It’ll be a short post this week.  I had planned to write today about “DIRTY TRICKS behind the bar,” but I’m now weighing how much I should say,  . . . and about whom.  Back next week with that post.

Instead, today’s space goes to a bartender from Cheers in Quincy Market, and to a new industry blog I’ve just seen.

Congrats to Elyce Taylor . . .

John Taylor, his daughter Elyce, and wife Mary

Elyce ran in her first Boston Marathon this past Monday.  I’m sure there were other bartenders among the 26,716 registered runners — but none that I knew.

Elyce is the daughter of our Sunday Blues Jam performer, John Taylor (everyone just calls him “Taylor.”)

Taylor is one of the veteran musicians at the Johnny D’s Jam, mainly a drummer, but he also performs on keyboard and vocals.  (I love his version of the song, “It’s Cold in the City.”)

Elyce came in with her boyfriend one Sunday to watch Taylor perform.  That’s when I met her, and learned that she was a bartender at Cheers.

When Taylor said she was running in the Marathon this week, I asked him to keep me posted on how she did.

Turns out, she did ridiculously well.

Not only did she finish — some 5000 runners dropped out during the race, with its unusually high, 89-degree temperature — but she looked as fresh and chipper as a bartender simply completing one of those difficult shifts.

Five hundred runners were treated at the emergency Red Cross stations along the multi-city route.  (Starting in Hopkinton, they run through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brighton and Brookline, before finishing in Boston.)  Afterward Elyce posed for pictures, and went out for a beer with her boyfriend and their parents.

Here’s how Taylor described it in his return email (I’d asked him if Elyce had made it through the entire 26.2 miles).

“Elyce did finish which was amazing.  It was her 1st time running the marathon.  She was sponsored by Sam Adams Beer thru her work at Cheers.  My wife and I were at the 23mile marker which is right after Heartbreak Hill in Brookline and here she comes running and stopped to say hello to us . . . she looked good.

Her time was about 5.5-hours . . . We met with her after the race and her boyfriend, Jon and his parents were there.  We stopped for a drink but she was only interested in getting home and taking a shower and rest.  She was a little stiff but otherwise OK.   I was shocked that she even attempted to do the race considering she had not been in track at school.

I learned something new about her determination and stamina that was an awakening.”

Now that’s a proud dad.  I’m sure I’ll hear more detail when I see Taylor at the Jam this Sunday.

Anyway, congrats Elyce!  Great job!

Taylor and his wife Mary, with Elyce and her boyfriend, Jon.












New Blog in Town . . .

I got an email the other day inviting me to take a look at a new blog, Waiters Today, which bills itself as a “social network” for restaurant workers.

I’m still checking it out, but here’s some things right off the top.

First, they have a contest running right now . . . it ends May 7, 2012 . . . and there’s a $500 first prize for the best bar or restaurant story.  (One of the restrictions is that it can’t have appeared previously anywhere on the Internet — I have a tough time just putting up a weekly post, so if I can’t use something I’ve already written, I’m out.)

The site also has a chat room, and while looking around the site as a whole, I got an IM from one of its authors/owners.  (Apparently it’s a collective effort by nine Indianapolis servers.)  Andrew explained a few of the things they were doing . . . but what really struck me is this blog’s tremendous potential for interaction.

At Waiters Today, you can IM fellow members who are also online, or join them in a chat room.

This site is new, but it looks like they already have around 200 members.  It’s free to join and completely anonymous, if you want keep your identity secret.

The Photo section is interesting/strong . . . as is the Events section.  And the section called Job Center?  Well, I’m not sure how that’s going to do, . . . but overall this is definitely a site to keep an eye on.

Back next week with a post on “DIRTY TRICKS (behind the bar).”  It’ll be a good one . . . you won’t want to miss it.

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(This post is about two things that happened at Johnny D’s over Easter weekend.)


If you read last week’s post, you know about my decade-long search for an elusive bartender’s comment.

I’m pleased to say the search is over.  If you want, you can “cut to the chase” by scrolling down . . . but I thought some of you might be interested in the background.

It began one night behind the bar when the Academy Awards were on TV.  As I worked, they were showing a montage of classic movies clips, one after the other.  They flitted by quickly, but one clip in particular stopped me in my tracks.

