Sunrise on Seneca Lake in Upstate NY. (All four photos here are by Jack McAllister. They were taken from the dock of his lakeside home.)

I’m taking a day off from the bar stories.  We’ll be back later this week with a more typical post, but for now this space will be used for some great photos by my cousin Jack McAllister, two poems from my friend Dorene Sullivan, and a “shout-out” to our payroll guy, Ruben Hernandez, on his twenty-fifth birthday.













Jack’s photography will be on display at the Billsboro Winery, in Geneva, NY on November 11th.  Proceeds will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for research on Parkinson’s disease.  Here’s another from Jack’s dock.










Below is one of my favorite Jack McAllister photographs.  The moon and Venus rising are exponentially farther away, but their reflection on the water is brighter and much closer to the viewer than the made-made reflections on the opposite shore — as though their lights represent an enduring, celestial call.











 Dorene . . .

I went to high school with Dorene (Pike) Sullivan, back at Onondaga Central in Syracuse, NY.  We still exchange weekly emails.

Dorene has her Master’s Degree and taught English for ten years, and she’s also published a fine book of poetry.  (I’m not sure of all the places it’s available, but I know you can get a copy at The Coffee Haven, a bookstore cafe in Holliston, MA.)

Dorene sent me a new poem last week that I thought was appropriate for this blog.  It’s about a former long-term relationship with a man who drank too much.

Just below that is another recent poem from her.  (I think she’s headed for a second book.)

The premise of the second poem is Hamlet’s concern for his own mental health as he struggles with those inner demons.

John drank, by Dorene Sullivan

On Christmas,
New Year’s Day.

At weddings,
Bar Mitzvahs
He didn’t attend.

He celebrated victories,
Drowned defeats,
Chased boredom,
Controlled elation.

There was science in his method —
Brandy was for rainy days,
Whiskey for depression,
Wine for happy times.

Was good whenever.


Soliloquy:  Hamlet on His Madness, by Dorene Sullivan

Would that we could, Horatio,
Distill the essence of our brains
And waft away the vapors of care and doubt;
What remained
Would be the best of us —
The part divine,
Apart the human frailties
Of ego and emotion.

For what are we
But a host of contradictions?
A sorry mass of fear and anger, love and longing,
Warring with ourselves on ev’ry front. . .

The wars in a soul, Horatio,
Are more real than Norway or Poland —
They sap the energy
And refute the purpose
Of each endeavor,
Leaving a holy wreck
Of disillusion, heartbreak.

Ophelia! . . . the King my father! . . . my mother . . .
And brave Laertes . . .
All lost,
To me, and to themselves:
She mad, he dead, and my mother —
Best not to think on it.

Yet I do.

Even the sun appears to rest,
The moon has its phases,
The seasons come and go —
But my mind
Is an ever-ripening field
Whose crop is endless woe.

Where are the means
To plant new seeds
Within the fertile soil which is my mind?
To dig out the roots of desolation and despair?
What potion or sacred herb
Will cure such affliction of the mind?
Even precious sleep eludes me.

Tell me, Horatio —
What cure for madness
Lies within the future for a man?
What med’cine may we hope to find
To soothe the endless yearnings of the mind?



Ruben parties hard on his birthday.

I was calling in the payroll last Thursday afternoon and our processor at Heartland Payroll, Ruben Hernandez, mentioned that he was taking Friday off.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“My twenty-fifth birthday,” he said.

I asked what was planned and he told me that he was going out with a bunch of his good buddies to raise hell, drink, and party.

“Hope you’ve got a designated driver,” I cautioned.

Ruben was three steps ahead of me.  It seems one of his friends owns A – 1 Taxi Service in Cleveland, OH.  Every year as Ruben’s birthday present, the guy gives him and his buddies a cab for the night — a plush ride to wherever they want to go.  They just tip the driver at the end.

Way to go, Ruben.  I hope you had a hell of a time — happy twenty-fifth — and my hat’s off to you for doing the right thing.

Come back Thursday or Friday for a more typical post on Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

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GUNSHOTS! (And the annual Workers’ Compensation audit)

(Page one, . . . of this year's ten-page audit form.)

Yesterday afternoon was chewed up by our top-to-bottom bar cleaning, and now the annual workers’ comp audit for the club is waiting on my desk.  I’m on a break here, trying to piece together a post for this week.

