COUPLES (Behaving badly)

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

I wish they would leave it at home.  But, of course, they don’t . . .

They hit the bars, the clubs, the nightspots — for most customers, each night out is a short vacation.  Everyone’s looking to relax and have a good time.

Some will get carried away, that’s to be expected.  Usually the only ones hurt or embarrassed are those individuals themselves.

It’s different with couples.  When they start crossing the line, couples are the worst.

I remember one couple at The Lark Tavern.  The guy was a big shot lawyer in a $500 suit.  He’d just purchased one of the large brownstone homes that surround Washington Park, and he’d show up during the week with his very attractive, somewhat younger wife.

This lawyer had a strong, positive bearing.  Big smile, big handshake, full of confidence.  He was always in a great mood, on top of the world, almost benevolent as he chatted with customers less fortunate than himself.

OK, I guess he was a bit of a jerk.

One night some construction workers were hanging out at The Lark, and the lawyer’s wife was paying a lot of attention to one of them.  The guy was a good looking young man, tan, well built.  As they talked, she laughed at something he said, touched his shoulder in a familiar way.

It was a little embarrassing to watch her flirt so openly.

The two of them became more intimate in their conversation.  They leaned close to whisper in each others’ ears, then laughed.

After a while the construction guy got up and threw on a leather jacket over the T-shirt he was wearing, and the wife picked up her purse.

They left together.

As she walked out, the wife gave her husband a quick kiss on the cheek.  I think she whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The lawyer sat alone now.  He ordered a scotch on the rocks, and another beer — quick nods between the bartenders signaled we’d better slow him down.

At one point, I walked by and he was apparently talking to himself, but he was speaking loudly enough for me to hear,  . . . so maybe he was talking to me.

“Its no one’s business,” he said, “What my wife and I do.”

It was a brave face, but I knew he was crushed.  This had happened in his neighborhood bar.

When he came in after that, he continued to flash those hundred dollar bills, and talk on and on about his wonderful townhouse — but the regulars had this little smile on their face as they listened now.

And we never saw his wife again.

A woman goes to the ladies room,  . . . and her husband immediately starts pawing the cute waitress.  The man leaves for a few minutes, and his woman makes it clear to the bartender that she’s available, that she’s really not interested in the guy — what makes people do this?

One night at Johnny D’s — this has to be ten years ago now — there was a couple down in John Bonaccorso’s section.

As soon as the couple took their seats, the girl was all over John . . .with her boyfriend sitting right next to her.

John Bonaccorso on his first New Year's Eve as a bartender.

I have to admit John is a good-looking guy, and when he was in his early twenties he was a real Tom-Cruise kind of bartender.

But as long as I’ve known him, John’s always had a steady girlfriend, and I’ve heard him say that time and again when women begin to seriously come on to him.  “Got a girlfriend,” he’ll say, and that’s what he told this one.

But she wouldn’t let up.

An hour or so later, the boyfriend went to the restroom.  As soon as he turned the corner, the girl leaned forward.  She actually stood up on the rungs of her bar stool and leaned over the bar to go talk with John.

“Look, I’m available,” she told him, “I’ve just been waiting for a good reason to dump this guy.”

“I’ve got a girlfriend,” John told her again.

When her boyfriend came back, the girl didn’t waste any time.  She broke up with the guy right there at the bar . . . while they were still eating dinner.

The poor guy couldn’t finish his meal.  He got up and walked the length of the bar with his head drooped, his jacket half over his shoulders.

John said something to the girl, . . . that maybe she should at least walk out with him, or something like that . . . so she did get up to leave.  But she stopped first to write down her phone number and hand it to John.

Sometimes you have to shake your head in disbelief.

What’s surprising is that these incidents barely stand out during the course of the night.  There are a thousand other things happening . . . you observe for the moment, then your attention is yanked someplace else.

It’s only later, maybe at the end of the night when you’re having a drink, that you sit back and say . . . “Man, that was fucked-up.”

I remember an older couple from The Sunflower Café, in Harvard Square.  They were In their late forties, and they were usually as quiet as vacant stools.

But one night just as I came over to them, the man began bitching about his wife.  The two of them were sitting next to each other, facing straight ahead, but he started bad-mouthing her as though she wasn’t there.

“She didn’t want to go out tonight,” he told me with a sneer, “She never wants to go out.  If it was up to her, we’d sit at home every night.”

His  comments caught me off guard.  I’ll never understood why people need to get the bartender involved.

I made an effort to avoid them after that, but the man finally waved me down and asked for another drink.

“Seven and Seven?” I replied, “ . . . Sure.”

“And would you like one as well?” I asked the woman.

