Copy of fruit_strawberryI’ve been slacking off a bit on the bar stories — there’s some good ones that need telling but they haven’t been written down yet.  And here it is the weekend before Christmas and I just wanted to wish everyone a very happy, and safe holiday.

Next weekend there’ll be a story called “The Perfect Storm”– it’s about working in a bar during a blizzard — but for now I’d like to post a few of my favorite passages and parables that for some reason keep coming to mind lately.

(1) The Strawberry (A Zen koan)

A man walking across a field spots a ferocious tiger which comes bounding after him.  Terrified the man runs to the edge of a cliff, and with no other escape route he leaps over the edge, managing to catch hold of the root of a wild wine.

As he hangs there precariously he looks down to see another tiger waiting below to devour him.

Then he sees two mice — one white and one black — slowly gnawing on the vine above that sustains him.

As the vine begins to give way he spots a wild strawberry growing just within his reach.  He plucks the strawberry and tastes it.  “How sweet this is!” he exclaims.

(A koan is meant to elicit some deeper personal understanding for each who reads or hears it.  Here’s a possible interpretation — what if the running man is all of us?  Eventually everyone dies, but in this metaphor, our lifetime is compressed into a single frantic moment of trying to escape the tigers.  Despite those limits the man is able to enjoy what is offered, as transitory as life might be.)


(2) Soren Kierkegaard was one of the great minds of the 19th century — he was brilliant, one of the world’s first existentialist philosophers — but that didn’t seem to help him in his day-to-day interactions.  When a group of young wise-asses were taunting him for his un-hip clothes and because he walked with a limp, Soren reportedly turned to them and said . . . “Now I know how it feels to be trampled by a flock of senseless geese.”


Copy of white_wolf(3) Feed the Good Wolf  (I’m sorry I can’t remember where I first saw this one, but it’s supposedly an old Native-American parable.)

A young native-American boy went into his grandfather’s tent because he was troubled.

“Grandfather,” the boy said, “I feel as though my heart is being torn apart by two wolves.  One wolf is full of anger, malice and hate.  The other wolf treats people well and is interested only in the good.”

“My heart is being torn apart by the conflict between these two,” the boy continued, “What shall I do?”

At that point the grandfather looked up and said, “Feed the good wolf.”


Copy of ChickenSoup(4) Random Kindness  (I first read this in a book titled “Chicken Soup for the Soul” which my friend Colleen keeps on top of the hamper in her bathroom.  It’s a collection of writings, and this is a short paraphrase of the piece by humorist Art Buchwald.)

It seems that Art Buchwald was riding with a friend in a New York City taxi when the friend complimented the cabbie on his driving.

Later, when Art and his friend were walking down the sidewalk, the friend stopped to praise some construction workers doing everyday labor at a new building site.  “What was that all about,” Art Buchwald asked.

His friend told him that he was trying to bring some love back to New York City — one person at a time.

He said that although he was only one individual, his simple acts of kindness could multiply exponentially.

“For example. I believe I have made that taxi driver’s day.  Suppose he has twenty fares.  He‘s going to be nice to those twenty fares because someone was nice to him.  Those fares will in turn be kinder to their employees, shopkeepers or waiters, or even their own families.  Eventually, the goodwill could spread to at least a thousand people.  Now that isn’t bad, is it?”

“You’re some kind of nut, Art Buchwald said, but the guy wasn’t discouraged.  He replied, “I’m hoping to enlist others in my campaign.”

They continued walking down the street.

“You just smiled at a very plain-looking woman,” Art Buchwald said.

“Yes, I know,” the friend replied, “And if she’s a schoolteacher, her class is going to be in for a fantastic day.”


(5) Fellowship  (This last one is from the I Ching, a book of ancient Chinese wisdom.  Hexagram 13 is titled “T’ung Jen/Fellowship with Men”, and one its passages is from Confucius.  His words still resonate 2500 years later.)

Hexagram13Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.


Hopefully there’s at least one here that you haven’t seen before.  Anyway, I wish you all the best Christmas — with friends and family, or full of hopes and dreams, or both.  Stayed tuned next week for “The Perfect Storm.”

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 7 Comments


Copy of PintsofBeer









OK, I’ve been a bad boy.  No details, but the results are evident on this page . . . there’s no post this week.