There was a guy standing at the bar with his drink, and he asks the barman:  “Mac, . . . you ever been in love?”

The bartender’s answer was like a fine brandy.  It had subtle layers of flavor and nuance.  At first it was simply non-sequitur funny . . . with a hint of stereo-typed pseudo-insight into the bar life . . . followed by the realization that some writer had a blast putting that line into a movie.

I jotted it down on a cocktail napkin, but had no idea where the scene was from . . . they didn’t identify any of the movies in their montage.

I was determined to find it.

Initially, thinking the actor was Jimmy Stewart, I began watching all of his old films.  I even began asking my friends to help.

Colleen in her home office

“You want me to watch It’s a Wonderful Life?” Colleen asked over the phone one Christmas season, “Why?  I’ve already seen it a hundred times!”

“You’re looking for what?” Colleen asked, “A famous bar line?”  I stopped asking friends.  I was feeling a little foolish.

I don’t want to tell you how many Jimmy Stewart movies I watched by myself, from beginning to end.

Years went by, and I still hadn’t found the scene — that’s because I was looking in the wrong places.

It turns out that the actor wasn’t Jimmy Stewart after all.  (All those movies I’d watched . . . ).  I’d only caught a passing glimpse that night while working, and I’d been searching for the wrong guy.

I learned this from an on-line search begun in 2010.  I met fellow-blogger Scribbler50 (Behind the Stick) during that search — he was interested the line as well.  Like me, he was unsure about the details, but he thought it was from an old Western movie.

Through an exchange of emails and a coordinated search, we determined that the movie was “My Darling Clementine,” staring Henry Fonda.  J. Farrell MacDonald played the barman, Mac.

I immediately ordered a DVD copy from Barnes & Noble.

When the DVD arrived, I could at least watch the scene in the comfort of my apartment . . . but I still didn’t have a clip to share on-line.

A few more years went by.

Then last week (when I should have been writing a new post) I began a new search, now looking on YouTube.

After many hours, I only managed to come up with one, very-ragged clip that was dubbed in Spanish.

“Mac,” Henry Fonda says, “¿Alguna vez has estado enamorado?”

“No,” Mac replies, “He sido camarero toda mi vida.”

I went back to my English-speaking DVD.

David Hayden (of the Hospitality Formula blogs), had given me the idea of creating my own clip.  I asked our soundman, Josh, and he offered suggestions on how to “rip” a track from a DVD,  and turn it into a short vid . . . but it sounded complicated and required expensive software.

By now I was obsessed reasonably driven.  Easter weekend, I decided I’d waited long enough.

I took the DVD to work with me.

I borrowed bartender Jeremy Newcomer’s brand-spanking-new iPhone.  We went down to the booking office, which has a really sharp digital monitor.

Amy Black

On the way to the booking office, we had to walk through the band room.  Amy Black was playing at the club that night, and she was resting in the band room when we stormed through.

“What are you two up to?” she laughed.  I guess we looked pretty intent.  I explained the whole story, and she watched the scene with us once we’d loaded the DVD into the flat screen’s drive.

We got the movie to the right spot,  . . . then I braced myself in a wide stance, and tried to hold the iPhone/camera steady as Jeremy hit the play button.

It came out just fine.

“My, my,” Amy smiled as we watched the newly-finished product on Jeremy’s phone, “Guys who know how to get things done . . . I like that.”

I let her think the better of us.  It’s just part of the business, really . . . there’s always someone around who knows something about what you want to do.

Anyway, here’s the clip . . . finally.


Kenny Branco at Johnny D’s

While all this was going on, it was Easter . . . and at Johnny D’s that means Portuguese bread.  Kenny Branco (click here for a great story about him) has been a regular at the club forever, and every year for the past twenty years, he’s given a huge round loaf of fresh sourdough bread to each bartender.

“Thanks, Kenny,” I said on Sunday when he handed me mine.

I hesitated for a moment . . . I had heard a story years ago.  Should I ask him about it now?

“I want to ask you something, Kenny,” I said, “Shawn Day told me a story once.”  Shawn had been one of our best bartenders, and at that time he was a party animal.

He told a story once about walking home late at night, half-in-the-bag.  He was walking past a large empty parking lot.  There were no cars in the lot . . . it was completely deserted, and dark.  It was right around Easter time.

