(Image from

When I started this blog, I was determined to use the real names of all the people I was writing about.  How could I not use them?  I had learned to tend bar from a veteran barman named Johnny La La.  I’d served real-life customers like George the Polack, and Jackie Rabbit (who had a girl friend everyone called Maude the Broad.)  These were great names.

But in the end there were some names I simply couldn’t use, like that of Joey Cigars (that’s the pseudonym I gave him, and yes, he was a gangster.)  In other cases it just didn’t seem right to name good people, and then to air their dirty laundry.

The three guys I’ll talk about today fall into that second category — they’re all serious professionals who come to Johnny D’s for the music, so I guess they deserve a little bartender discretion.

Matt, Louie, and Carl (I’ll call them) have been coming to the club for years, and they’ve certainly told me things at the bar that they probably don’t want the world to know.  But Matt told me a story one day that’s too good not to share — so I emailed mailed him yesterday and he said it was OK, as long as I didn’t name names.

It started one Sunday Blues Jam when someone on stage was singing the old ballad, “Stormy Monday.”  Matt, Louie, and Carl were sitting at the bar, and with the first notes of the song, Louie and Carl started laughing.  Matt shook his head, and ordered three shots of Jameson while the other two continued laughing and slapping him on the back.  I had no idea what was going on, but it must have something to do with the song “Stormy Monday.”

When I asked Matt to explain, he began to tell the story behind the shots.  (Louie and Carl had heard it before, so they just settled back on their bar stools and smiled.)

It seems that a quite few years ago, Matt had been dating this knock-out brunette — tall, slinky, long ravishing hair.  She was smart, sexy, and a thousand laughs . . . but Matt wasn’t ready to settle down.  Even though they dated often for almost a year, he avoided any talk of commitment.

“One night she called me on it,” Matt continued.  “She asked where we were going with this, and I hesitated.  I told her I wasn’t sure.”

In response, the girl (we’ll call her Linda) said that she suspected all along Matt wasn’t ready to settle down, and she didn’t like this day-to-day feeling.  She wanted to be married and have kids.

So she told Matt that maybe they should take a break from each other.  She was going to move to Philadelphia and clear her head.  Of course they would stay in touch and still be friends, she said, but for now it would be from a distance.

They called each other several times a week over the next few months, while Larry was out playing the field.  But then early one morning, Matt called her Philly apartment, and a man answered.

It was seven o’clock in the morning, and a man answered.

Now Matt panicked.  He was all upset.  He starting thinking about her, imagining her with other men.  He began thinking that he’d made a huge mistake.  He started thinking that Linda was the only one for him — and now he was letting her slip away!

Everything happened in that one afternoon . . . right after the morning phone call.  Matt immediately booked the next flight to Philly.  All he could think about was losing Linda.

He decided that he’d rush to her and throw himself on his bachelor sword.  He would apologize profusely, beg her forgiveness . . . and then he’d ask her to marry him.

I can't use his real picture, but Louie reminds me of Peter Lupus from the old TV series "Mission Impossible." (Bear with me on this, the photo will become important later in the story.)

While he was packing a suitcase, Matt called Louie’s mother on the phone for help.

“I don’t know anything about rings,” Matt told Louie’s mother, “Could you help me pick one out  . . .  an engagement ring?

“Are you sure you don’t want to think this over first?” Louie’s mom asked him, “This seems very sudden.”

“No!” Matt said, “There’s no time for that!  If I don’t act now she may be gone forever!”

So Matt and Louie’s mother went to Jared’s, and Matt bought an expensive engagement ring.  He had it tucked in its little box, safely inside his suitcase as he just barely made it to the airport on time.

He knew where Linda worked, and he took a taxi directly from the airport.  When he was outside her building, he called her office to tell her that he was in Philly.  He told her that he had just flown in . . . that he loved her . . . and that he wanted to marry her!

The suddenness of Matt’s proposal must have taken Linda by surprize — maybe that’s why she sounded a little evasive as he stood at the pay phone.  She didn’t seem to know exactly when she’d be getting off work, . . . she wasn’t sure when she’d be able to meet him later.

Matt decided to go into the office building and find her.

The receptionist’s behavior quickly raised Matt’s suspicions.  The lady behind the desk claimed not to know Linda was; she said there was no way right now to get in touch with her.  There was something the receptionist wasn’t telling him!

“No, you can’t go down there!” the receptionist shouted as Matt abruptly turned and began running down the hallway to the offices.

Linda wasn’t in her office.  It looked as though she’d just left.

Matt raced to the door marked “EXIT” at the end of the hallway.  The alarm on that emergency door was clanging loudly as Matt looked down through the grates of the fire escape.  He caught one quick glance of Linda below.  She was sliding into the passenger seat of a really fancy car.  Then the car screeched away.

“I think it was a Porsche, but I’m not sure,” Matt told us at the bar as he recounted his tale.  “I only know it was the kind of car I’d never be able to afford.”

Back at the receptionist’s desk, Matt finally learned the bad news.  Linda had met a doctor.  The guy was some hot-shot young surgeon, and they were planning to get married.

