"From bullets whizzing through the front windows of an Italian restaurant to a tall, mysterious blonde who wants to be tied up and spanked — it's life behind the bar, a carnival recorded on cocktail napkins . . . ".
Last week’s video showed how to use a traditional “four count” to pour an exact shot. Apparently in Ireland, they have their own count. This just in from our good friend and fellow barman on the emerald island, Diarmaid D:
(And of course, it’s not my counting method . . . Johnny La La taught me how to free-pour at The Lark Tavern many years ago. I’m sure he would have approved of this variation.)
Diarmaid (pronouced “deer-med” — a traditional Irish name) was a member of Johnny D’s staff back in the mid-nineties. He and his lovely lady, Sarah, will be flying in from Ireland to Boston for a return visit next week. We can’t wait to tip a pint of Guinness with him. It’s been too long. (If you’re ever anywhere near Donegal, Ireland be sure to visit Doms Pier 1, where Diarmaid pours the best pint around.)
Cleveland neighborhoods . . .
The spotlight was on Cleveland last week, and not in a good way. Headline after headline told of the young girls who had been kidnapped and held hostage.
People who lived nearby were horrified and shocked that this had happened in their community.
“It’s really hard to imagine it happening here,” Ruben Hernandez told me. Ruben is our Heartland Payroll supervisor, and he grew up in that neighborhood. He still lives only a few block away.
“This is so unlike the neighborhood,” Ruben said. “It’s really a close community where people look out for one another.”
Ruben recalled a childhood incident where there had been a fire at one of his neighbors homes . . . aside from the damage to the building, the family’s Christmas presents had been destroyed.
(Ruben celebrating his 25 birthday last October)
“I remember being nine or ten years old,” Ruben said, “And me and my friends were all out shoveling sidewalks and driveways to help raise money for that family. Everyone chipped in, and those kids had new presents in time for Christmas.”
Ruben also told the story about when his father had a stroke, and his mom was trying to care for him after he left the hospital.
Apparently one family after another would bring food over to the Hernandez home. Someone’s family would bring the prepared meals one morning, and then the next day someone else would send something more.
“All the families were leaving meals for us,” Ruben recalled, “Usually it was the daughters that brought it to our house.”
“They would drop it off on the porch in the morning” he said, “And it was like it never crossed their minds that they were doing something unusual, or special. It was just the way everyone in the neighborhood took care of each another.”
We have to send out a special congratulations to Ruben — he’s about to start his own family. He and the beautiful Gabby (pictured on the left) are expecting their first child this coming November. (So you finally got around to it, Ruben . . . good for you.)
“Chombo’s” great idea . . .
After the Boston Marathon bombings, the One Fund Boston was set up to accept donations for the victims.
Our weekend bar back, Craig “Chombo” McK, came up with a unique way to gather more support for the fund.
Craig is a trucker by day (delivers wine for an area distributor), and he’s also a musician, performing frequently on the Boston scene with Julian Hammond, Dave Hodgman, and Tim Mitchell.
Their band, the Fantastic Liars, had a gig scheduled at the popular night spot, Radio . . . and Craig thought — “Hey, why not play music, have fun, and raise money at the same time?”
By the time other people had picked up on the idea, something like twenty bands had joined Craig for that night’s performance, and they raised over $7000. (Click below to hear Fantastic Liars — that’s Craig on the right, on saxophone.)
We may be adding more specific details when I talk with Craig again over the weekend . . . but way to go, Chombo!
(Original pencil drawing by Nate Boucher.)
(Here’s an original tongue-in-cheek drawing of Craig — done on a cocktail napkin of course. This was drawn at the bar by former Johnny D’s staffer Nate Boucher, who was also an art student. Craig’s reaction to the drawing — “Hey guys, it’s not a caricature, it’s a portrait, . . . and a fine one at that!”)
Ever wonder how professional bartenders can free pour so accurately — one ounce, one and a half, or two ounces — all without using a shot glass or jigger? How long does it take to master this skill?
At Johnny D’s, Oscar is a kick-ass bartender . . . but because the club uses a measured pour, he never perfected doing it free-hand.