Why can't they all be like this couple at Christopher's Restaurant (Cambridge, MA.)

“No, . . . she’s fine!” the man snapped.  His wife glanced at him, then looked down again.

Ten minutes later the two of them were arguing.  They voices were low, but I could see him berating her under his breath.

“You’re just stupid!” I heard him say when I walked over to cut this short, “We can’t just go out and have a good time.  You always have to ruin things!”

“Shut up!” he told her as I got there.

From what I’d seen, the poor woman hadn’t said a word.  Now I was standing directly across from them.

“It’s OK,” the man said quickly, “It’s OK . . . it’s alright.  We’re leaving.“

“Come on!” he said to his wife, and as they walked out he continued to snap at her.  I heard words like “Stupid” . . . and “Bitch.”

But the entire time her face remained completely flat, emotionless . . . and she continued to take his abuse without reacting.

Was this how they lived their lives?

Maybe she’d learned to just ride this sort of thing out, and wait for the next day.  I wondered if tomorrow he’d apologize, or if they’d even talk about it.  Maybe he wouldn’t remember it at all.

Two weeks later that same couple was in The Sunflower again, and now they were simply the most content and happy pair.  Whenever I come over to them, they were chatting pleasantly with each other, and smiling as though the previous visit had never happened.

Go figure.

Anyway, that’s life behind the taps . . . and on the whole I can’t complain.  Fortunately the couples mentioned here are by far the exception.   Back next week with something more upbeat.

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“You can’t post something like that,” Colleen said, “It just sounds too weird.”

I generally listen to Colleen.  She’s my best friend and one of the brightest people I know (graduated with a 3.8 from Suffolk University.)

As we talked on the phone yesterday afternoon, I was telling her what I had planned for the blog this week.  It’s a story about an old letter I’ve kept over the years.

“I don’t think you can use this,” Colleen said after I’d just begun the tale, “No one will believe it.”

OK, I guess I have a problem.

Listen, for those of you reading I know what I’m about to say will probably sound strange.  It is a little out there, but it really did happen, just this way . . . and now I feel obligated to tell the story.

It began back at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York, when I was bartending at The Mug.

At that time, Joey (Joanne Payden) and I spent a lot of time together.  We met in college and became really close friends . . . and we had this weird mental connection.

It’s hard to explain, but sometimes she’d look at me and know what I was about to say . . . then beat me too it.  She’d say it first.

Sometimes it was a little unnerving.

Once, I swear I heard her thoughts just as she was about to speak  It was as though I heard the words inside my head before she said them . . . it was so weird.

I repeated the unspoken words out loud to her, holding onto the back of a chair because the room seemed to be spinning.  When I looked over at her, she was sitting on the bed with her arms wrapped around her bent knees, rocking herself back and forth.

“It scares me,” she said, “Whatever is going on with our minds.”

(Alright, that’s the place in the story where Colleen said I shouldn’t post it, . . . but I’ll ask you to bear with me, at least until we get to the part about the letter.  Then you can pass judgment.)

Back at Cortland State, Joey graduated and moved to Colorado, and somehow we lost contact.

It would take a guy named “Harpo” — and a trip cross-country to California and back — to put Joey and I in touch again.

Geoffery Last (everyone called him “Harpo”) showed up at The Mug around two years after Joey left.  He was an old frat buddy of mine from Beta Phi Epsilon and he was a wild man, with a full beard and shaggy head of brown hair.

Harpo had gone to Chicago after graduation to work for some large sporting goods corporation.  He wore a suit and tie, the whole corporate deal.

Two years later, he quit that job to become a crew member on some retired executive’s yacht.  He and the rest of the crew were paid to sail around the world.

When he came back, he bought an over-sized van and had the back end converted into comfortable sleeping quarters, complete with carpeting and surround-sound stereo.

He spent the next year traveling all over the United States.  He went wherever he wanted, and stayed as long as he wanted — all this before he turned twenty-five.

Now he was in Cortland to get me out of my “rut”, as he called it.

“What are you going to do?” he asked, sitting at the bar watching me work, “Are you going to stay in this small town all your life?”

He had a plan that the two of us should move to Boston.

So I quit The Mug, leaving my good buddy Jim Fennell to run the place — Harpo and I drove to Boston to find an apartment.

While in Boston, we met two nurses and ended up staying with them while we looked for our own place.

We were at their neighborhood bar one night, when Harpo said it was too bad that I was going straight from Cortland to Boston,  . . . that I’d never seen the rest of the country.

“He’s never been to the Grand Canyon,“ he said, as the nurses listened.  Neither of them had been there, either.

“You guys really should go at some point in your lives,” Harpo intoned, “It’s so amazing.”