Matt walked back down the stairs to the street outside.  Suitcase in hand, the tears were running down his cheeks.

“I’ll take anything!” Matt shouted to the lady at the airline counter, “Anything . . . I just need to get back to Boston tonight!”

Matt ran through the airline terminal with his suitcase in hand, his cheeks still wet with disappointment.  He barely managed to catch his return flight.  “This was all pre-911,” he told us now at the bar, “If it had been after 911, I’m sure I would have been arrested for acting so bizarre.”

Matt called Louie from the airport when he got home to Boston.  He told Louie that he needed to talk with someone, that he’d just gotten back from Philly where he’d flown to see Linda.  “It didn’t go well,” he explained.

(“He sounded so upset,” Louie told us at the bar, “That I thought he might have killed her, and now he wanted me to help dispose of the body.”)

It was eleven o’clock when Matt called Louie that night, and they agreed to meet at Nick’s Beef and Beer, on Mass Ave.  Nick’s is closed now, but back then it was strictly a blue-collar bar, full of manly, hard-working men.

As they sat at the bar, Matt told Louie in hushed words what had happened, the two of them leaning close so no one would hear.

Now Matt took the engagement ring he’d bought out of his pocket.  As he opened the box, once again the tears began to swell in his eyes.  His voice quivering, but much louder than before, he said . . . “Louie, you have to take this!”

What he meant was that he wanted Louie to take the ring and give it to his mother, so she could return it to where they bought it.  What he meant was that he was too upset to return it himself, and would Louie please ask his mom to do it.

But what he said — as he opened the small box and showed Louie the engagement ring — what he said was, “Louie, please, you have to take this ring!”

Matt’s voice cracked as he held the little box out with both hands.

Louie is about 6’ 2”, 260 lbs.  He’s as guinea-looking as they come.  Once at a Blues Jam, Carl called Louie “the Luca Brasi of the Blues” — that’s how manly Italian he looks.  Picture him at the bar, surrounded by blue-collar workers as Matt holds the ring out to him.

“Get that away from me!” Louie says, “I don’t want it!”

“Please!”  Matt’s hands are shaking, but his voice only gets louder each time Louie refuses.  “Louie, please . . . take the ring!”

(Imagine the guy on the left sitting at the bar, trying to give the guy on the right an engagement ring.  Left image from







“I was so fucking embarrassed,” Louie recalled now at the bar at Johnny D’s,  “I wanted to stand up and explain to those guys looking at us, . . . but I shrugged my shoulders, and I took the damn ring.”

That was the story of Matt’s trip to Philly, and the entire thing had happened on one crazy day, . . . on a Monday.

“Since then,” Matt continued now, “Every time I hear the song Stormy Monday, and I’m out at a bar, I have a shot of Jameson to remind myself of that day . . . and to remind myself never to do anything like that again.”

(Ed. Note:  I want to thank Matt for his permission to tell this.  Matt had finished his tale, but the story didn’t end there.  Now I knew that he’d drink a shot of Jameson every time he heard a particular song, I began bribing the blues-jammers to play it.  Sometimes I’d buy five or six musicians a beer each to get them to play “Stormy Monday” — first one, and then half an hour later, another.  Once, I convinced this stunning young coed from the Berklee College of Music to sing it at the end of a jam, and she sang so beautifully I thought Matt might have had a tear in his eye.  But what happened between Matt and that coed afterward is a story for another time.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 14 Comments


Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra

The NBA finals are going on right now, and our Boston Celtics aren’t in it.  The Miami Heat beat them in last week’s heart-breaking conference championships.  But today I choose to think about happier times, looking back to when the Celtics won it all in 2008.

That was about the best three-day weekend I’ve had.

Of course, it actually began on a Tuesday.  At the time I worked Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday, so my “weekend” started at the beginning of the week.  But this was the craziest, non-stop “ThankGoodnessIt’s ____,” — no matter what day it fell on.

First there was a breath-taking view of the Boston skyline, then a long-awaited Celtic championship.  There was a victory parade to celebrate their win, leading to a great night out on the town, . . . until finally it ended with one of the funniest/most bizarre things I’ve seen.  It  ended with my best friend, Colleen, interrupting a concert of the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall.

In those days whenever Colleen came to Boston to visit, I’d get her a nice little bed-and-breakfast apartment.  But when I called the B&B agency this time, none of the inexpensive rentals were available.  “Let me see what I can do,” the lady on the phone said.  By now we’d given her enough business that she was going to help us out.

She called me back half an hour later.

“The ones you normally book are all taken,” she said, “But I do have a luxury suite that happens to be open.  I’ll let you have it for your usual price.”

She sent me the link.

This was the suite that Colleen had always teased me about.  It was a penthouse apartment so swank I couldn’t come close to affording it.  It had a winding staircase leading up to three bedrooms.  There were three full-sized private bathrooms.  The back end of the living room was a wall-to-wall window offering a spectacular view of downtown Boston.  It had a formal dining table with seating for six.  It was ridiculous.

“If anyone calls to rent it, you’ll have to give it up,” the lady told me, “But for now you can have it for what you pay for the smaller units.”