A couple of weeks ago I laid down a challenge. I told Oscar that he could develop this skill in less than ten minutes . . . and learn it so well that he’d immediately be able to train someone else.
Last week we actually tried it, and at the end of this introduction you can watch the video we made of our project.
You’ll see Oscar now free-pouring like a champ, and also training Brittany, a waitress at the club with no prior bartending experience.
(You’ll also learn how to do this on your own . . . in less than ten minutes.)
Quick background on the “four count” . . .
Most bartenders use a standard “four count” to free-pour — a count of . . . 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. The “four count” is preferred because it breaks down so easily – “1” equals a quarter shot, “2” equals a half shot, on up to a full “4” count — which is the house pour, or one full shot.
The most common mistake when teaching this count is to put the “horse before the cart.”
I’ve seen bartenders make the trainee start pouring blind immediately. The trainee pours blind into a tin cup, then empties it into a measuring glass to see how they did . . . short pour one time, then too much the next.
Then they try again.
It’s much faster to simply pour into a long row of shot glasses, over and over. Just keep pouring into a shot glass while counting — until you have the exact count down like a musical beat. Then measure how you do with a blind pour, using that learned count . . .
Do bartenders spend their life counting . . . ?
While it’s useful to count at the beginning, just to establish the rhythm — once you have your exact count and you’ve been using it for a while — you won’t actually be counting at all.
To start, when practice is over and you’re actually working behind the bar, you’ll use a “silent count” — (as Brittany does at the 5 minute mark in the video.) Very quickly that “silent count” will become a “muscle memory.” Your wrist and arm will know the exact four-count just by the “feel” of the time your arm is raised.
The video . . .
First, I have to say that I’m not a great camera-man.
I also want to remind you (once more) that Oscar is teaching this lesson less than ten minutes after he’d learned the method himself. (This is the way we planned it . . . we wanted to demonstrate how easily the skill can be both learned, and taught.)
I guess I’m pointing this out because there sure aresome rough spotsin the video. There are things that we would have changed if we’d done it a second time. (For example, towards the end of the video, Oscar is interrupted by a woman wanting to purchase a Johnny D’s T-shirt.)
And if we’d done it more than once, maybe we would have cut down on the beginning of the lesson, where Brittany is just learning the feel of the bottle.
But we had already decided . . . no editing, no corrections, just one chance. So once the camera started rolling we were committed to “keep on trucking,” just to prove that learning how to “free-pour” is a ten-minute task.
(Actually, in this case, an 8 minute and 29 second effort.)
So here it is . . . if you follow the method in this video, you’ll be free-pouring like a pro in no time at all. (One suggestion: Enlarge the video to “full screen” and you can better see how accurate Brittany becomes at pouring exact shots.)
Thanks to Johnny D’s and owner Carla DeLellis for the use of her facilities and staff.
(Screen shot from “Donnie Brasco” — my choice for most realistic dialogue in any Mafia film.)
I’ve been lucky in this business. I’ve always liked the places I worked . . . always thought highly of the regulars, the staff and the owners.
In part, that was simply good fortune — lucking out in getting into the right joints. But also in part, I do take some credit. If I didn’t like where I was working . . . I left.
There’s a few jobs not listed in “Places I’ve worked” — because I left so quickly I don’t count them.
This post is about one of those places . . . looking back, I was happy just to get out of there alive. I mean that literally.
I should have known . . .
Seriously, I really should have known. I’d met this North End restaurant owner while I was still working at The Cantina Italiana. Tino was a regular at The Cantina’s bar and I’d often talk with him.
One night he was telling me about a guy who had slipped on the wet tiles in the men’s room at his place, and then decided to sue him.
“That fucking c*ck-sucker was trying to ruin me,” Tino was saying, “I couldn’t believe the balls on this guy!”
Tino went on about how their lawyers had exchanged angry letters, and about a trial date that had been set for several years down the road. Then Tino stopped talking.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The guy did me a favor,” Tino said, “ . . . He died.”
The guy did him a favor? He died?
At the time I didn’t think too much about it . . . I was busy tending bar and Tino wasn’t the only customer. I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention.
