JOHNNY LA LA and the HICCUP CURE (And two more short notes)


This isn't a photo of Johnny La La . . . I'm sorry to say I don't have one. But this guy's attitude and pose are right on the money. (Image from

A guy at the bar had the hiccups.

It was at Johnny D’s this past Saturday night and the place was packed.  I’d come over to ask the man if he would like another beer, but he was unable to answer.

Two short words, then a hiccup.  Three more words, . . . and so on.

“I’ll be right back,“ I told him.

I was off to get him some relief.

“God Bless Johnny La La,” I thought as I turned away.  Years ago at The Lark Tavern, Johnny had shown me a cure that never fails.

Johnny La La was a cranky, loveable old dinosaur of a bartender.  (Read more about him here.)  He was of a breed that has essentially vanished from behind the bar; I guess the mold has been broken.

Johnny wore a constant curmudgeon mask, and sometimes he’d have a quizzical — don’t you know anything? — look.  But he was always there when one of us twenty-year-old bartenders had a question.

One day at The Lark a customer had the hiccups, and I stood across from him helpless.  I told him to try holding his breath.

Two bar stools away, another customer recommended drinking a glass of water upside down.  (This might be the funniest cure to watch, if you’ve ever seen anyone try it.)

More customers chimed in . . . eat a teaspoonful of sugar; try standing on your head.

While all of us advised him, Johnny La La grabbed a cocktail napkin, a slice of lemon, and reached for the Angostura Bitters.

(If you’ve been in the business for a while you may already know this cure.)

Johnny placed the lemon wedge on the napkin, poured some sugar on top of it, and then generously splashed on the Angostura Bitters.

He told the customer chew on the lemon slice.

Of course it worked.

This cure has never failed.

That’s what Johnny told me, and that’s what I tell customers even today as I set the concoction before them.

It has never failed.  It never failed Johnny La La.  It has never failed me, or any of the bartenders I’ve talked with over the years.

I once read on the web about a man in England who spent a year in the hospital with unrelenting hiccups.  The doctors were dumbfounded.

You can read on Wikipedia about a young American girl who hiccuped for five weeks non-stop.  Read further and you’ll learn about a doctor who has had some success with a vegetal stimulator implanted in the upper chest of the patients.

To stop hiccups?  Doesn’t sound like something you want your bartender to try on you.

Back at Johnny D’s, I gave the man the cocktail napkin which held something less invasive.

“Chew on everything but the rind,” I told him.

Afterwards, in answer to his look of awe, I said, “An old-time bartender taught me that many years ago.”

Maybe the doctors should consult with Johnny La La before operating.


2.)  MEL, at the Johnny D’s SUNDAY BLUES JAM

Hubert Sumlin, legendary bluesman. (Photo from

Speaking of a vanishing breed, the original blues musicians won’t be around much longer.  After Hubert Sumlin (then in his 70’s) played at Johnny D’s, one customer remarked,  “When guys like him are gone, there’ll be no one to take their place.”

Today all the pop stars are gorgeous.  Full of glitz, with special microphones that help them sing on key, their performances are as much about pageantry as about the music.

It’s as though they’re focused on formulas, techniques . . . doing what someone else has done successfully, repeating it with mathematical precision.

Not that their math is wrong.

But the old-timers sang from their hearts.  They played by ear.

Their music had soul.

There’s an old black man who stops in for the Johnny D’s Blues Jam now and then.  Mel is in his 70’s or 80’s, depending on who you ask, and he’s the real deal.  When he sings it makes you think that this is the way music used to be.

On a recent Sunday, Mel was on stage with some other veteran performers.  John Taylor on drums, Grant Kelly on guitar, Mike A on harmonica … and there was a new kid with them, a young man from the Berklee College of Music.

It was a study in contrast between the veterans, especially Mel, and the young kid just starting out.

This contrast was underscored as Mel was about to start his next song.  (I wasn’t on stage to hear, but Grant told me later.)

With one hand over the microphone, Mel had just informed the group what song he’d chosen and then he began to snap his fingers, “And a one, and a two, and . . .”.

The Berklee student interrupted him.  “Wait,” the kid said, “ . . .  What key?”

What key?

Maybe what was going though Mel’s mind is what I just talked about,  . . . but he turned and looked at the young man.  It was only a quick glance.

What key?

“This one,” Mel said, then immediately turned to the microphone and started singing.