A few more beers, and Harpo came up with a plan that we should all hop in his van and go see the Grand Canyon.

One of the nurses was leaving her current job, and she could take a month off before finding a new one.   The other nurse could take an extra week of vacation time . . . that gave each of them four weeks free.  Harpo and I had no commitments . . . what was stopping us?

Two weeks later the four of us were on the road, headed west in Harpo’s van.

“At least I’ll have a chance to look up Joey when we hit Colorado,” I thought when it was my turn to drive.  Before we left I’d gotten her phone number from her father in Binghamton.

“You know she’s married now,” her dad told me.

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” I said, “Joey and I were really close friends.”

When we hit the Rockies, it was  breathtaking . . . absolutely amazing.

Uinta National Park

We stopped every night to cook dinner, camp out and get high.  It seemed we were always a little high during this trip, and there was plenty of cold beer, except when you were driving.

At the end of each night we took turns  — one couple stayed in the van, while the other had sleeping bags under a spellbinding night sky.

We finally hit the west coast and took a day trip over the border into Tijuana, where we shopped in a sprawling Mexican marketplace.  Everything was so inexpensive that we spent all day buying presents.

(This isn't the original silver cross that I bought for Joey, but it's as close as I could find.)

I bought something for Joey and her husband.  I found a native-looking silver cross with turquoise stones that I thought she might like, and picked-up a hand-crafted leather wallet for him.

Taking a southern route back to the east coast, we camped about an hour outside Denver, where Joey lived.

I had put off calling her until the last minute, and now I wondered about this surprise visit.  I hadn’t spoken with her in years.  It was an hour drive.  I didn’t know if I’d be intruding.

Suddenly this didn’t seem like such a good idea.  I kept thinking about it, turning the piece of jewelry I’d bought for her over and over in my hand.

I have her number,” I finally told myself, “I’ll just call her when I get back East.”

That was it.  After planning the entire trip to look her up, . . . I didn’t go through with it.

Crossing back over the Rockies, we got snowed in.  It was the middle of August, but the mountain elevation outside the small town of Buena Vista was something like 12,000 feet, and there was a blizzard going on up there.  Eighteen-wheel tractor trailers were spinning off the road.

So we turned around and went back to Buena Vista.  We spent the night at the Green Parrot Hotel, where Harpo and I almost got into a fight with some townies in the hotel bar.  That would have been a mistake.  Some of those guys had loaded rifles hanging on the gun racks of their pick-up trucks parked out front.

By the time we made it back to the east coast, Harpo had decided that Hawaii would be his next stop.  I was headed for Boston . . . but ended up in Albany (it’s a long story; see Down the Rabbit Hole.)

In Albany I began working at The Lark Tavern, and week after week, month after month, I kept putting off that call to Joey  . . . until I’d pretty much forgotten about the idea.

Then, after eight or nine months in Albany, I came home from work one night to find this letter in my mailbox.  The letter was meant for me . .  but it had originally been sent “in care of” to my sister in Syracuse, NY.

The sender didn’t even have Cindy’s right address.  It was her name, but some other address much further down the road.  That person recognized Cindy‘s name, drove it up to her, and then Cindy forwarded it to me.

The letter was from Joey.

She was asking about a piece of jewelry.

She explained in a second letter.

“I had a dream a while back,” she told me, “It was sometime around last August.”

Joey told me that in the dream someone was holding out a piece of jewelry to her.  She couldn’t see the person’s face, but she knew the jewelry was somehow very important.

“It was a native Indian-type silver cross set with turquoise stones,” she said.  “It was such a vivid dream I haven’t been able to forget it.  I began thinking it might have something to do with you . . . that’s why I wrote.”

What are the odds . . . Joey having that dream around the same time I was in her area? Coincidence?  A dream in which I hold up a silver cross that matches the one I bought for her in Mexico . . . and that I was holding in my hand as I debated dropping in on her?

The whole thing is just weird.

“Where is Joey now,” Colleen asked when I finished telling the story.

“I don’t know,“ I said, “We exchanged those letters, talked on the phone.  I saw her once when she came back to upstate New York to visit her parents . . . . but over the years we’ve lost touch again.”

“I can’t believe it,” Colleen said, “What’s wrong with you?”

“You know, you really have to look her up,” she said.  “I’ll help.  We’ll search the web.”

“You really do need to look up this woman again.”

I think Colleen is right.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 9 Comments


I’m taking a break from the blog this week, after working an extra shift at the club last night — Sarah Borges played; it was a great show. 

I’m on the bar again tonight (Thanksgiving), and working through the weekend.  (Here’s a Holiday Thought  from 2010 . . . hard to believe I’ve been doing this for over a year now.)