But as I continued to work in the North End, I began to catch onto the lingo. It was slick, colorful, packed with nuance. “He did me a favor and died,” . . . that was Tino’s way of saying he got rid of the guy.
All those guys really did act and talk like in the movies, but it was the movies that copied them.
Everyone in the North End was using the phrase “Fuhgeddaboutit” fifteen years before it showed up in the film, Donnie Brasco. (Apparently the film’s director spent weeks in NYC’s Little Italy hanging out with the wise-guys in restaurants and coffee shops, trying to get their expressions and behavior down pat.)
A regular at the bar described that gangland-style punishment to me years before the movie was made.
When he saw the expression on my face, he quickly said something like: “The guy will live, but he’ll walk around with a bag [colostomy bag] for the rest of his life.”
I know enough now to realize that the victim probably won’t live. That regular– a connected guy — was just trying to make his lifestyle more palatable with the easily-shocked bartender from the outside world.
It’s like when they say, “I never hurt anybody who didn’t deserve it.” These men live in the neighborhood, they have families, and kids who go to the local schools. It’s somehow better (if anyone knows what they do), that what they do is almost a civic contribution . . . as in the guy deserved it. A problem for the community has been eliminated.
It took me a while to catch onto these things . . . I almost didn’t smarten up soon enough.
Anyway, now I was working in Tino’s place . . .
One night Joey Cigars (who I also knew from The Cantina) was at Tino’s bar. He and Tino were both drinking pretty heavily.
They continued to drink after I’d given last call, and the two of them sat there drinking after I locked the front door and began cashing out the register.
They started arguing about something and then Tino just waved his hand in the air, turned and started walking toward the back of the restaurant. “You don’t walk out on me!” Joey said. The words snapped like a whip.
But Tino just kept walking toward the kitchen.
Joey got up and followed him.
By the time I passed through the kitchen on the way to the office with the night’s cash drawer — they were in a major argument. It had something to do with Tino not showing Joey Cigars enough respect.
“I’m just as big as you are now!” Tino was yelling directly in Joey’s face.
(That was the alcohol talking . . . because no way this was true, even I knew that. Joey had served fifteen years in prison for his alleged involvement in the killings during the Mafia wars in Boston. He might less active now, but Joey was a made guy . . . all the other wise-guys treated him with the up-most respect.)
“You . . . you’re fuckin’ nothing!!!” Joey yelled back at Tino.
By now they were both screaming drunk and red in the face. Tino’s fists were clenched like he might take a swing at Joey. They were moving, circling each other as they continued to shout at the top of their lungs.
“You’re making a fuckin’ mistake!” Joey shouted. Joey had one hand in his pocket. His hand kept moving slightly in that pocket.
They both looked half-crazy as they screamed at each other. “I’ll fucking kill you,” Tino screamed. Joey glared back, hand still in his pocket. “Fuck you!” Joey yelled, “FUCK YOU . . . you’re DONE! YOU’RE THOUGH!!”
I’d just walked from the quiet of the closed restaurant into a god-damn combat zone — they were both about ready to explode into violence.
Joey started to move that hand out of his pocket.
“Jesus Christ!” I thought, “He’d going to shoot him!”
Everything flashed though my mind in a split-second . . . an entire movie clip of what was about to happen. If Joey shot Tino . . . I was a dead man. No way he was going to leave a witness.
Joey liked me, or at least he didn’t dislike me . . . which was pretty close to a “like” for Joey. There had been an incident at The Cantina where I’d butted heads with some people maybe I shouldn’t have . . . but in his own way, Joey respected that. He’d taken care of what might have been serious fall-out.
After that, Joey and I always got along . . . but no way he’d leave a witness if he shot Tino now.
“Joey . . . It’s not worth it, Joey!!” I shouted. I stepped almost between them, just on the side, facing Joey. “Joey . . . calm down, it’s not worth it!” I yelled. I was yelling for my life.
“Tino . . . what are the fuck you doing?” I yelled as I turned back to him, “Are you out of your mind?”