For those who came looking for a good bar story, my apologies and a suggestion — the post titled “Danny” is still my favorite here (and Colleen’s favorite as well.)  If you haven’t already read it, this is your chance.  It’s the closest thing I’ve written to a complete short story, that is if it was fiction.  But it’s not.  It’s a true story and one of those searing moments behind the taps that every bartender experiences at some point, in one form or another, and that leaves us forever changed.

May I also suggest that you check out some of my favorite fellow-bloggers.  These comrade-in-arms are the real deal:

Behind the Stick

Hospitality Formula

Tales from a Bar

The Rogue Wino

The Real Barman

Because we’re not all there

Server not Servant

Squirrel Fart’s Drink Blog

The Truth about Bartending

These American Servers

Whether or not you choose either of these options, I’d also recommend (perhaps simultaneously) that you check out some of the offerings of the really, really good craft breweries that have sprung up just down the street and around the corner from Johnny D’s.  During the holidays or just about any day I’d recommend having something from one of these fine “mom and pop” brewers in your frig at all times.


Copy of SlumbrewSomerville Brewing Company (more affectionately know as “Slumbrew”.)

My personal favorites include their “Porter Square Porter” and the incredibly tasty “Flagraiser IPA”.

If you’re already a Slumbrew regular, you’ll be happy to know they now have a great merchandise selection — shirts, glassware,  artwork — all with that soon-to-be famous slumbrew logo.


Copy of Eagle Claw FistClown Shoes Beer

Lots of flavor, big mouthfuls of taste . . . try the “Eagle Claw Fist” imperial amber, or their rich, delicious “Brown Angel”.

These guys just don’t make a bad beer . . . it’s all good.




Copy of Jack D'OrPretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Their “Jack D’Or” has gotten the most press, but you might also like the “Hedgerow Bitter.”

Their beers are a bit more expensive, but they’re developing quite a following.

Back next week with more bar stories . . .

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 3 Comments


(Sorry this is late, but today we’ll be talking about The Doors, customers that don’t listen, and Sandy Island — a missing piece of real estate in the south Coral Seas.  Believe it or not, even the Sandy Island part is a bar-related story.)

The problems of an ever-changing crowd . . .

“I’ll have a Bud light,” the guy in the tan shirt says.

“I’m sorry, we only have Narragansett Light or Sankaty Light.”

“How ’bout a Coors Light?”

I know it’s hard to hear when the band is playing, and sometimes customers aren’t really listening to what we say anyway.

“No,” I tell the guy patiently, “We only serve local beers . . . we only have Narragansett Light or Sankaty Light.

“Narragansett is the closet to Bud or Coors,” I explain, “Sankaty is a great beer from Cisco Brewers, in the Cape Cod area.  It has a lot of flavor . . . you won’t know you’re drinking a light beer.”

“Miller light?” the guy asks.  (“You’re not listening!!!” I want to shout out.)

There’s a well-known national act playing on stage, and I don’t recognize most of the people in this crowd.  They’re mainly first-timers at the club, and they don’t know anything about the place.

They don’t know where the rest rooms are . . . they don’t know our hours (“How late do you serve tonight?”) . . . and they don’t know what brands we carry, or don’t carry.

Local and regional bands have their regular following, but the first-time-for-us national acts usually bring in a sea of new faces.

That’s something to take into consideration when you’re preparing for the crunch.  What will this crowd be like?  What will they order?

“This will be a beer-drinking crowd, better bring up extra pints.”

“Cosmo crowd tonight, lots of Sour Apple Martinis and Lemon Drops . . . be ready for drinks that take a long time to prepare.”

And whenever there’s a national act with a lot of first-time customers, we know we’re going to be tied up answering a lot more questions.  Sometimes as they decide what they want, the exchange can go on forever.

“Amstel Light?” the guy asks.

Bless the regulars who come up and know exactly what they want.  “Hey, Dave,” I’ll say, “Great to see you!”  And that night I mean it more than ever.

Friday night, Robbie Krieger, former guitar player with The Doors, will be playing at Johnny D’s.  Performing with him will be Arthur Barrow, Tommy Mars & Chad Wackerman of Frank Zappa’s band and Larry Klimas of War.

It’s going to be a madhouse.  Wish us luck (we better print up more drink special/beer menus.)


The exotic island that never was . . .

You may have seen a story on the internet this week about an island in the Coral Seas that has been on the international maps since 1876 . . . but now that island simply can’t be found.

This island was supposedly 16 miles long, and it was on all the maps, but when an Australian research team sailed to find it . . . it just wasn’t there.