But, . . . speaking of workers’ comp . . . here are three quick, behind-the-scenes stories that we don’t want the comp insurance people to hear.

The first incident was just a minor squabble that got a little out of hand.  At a restaurant I managed, a cook from El Salvador ended up scuffling with the female floor manager.

Now they each had their own story — like two motorists with different versions of a crash.  It was the dialogue immediately afterward that seemed worth jotting down.

The Cook“¡Esa perra está loca! Me apuñaló en el asno!”  (That bitch is crazy!  She stabbed me in the ass!”)

The Floor Manager:  (still holding a twelve-inch chef’s blade in her hand), “I didn’t stab him!  He backed into the knife I was holding!”

Going back even further, I remember another kitchen conflict where a prep cook from Brazil got into an argument with the sauté man from Venezuela.

The Brazilian picked up a large kitchen knife and threatened to gut the sauté chef if he ever yelled at him again.

Without blinking, almost quicker than the eye could follow, the guy from Venezuela grabbed a cast iron skillet, and . . . THUNNKK! . . . whacked the other guy on the top of his head.  He went down like a sack of potatoes.

What strikes me about these two incidents is that afterward they barely caused a ripple.

A day or two later, they were all but forgotten.  I hear that the cook and the floor manager still work together and are quite friendly now.  The next afternoon that prep cook apologized for his temper, and gracefully accepted the owner’s decision that he was no longer employed.  Neither involved any compensation claim.

I guess it’s just that kind of business.

But my favorite story about industry dangers and workplace shenanigans is a two-part tale that involves gunfire.

I was working at another restaurant, and the owner was having a bad day.  Bills kept piling up, deliveries were late, and everywhere he looked he saw things that just weren’t running right.

In the middle of a busy night, he went down to his office and when he came back up the stairs, he was holding a gun.

With the cooks behind the line — and the waitstaff and prep guys in the salad area on the other side — he stood in the stair doorway and took aim at the steel door at the end of the kitchen.

“BAM!  BAM!  BAM!”

He fired three consecutive shots down the wide alley between the two busy stations.  Gun smoke filled the kitchen, and now there were three small, fresh dents punched into that steel door.

The workers were startled, . . . everyone stopped and looked at the owner.  But when he went back downstairs, they all simply went back to work.

Everyone was talking about it, but they were talking in low tones as they kept working.

“Be careful,” I heard one waitress advise another, “_____ (the owner), is in a really bad mood!”

That was it.  Three shots fired the length of the kitchen into a steel door, . . . and to them it just meant that the owner was in a bad mood.

I have to say this wasn’t a typical restaurant.  The owner was from Italy, and a lot of the staff was, too.  I guess they were accustomed to this in the old country.

At that same restaurant, I remember a construction boss once gave our owner a small derringer . . . it was his way of saying, “thanks for a great dinner.”  (The restaurant was in a tough, ethnic neighborhood; I guess the guy thought this was appropriate.)

Anyway, that derringer would lead to one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.

At the end of the night, everyone was gone.  I’d finished the cash out and was sitting by myself at the bar having an after-work drink.

I was thinking about the derringer, now safely tucked in the office desk drawer.

I was curious about that gun.

I went downstairs, grabbed the derringer and walked back up to the kitchen.  Standing there, I saw the steel kitchen door at the other end.

I was really curious.  I’d seen it done before with another gun, so I said to myself, “What the hell.”

I cocked back the hammer and fired off a round.


The gunshot boomed like a cannon going off.  When the owner shot at the door in the middle of business, there was all the noise from the restaurant and the city noise outside.  The kitchen had been full of cooks rattling pots and clanging pans, and the waitstaff was shouting.

Now, in the empty kitchen, the sound reverberated like a small explosion.

BAAAMMMMM!  It was only one shot, but at four 0’clock in the morning, it was very loud.

I head footsteps on the stairs of the apartments on the other side of the restaurant wall. “Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp” down the stairs next door.  And then “clomp, clomp, clomp” back up.

Someone in the adjacent apartments had heard the gunshot.  I knew they were running upstairs to call the police.

I panicked.

The police were coming!

I looked around, searching for a way out of this.

I grabbed an mop pail and a hammer, and began pounding the empty pail as though I was trying to straighten out a dent.  I did this for nearly a minute.  Panicked and pressed for time, I couldn’t think of any other alibi.