I was panicked. They were still circling and shouting at each other, and I was just to one side, circling with them as they moved.
Either way, . . . if something happened, I was dead.
If Joey shot Tino I was dead. If Tino killed Joey, the wise-guys would probably kill both of us just because I was there.
“Knock it off!” I yelled at them. I was desperate. “You guys are friends . . . What the fuck is going on . . . what the fuck is going on? It’s not worth it!!”
I put a hand on Joey’s shoulder for a second, not really pushing him back but just trying to keep some distance between the two of them. He glared at me as though he might shoot me first. He was mad beyond all reason.
“Joey,” I yelled, “Listen to me . . . Please listen . . . let it slide! It’s not worth it, Joey . . . It’s not worth it!!”
Looking back now, what I really should have done was just tackle Tino and take him down to the kitchen floor . . . and hope that Joey didn’t just start shooting at us both.
But I wasn’t thinking clearly . . . everything had just exploded into this yelling and circling, and there was a killer instinct from both of them you could actually smell.
Somehow my screaming at them (like the panicked bystander I was) began to slow things down. They were still yelling back and forth, but now they didn’t seem to mean it so much. Now they were merely holding their own ground, unwilling to budge, but no longer on the verge of killing each other.
Joey still had his hand in that pocket, but his arm wasn’t as tensed, as though he were about to bring out a weapon.
“Jesus Christ,” I yelled, “This isn’t worth it . . . Jesus Christ, let it go . . . you’ve both been drinking . . . you can talk tomorrow!”
Joey turned and started to storm out of the kitchen, but then he stopped and spun back. “You’re dead!” he glared at Tino, “You hear me? You’re dead . . . DEAD!”
As Joey left, I saw fear cross Tino’s face for the first time . . . although he continued to bluster.
“I’m as big as he is . . . ,” Tino said to me as Joey stormed out. But you could tell he was really worried about what he’d just done.
My shirt was sticking to my back. Now that it was over I could feel the acid rush of adrenaline screaming through my body.
Tino continued to talk trash as we locked up the restaurant, but he couldn’t hide the worry on his face.
On the way to the subway station, I stopped at The Bell in Hand Tavern for a shot and a beer, and ended up staying until they closed.
Joey and Tino apparently sat down with the bosses the next day. Joey was still furious, but the bosses wanted a peaceful resolution.
They told Tino that he had to leave Boston . . . he wasn’t supposed to come back for a year. That was his punishment for disrespecting Joey. Tino owned a restaurant, and his family was in Boston (he was single, but all his immediate relatives were here) . . . and now he had to leave, for at least a year. That was their decision.
I heard all this from a few people at the bar. Quite a while later I heard that Tino would sneak back on weekends sometimes to visit his parents. The bosses all knew about it, I was told . . . but they let it slide. They’d made their point. Tino spent the following year living in rural Maine.
The day after that alleged sit-down meeting, Tino’s brother took over the running of the restaurant.
“Sure, . . . I understand,” Tino’s brother said when I gave my notice a week later.
I’d only been working there a couple of months, but with Tino’s blind temper and his exact-copy brother now running the place, that already felt like a couple of months too long.
As medical help arrives, a passing stranger comforts a young victim. (Photo by John Tlumack, Boston Globe/Getty)
“We just heard from Oscar,” Stefanie told me, “He and his crew are all fine.”
The news about the terrorist bombing in Boston had just broken, and Stef was working the bar. We were all calling the club to see who had checked in because most of the staff was at the race.
“What about Joe?” I asked Stef about her boyfriend, Joe McCain. “Is he working today? Is he downtown?” (Joe is an officer with the Somerville Police.)
“I think right now he’s on the border between Somerville and Boston,” she said, “They’re trying to make sure no one slips over the line undetected . . . I don’t want to say too much about what they’re doing.”
“What about John B.?” I asked.
“No . . . haven’t heard from John yet,” she continued, “But your mom called from Maine. I told her I spoke with you earlier.”
OK, so my mom knew I was alright . . . I’d call her later. I thought of Taylor, the blues jam drummer. His daughter, Elyce, ran in the Marathon last year. Were they all waiting for her at the finish line?