As he was walking by, Shawn said that he saw the headlights of a car ease slowly into the empty lot.  It was three o’clock in the morning.

The car was moving so slowly, it looked suspicious.  Shawn continued to watch as he walked by.  The car was just creeping along.

Then a square, white truck pulled into the other side of the parking lot.  Now the two vehicles seemed to spot each other, and they both hit the accelerators and raced to meet in the middle.

They half-circled around each other, screeching to a sudden halt.  A short man leapt out of the car, a dark Lincoln Continental, and a scruffy-looking guy jumped out of the truck.

The man with the car threw his trunk open, while the driver of the truck ripped apart its back doors.

The two of them began hauling out loaves of bread, throwing them into the guy’s Lincoln Continental.  It looked like a drug deal in the dark of night . . . except instead of kilos of coke, what they seemed to be loading into the guy’s car trunk was bread.

When the trunk was full, they both jumped back into their vehicles and screeched off like bats out of Hell, the smell of burning rubber and puffs of smoke trailing behind them.

“It was Kenny,” Shawn told us, “In the middle of the night, in a darkened lot, it was Kenny . . . in his Lincoln Continental, scoring Portuguese bread.”

“I have to ask,” I said to Kenny now, “Was that you?  Is the story true?  That’s where you get the bread . . . ?”

Kenny looked at me.

“You like the bread?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.  It was always really fresh . . . as though it’d just come out of the baker’s oven (which apparently it had.)

Kenny lifted his hands and shrugged his shoulders.  “Then why all the questions?” he asked.

I want to thank Johnny D’s bartenders Jeremy Newcomer and Oscar Simosa, as well as David Hayden (Hospitality Formula), Caveman (Tales From A Bar), and Scribbler50 (Behind the Stick) for their help with locating and reproducing the old movie clip.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 13 Comments

A WEEK OFF (and a request for help)

Mac, the bartender

Sorry, but there’ll be no regular post this week.  It’s late Thursday night, and I’ve got nothing ready.  I blame it on working on taxes, training a new bartender,  . . . and falling behind on just about everything else as well.

I suppose it didn’t help spending hours searching online for a particular movie clip.  My Darling Clementine has one of my all-time favorite bar lines.  Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) leans on the bar talking with Mac the barman (J. Farrell MacDonald.)

“Mac,” Wyatt asks, “You ever been in love?”

“Nope,” Mac replies without blinking, “I’ve been a bartender all me life.”

I did find one really ragged clip of the scene . . . but it’s dubbed in Spanish (I think).

This has been a favorite line for years . . . I met fellow blogger Scribbler50 (Behind the Stick) while trying to track it down in 2010.  I even ordered my own DVD of the movie just so I would have that scene . . . but I can’t figure out how to copy it.  I think there’s some kind of protection code blocking me.

So, if anyone has seen an existing clip online, please let me know.  Caveman (Tales From A Bar), . . . you seem to find all the great bartender vids.  If you’re reading this, let me know if you’ve seen an English-speaking version.

In the meantime, here are a few of my other favorite bar scenes from movies.

From The Graduate:

From A Bronx Tale:

From Donnie Brasco:  (I love the bartender in this one — first giving the OK nod for the conversation, later trying to hide a smile at what he overhears while cutting limes, and finally hoping to cool things down by offering Lefty a drink.  The old guy at the bar has a short, but classic I-know-nothing lookaway at one point.)

And two from Goodfellas (click on the YouTube logo to view the second one):


So I’m taking this week off, but we’ll be back next Friday with a more typical post.

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REVEALING ENCOUNTERS with famous athletes

First, let me tell you what this post will not be about.

This won’t be a “bartender for the stars” kind of thing — how I made their drinks and became their best friend.  I’ve met lots of celebrities and athletes while working, but certainly no more than anyone else behind the taps.

But today I’m thinking of some of the famous people I’ve served, and how what happened revealed something about them.  (It’s the athletes that always interested me most.  As an amateur boxer, I was encouraged by my coach to stick with it and and turn pro — I never did.  Now when I meet a professional athlete who had the drive and talent to make it to the top, I’m curious what they’re really like.)