Next week should be back to normal.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and see you next Friday!   Mike Q . . .

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Friday will be our new day for updates, but here in the second week of that schedule, I’ve already fallen behind.  I’ve got nothing ready, and there’s only an hour left before work.

So, for this week’s post I’m putting up two short videos from Johnny D’s.

The first is of Booty Vortex playing at the club, recorded by our good friend, Mojo.  I think this vid gives a feel for what the place is like on a busy night.

When reading a post about a single incident — or one specific person — it might not clear that there were probably a thousand other things happening at the same time.  Many of the stories here had something like this going on in the background.  (There’s some footage from behind the bar about three-quarters through the video.)

The second video is also from Mojo — Brian Templeton and The Radio Kings rocking out at the club.

We’re prohibited from recording the national acts that perform at Johnny D’s — acts like Alison Krauss, The Motels, or Dixie Chicks.  (Yup, Dixie Chicks used to play here every year, until they won their Grammy.)  But if you like the blues, I think you’re going to enjoy listening to Brian’s group — they’re one of Boston’s best.

Again, my apologies, but that’s it for this week.

If you came here in the mood for bar stories, I’d recommend glancing through the archives on the right for some old favorites you might have missed:  Joey Cigars, and the one-hundred-dollar bill, A Child’s Tricycle (and drinking to forget), or “Gringes” (Tom Grindle saves my ass)”.

Or check out one of my favorite fellow bloggers, like David Hayden of Restaurant Laughs, Patrick Mcguire of Server not Servant, Delia from Because we’re not all there, Nick’s Sock Puppet Army, or Scribbler50’s Behind the Stick.

I’ll be back next week with a brand new story from Life on a Cocktail Napkin. … and  it’ll be a good one, I promise.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 7 Comments


Booty Vortex on stage at Johnny D's, Halloween 2011


"Honeychild", one of the lead singers for Booty Vortex.

Booty Vortex has become a Halloween tradition at Johnny D’s.  It’s a rocking time with some of Boston’s best musicians working it on stage.  It’s a night of disco/funk, dancing to the old tunes like “Disco Inferno” and “Lady Marmalade”.  (Click here for some music by Booty Vortex.)

Only one problem.

Once the night started everyone was too busy to take pictures.  That’s OK, . . . that’s the way we like it.  (Uh-huh . . . Uh-huh.)

We did get some good photos before the party began.  In this one, waitress Joanne (Jojo) Grubman strikes a classic pose — “Pitcher of Clown Shoes Brown Angel . . . Long Island Ice Tea . . . or ME?

With the perfect costume, Jojo knows the meaning of coquettish.


At the beginning of the night, customer Josefina grabs Joe the doorman’s bare ass.

Gimme some!














Of course that’s not really Joe’s bare ass.  When he showed up without a costume, someone retrived a pair of fake rubber cheeks that had been laying around for months in the band room.  In the band room?  I must have missed a good story sometime back.

John Bonaccorso (our GM) couldn’t resist writing something on Joe’s fake butt.  In case you can’t read the letters, it says “Oscar was here” . . . Oscar is one of our bartenders.


Bartenders Oscar (Scar) Perez, Jeremy Newcomer, and barback/waiter Oliver Sinosa clown around before the night begins.

Shouldn't these guys be doing the opening set-up, . . . or something?














Waitress Clair Burrell provides an enchanting distraction.

Clair and the boys


Barback Joel Reynolds came as an 80’s nerd.














Oscar, Mike Pardy, Clair, Jojo, and Oliver.

One bad-ass crew


The old coach, still bartending after all these years.  (Sometimes I feel like Burgess Meredith in the movie “Rocky”.)






I can’t leave without sharing a couple of my favorite Halloween photos from Johnny D’s past.  The first features two of the staff who’ve since moved on — on the left is bartender Feliks Gailitis (back in NYC now).  He’s talking with a former waitress, Paula, who’s now married to her long-time boyfriend — local singer/songwriter icon Tim Gearan.  (You can hear some of Tim’s music here.)

I love the expression on Paula’s face.

"Of all the gin joints in the world, . . . Death has to walk into this one, and sit next to me."













At last year’s party, waitress Nikki came dressed in prison garb.  The letters on the back of her shirt originally read “Dept. of Corrections“ — but John Bonoccorso decided to make one small alteration.

He grabbed a sticky note-pad, wrote down the capital letter “E” and then made like he was simply patting Nikki on the back.

Nikki was a good sport when she found out about it and let us snap this picture, but she took the yellow “E” off before the party began.  Too bad, . . . she would have made ridiculous tips if she’d left it on.

Back next week with more stories from Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 6 Comments