I walked rapidly through the dining room toward the front door, anticipating the arrival of the police.  I had no idea if they’d buy my story about the pail, and if they went into the kitchen they’d smell the gunpowder.

Standing at the glass front door, I saw a police car search light working it’s way down the street.  A cruiser was moving slowly, shining the narrow spotlight back and forth.

Directly across from the restaurant, the cruiser stopped and flashed the bright light right in on me standing there.

I was frozen . . . and then, I waved.

I didn’t think about it.  I waved out of instinct.  It was a friendly — “Everything is OK . . . There’s no problem here!” — kind of wave.

The police car sat there for a minute, then drove on.

I might have just killed three people, and waved hello.  But as I said, it was a tough, ethnic neighborhood.  I guess a wave was good enough for them.

Yup, that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.  I was lucky to get away with it.

But, my break is up.  Back to the workers’ comp figures.

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HALL OF FAMERS (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

(Image from

Today’s post is quite a bit lighter than last week’s.  It’s about one of my favorite pastimes behind the bar — spotting nominees for The Hall of Fame.

There’s been a HOF in every place I’ve worked, and typically the guidelines are straightforward.  The nominees are simply the best in their class, as deemed by informal group consensus.

I love the Johnny D’s HOF.  In an environment spilling over with so many stellar candidates, there’s not much that gets by our panel of bartenders and waitstaff.

Here are two examples.

(1)  Spaghetti Night

We serve good food at Johnny D’s — it’s upscale dining in a causal environment.  You might sample the house-made polenta fries, then enjoy butternut ravioli in a sage, brown butter sauce.  We also have great burgers (free range, grass fed), along with the occasional comfort food specials.

One night several years ago, we offered a spaghetti and meatball special with Tina’s homemade sauce.  Tina was from Naples, Italy and her sauce was an authentic Italian treat.

On this particular night the club was packed.  We running around like crazy behind the bar when Mary came down to my section.  She told me a customer at her end had a dinner coming out, just in case the expeditor brought it to me.

“He ordered the spaghetti special,” she said, “Just drop off the plate.  He’s all set with a roll-up.”  (If you’re not in the business — a roll-up is silverware wrapped in a napkin.)

I delivered his meal and didn’t think much about it, but ten minutes later Mary was back in my section.  She could barely talk.  She had her hand over her mouth.  She was choking back the laughter.

“You have to go help him,” she managed between snorts, “I can’t . . . I really can’t!”

‘How is everything?” I asked the guy when I got there.  I said it automatically.  I should have looked before I spoke.

The man was sitting with his dish of spaghetti in front of him.  He looked up.  His hands were poised about an inch above his plate.  In one hand, he held a mound of pasta, in the other an over-sized meatball with a chunk bitten out.

He was eating a spaghetti dinner with his hands.

“It’s good,” he told me, “Really good . . . delicious.”

There were small pools of sauce and bits of spaghetti splattered all around the bar in front of him.  The roll-up lay untouched next to his plate; apparently he didn’t realize what it was.  Maybe he didn’t want to bother us while we were busy,  . . . so he simply began eating.

He continued to look at me with both hands still full.  Now he was chewing again.   “I guess I could use a fork,” he said.

I almost choked trying to keep a straight face.  I unwrapped the napkin and took out the silverware.

“It’s right here if you want it,” I said still struggling not to laugh, then walked away quickly.

When he got up to dance, Mary cleaned the bar top.

(2)  “How do I get to Johnny D’s?”

A couple weeks ago, I told you about the woman who called for directions to Johnny D’s, but didn’t want to tell us where she was coming from.  As you can imagine, people calling for directions include quite a few Hall of Famers.  Here’s one of my favorites . . .

“How do I get to Johnny D’s?” a man asked over the phone.

I grabbed the directions sheet.  We have direction from the Mass Pike, from RT 93, from New Hampshire, Maine, or New York — no matter where you’re coming from, we can get you here.

“Where are you now?” I asked, looking at the sheet.

“I’m in Davis Square,” the man said.

Johnny D’s is in Davis Square.

“Where in the Square?“ I asked.  No need for the sheet; I put it back in the folder.

“I’m at the Davis Square MBTA stop,” he said.