The “Presidential Suite” for three days –and I was getting it for a song.  Colleen thought I was being cute when I said that’s where she’d be staying.

Colleen arrived in Boston early Tuesday afternoon, and I figured we’d go someplace nice for dinner . . . but she wouldn’t hear of it.  “I don’t want you spending all your money,” she said.  She insisted that she should make us dinner at the penthouse — there was a complete kitchen with a full-size stove and refrigerator, a microwave and a toaster oven, coffee-maker, pots and pans, plates and bowls, fancy silverware.  “What would you like me to cook?” she asked.

“How about shrimp scampi?” I said, trying to be a wise-ass.  The kitchen had all the amenities, but no food was stocked.

Colleen (ready to “bop around town.”)

“I’ll need some shrimp, a clove of garlic, linguine, olive oil, butter, and a lemon,” she said without blinking.  “There’s salt and pepper here, but maybe you’d like a little parmesan cheese.”

“Pick up a baguette and I’ll make garlic bread to go with it,” she said.

I had to pick up beer anyway, along with vodka and pineapple juice.  (Colleen wanted a pineapple martini.)  I walked half a block to an upscale Back Bay delicatessen, and bought everything she needed.  Colleen is a great cook, and she threw together a dynamite shrimp scampi as effortlessly as someone might flip through their mail standing at the mailbox.  It was so good.

After dinner we hopped on the trolley to head for the game.  I didn’t have tickets, so we went to Boston’s Quincy Market and joined the crowd watching large screen TVs in one of the nightspots.

What a game!  I suppose a true basketball fan might have preferred a closer score, but it had been twenty-two years since the Celtics won the overall title, and with each point they piled up now the roar from the crowd rattled the pints of beer on the bar.  It was madness as the final seconds were counted down.

(Pnoto by David Ryan, Boston Globe)

The day of the victory parade was just like a holiday.  Whenever a Boston team wins a title, the city has a “rolling” celebration.  They use Duck Boats to carry the team’s players through the downtown streets, then the amphibious vehicles slip into the Charles River for a ride past the cheering crowds lining the shore, and then back up onto the streets again to finish the parade.

Rajon Rondo (Photo by Matthew Lee, Boston Globe)

Our lucky penthouse suite had a fantastic view, but we wanted to watch the parade among the crowd.  We went downstairs early and found a spot in the front row, leaning over the ropes.  I almost could have reached out and shaken Rajon Rondo’s hand.  (I remember thinking he looked so young, . . . almost like a high school kid.)

There’s a lot I have to skip here, or I’ll be writing all day.  There was “the meatball story,” which had to do with some take-out food back at the penthouse, and what I’d done with it.  We argued for hours about that story’s merits — was a joke I pulled really funny, or not?  Then there was Colleen, asking the waiter where we had lunch the next day whether he thought it was funny.  But I protested his decision — all the time she was explaining, he kept staring at the logo on her snug Celtics T-shirt.  (When I bought it for her I didn’t realize the sizes ran small.)  Seriously, what kind of impartial judge could he be?

And there was “the scallops-wrapped-in-bacon” incident at the food pavilion in Boston’s Quincy Market — but these stories will have to wait for another time.

To cut to the chase . . . I never expected the Celtics to win in six games.  I thought the series would go to the seventh game, at which time I’d be back at work and Colleen would be home.  If I had known they were going to win Tuesday night, and therefore the parade would follow a day or two later, . . . I never would have bought us tickets to the Boston Pops Orchestra.  But after the parade, and walking a bit on The Freedom Trail, then stopping at P. F. Chang’s for lunch — that night we were off to Symphony Hall.

Boston’s Symphony Hall

We stopped at the bar on the first floor of Symphony Hall.  I got Colleen a pineapple martini and myself a beer, and we were sitting at a small table when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy approaching us fast.  I was just about to jump up and defend us, when the guy reached out his hand with a big smile.

It was Gilberto Rivera, the singer and leader of the band Rumba Na Ma.  Back then Rumba Na Ma played every Sunday for Johnny D’s salsa night.

“What are you doing here?” I asked Gilberto after standing to introduce him to Colleen.  “Oh, I’m getting some type of award,” he laughed, and I wasn’t sure whether or not to take him seriously.

For that night’s concert, one of the features was the semi-finals of a high-school talent contest that the Boston Pops was sponsoring.  There was some unbelievable talent showcased.  I couldn’t believe these were high school kids.

Anyway, after the four semi-finalists had performed, Keith Lockhart (the conductor of the BSO) stopped the show to present a Fidelity FutureStage Award.

And out walked Gilberto.  He’s a band leader at night, but during the day he teaches music in the public schools.

Colleen at home (in a quiet moment.)

Gilberto was laughing and smiling, waving to the audience as he accepted the award (he is a bit of a hot shit on stage.)  The award included a $25,000 grant for musical equipment in his school.

As he walked off the stage, Colleen said, “He plays at your club every Sunday?”

“Yea,” I told her, “Funny we happened to be here tonight.  It’s been a weird three days, hasn’t it?”

Little did I know it wasn’t over yet.