“No, she’s fine . . . we’re all OK,” Taylor answered over the phone, “Elyce decided not to run this year. Lucky for us, I guess . . . we would have been standing right where the first bomb went off.”
I called Stef again, and by now they’d heard from John. He was the last one. Everyone was accounted for and OK.
Bombing victim Nicole Gross wasn’t in the direct line of the blast, but she still suffered a left leg broken in two places, a right ankle fracture, and a severed Achilles’ tendon. (Boston Globe photo, reprinted in The Telegraph, UK.)
“My sister and my niece were working in the medical tent at the finish line,” John said when I finally got hold of him, “They volunteer every year.”
John was in a bar further down the race course when the news broke on the TV. Suddenly a joint filled with almost 200 loud, raucous patrons celebrating the marathon went completely silent. “You could have heard a pin drop,” John said, “The only sound in the place was the voice on TV.”
He immediately ran outside to get better reception and began calling his sister . . . but like everyone else, his cell phone wasn’t working.
I told him the cell service had been turned off in that area to prevent anyone from using a cell phone to detonate more bombs. I’d seen that report on the national news.
“Doubt that was it,” John said, “Probably just the towers simply being overwhelmed. All that sudden traffic . . . with everyone calling at once to check on people they knew.”
Turns out John was right . . . there was no shutdown of service, just an unprecedented user overload.
He told me that when he finally did manage to contact his sister by text message, she replied with a description of the horrific injuries coming into the medical tent. “People have lost limbs, an arm or a leg,” his sister’s words said. “Some are missing a foot, a hand, or fingers . . . it’s so awful . . . sometimes there’s nothing left but the bone.”
“Any way I can help?” John texted her again, “I can be there in five minutes.”
“NO!” his sister texted back immediately, “Do not come down here!!!!”
“They’re trying to get everyone out of the area … there’s nothing you can do here … it’s better you get out of Boston as fast as you can.”
Over one hundred seventy people suffered horrible traumatic injuries from the bombing attack, and three of the victims lost their lives . . . including an eight-year-old boy from Dorchester, MA.
Three young lives tragically cut short. (CNN photo)
A year earlier, Martin Richard had held up a sign calling for no more people in the world to be needlessly hurt. “It’s unreal,” one of the boy’s neighbors said, “It’s unreal that this little boy will never come home again.”
(Photo New York Daily News)
Most of us are over-saturated with the horror of the attack, but today I’d like to look at a different side of the tragedy. Here’s a very small sample of the stories and pictures of selfless heroism and solidarity that have been circulating on the web.
Dr. Vivek Shah was just 25 yards away from the finish line when the first bomb exploded — he was immediately called on to apply his medical skills. “It’s nothing that you can ever describe,” he said. “In all of my medical training, I’ve never seen anything like the amount of trauma I saw yesterday on the sidewalk there.” (Source: CNN News)
Carlos Arredondo was waiting at the finish line for a group of runners racing on behalf of fallen American soldiers. His son had died in Iraq. When the first bomb went off across the street, Carlos rushed to help the survivors, including a man whose leg had been blown off. “I kept talking to him. I kept saying, ‘Stay with me, stay with me,’ ” Arredondo told Maine’s Portland Press Herald.
Carlos Arredondo (in cowboy hat) had applied pressure to a man’s leg wounds before medical help arrived. (This photo by Charles Krupa/AP was edited by the publishers to conceal the graphic extent of the man’s wounds. )
Bruce Mendelsohn, a former Army medic, was attending a Marathon party in a nearby building. He immediately ran outside to assist the wounded.
Comfort and relief for a worried wife. (AP photo)
Freelance photographer Andrea Catalano saw spectators run into their homes and come back with blankets and water for the victims. One woman was sitting on the sidewalk uncontrollably sobbing because she was unable to contact her husband who was at the finish line. Someone found her a working phone. (Source CNN News.)
An injured woman in the hospital was looking for the ex-marine who had saved her life. Known to her only by his self-identification as “Sgt Tyler,” and by the noticeable scar on his left arm, the man had told her: “You’re going to have a scar, but you’re going to be OK. It’ll be like my scar.” (He’s now been identified as Sgt. Tyler Dodd, an Afghan war veteran. Source New York Daily News.)