I was behind the bar at The Cantina Italiana, in Boston’s North End, when a legendary Boston athlete took a seat.  I won’t reveal his name, only that he had played for the Boston Red Sox and was a Hall of Fame kind of guy.  I’ll call him Famous Athlete (F. A.).

F. A. was instantly recognizable, and quite comfortable with that.  He had the quiet confidence of a man who knows that everyone looks up to him.

“This one’s on the house, F. A.,” I said as I set down his beer, “It’s a pleasure to serve you.”  We shook hands.  He had an unassuming air, as though he was just a regular guy who enjoyed meeting other regular guys.

F. A. was there to meet an account executive from a local radio station.  They wanted to feature him in an up-coming advertising campaign.  He talked mostly about what it was like now that he was retired . . . but of course the conversation drifted back to some of his great moments in the game.

A while later, a young man in his early twenties came into the restaurant and walked directly to where F. A. was sitting at the bar.  He was wearing an expensive suit and tie, and was accompanied by a very pretty young blond.  I was at the service station giving a waitress her drinks and didn’t hear the exact introductions as they all shook hands, but when I came back I noticed that the guy and the young woman were both wearing wedding bands.  From their body language and behavior, I assumed she was his wife.  (Maybe she’d heard that he was meeting with F. A. and had asked to come along.  Did the kid mention this to F. A.?)

With F. A. in the lead, the three of them followed our tuxedoed host to their booth, . . . and once there F. A. stepped courteously aside to allow the young lady to slide in.

Then F. A. smiled, and sat down next to her.

The young man stood there for a moment.  He looked confused..  F. A. was sitting next to his wife on the same side of the booth, . . . and now he was just standing there.

The young man continued to stand there.  He looked a little upset, as though he didn’t know what to do, or say.

Then he sat down by himself, on the other side.

As I glanced over at them from behind the bar, I could see the whole thing unfolding.

F. A. did most of the talking, and now he was talking more to the young lady than to her account executive husband.  Then F. A. reached back and put his arm around the wife’s shoulder as he told a story.  Everyone laughed, but the young man was clearly not comfortable with this.

But he did nothing — maybe because of his job, he didn’t want to lose the account, or maybe he just didn’t know what else he could do — but he sat there and watched as his young wife was being hit on by a legendary sports figure.  His face was that of someone trying to smile while they’re being tortured.

I kept glancing over at them when I wasn’t making drinks.  It was like being unable to look away while watching a train wreck.

At one point — when the young man went to the men’s room — F. A. and the woman both had their cell phones out, as though comparing them.  They leaned close with the phones held next to each other and laughed as they continued their conversation.  (I thought she was blushing a little.  Did they exchange phone numbers?)

Both phones were put away by the time the young man returned.

When they all left, F. A. turned and gave me a short wave . . . a customary wave to the bartender.  I forced a smile, and nodded my head, but all I was thinking was, “Man, that was low . . . you really shouldn’t have done that.”

I met other famous athletes while bartending at The Cantina — Kevin McHale, K. C. Jones, and Larry Bird from the Boston Celtics.  Brad Park of the Boston Bruins became a personal friend of our owner, Fiore Colella, and he sometimes brought in Mike Milbury along with half of the Bruin’s team.  When I first came to town, one of our waitresses at The Sunflower Café used to hang out with Bill “Spaceman” Lee of the Boston Red Sox (he was not F. A.)

But the two athletes I got to know best from The Cantina were both former boxers; Tony DeMarco and Marvin Hagler.

Tony DeMarco was a former World Welterweight Champion who had been born and raised in Boston’s North End.  The first time I spoke with him I asked him about a rumor I’d heard — that ‘Tony DeMarco’ wasn’t his real name.  He and his best friend had supposedly swapped names when they were teenagers.

I learned that Tony’s real name was Leonardo Liotto, but at only sixteen-years-old he was too young to fight as a professional — so he borrowed the birth certificate of his friend.  He won that first pro fight at age sixteen, knocking out his opponent in the first round.

After stringing together an impressive series of knock-outs, Tony had to stick with the new name.  It was under that name that his wins had been recorded.  He fought his way up the ranks, and eventually became Welterweight Champion of the World . . . all as Tony DeMarco.

Years later, when Boston Mayor Thomas Menino named a street in the North End after this hometown fighter, . . . of course the street was named “Tony DeMarco Way.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “It’s been so many years . . . I’ve been Tony DeMarco almost all my life.”