There was also a guest conductor for the BSO that night, and Keith Lockhart turned the stage over to him for part of the performance.  The guest conductor directed the orchestra through one piece, then he stopped to address the audience.

He said how pleased he was to be here, and that he knew all of Boston was in a great mood because of the Celtics long-awaited victory.

The audience applauded loudly for a minute or two, and when it quieted down, the guest conductor was ready to say something more, before returning to the concert.

He stood on stage with one hand raised, and his mouth open to speak.

I have no idea what he wanted to say because he never got the words out.

As he stood with finger raised and mouth opening, someone from the audience yelled, “GO CELTICS!”

It was loud and ballsy, and it rang out now through the quiet auditorium.


It was Colleen, sitting next to me.

I sat there not quite believing it. The entire place had been quiet as a church, and in that split second before the guest conductor spoke again, she had yelled . . . “GO CELTICS!”

The guest conductor looked up to roughly where we were sitting.  A lot of heads in the audience had turned our way.  (In the picture below, we would have been sitting in the top left balcony, beneath where the first purple banner is hanging.)

The guest conductor kept looking up, his eyes searching.  “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t quite hear that.  Did someone say something?”

“GO CELTICS!” Colleen yelled again.  Now the audience responded with spontaneous laughter and applause.  Everyone was looking our way, and Colleen sank down in her seat, trying to hide.

It’s the only time I’ve seen Colleen embarrassed.

“Well, . . . yes, I already said that,” the guest conductor smiled.  Then he introduced the next piece, turned to raise his baton, and the orchestra began to play.

Colleen . . . interrupting a concert at the Boston Symphony, and receiving a round of applause. There’s no one quite like her.

Anyway, that was about the best three days off I’d had in a long time.

Back next week with more Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 12 Comments


“Nighthawks” by Edward Hooper

Like everyone else, I have an alarm clock.  Like everyone else I hate when it goes off, and all I want is to continue to lay there in bed.  I hate it so much that my snooze-bar has a finger groove worn in the plastic.

I guess I can’t complain — that alarm never goes off in the early morning hours.

I rarely set it to get up before noon.

I work nights.  I’ve been working nights all my life it seems, starting when I was in college.

Back then I was managing an off-campus bar, and I remember laying in bed calling out to my good buddy, Jim Fennell, who was across the hall.  Jim lived in a room called “The Universe” at the Beta Phi Epsilon frat house in Cortland, New York; I lived in a room called “The Ice Box.”  Across the hallway on the third floor, our doors faced each other.

“Foamy!” I’d yell (everyone called him, “Foamy.”)  “Foamy, you’d better get up and head to the bank to get change.”  He was a bartender at The Mug with me, and the unofficial assistant manager.

“I got the change yesterday,” he’d yell back, “It’s your turn today!”

“I worked for you last Tuesday night,” I’d yell.  Each of us was still laying in bed, calling out through the open doors at the end of our rooms.  We had to yell.  “So I think it’s your turn,” I’d call out.

Sometimes this yelling would continue for ten or fifteen minutes, as each of us tried not to be the one to get up.  The conversation would take place at three o’clock in the afternoon.  The bank closed at three-thirty.

For people accustomed to rising early, all this may seem hard to comprehend.  The two different lifestyles — literally, night and day — rarely understand one another.  Anyone in this business knows exactly what I’m talking about, while those who aren’t simply see us as deadbeats.

Sometimes just because we stay in bed all morning, people have a hard time taking us seriously.  By sheer force of their numbers, and from an attitude that traces back to the time of the Calvinists, the day-time people honestly believe that they hold the high moral ground on this — and that we are somehow “deviant.”

The phone rings at 11:00 AM, and I answer with a “just-got-up” voice.  “I’m sorry,“ the caller says, “Did I wake you?”

“I work nights,“ I say, but for the rest of the conversation I can hear her condescending tone.

I never had it so good as when I was in Albany NY, working at The Lark Tavern.  Always on the verge of moving on to Boston, I never had a phone installed in that Albany apartment.  (My first cell phone was still years away.)

Ah, the peace and quiet.  The only way for people to bother me was to come over to my apartment, and knock on the door.  And most times when that happened, it was for something fun.

During those Albany years, here’s what I might look like if you woke me up too early.

The picture on the left was taken by Bruce S — he and Richie B. woke me around noon one day to go play pool and have a few beers.

As you tell by my expression, I don’t like being dragged out of bed prematurely, even for fun.  (That Albany apartment was in the basement — note the meters to the building on the front hall wall.)

It’s not easy being a nighthawk.  For some reason, day-time people expect you to conform to their time frame.  Doctor’s appointments are usually scheduled for pre-noon, and business meetings always take place in the early morning hours.

But jury duty has to be the worst.

You receive a notice in the mail that you’ve been called in, and you’re supposed to show up at 7:30 AM.

After one such summons, I called the number listed to explain my situation.  “I work nights,” I told the lady answering, “And I don’t get home until 4:00 AM.  That gives me just three and a half hours of sleep before I’m supposed to be there.”