Some Boston Marathon runners finished the 26.2 mile grueling run . . . and then immediately after the attack ran another two miles to the nearest hospital to donate blood. Are you kidding me?
At a Boylston Street establishment, The Forum, patrons said that many of the staff rushed out onto the street carrying towels to assist the wounded. Others from the staff directed all the guests to safety. (The day had begun at The Forum with a fundraiser for former New England Patriot player Joe Andruzzi’s non-profit charity which raises money for cancer victims.)
Speaking of Joe Andruzzi . . .
In a newscast from WHDH TV (Boston), we initially see a young girl struggling to help one bombing attack victim to a medical tent by dragging her over her shoulders. (Click the picture to see the story.)
At that point, Joe rushed up and quickly carried the woman to medical personnel. (As a side note, Andurzzi’s three brother were among the first fire-fighters on the scene in NYC on 9/11.)
Joe Andruzzi can get her to medical care faster. (Photo by Bill Greene, Boston Globe/Getty)
And it wasn’t only the first-responders and medical personnel in downtown Boston who rushed to help. As word of the terrorist tragedy spread, people from all over the Boston area began offering aid to anyone who needed shelter, food or drink. They began offering places to stay in their homes and apartments.
With tens of thousands of visitors in Boston from foreign countries, some now found themselves shut out of their hotels, which were quickly locked down for security reasons. These runners had no place to go, and were left without any resources in an unfamiliar city.
Ali Hatfield, a Kansas City, Missouri resident who had just finished the race, quickly discovered that with her hotel now locked down she was left out on the street. Hatfield said she was overwhelmed until — “A sweet woman opened her home to us and gave us food, shelter and beer!” (Source: CNN News)
“We figure this is the least we can do,” said Heather Carey, who was offering a couch in the Boston University-area apartment she shares with her roommates. “I saw a website with many others offering their spaces like we did,” she said, “It is awesome to see so many people helping.” (Source: CNN News)
Sandeep Karnik pledged his one-bedroom condo near Fenway Park, offering any needing stranger his bed for the night. “I can sleep on the couch,” said the 37-year-old Karnik, “This is unfathomable, terrible. If there is somebody in need, I can take them in.” (Source: WQAD8, Illinois)
There were hundreds and hundreds of offers of shelter, food and drink posted on Facebook pages.
A Back Bay restaurant tweeted the following offer:
Steven Colbert, in his always spot-on mix of humor and thinly-disguised serious note, quipped that the people responsible for this horrific act didn’t know who they were messing with . . . see his hilarious, yet strangely heart-rending comments by clicking the video below. (Thanks to John B. for steering me to this clip)
In Brooklyn, NY light projections were used to display a sign of support on the side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (The quote is from Boston son Martin Luther King.)
(Yahoo! News photo)
And the Boston Red Sox’s centuries-old rival, the New York Yankees had this response to the attack on their sworn baseball antagonists — a banner of solidarity, “United We Stand” — on the front of Yankee Stadium. (During their game against Arizona Monday night, the Yankees also played Boston’s famous eighth-inning Neil Diamond song “Sweet Caroline” following a moment of silence between innings.)
(Photo Huffington Post/Sports)
It was an emotional moment on the ice Wednesday night as the Boston Bruins played the first professional sports contest in Boston after the attack. Fourteen seconds into the scheduled singer’s rendition of the national anthem, the crowd took over. (Click the picture below to to watch and listen.)
One last story . . .
A couple who had planned to get married right after running the Boston Marathon decided to complete their vows despite the terrorism. “We were hesitant. We wanted to be cautious. We didn’t want anything to destroy the plans that we had made,” the groom told ABC News. After thinking it over, they decided they wouldn’t let the fanatics stop them.
After crossing the finish line, just before the bombing.
A few hours later, refusing to be intimidated.
Monday’s bombing was a senseless, disgraceful, cowardly attack on innocent people . . . but the quality of everyone’s response? . . . words fail.
