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.

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FREE BEER; Part II (A moment in the sun)

Actual graph from this blog (chart of daily visitors 1/29/12 – 2/29/12)

At some point, I imagine every blogger wonders who’s out there reading.  How many unseen visitors are dropping by?  Do they glance at the first few sentences and then move on, or do they stay for a while and continue to read?

Since starting this blog, I’ve relied on site analytics to find out.  I have one graph that shows how many people visit, another that displays how many pages have been read, and so on.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve watched our readership grow by leaps and bounds (thank you, thank you!) . . . but to be honest, for the past two months, the graphs have been pretty flat.  (See the left side of the chart above.)

I’m not complaining.  I never imagined we’d reach our current rank — but it did seem that in recent months the site had pretty much . . . well, plateaued.

Then last week, out of the blue, the numbers doubled.  That line running across the chart, which had remained even for so long . . . now that line jumped up dramatically!  (Look at the right side of the chart!)

“Wow!” I thought, studying the numbers carefully.  I almost had to rub my eyes with both hands.  “Holy shit!”

I checked the next day, and there was another huge jump.  The line had spiked even higher!  Now I was getting excited.

My best friend, Colleen (She has a personal phone book with a thousand numbers.)

“You know, lately that blog is all you talk about,” Colleen said over the phone when I told her.

“I can’t help it,” I said, “My blog is on a roll!”

It was true.  Day after day the new visitors were arriving in droves.

The next day, the numbers had tripled!  Tripled!  TRIPLED!!!!!

Holy Shit!!!” I thought, “If this exponential rate continues . . . day after day, week by week . . . it won’t be long before I have the most popular blog in the world!!!  AHAHAAAA . . . HA HA!”  (Yes, I can get carried away when talking to myself.)

“What do you think it is?” Colleen asked the next time we spoke.

“I don’t know,” I told her, “I have no idea . . . I just know that every day it keeps shooting up!”  I was on the verge of babbling.  “It just keeps shooting up!”

“When did it start?” she asked.

“Last Friday,” I told her, “February 24th, something like that.”

“Friday?” she said thoughtfully, “ . . . Isn’t that the day you post new stories?

There was a pause.  “Do you think it has anything to do with your post that Friday?” she asked.

No way.  How could one post make so much difference?

I thought about it some more.  It was Feb. 24th when things started to go crazy.  It was a good post that week, but probably not a great one.  I think other posts have been better.  It was a story about giving away free beer at The Mug, in Cortland . . .

Wait a minute . . .

A crazy thought struck me and wouldn’t let go.  Wait a minute . . .

The title of that post  . . . oh, no!

The title of that post was . . . “FREE BEER!”

Oh, NO!  Suddenly I envisioned on-line folks across the web doing a Google search for things related to “Beer.”  Somewhere on that result list they’d come across my article, . . . titled “FREE BEER!”

Of course, . . . isn’t anyone interested in “beer” going to click on something called FREE BEER?”

Oh No . . . was that the only reason?

“It was the title . . . ,” I said quietly to Colleen

“What?” she asked.

“It was the title of the post,” I said, “That’s why the sudden jump in readers . . . it was only the title.”

I thought of the fellow bloggers who are kind enough to link me on their blogroll (please check my blogroll on the right sidebar.)  On some of those sites, the lists include not only the blog’s name . . . but also the current title.

Imagine someone glancing down one of the those blogrolls.  The list might read:

A Bartender’s Guide:  “How to make a Mojito”

Serving the Public:  “I got stiffed last night”

Life on a Cocktail Napkin:   “FREE  BEER!”

Of course they’re going to click on a title like that.

“That’s it,” I said to Colleen, “That’s all it was . . . people have been clicking on my blog because they wanted to know where they could find free beer.”

For the next two days, I hoped I was wrong.  Maybe the exponential rise would continue.  Maybe the charts would still sail onward and upward . . .

The sun sets suddenly on my “free beer” popularity. (Actual chart from this blog.)

But, nooo . . . the graphs rose once or twice more as the week ended.  Then when I posted a new story the following Friday — a story that wasn’t titled “Free Beer!” — the numbers began their inevitable slide.  Now I know how the stockbrokers felt in 1929, as they watched their market graphs plunge.  It had been my moment in the sun, and now it was over.

