Mayor Bloomberg and his girlfriend brought  Bill and Hillary Clinton to Neary’s for a couple of Irish coffees and a good meal. 

Jimmy serves terrific Irish fare and his joint is spotless.   However, non of the above is why he is in the Hall of Fame.

He earned his bones by being the first Saloon Keeper in New York City to ban smoking.   Neary passed that edict over thirty years ago.   He also earned his way onto this hallowed list because he truly runs a family Saloon.   On any given night there are a couple of Neary’s working the room.   For example his daughter Una, who has a terrific career in the banking industry, waits table three nights a week.   The first time I met his other daughter Anne Marie she was waiting tables when she was at least seven months pregnant. Most importantly the Neary’s know how to make you feel like you are one of their own and they go out of their way to do that. 

It’s usually a handshake and a smile from Jimmy and a well placed wisecrack from Una.

Any Saloon Guy who can keep a place running for that long  and raise as great a family as he has, belongs in this Hall of Fame.