Had it disappeared like Atlantis, suddenly sinking beneath a climate-raised ocean?  Had it been nuked into oblivion during some secret, cold war atomic bomb test?

There was a lot of discussion about what might have happened, and then someone came up with the idea that the island might never have existed in the first place.  They theorized that some long-forgotten sea captain may have simply made a mistake when he recorded seeing the land mass, and that the error was passed on map to map, generation by generation.

(Imagine someone during the last 150 years using the official maps . . . trying to sail to, or around, this mysterious “Sandy Island” supposedly located south of the Solomon Islands and west of New Caledonia.)

Anyway, all this talk about missing islands made me think of a regular at a bar I worked at years ago.  Looking back, that regular just might have had the best answer to this.

He was a fascinating guy, a computer geek with an eclectic work history.  I remember one day he was telling me that he had once worked for a company that made maps.  The story he told now comes to mind.

He said that in those days map-making companies would routinely insert “false flags” into their maps.  (This was all pre-Google, before satellite map-making.)

Back then when a company invested time and money into manually charting a map, they wanted to be sure that someone didn’t just copy their map and published it as their own.

So they would insert false streets into obscure places — show a street that didn’t exist.  

They’d add fictional detail, drawing in a road or a landmark that wasn’t really there.

By knowing exactly where this fake street appeared on their map . . . and only on their map . . . they could catch anyone who made copies of the original.

“Don’t you think that might be a problem,” I remember asking the regular, “If  someone was lost?  What if that someone was driving around with his wife, and they were using the map to find their way?”

Is this street really there??? (Google map)

I could just picture some poor guy, his wife in the passenger seat next to him with a map on her lap, as she complained that they’d just missed their turn-off.

“Go back!” she’d yell, “We’ve come too far!  We were supposed to make a turn just after St. Paul Street!  See, it’s here on the map . . . we must have missed it!”

“There was no St. Paul Street!” the poor man would answer, “I was looking the whole time!  There was no St. Paul Street!”

But as we talked, the regular insisted this sort of thing was done all the time by map makers.  “Everyone did it,” he said as he ordered another beer, “It was just part of the business.”

Amazing, the things you can learn in a bar.

Anyway, for my money I think I know how an island that doesn’t exist appeared on all the maps of the south Coral Seas.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 4 Comments


When the crunch hits there’s no place I’d rather be than behind the bar.  It’s a rush, it’s addictive . . . it’s like being in the big game.

This is what Johnny D’s looks like on a busy night.

Afterward, still all pumped up, naturally you want to party a little yourself.  Good luck if you go home to roommates.

When I first moved to Boston, I stayed with two transplanted nurses who had been regulars at the bar where I worked in Albany.

It was perfect, staying with two women that I knew and really liked . . . but their apartment was small (I shared a small bed with one of them while the other girl slept in another bed three feet away, separated only by a nightstand.)  This was meant to be temporary so during those first few weeks I actively searched for permanent living quarters.

Looking back, I would have been better off right where I was.

Shared apartment # 1 (the Boston elite) . . .

The first place I found was in a nice little neighborhood near Harvard University.  I answered an ad in the newspaper and ended up sharing an apartment with a woman who was teaching at a local college, and a guy who was a first-year architect.  The third roommate was a young woman who had lived in Tehran, Iran . . . now she was back in the USA still doing some type of diplomatic work.

By now I had a job behind the bar again, and that meant a different lifestyle, different schedule.  My new roommates would be sleeping by the time I came home from work early in the morning.

I’d be sure to be quiet, and if I had a female companion that night, she and I would tiptoe and whisper . . . at least until we closed the bedroom door behind us.  Everything was going well until an old college buddy of mine showed up for a visit.

Mark is a former collegiate football player and ex-Marine.  He’s a big guy, and a fellow member of our Phys. Ed. fraternity, Beta Phi Epsilon — he’s a party animal.  He’s definitely not the type who lifts lift his little pinky as he sips a cup of tea.

Mark and I did our partying in the bars, and when we came back to the apartment I thought we were relatively quiet as we sat in the living room having a few more beers.

But I don’t think it was the late night noise that bothered my roommates about Mark.  It was simply that he was just so different from them.

He was a big, brawling, don’t-give-a-shit kind of guy and I think they found him more than a little intimidating.  I think it bothered them that he wasn’t the least bit impressed by their elite credentials.