“I’m sorry.” Colleen said over the phone, “I’m sorry . . . but it does make sense.”

“Isn’t that insane?” she continued, “All those people just trying to find free beer.”

I didn’t say anything.  The wind had been taken from my sails.

I had been off and running.  I had imagined great things . . . millions and millions of readers who would perhaps someday place some sort of crown on my head.

“Maybe you should spend more time coming up with good titles,” Colleen said.  She was trying to be helpful.

“It’s alright,“  I told her, “It’s OK.  It really is sort of funny . . . in a way.”

(To see the original post — “Free Beer!” <– click the highlighted letters.)

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I have to thank Beta Phi Epsilon frat brother Harry Waller for reminding me of the stories posted this week, and last (Free Beer.)  He stopped into Johnny D’s a while back with his wife and brother-in-law.  Harry and I told stories for an hour about those days at Cortland, and of course we talked about The Mug.  That college joint was my first bartending job.  Here’s something else from that time . . .

It started out as a typical night, but after a brief scuffle between some unruly customers and the doorman, the whole thing turned into one big learning experience.  One educating domino toppled into the next, and I became aware of an aspect of this business I’d never considered.

It began with our doorman shoving a couple of guys out, when one of them crashed into the glass front door.  There was a loud crack, and now the glass had a circular fracture with long cracks running out in all directions.  The glass was barely holding in place — one push, and the door would be nothing but a metal frame.

“You think it will hold through the night?” Tony G. asked.  I’d called the owner to tell him what happened.

“Nope,” I said, “Anyone pushes on it, and they can walk right in.”

“Hate to call the glass guys this late,” Tony grumbled.  It was one o’clock in the morning.  “It’ll costs an arm and a leg to get them out at this hour,” he said, “Can you board it up?”

There were some sheets of plywood in the basement, and I figured one of them could be cut to size, but I didn’t know how secure it would be.

“I’ll do the best I can, Tony,” I said, “Maybe I’ll just stay here overnight, and leave a message with the glass company to show up in the morning.”

“If that’s what you want to do,” Tony replied.  I could almost hear him smiling over the phone.  It wasn’t just that he was saving money . . . I could imagine him beaming because I was such a dedicated guy.

Truth be known, it wouldn’t be the first overnight I’d spent in The Mug.  It happened now and then, although all the other times were just for fun.  Sometimes I had a female companion.  There was a room in the basement with a bed and a stereo, but believe it or not most of the time they liked the idea of doing it on the pool table, or right on top of the bar.  We were all college kids.

Other times it was just me and a bunch of guys not ready yet to call it quits.  We’d lock the front door and continue drinking in the back room.  Sometimes we wouldn’t leave until dawn.  (As I mentioned last week, Tony let me do pretty much whatever I wanted.)

“Tell you what,” Tony said, “I’ll send somebody over to keep you company.”

I didn’t mind staying by myself.  I figured I’d just watch TV and drink beer.  But I vaguely knew the guy Tony was sending . . . I’ll call him Rudy . . .  and we got along OK.

Rudy worked for Tony’s pinball company.   He had his pager with him at all times, and he was on call 24/7.  His total work week might have been less than 40 hours, but he never knew when those hours would be.

Morning, noon, or night he might be called to one of the joints where Tony had his equipment.  Rudy might repair a broken pinball machine, restock a cigarette machine, or unclog a pool table.  He’d swap out the old equipment for something new, or just collect the money from their coin bins.

“Rudy will be there in less than half an hour,” Tony said.

When Rudy arrived, we drew a pitcher of beer and went into the back room to play pool.  We played game after game, refilling the pitcher more times than I can remember.

It was during one of those games that I began to feel that something else was going on here.  I started to think that Rudy was doing more than just keep me company.

He was feeling me out.  With each subtle comment, he seemed to steer the conversation.  I began to think that Tony had asked him to do this.  Maybe they wanted to know more where my head was at, running a place that Tony owned, but never spent much time in.  If I saw Tony once a month, that was a lot.  Once a week, early in the morning before anyone was there, he’d come in and clear out the extra cash in the safe — that was it.

But he had his way of keeping track of things.  I remember when I first began running The Mug, Tony had recommended that I take a bartender from one of his other joints to work the day shift.  That was fine with me — all the other bartenders were my college buddies, and staffing days would have been a problem.

