“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

NAKED LADIES, and The Writing on the Wall

From the swankiest nightspot . . . to the seediest, run-down tavern in America, every restaurant or bar has rest rooms.

So it’s not surprising that most bartenders have at least one good tale about their establishment’s facilities.

I remember I was behind the taps at The Lark Tavern in Albany NY, and a disheveled-looking woman walked in asking to use the ladies room.  When she didn’t come out for a while and wouldn’t respond to our repeated knocks, we used our key to open the door.  She was standing at the sink counter, both faucets gushing full blast — she was stark naked.  With her raggedy clothes neatly folded on the tile floor, she was giving herself a sponge bath with her hands.

As we stood in the doorway — completely dumbfounded looking at her — the woman barely gave us a second glance.  She just kept splashing herself more frantically, as if realizing she had only a few seconds left to finish.

Years later at the Sunflower Café in Cambridge MA, the same thing happened and that‘s when I realized this was probably happening all across the country.  Wherever there’s a bar located near a large park or public transit station — anytime there are street-people around who don’t have a better option — you’ll find the occasional walk-ins who strip down and wash up in your rest rooms.

The au naturel woman taking a sponge bath at The Sunflower was actually the second half of my personal favorite bar/bathroom story.  That story began at The Huddle Tavern, in Cortland NY.

One afternoon, I happened to stop into The Huddle when the owner’s son, Al, was painting the ladies room.  At the time I was managing The Mug a little further down Main Street, so Al felt comfortable letting me sit at the bar by myself.  He served me a drink and went back to painting.

Now and then he’d pop his head out and give me another beer.  By this time he was splattered with paint.

“I don’t understand, Al,“ I said to him at one point, “Why are you repainting the ladies room?  You must have repainted it just last month.”

“Look at the booths.” I said, pointing to the corner booth with its broken back.  “Look at the carpet.”  I pointed to two large tears in the old carpet that was supposed to cover the cement floor.  “Why are you wasting your time on the ladies room?”

“I’ve got my reasons,” Al said, and he went back to painting.

When he was done, Al sat down to have a beer with me.

“I discovered something last year,” he confided, “I discovered it almost by accident.”

“Once, a girl wrote something good about me on the bathroom walls,” Al said, “And I got at lot of attention from the women who read it.”

“It worked so well,” he continued, “That now I always write something good about myself,  . . . every time I repaint.”  Al explained that after he applied the fresh paint, he’d wait until a few women had added their graffiti, then go in after hours and write a few lines about himself.

“Sometimes I’ll write, For a good time see Al the bartender,” he told me, “Other times I just write, Al at the bar is a GREAT lay!

“Works like a charm,” Al said, “It’s amazing.  You wouldn’t believe how well it works.”

That was in Cortland NY, and then I moved to Albany, and finally wound up in Cambridge MA.  Now I was working at The Sunflower Café, and a woman had just taken a sponge bath in the ladies room (just like the one at The Lark.)

We were all having drinks after work that night.  Everyone was still talking about the naked lady in the bathroom, so I told them the story about Al.  They all got a laugh, then we began talking about something else.

Maybe a week later there were two young girls at the bar, and I thought they were acting a little strange, but I wasn’t really worried about it.  They were just being kids, whispering and laughing behind their hands as they leaned close to talk.

A while later, another woman kept smiling at me.  I served her drink, and she smiled.  I caught her watching me work, and she smiled.

Finally another women, probably in her early thirties, sat there grinning whenever she caught my eye.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “But do I know you?”

“Are you, Mike?” she asked.

It caught me by surprise, but I told her I was.

“Well,” she smiled, “There something very nice written about you on the ladies room wall.”

Now it made sense.  I sent one of the waitresses to check.

Someone had written — “For a good time, try Mike at the bar!” — in big, bold black letters with a Sharpe pen.  I figured it must have been one of the waitresses who had listened to the story about Al that night.  She must have wanted to know if it really worked, and used my name just to bust my balls.

Well, at least now I can personally confirm what Al was saying all along.  Discrete marketing graffiti definitely works.

A Request for Help . . .

I had planned to include a second bar/bathroom story, but now I can’t find the original source.  It was about was something I’d read in the newspaper on a slow day at The Lark Tavern — I think it was an Associated Press story.

I know I tore the article out, but now I can’t find that scrap of paper.  (I still have a few boxes of notes left to sort through.)

Here’s the story from memory.  It was a report about a bar fighting a law suit.

It seems that a local tavern in New Jersey had an interesting painting on the ladies room wall.  The bar was located near a major highway, and although the clientele was predominately from the neighborhood, the regulars were often interrupted (and irritated) by passers-by stopping in.

Someone in the bar came up with the idea of getting even.  They had a local artist paint a realistic, full-sized portrait of Adonis on the ladies room wall.  Covering the portrait’s X-rated groin was a thin wooden fig leaf.

Unknown to any of the rest room visitors, the fig leaf was wired to a light bulb above the bar — if anyone lifted the leaf, the light bulb would flash on, and stay on until the leaf was lowered.

I’m sure many female customers wondered what was going on when they stepped out of the rest room, and were greeted by applause and cheering.

Apparently, one litigation-minded couple decided not to accept this lying down.  They took the bar to court, and won.  The portrait with its fig leaf had to come down, and the suing couple was awarded something like $40,000 in damages.

I know I tore the article out because I remember wondering if anyone would want that missing page — but as I said, I can’t find it now.

If anyone reading here knows of this story and can point to the original source, please use the “Contact us” link to email me.  The only thing I could find on the web was a joke that was apparently inspired by the incident.

Anyway, here’s a video of the funniest bathroom prank I’ve seen in a while.  Back next week with more Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 14 Comments

New Post Coming Saturday

Oliver on the left.

This week’s post will be a day late — so in the meantime I thought I’d throw in this quick update on someone who’s leaving Johnny D’s.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Oliver Simosa has been a bar back, doorman, and waiter at the club.  He was slated to be our next new bartender, but instead he’s headed back to Venezuela to play semi-pro basketball for the Valencia Globetrotters.  (He shoots 40% from the three-point range.)

Oliver had given us a month’s notice, then a phone call yesterday cut it to three weeks.  He has to leave immediately — he’s been invited to try out for the Venezuelan Olympic basketball team.  (He’s a little cocky now, but I want to see him post up against LaBron James!)

Anyway, congrats Oliver . . . have a safe flight, and best of luck!  And see the rest of you tomorrow for this week’s new post.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 4 Comments