“We’ve all talked it over,” the young architect told me after the second day of Mark’s visit, “And we think your friend should find somewhere else to stay.”

Looking back, I should have told them all to go fuck themselves  . . . but still new in town, and uncomfortably new in this apartment, I caved in to their pressure.

“I’ll pay for your hotel room,” I told Mark, feeling that I was letting him down even as I spoke, “This is a shared apartment, not my own.  My roommates would feel more comfortable if you stayed somewhere else.”

As it turned out Mark had other friends in the Boston area, but as we partied for the rest of the week I felt like a schmuck that he had to stay with them rather than at “my place” . . . which apparently wasn’t really so much “my place” after all.

I understood that we restaurant people have unique lifestyles, and often our friends are larger-than-life, more than a little wild.  But I couldn’t bring my friends back home with me?  It was time to look for another place to live.  Back to the classifieds.

Shared apartment # 2 (individual rolls of toilet paper)

My second shared apartment was more relaxed, with a big living room a considerable distance from the bedrooms.  I lived with a mental health worker, a computer technician, and an MIT naval engineering student.

I was hardly ever around when they were there, so I don’t know how it got started but the two women in the apartment (the health care worker and the computer tech) starting squabbling.

It got so bad that no one could agree on how to deal with shared expenses, so soon everyone was buying their own dishwashing soap, their own ketchup and mustard, their own everything.

In the end, we each had our own toilet paper.

Yup, I’m serious.  It got so bad that each of us kept our own rolls toilet paper in our rooms.  We’d carry it back and forth.  There was no toilet paper, no hand or bath soap, no toothbrushes or toothpaste in our shared bathroom.

At the time I knew this was a little weird, but it wasn’t until one night when a female guest got up to use the bathroom that I realized just how strange it was.

“Wait,” I said as she was opening the bedroom door on the way out, “Wait a minute . . . you’ll need to take some toilet paper with you.”

“It’s in the top dresser drawer,” I told her.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

But that wasn’t what made me leave this second, shared apartment.  The last straw was actually an undelivered message.

At the time . . . and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this . . . I was having an affair with a married waitress at the bar where I worked.

I really didn’t trouble myself too much about it back then. We just happened to hit it off, and it was almost as though her husband was some fictional character.  I didn’t know him, never met him, and so she and I would run back to my apartment after work . . . and then she’d leave.

But early one night when I was getting ready for work, I stepped out of the shower and one of my roommates seemed to be acting a little strange.  I didn’t think too much about it because she was always a little strange . . . so I headed to work.

When I got to the bar, the waitress’s husband was there.  I had to shake his hand, and say hello.  I had to stand there and engage in small-talk as he looked me up and down.  I had the feeling that he knew!

It was about as uncomfortable as I’d ever been, and it was the last time I had an affair with a married woman.

“I tried to call to warn you but your roommate said you were in the shower,” the waitress told me after her husband left, “I didn’t want you to walk in here unprepared.”

“Didn’t your roommate give you the message?” she asked.

No, she sure didn’t.

That roommate knew about the affair, and maybe she’d seen the wedding band.  Maybe she figured this was God’s way of punishing us  . . . to have me walk into the bar and be caught completely off-guard.

Anyway, it was time to find another apartment.

There were two more shared apartments (guess I’m a slow learner) before I finally realized it was probably worth it to get a place by myself.

So aside from the time I lived with a girlfriend in Tealle Square, ever since I’ve had my own living quarters.

An apartment of my own, and loving it.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 8 Comments


Free Thanksgiving dinner at The First Presbyterian Church in Albany, NY.











(In today’s post we’ll look at two notable Thanksgiving gestures.)

Guess who’s coming to dinner . . .

Back when I was bartending at The Lark Tavern, I also volunteered one overnight a week at Refer Switchboard — a 24-hour hotline/crisis center in Albany, NY.

Refer was part of Project Equinox, a larger non-profit community organization that my sister Kathy helped create.  I’ve always thought that one of Refer’s and Equinox’s finest efforts was the free Thanksgiving dinner they’d prepare every year for our low income, homebound, or homeless neighbors.

By the time I moved to Albany and began at Refer, they were already serving 500 people at The First Presbyterian Church, and delivering more than 1500 Thanksgiving meals to the elderly and shut-ins.

Equinox and The First Presbyterian Church still serve the annual dinner– but now the number of Thanksgiving meals they serve and deliver is 9,500.