“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler stopped into The Cantina late one night with a small group right at last call.  I let them hang out while I was closing, and then we all went to The Bell in Hand, just off Quincy Market, a short walk from the North End.  (The Bell in Hand is America’s oldest still-operating tavern — established in 1795.)

After that night at The Bell in Hand, I ended up partying with Marvin several more times, and you couldn’t find anyone more down-to-earth, or unpretentious.  It was as though he’d fought all his battles — had won far more than his share — and now had nothing to prove.

He had fought Sugar Ray Leonard, Roburto Duran, and Tommy “Hitman” Hearns.  These four guys were the giants of their sport.  Marvin was a local guy (fighting out of Brockton, MA) who had been Middleweight Champion of the World for over six years, but when you got him to talk about his legendary fights, he was totally matter-of-fact about it.

His bout with Tommy Hearns (now known as “The War) is still considered one of the greatest fights in boxing history, but Marvin might as well have been talking about someone’s high school or collegiate career . . . he was that low key about it.  (If you’d like to watch that fight — it only lasted eight minutes — click here.)

I once asked Marvin about that terrible split-decision against him in the Sugar Ray Leonard bout.

“You know the game going in,” he said, “The only thing you can do is get in there and leave it all in the ring.  You can’t control how the ref and judges are going to score the fight.”

It sounded like good advice for a fighter — or a writer — and a lot of other endeavors as well.

Marvin had come into The Cantina not long after that night with F. A.  I’m glad he did.  It was a welcome change after watching F. A. in the booth.

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It was late Saturday night when bartender Jeremy Newcomer used his IPhone to show a short comic video to our barback Craig “Chombo” McKoene.  I’d seen the video before on one of the sites listed on my blogroll, and that got me thinking.

There’s been a lot of great videos and links on the restaurant blogs, so today I thought I’d rehash some of my favorites.

I’ll start with the one Jeremy was showing Craig . . . this link was posted on Tales From A Bar, authored by Caveman.  (The video starts a little slow, but half-way through it gets hilarious.)

Tales From A Bar didn’t stop there — here’s a later post from that site.  When it comes to the absurd, irritating things customers can say, this is as funny (and as complete) as I’ve seen.

The next video was posted on I Got Stiffed (blog author, Ryan).

If you like restaurant humor, you have to check out David Hayden’s blog, Restaurant Laughs.  (David runs a network of blogs that cover everything from menu planning and industry web-site design to posts like “Why Not to Date Co-workers”, and “Advice from an Older Server” — but Restaurant Laughs is strictly for weird and funny stuff.)

I remember one of the first posts I read on RL . . . in one small section of the article, David gave the links to the following stories:

1.) A bigoted cop who made national news by harassing a well-known fast-food chain.
2) A former Hooter’s waitress who now battles her “sordid” past as a member of Congress.
3) A story about three restaurant employees who held down one of their co-workers and branded a swastika on him.
4) A story about two restaurant customers so high on coke that they were arrested for engaging in sex acts at their table.

For a change of pace, I’m including one of the music videos David has linked on RH — it’s a restaurant song that’s grown on me.

The next two videos are from an extensive collection called “The Bartender Hates You!”  This series has been linked on numerous blogs — the vids are short and sweet, and there’s a ton more of them on YouTube.

While still on YouTube, I came across this classic restaurant vid . . . the orgasm scene from “When Harry met Sally” (1989).  I’ve heard that the famous punch line at the end may have actually been borrowed from an earlier movie titled “Round Midnight,” made in 1986.  In that film, Dexter Gordon walks into a bar — sees a customer drain a tall glass, then immediately turn and fall flat onto his face on the floor.  Dexter says to the bartender, “I’ll have what he had.”

Whatever it’s sources, this scene from “When Harry met Sally” may be the best-known of all funny restaurant clips.

While I’m listing the other blogs that have posted great links . . . I may have just come across one of my own.  This is hot off the press — saw this moments ago on the internet news.  Apparently male fruit flies who’ve been rejected sometimes turn to the booze.

Anyway, to return to the videos, here are two more from the series first listed at the top . . . and then I’ll finish this week’s post with a song from the Blues Brothers, “Hey Bartender!”

Back next week with a more typical post.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 11 Comments