“I’m afraid that doesn’t excuse you,” the woman said, “There will be severe penalties if you don’t report on time.”

I arrived at the Middlesex County Courthouse, and waited with a number of other people in a large room.  There was one woman who looked so damn bright and chipper I wanted to puke.  She had this look on her face that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives . . . what are we going to do about it!”

I wanted to strangle her.

Fortunately, although I’ve been called in for jury duty several times, I’ve never actually served during a trial.  Each time I was quickly eliminated from the pool.  I imagine the attorneys involved realized that anyone with such a look on their face was sure to vote “GUILTY!” — just out of spite.

Since leaving college I’ve only had one day job.  I thought I might try working days in the hopes of getting more writing done.  I took a job as senior instructor at New England School of Bartending.

What a mistake.  I discovered that by the time I finished teaching for eight hours, by the time 5:30 rolled around, I wanted to go out and unwind.  I felt I deserved to go out and unwind.  Even when I did go straight home and write a little, it felt like I was in prison, . . . like I was working two jobs, working around the clock.

The worst of it, though, was simply getting up in the morning.  I had to be in downtown Boston at 9:00 AM to teach the first class.

There were times when it took every trick in the book to make it.

I quickly developed a morning routine.  I had a plan that no matter how late I stayed out the night before, I could still catch a timely MBTA Red Line train.

It began the night before by putting some underwear and socks in a gray plastic tub in the kitchen sink — I’d wash them in hot soapy water, then let them soak overnight.

The next morning, I’d rinse them and hang them to dry over an open cabinet door, then refill the tub to wash a shirt.

By the time I’d finished my shower, the shirt would be clean.  I’d rinse it off and dry it by hooking a hanger over the cabinet door handle above the stove.  With the oven set to 450 degrees, and the oven door completely open, the rising heat would dry the shirt enough to be ironed.

Sometimes the underwear and socks would still be wet, so I’d toss them in the microwave.

(A word to the wise, . . . don’t microwave your underwear and socks unless you’re prepared to stand there and monitor the process.  Left in the microwave too long, the socks will come out crispy and discolored.)

For quite a few good reasons, I left that teaching job after a year and went back to bartending.  Now I’m content to write a few hours before I go to work.  By the time I step behind the taps, I ready to be doing something different.

After all these years, I guess I’m resigned to the fact that I’m just a night person by nature.  My friends and family know to never to call me before noon.  My mother will only call in the afternoon, or early evening.  And she’ll always say, “I wanted to call you earlier . . . but I know you like to sleep late.”

Yup, even my own mother is against me on this.

I want to yell at them:  “I don’t sleep LATE!  I just sleep at a different time than you do!  I have different hours!  Hello ….  I WORK NIGHTS!”

But it’s OK, really.  It’s alright.  I’ve learned to accept that this comes with the job.

And I can always console myself with one simple, pleasing thought — tomorrow morning, when their alarm goes off and they so wish they could just stay in bed . . . I’ll still be comfortable curled up in mine, sleeping.

(Ed. Note at 6:00 AM, June 9th:  I have to apologize to comrade-in-arms “Caveman”, author of the blog, Tales From A Bar.  Very late Thursday night I was trying to think of what to post here this week, and suddenly I noticed the time — it was three o-clock in the morning.  I figured that’s what I’ll write about . . .
the bartender’s unusual hours.  So I started writing, searched the web for the painting by Edward Hopper, and by Friday afternoon I was good to go for Saturday’s post.

Then late tonight — after work on Friday, which is actually Saturday morning — I remembered something I’d read on Caveman’s blog recently.  On May 29th, he wrote about “The Graveyard Shift.”

We’re all bartenders, our experiences are similar . . . but we also try not to step on each other’s toes.  Caveman, . . . my apologies .  When writing this post I thought I was starting from scratch, and didn’t realize that the thought was so close to something you’d recently done.  It’s too late for me to write something else now, but I promise to be more careful next time.  Anyway, it’s time for bed.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 10 Comments

“STUPID TUESDAY” (And something new from David Hayden)

I’m taking a week off from our usual posts.  Typically I write about the bar life — free beer, naked women, lousy tippers, and patrons over-indulging.  I like stories about gangsters and strippers, or those who just behave like them.

But already two days late with this post, and after filling in a couple of extra shifts at the club, I’m pretty much “bar-lifed” out.  (Do other bloggers sometimes feel this way?)

So instead, today’s space goes to two friends and fellow bloggers that I think have something unique to offer.  Larry Hannay is working on a site that could change the way politicians behave, while David Hayden offers a fantastic new tool for restaurant marketing.  (Will I have room after that for a link about craft beer, and some great photos by Jack McAllister?)

“Stupid Tuesday” . . .

Everyone feels the same way about politicians . . . what the hell are they doing to us?  They make all these promises, but once elected they simply cave in to big money and special interests.  Will they ever change?

Larry Hannay has started a website that just might force them to do so. tracks all 500+ US Senators and Representatives, and although the site is new, each of those politicians already has a page where you can review their records.  How did they vote?  Where they influenced by big money, lobbying, quid pro quos, rich special interests?