(For those who love the blues, click here for a video of Hubert Sumlin.)



This note is about some traditional folk wisdom.

David Hayden is author/creator of the Hospitality Formula family of blogs.  (I mentioned his new book, Tips2 (squared) in an earlier post.)

Last week in Restaurant Laughs, David had a great little story about the delicate dance between customers and servers.  (Post title:  “I’m sorry.  I’m still kinda new to this.”)

It was a perfect restaurant vignette, . . . but there was something in the comment section that also struck me.  David went on to talk about his philosophy of blogging.

He said there are enough blogs out there already that simply rant.  Talking about his attitude towards writing, and his customers, he explained that he prefers stories that offer something more than a complaint.

He said there was a poster above his computer that keeps him on track.

Woody Guthrie (Photo from

Printed on the poster are a few words from 1930’s folk singer Woodie Guthrie (“This Land is Your Land”).

I hope Mr. Hayden will forgive me if I repeat those words here:

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose.  No good to nobody.  No good for nothing.  Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that.”

“. . . But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that.  The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.”

— Woodie Guthrie

Back next week with more life on a cocktail napkin.

(Ed. Note, 8/11:  In his comment below, David Hayden was kind enough to send a link to the actual poster.  For a readable version of it, click here

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13 Responses to JOHNNY LA LA and the HICCUP CURE (And two more short notes)

  1. Colleen says:

    Character is much easier kept than recovered. ~Thomas Paine

  2. Starbucks8294 says:

    What a pisser Johnny La La is. That name kills me, I went back and read the first story on him. He’s a classic. Old school.

  3. David says:

    I have always done it with soda water and bitters. It is also the best heartburn remedy I have ever tried.

    I think I may work at the Kansas City Jazz equivalent of your club. The old jazz men that play are outstanding. The leader is also a professor who will have his grad students sit in with them or play on nights off. They wear flashy clothes and grandstand for the young kids they tell to come see them play. We all get a chuckle out of them. They have far more to say about which types of jazz suck and bitch about their bandmates far more. I usually leave with a headache on the nights they play.

    Thanks for the mention. I bought that poster at a little hippy shop not long after I started the blog. It was a treat for myself. The owner said it had hung there for 9 years. Each of the letters was cut by hand to make the lithograph on a union press. When I look up at it, it reminds me not to post the silly little rants I write. This one isn’t my copy, but it is an unframed version

  4. MikeQ says:

    Colleen: Thanks for catching that . . . integrity to something (ANYTHING, for cryin’ out loud) is what has distinguished past generations. If just making the most money becomes the ONLY principle to live by, we’re in trouble.

    Starbucks8294: He was of a particular breed Starbucks . . . a classic old bartender. I miss seeing them around today.

    David: Thanks for the additional comment, and for the link! It looks like a poster from the 60s or 70s. As soon as I get a chance, I’m going back to include it the body of the post. (Your lastest post on was a riot, by the way. Subtle, thinking-person’s humor.)

  5. Llylak says:

    Three heartfelt stories about people you clearly admire, very nice. I enjoy posts such as these.

  6. MasonTD says:

    Love the blues. When the early ones are gone they will be missed because they weren’t always the best but they started it. It’s like the music was refined but they invented it.

  7. Sidda says:

    Give me Johnny La La as a bartender anytime. That’s his real name?

  8. MikeQ says:

    Llylak: Thanks Lly! Glad you liked it.

    MasonTD: Precisely, Mason. I hear that all the time from the blues audiences at Johnny D’s.

    Sidda: Yup, Johnny La La was the only name we knew him by. I’d heard it came from something he would say when working at The Lark Tavern as a younger man. Never knew what the saying was until a couple of weeks ago when talking on the phone with Gail “Gere” Maugere (daughter of the owners and the woman who ran The Lark after her parents passed away).

    “Save a little, spend a little . . . La La, La La.” She told me that’s what Johnny said to customers in the old days.

  9. Jason says:

    Used that cure without the sugar many times and it has worked. Must be the bitters does the trick. I like the character Johnny La La. What a name.

  10. Susan P says:

    Thank you for sharing the poster and those words to live by.

  11. Klatt says:

    I don’t usually comment but that same poster was on my college dorm wall. It was in a shop that sold rolling papers, caught my eye because I thought it was something about Bob Dylan. I’m sure Bob Dylan learned from Woody.

  12. Rex Ryan says:

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one today..

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