That’s right . . . for Thanksgiving this year 9,500 meals will be cooked, packaged and delivered to really some appreciative folks.

It’s a mind-boggling operation.

Here’s an idea of some of what they prepare:

10,400 pounds of turkey
2,000 pounds of ham
2,800 pounds of yams
8,500 dinner rolls
1000 pies
19,500 pieces of fruit.

Nine thousand, five hundred meals . . .

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers now work under the direction of professional chefs who donate their time.  This army of workers peel mountains of potatoes, shred truckfuls of carrots, baste countless pans of turkeys.

The project has become so large that they can no longer cook in the kitchen at the church.  The Empire State Plaza donates its restaurant facilities, and the volunteers start on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  With each volunteer working as little as a 2-4 hour shift, group after group of hundreds of people continue working on through Thursday morning.

Once the food is prepared, it has to be packaged for delivery.  Drivers have to be organized, delivery addresses have to be collated, and all the maps and GPS’s are pulled out.  And then there’s the clean-up.

It’s an incredible effort.

Check out this video and you’ll see volunteers stirring giant, four-foot-wide caldrons of gravy.  You’ll see longs rows of tables with volunteers lined up on either side, packaging the dinners, sorting them by delivery neighborhood, and then helping the roughly 1000 volunteer drivers load the food into their cars.

Maybe I’m prejudiced because my sister is one of the people who started all this, but I think it’s a wonderful Thanksgiving gesture.

If you’re in the Albany area, it’s not too late to donate or volunteer (click here for details.)  And afterward you can head to The Lark Tavern to relax.


Restaurants offer free Thanksgiving meals to Hurricane Sandy victims (and others) . . .

Years ago at The Sunflower Café in Harvard Square, owner Lenny Levenson came to us just before Thanksgiving with a proposal.  Any of the staff who would still be in the area were invited to work a free Thanksgiving dinner at The Sunflower.

Apparently this had been a tradition at the Levenson’s family restaurant in NYC, and Lenny wanted to continue it now at his own place.

A free dinner would be served to anyone who walked in . . . college students stranded here during Thanksgiving break, people who simply had nowhere else to go, or had no one to share the holiday with, . . . older neighbors living on limited incomes, and even the homeless who panhandled in the Square.

Every dining room table was filled for several turns of “customers”, and at the end of the day Lenny gave each wait person enough cash out of his own pocket to make up for what they hadn’t made in tips.

Serving free food to the less fortunate is something of a tradition in many restaurants across the country.  This year — following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy — the list of contributing establishments continues to grow.

Below is a limited sampling of some of the restaurants and chefs making the extra effort.  (And then back next week with more bar stories.)

“Extreme Chef” Terry French. (Photo by Hadas Kuznits)

The Food Network’s “Extreme Chef”, Terry French, Egg Harbor Township NJ

Swingbelly’s BBQ, Long Beach NY

Fireside Saloon, Lindhurst NY

Hartigan’s Grille, Englishtown NJ

Salt Gastropub, Byram NY

Queen City Restaurant, Reading PA

OpenTable, New York NY

Via Napoli Pizzeria & Restaurant, Lanoka Harbor NJ

Seabreeze Catering and Deli, Spring Lake Heights NJ

Ma Duke’s, Danvers MA

Patty’s Place, Canandaigua NY

Blue Willow Café, Wausau WI

Theo & Stacy’s Restaurant, Kalamazoo MI

Jac Cekola’s Pizza, Portage MI

Calamari’s Squid Row, Erie PA

Sisters Gourmet Bistro, Van Buren AR

Samantha’s House of Pancakes, Angola IN

Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, Albany NY

Cafe Gratitude, Santa Cruz CA

Apple Barrel, Bixby OK

La Casa Garcia, Anaheim CA

Richard’s Restaurant, Moberly MO

Paradise Grille, North East MD

Original Cottage Inn, Ann Arbor MI

The Iron Monkey, Jersey City NJ

Pops Restaurant, Milford CT

Siggy’s Restaurant, Murrieta CA

Anokha’s Cuisine of India,  Novato CA

Bierstube Steakhouse and Grille, White Bear Lake MN

Distractions Food and Drink, St Michael MN

Ristorante Don Giovanni, Mountain View CA

Our Place Bar and Grill, Decatur TN

The Family Buffet, East Dundee IL

Old Town Cafe, Bellingham WA

Pocketstones Cafe, BigFork MT

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 9 Comments