Listen to one company’s explanation when questioned whether they had “bought” a legislator’s vote:

“A spokesman for the company said there was no connection between the Representative’s earmarks {which favored their company} and the campaign contributions they have given him.  They called the timing of the contributions a coincidence.”

How often does this happen?  Even a quick look at Stupid Tuesday shows that it happens a lot more often than we know.

What can we do about it?  Who can follow all that’s going on with our Senators and Representatives (apparently a lot of it behind our backs.)   Who has the time to attend political meetings where we’d have a chance to voice our opinion?

Now, with just a few clicks it’s easy to do both, on-line.

The politicians on Stupid Tuesday are listed by state —  choose your state, then select the legislators you want to look at.  You’ll not only see they’re up to, you can also rate each politician’s actions with a vote of your own.  The individual votes add up, and are then displayed on an “approval bar” that runs from a high of “+5”, all the way down to a low of “-5” (for the most boneheaded law-makers.)

This could be fun.

I registered on the site (it’s easy and free), and went right to the section for the Massachusetts legislators.   That’s where I discovered an interesting vote recently made by Senator Scott Brown.

It seems that OSI Restaurant Partners (affiliated with restaurant/bar establishments) wanted Bill H.R. 4 (112th) to  be passed quickly.  OSI Restaurant Partners contributed $5000 to Scott Brown’s campaign . . . and damn . . . Scott Brown voted in favor of that bill just eight days later.

What a coincidence, huh?  I gave Senator Brown a big — (- 5) — thumbs down on that one.

This web site just went live this past weekend, and I’m sure it will continue to develop.  Right now the only actions listed for each politician seem to have been provided by the people at Stupid Tuesday — but there’s a click-on button that enables readers to add their own choice of legislative actions that may have involved influence-peddling, or Congressional corruption.

Stupid Tuesday might actually affect the way things are done.  It might make for a better election this coming November.  If enough of us start to log our opinions, the politicians will no longer be able to simply ignore us.  Now wouldn’t that be nice.

As Larry puts it:  “The public doesn’t elect the politicians, individuals do.”

The public will disapprove of Congress to the tune of 90%, while individuals continue reelect those same incumbents to the tune of 90%.  Until we start paying more attention, nothing — NOTHING — will change.”

A FREE Restaurant Marketing Plan . . .

Regulars readers may have heard me mention David Hayden before; he’s the creator of the Hospitality Formula Network.  Also the author of Tips 2: Tips for Improving Your Tips, David is by far the most prolific blogger I know, and now he’s added yet another great resource to our on-line community.  His new blog, Restaurant Marketing Plan, almost makes me wish I was still a GM (damn, why wasn’t this was available back then?)

We all know that large-scale operations and chains have entire departments that do nothing but work on marketing.  Meanwhile — with limited time, small budgets, and lack of expertise in this particular area — most marketing plans of mid-size restaurants barely get off the ground.

God Bless the Internet.  Now with one click on the web, any operation can swing a club just like the big boys.

Restaurant Marketing Plan offers detailed and insightful suggestions on such things as SEO for restaurant web sites.  (Mr. Hayden works professionally in this area, under Kansas City SEO, but his advice on RMP is free.)  RMP can show you how to maximize the business potential of social networks like Facebook, or how to use emerging technologies (do you know how to use QR Codes?)  There is so much good stuff available on this site . . . and it’s free.

I realize not everyone’s in restaurant management, but I think anybody in the business might want to look at this site.  (It doesn’t hurt to mention good ideas to your owner . . . in the end, more business for your establishment means more money for you.)

While looking through RMP, I saw something about a free monthly report.  I clicked — and after providing an email address, I immediately received this month’s link.  It’s a report on how to best use Google Places.

There were 20 bullets explaining the advantages of signing up now for this new, free Google listing, and a list of five tips on how to make the most of it.  Here’s one of them:

“The first and most important thing to do is to make sure that you claim your Google Places page so that no one else can edit your listing.  Claiming your Google Places page lends far more authority to your page and is vital if you are truly to take advantage of all that this incredible feature offers the local business owner.”

Claim our “Google Places” page?   Before reading this I hadn’t even known what  a “Google Place” was, . . . I continued reading:

“The beauty of Google Places is that it is essentially democratic and designed to give the true local business owner the edge over larger corporations who may have a local outlet of presence but are not locally based.”

I stopped reading so I could forward the link to our Johnny D’s owner, Carla DeLellis.

Then I emailed Mr. Hayden to thank him; here’s part of his reply as to why he started RMP:

“After seeing so many independent restaurants turn to sites like Groupon to market their restaurant online, I wanted to find a better alternative for them.  With changes made this year, Google and Facebook have really leveled the playing field and given independent restaurants an advantage over national chains.”

I know that restaurant marketing is probably not foremost on most reader’s minds, so I won’t drag this out.  (I guess it was like an old manager hearing the bell ring . . . it all came back to me.)  But if you are in management, or just want to help your independent owner bring in more business (for you and for them) — simply click Restaurant Marketing Plan.

(Ed. Note:  Just after I posted this, I received an update from Mr. Hayden.  Apparently “Google Places” will morph into something called “Google+ Local.”