- – - – -
(Update: 4/19, 8:00 AM.) At 6:30 this morning everyone in the neighborhood got a recorded emergency phone message from the City of Cambridge, which said in part: “Due to the ongoing police investigation in Watertown (MA) and surrounding area, police are advising that all residents shelter in place. MBTA service is suspended including the Red Line, Green Line and all bus routes. Please stay vigilant and call 911 immediately if you have had any suspicious activity in your area.”
I know just before I went to bed (5:30 AM), there was breaking news that one of the bombing suspects had been killed in a Watertown shootout with the police that involved not only the two suspects’ gunfire, but bombs that they threw. The other suspect is still at large in the area.
I’m quite safe here . . . wish I could say the same about Joe McCain and other police personnel who have been up all night looking for this guy. An MIT security officer was killed in an earlier shootout with the suspects in Cambridge, and a MBTA officer was wounded in separate incident with the suspects, but is expected to survive. As much as I’d like to see both of these bastards dead, I hope they capture the remaining suspect alive . . . so he is forced to face his victims.
(Update: 4/19, 1:00 PM.) Some controlled explosions are to take place soon at the suspect’s home in Cambridge, MA. They’ve discovered something in our neighborhood they want to dispose of . . . and the lock-down continues in the Boston area.
Thanks to David Hayden from The Hospitality Formula Network and Best Restaurant Blogs for his offer of support and assistance to the Boston restaurant worker community. David has substantial contacts and connections nationwide. (I’m referring David to Patrick Maguire at Server not Servant . . . this is much more his area . . . he’s championed many good causes for Boston’s restaurant workers in the past.)
(Update: 4/19, 11:30 PM.) It’s been a long day … a police standoff in Watertown, and a lock-down of the Boston area since this early this morning … but they finally captured the second suspect. And at this point he’s alive, although injured. Three young lives were lost far too early … the maimed and injured from a senseless attack continue their struggle … but at least they got the guys who did this …
Flags and wild cheering on the streets of Watertown, MA where a suspect from the Boston Marathon bombing had been hiding in their midst. With a massive law enforcement presence, the entire town had been locked down all day, and people had been confined to their homes while police searched door to door. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS)
The Playland Cafe in Boston’s Combat Zone (closed now, but formerly just known as “Playland.”)
This post will be a quiet one . . . no bells and whistles, no big bang at the end.
Today we’ll look at a simple, thoughtful moment — and the lasting image of a veteran bartender doing something beyond what her job called for . . .
(I heard this story about The Playland Cafe second-hand from our good friend, Carrie.)
Carrie was in Johnny D’s last weekend and she was telling a group of us about an experience she’d had just after her college days.
We’ve known Carrie and her husband Joel for 15 years or more, back when they were both at MIT and first dating. Carrie and Joel would show up at the club several times a week and the two of them were among our absolute favorite customers.
Joel helped me with my fraternity alumni website (Beta Phi Epsilon) ten years ago, and he helped me set up this blog.
They’re married now with two children, but neither of them has really changed. (Except for Carrie’s fantastic new hair style — it rocks, Carrie!)
Anyway, Carrie was talking about when she used to bop around, looking for new things to do, new places to experience life. One of her favorite choices was to head with her friends to an old piano bar in Boston’s Combat Zone (a two-block area where all the strip clubs were located.)
The Playland Cafe had a really seedy bar downstairs, but on the street level there was a somewhat-less-seedy lounge that was popular with local workers — bartenders, wait staff, dancers, and hookers taking a break from their street trade. (Carrie described the upstairs as “overly fabulous” . . . but just to give you some idea, the joint was decorated with year-round Christmas lights.)
“Playland was turning into a transvestite hang-out,” Carrie explained, “Of course there was the gay bar below . . . but they had this wonderful piano bar upstairs and everyone would sing along.”
Apparently the old man tinkling the keys upstairs played every show tune in the book. His music inspired loud, off-key sing-along chorusing and occasionally even drew a quiet tear from the motley crew huddled at the bar.