Tony’s choice of daytime bartender was a young woman I nicknamed “Boom-Boom.”  She was a great gal, and with her physique and style she brought in a lot of day business we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

But I knew she was also Tony’s eyes and ears.  When she first started we had a little confrontation.

My best buddy Jim Fennell and I had been working in the basement, moving around kegs in the walk-in cooler, straightening up the stacks of cases of beer.  Now we sat at the bar and asked Cindy for a pitcher of beer and some shots.

She stood there for a minute, as though expecting us to pay.

“It’s alright,” I told her, “You can call Tony and ask if you want.”

After talking with Tony, she handed me the phone — I explained that the staff would be doing a lot of work for free, but I didn’t think they should pay for drinks afterwards.  Tony agreed, and Cindy never questioned anything else I did.

Now I had the feeling that Rudy was doing something similar.  He was discretely feeling me out for Tony.  He was asking about the way things were run in the bar, and how I felt about Tony.

I didn’t mind.  I really liked Tony, and respected him.  I also had the feeling he was the wrong person to fuck with,  . . . so I always let him know exactly what I was doing.

Anyway, Rudy’s tone during this conversation was casual and relaxed, so I just enjoyed playing pool and drinking beer with him.

We played pool and drank all night after hours.  Rudy was a lot better than I was, so I never won a game.  I was happy just to make an occasional good shot, and to refill the pitcher regularly.

At one point during the night, Rudy got a buzz on his pager.  When he was at the pay phone, I heard him say something like, “I’ll take care of it in the morning.  Don’t worry about it . . . I’ll straighten it out.”

And we went back to playing pool.

The glass guys had the door fixed by 8:30 A. M., and Rudy said we should go have breakfast.  He drove us to a small diner just outside the small town of Cortland, where we had ham and eggs with home fries, and plenty of coffee.

“Got a stop to make,” he said when we were back in the car, “And then I’ll run you home.”

We drove to a small, run-down bar a little further down the road.  There was a Smith-Corona typewriter factory across the street from that bar.  I knew both the factory, and the bar.  I’d worked one of the worst summer jobs I’ve ever had in that typewriter plant, hauling buckets of greasy metal parts to the men and women bent over at the large, ominous grey machines.

It was 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning when we pulled up to the place, but every seat at the bar was taken.  I was sure these were all night-shift workers from the factory.  It might sound weird to be drinking at that hour, but to them it was just a beer after work.

Rudy motioned to the bartender — who I assumed was the owner — indicating that he wanted to talk.  We went into the hallway leading to the rest rooms.  I don’t know why I went with them . . . I guess I just didn’t know what else I was supposed to do.

There was a cigarette machine against the hallway wall.  It had one of Tony’s stickers on the glass front.  The joint also had a pool table and a jukebox, which I now assumed were Tony’s as well.

“Tony has always thought of you as a friend,” Rudy said to the man once we were in the hallway.  He was speaking in low tones.  “He hopes that friendship will continue,” Rudy said.

There was nothing ominous or threatening about the way Rudy was talking . . . but then he reached behind his back, reached under that large shirt that he never tucked in.  When his hand came out, he was holding a semi-automatic pistol.

He set the gun on top of the cigarette machine that we were standing by.  Then he continued talking in that calm but steady voice, as though nothing out of the ordinary has just happened.

I really didn’t want to be involved in this, so I turned and walked to the pool table.  As I walked away I heard Rudy tell the guy that Tony just wanted everyone he did business with to be happy.

As I played pool by myself, I glanced over at the two of them now and then.  Neither seemed excited or agitated . . . they were just talking.  But the guy definitely had a more somber look on his face now.  All the while, that gun remained on top of the cigarette machine.

Rudy made a call on the pay phone before we left the bar.  I thought I heard him tell someone that it was all set, that the machines would be staying in the place.

We left the bar, and Rudy drove me back.  I didn’t mention anything about the bar owner, what I’d overheard of their conversation, or the gun.  On the ride back we just talked about sports, and drinking, and women.

Once back at the frat house though, I couldn’t help but think that Rudy had taken me to that joint for a reason.  Maybe Tony had asked him to do it.  Rudy was letting me know the lay of the land, now that I was running one of Tony’s bars.

(Ed. note:  we had some problems with the comment section last week . . . it’s straightened out now.  My apologies for any inconvenience.)

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