This all moves way too fast for me . . . I’m going to wait for further updates from David’s RMP.  Further update, Jun 9th:  Click here for RMP’s latest update {6/7} on what’s now being called “Google+ Local.)

Go Green, Go Local (including the beer) . . .

Carla DeLellis, Johnny D’s owner, has been “Green” long before it became hip.  I think she was “going green” way before they began calling it “Going Green.”

Grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, recycling all our paper, plastic and glass containers . . . and now she’s committed to going local with every purchase we can.

When I asked about the switch to local beer — what happens when someone asks for a Bud Light? — she mentioned that local means it isn’t transported as far, which saves fuel, aside from often being fresher.  She also said she doesn’t want bottled beer because it’s a fuel-monster to ship, and costs the environment in recycling.

So, . . . Johnny D’s is switching to local draft beer only.

Fortunately, there are some really, REALLY good local beer companies nearby — and I mean nearby — a couple of them have offices just down the street.  You have to try Clown Shoes Brown Angel, or their Eagle Claw Fist (Lexington MA).  Or SlumBrew’s Flagraiser IPA (Somerville MA), or their Porter Square Porter.  (I imagine we’ll soon be putting some of Pretty Things beers and ales on tap — they’re also award-winning beer-makers with offices just up the street, in the other direction.)

Anyway Johnny D’s GM, John Bonaccorso, was interviewed about all this on WGBH Radio last month.  (WGBH is the PBS station that brings you “Frontline” and “Nova”.)  Click on the picture below to hear the interview.


Jack McAllister . . .

As long as I’ve gotten completely off-track with this post, I’m going to end with three photos taken by my cousin, Jack McAllister, from the dock of his Seneca, New York home.  Jack has been doing a series of showings at two upstate New York Wineries —  The Billsboro Winery and The Sheldrake Point Winery.  As always, Jack donates a significant portion of the proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation (for Parkinson’s research.)  Here are three of my favorites of his photographs.



























For inquiries about Jack’s photos, you can contact him at

We’ll be back this coming Saturday with a more typical post for Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 13 Comments


Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

It’s a bar room tradition with  a long history.  It’s such a part of this business that some establishments include a reference in their name — The Last Chance Saloon, Second Chance Bar, and Heinold’s First and Last Chance (still serving drinks in Oakland, CA.)  If you want an opportunity to do things over, perhaps to be forgiven, you can always count on your local tavern.

Jack London at the bar in Heinold’s joint.

I remember The Lark Tavern (Albany NY), where a guy named Whitey was a nightly customer.  Whitey worked as a roofer on the tops of buildings that you could fry an egg on — and afterwards he’d stop in for a cold beer and air conditioning.  At six feet tall with a head of prematurely grey hair, he was as thin as a rail from toiling under the hot sun.

Whitey was a good guy, the kind of customer who would watch your back when things got rough, and the rest of the time just bust your balls and keep you laughing.  Whitey had the same girlfriend for as long as I’d known him — they were both divorced, but now they’d settled into a something like a permanent relationship.

Most of the time Whitey hung out at the bar with the other regulars, but once or twice a week Darlene would join him.

One night they seemed to be arguing.  They weren’t loud or obvious about it, but you could tell by their expressions and their short gestures that something wasn’t right.

I walked by at one point and happened to overhear part of their conversation.

“You’re such a fucking slut,” Whitey was saying under his breath, with uncharacteristic venom, “You’ve sucked more cock than I saw in the Army!”

I’m sure my head must have popped back a little on my shoulders.  It took a split second to recover and act like I didn’t hear a thing.  Sometimes people expect privacy in a bar.  Even though they’re just an arm’s length away and we hear everything, there are times we’re supposed to be simply part of the fixtures . . . the invisible man, or woman.

Now that I knew for sure they were having an argument, I avoided them.  This was totally unlike them, and I didn’t want to see or overhear anything that would make them uncomfortable later.

Their spat escalated, but just as I thought I should intervene — maybe say something like “Hey, do you know that your voices are starting to carry here?” — the two of them abruptly got up and left.

I have no idea what was going on with Whitey and Darlene.  Maybe she’d cheated on Whitey and now they were hashing it out in their own way.  Maybe they had an abusive relationship, although I’d never suspected that before.  I hated to think it was true, but this wasn’t a good sign.  When Darlene walked out with Whitey — or rather, walked out a couple of feet behind him — she had the look of someone who was totally guilty.  Or maybe it was the look of a beaten dog . . . or both.

I wondered what would happen the next time Whitey came in, with or without Darlene.

I didn’t have to wait long.  The next night they were back in the bar again — but now it was as though the previous incident had never happened.  They sat at the bar talking and laughing as though last night had been long, long forgotten.  As though there was no “last night,” . . . as if it had been edited out of their lives.

I never saw anything like that between them again.  Whether he deserved it or not, Whitey got his “mulligan.”

Christopher’s Bar and Restaurant, Cambridge MA.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people getting second chances in a bar, and I’ve been lucky a few times in that regard myself.  I’ve done some pretty dumb things while drinking.  (Let’s say I was younger then, and still finding my way).