“You would look down the bar and most of the customers were old, kind of broken-down transvestites,” Carrie said. “Tons of make-up, lots of gaudy jewelry and ill-fitting dresses that sparkled.”
“More than one of them would have their heads on the bar as the night went on.”
Carrie told about the night she took Joel to Playland with her, and how he embarrassed her by singing louder than anyone. “I couldn’t get him to leave,” she laughed now, “We were there for over three hours, and Joel knew the words to every single song.”
One particular night, Carrie had stopped at Playland with some of her girl friends.
“Vivian was the bartender,” Carrie recalled, “I don’t think I was ever at that bar when Vivian wasn’t working.”
“She was an older woman, and so prim and proper looking. Her hair was pulled back and her make-up was always perfect. Her clothes were maybe a little out of date, but they were always pressed without the slightlest wrinkle . . . and she’d always wear these white blouses with a high white collar behind her neck.”
(Photo of the Combat Zone by Roswell Angier, Boston Phoenix.)
That particular night, Carrie’s friends happened to leave one by one until she found herself sitting at the bar alone. Now she was surrounded by transvestites, tired-looking hookers and strippers, and a seedy collection of Combat Zone clientele.
“Vivian made sure I didn’t feel alone,” Carrie continued. “She came over and talked with me every chance she got. She was so charming and friendly in a polite sort of way . . . and then she became more open and confiding, like we’d known each other for years. It was as though it was just her and I, and all the others around us were outsiders.”
(As Carrie continued with the story, I was liking Vivian more and more . . . it might be old-school, but as a bartender she had unfailing instincts.)
When Carrie was leaving, Vivian cautioned her to be careful on the street. The Combat Zone was a tough area. Aside from the hookers and drug dealers there were these shady, sometimes foul-smelling men lurking in every doorway and alley.
(A typical Combat Zone street at night.)
“You be careful,” Vivian told her.
Carrie drinks mostly club soda, so she wasn’t the least bit buzzed, but it had to be intimidating to step out outside.
It was a dark street with unswept sidewalks and pools of water. There were small clumps of debris that you carefully walked around.
And those dark figures lurked in the shadows.
Carrie tried to walk at a normal pace, not wanting to draw attention to herself . . . but as a young, college-aged girl she was clearly out of her element.
She heard a noise behind her!
At first she didn’t want to turn around. What was that?
A few more steps, and she did turn around to see what might have just happened behind her back. It sounded like the loud creaking of a door.
Carrie looked over her shoulder . . . looked back down the street to the entrance of Playland . . . and she saw Vivian.
Vivian was standing there, leaning her head and shoulders around the half-open door.
She was just standing there, leaning around the side of the door, looking down to where Carrie now stood looking back at her.
She’d come out to watch Carrie walk down the street . . . to make sure that she made it safely to the end of the Combat Zone.
I had this wonderful image . . . the old woman bartender, with her unchanging prim look, that white collar . . . eyes darting protectively as her young customer navigated the short, dangerous walk away from her bar.
Carrie looked at her for a moment, and then gave a short wave, as if saying both, “See you next time,” and “Thanks for watching out for me.”
The Combat Zone is long gone now, and Playland along with it. But as Carrie told this story I was thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d known Vivian.” They really don’t make them like her anymore . . . and it’s a shame.
Everyone has done it – you’re in a bar, looking for something to write a woman's name and phone number on, or just want to make a note to yourself so you don’t forget something important. You grab a cocktail napkin.
(In the TV series The West Wing, a political consultant decides that Jed Bartlet – played by Martin Sheen – should run for President. He takes a cocktail napkin and writes down the slogan, “Bartlet for America.”)
I work in bars. Over the years, I’ve accumulated enough of my own cocktail-napkin notes to fill six liquor bottle boxes.
Here are the people and stories that wound up in those notes -- real-life characters like Jackie Rabbit and Maude the Broad, the narcotics cops Paul and Sonny, mafia guys, some shameless tramps and one suicidal young man. You'll meet an old-time boxer who wants to take me into the gym to teach me his trade, and a woman who thinks God is on the stool next to her, urging her to have one more whiskey and ginger. It's life behind the taps.