But I don’t think I ever embarrassed myself as badly as that one night in Christopher’s.

I had just broken up with my girlfriend — we’d been living together for over a year, and the last three months had been a living hell.  Now on my own again, I should have realized I might be tempted to go overboard.

I started the day at a few of the bars in Boston’s Quincy Market.  It was mid-afternoon.  This was the first time in over a year that I felt “single” again, and I was having a blast.  By nine o’clock at night I was trashed.

I realized I hadn’t eaten all day so I took a short walk to the North End and ordered linguine and clam sauce, to go.  (It wouldn’t have bothered me to sit there and eat alone, but being trashed I didn’t want to embarrass myself as the “drunk late-arrival.”)

That didn’t stop me from having a glass of wine at the bar while I waited.  The kitchen was slow, so I had another glass.

My dinner finally came out in a tin container, wrapped in a plastic bag.  I was headed home now, and it should have been simple.  All I had to do was get off at the Harvard Square Station on the Red Line, and walk the two blocks home.

I missed my stop, and ended up in Porter Square.

As I was standing in the Porter Square station waiting for the next train back, I thought, Christopher’s is in Porter Square, . . . why don’t I stop in for one last drink?”

I’d been drinking beer all day, had some wine in the North End, but now as I sat at the bar I felt like a gin and tonic.  I like Bombay Sapphire for martinis, but for some reason I like Tanqueray for gin and tonics . . . and Christopher’s has Tanqueray Ten.

After a couple of those, I decided to try one of the craft beers Christopher’s has on tap.  They have a fine selection.  I had a really tasty pint of Porter, then switched to a glass of hoppy IPA.  Then there was a nicely-balanced Amber combining just the right amounts of hops and rich malt.

As I finished that pint, I realized it had been a long time since I’d enjoyed a Guinness Stout.

By now it was midnight, and suddenly I was starving again.  I still hadn’t eaten.  The bartender had cleared all the set-ups from the bar rail — Christopher’s was done serving food for the night.  But I was so hungry now.

The rest is vague — only bits and pieces of it came back to me the next day when I woke up.  Waking with a horrible hang-over, I also had the nagging fear that I’d done something really stupid while drinking.

I had this fuzzy recollection of sitting in Christopher’s, opening the plastic bag with my “to go” pasta inside.  In a series of single snapshots that were now flooding my mind, I had a single frame of me sitting there opening the container at the bar.

Then I vaguely remembered a moment where my head was low over the container — I knew this because I was looking directly across the top rim of the container at the bottles of liquor on the first shelf of the back bar.

With my face only an inch or so above the tin,  . . . I vaguely remembered that I was eating with my hands.

There was another snapshot of me with my face just an inch above the container — I was looking at the bar top around me.  The bar top was splattered with small bits of pasta and clam, and wet pools of sautéed garlic and oil were everywhere.  In that snapshot, I could see my hands stopped in mid-motion on their way to my mouth . . . each hand held a clump of linguine with clams.

Lying in bed remembering all this, I hoped it was it was only something I’d dreamt, a social-etiquette nightmare . . . but there was too much detail.

Now I vaguely remembered the greasy feel of my hands, and the slick oil around my mouth as I shoveled those clumps of pasta in, . . . and I remembered thinking about whether a shot of Patron tequila might not go really well with linguine and clam sauce.

I don’t know if the bartender served me the Patron or not.  I don’t remember how I got home.  I’m sure I must have taken a cab — maybe the bartender called one for me.

Anyone who has done something like this knows how it feels to recall only scattered details from the night before.  Christopher’s isn’t snobby, but it’s definitely an up-scale bar with an educated clientele.  And I used to work there!  Fortunately, I didn’t remember seeing anyone I knew that night, but I had still totally embarrassed myself.  My first thought was that I could never show my face in Christopher’s again.

Later in the day, I realized I had to face the music.  I was going to go back to Christopher’s and apologize to the bartender.

It was early evening before I felt like going anywhere.  As I sat down at the bar at Christopher’s, the same guy was working.  I had no idea what I was going to say.  I guess I was waiting for him to give me some direction.  I was waiting for him to say, “How you feeling today, you really tied one on last night.”  Or even, “I’m not going to serve you!!”  Anything.

But he didn’t say or do anything.  He smiled, but it was a courteous, friendly smile.  He gave no indication that I had even been there the night before.

He tossed down a cocktail napkin.  He was treating me as he would treat any customer — no better, no worse.  I studied his face as I ordered my drink . . . nothing.

I guess it was like some gentleman’s agreement.  Whatever had happened the night before was now water-under-the-bridge.  I’d fucked up royally, but as a bartender he was overlooking it.

In the end, I never apologized or said anything about the linguine and clam sauce.  I was still pretty hung-over, although the gin and tonic helped.  After one drink, I paid my bill.

As I was leaving, he said something like, “Good night . . . take it easy.”  I had made sure to leave him a big tip.  I gave him a short wave, and said, “Thanks, . . . thanks a lot.”

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 16 Comments