Johnny D’s is across the street from the Davis Square MBTA stop.

I looked out the front windows.

Across the street there was a man standing at the pay phones.  His back was to me and he was hunched over, holding a phone to his ear.

I looked at him for a minute.

“Are you wearing a red jacket?” I asked.

He straightened up abruptly.  His back still to me, the phone was now held out away from him.  I swear, he was looking at the phone in his hand.

“Yes,” he said as he brought the phone back to his ear, “I’m wearing a red jacket.”

View of Johnny D’s from across the street.

“Turn around,” I said.

“Turn around slowly.”

“Look across the street, and you’ll see a brick-faced building with a lot of flowers and plants in the front . . . then there’s a large sign that says, Johnny D’s.”


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This week’s post will be short.  I was running behind anyway, then one of our bartenders wanted to switch our Weds/Thurs shifts to attend a concert.

A full post is coming next week, but in the meantime here’s a short note from something we call The Hall of Fame.  The HOF is an informal collection of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the bar life — incidents and people we feel deserve special recognition.

This Hall of Fame moment comes from a woman who needed directions to the club, but didn’t want to tell us where she was coming from.

“I’d rather not say,” she told John Bonaccorso over the phone.

She’d rather not say?

John tried being reasonable.  “I‘m not sure what kind of directions I can give you,” he said, “I need more information.  Directions from where?”

“I told you,“ the woman persisted, “I’d rather not say . . . and I don’t want to explain why.”

“Let’s just say I’m coming from the general area of west,” she said.

The general area of west?  Western Ma?  New York State?  California?

John isn’t the one to suffer fools lightly.   “Ok,” he said, “If you’re coming from the West, my advice would be to catch a flight into Logan International . . . when your plane touches down, give me a call and I’ll tell you how to get here from the airport.”

(Back with a regular post next week.)

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FAVORITE NAMES (Johnny La La and others)

A stand-up comic on the TV series "Hill Street Blues" struggles with reaction to his family name . . . meet Victor Hitler. (Image from

I love a good name.  I love unusual names.  I love names that are just fun to hear pronounced.  I collect them, mostly by memory, although more than a few have been jotted on cocktail napkins.

Today, I feel like recording a bunch of my all-time favorites in one place.

I’ve previously mentioned Johnny La La — the loveable, cranky old barman who taught me the trade.  What a great name for him.  A lot of people thought Johnny La La was also a bookie . . . I have no comment, but if true the name is even more perfect.

We had quite a few good names at The Lark Tavern.   Jack Reynolds was a young cab driver when all the other cabbies started calling him, Jackie Rabbit.  By the time we all knew him, Jack was retired and that was the only name most people at the bar knew him by.  He even introduced himself that way, as though it were his first and last name — “Hi, nice to meet you . . . I’m Jackie Rabbit.”

Jackie’s girlfriend was Maud the Broad.

George the Polack sat on the last seat at the end by the window.  He occupied the stool with a regal air, as though King of a small domain.  (He was also affectionately known as Peckerhead.)

One of our late-night regulars, part of the younger crowd, was Stoner Bob.  I thought that was pretty cool, then years later there was also a Stoner Tom at Johnny D’s — and I realized there were probably Stoner Tom, Dick and Harrys all across the country.

After a few beers, Stoner Tom at Johnny D’s often referred to himself in the third person.  “I guess Stoner Tom would like one more,” he’d say with a quick nod of his head.

I’ve been collecting names for quite a few years — I remember how it started.  My frat buddy Jim Fennell was telling me about some of his friends growing up.  His best friend in high school was Joe Chingalini.  (Don’t know the spelling, but it was pronounced Ching-a-lini . . . Joe Ching-a-lini.)

Jim’s neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Spee-whack.  They had twin boys around Jim’s age . . . Larry and Terry Spee-whack.  Jim’s first girlfriend was Ellie Shaum-luff-full.

In college, Jim was known as “Foamy,” after his love of draft beer.  At Beta Phi Epsilon (SUNY Cortland), just about everyone had a nickname and after a while those nicknames became so familiar we stopped thinking about them.

"GORGO" (Image from

Richard Rowcroft was a lineman for the Cortland State football team —  everyone called him “Gorgo.”  It became so routine that it didn’t sound odd for us to say — “Hey, Gorgo, can I borrow your car tonight?”

Bruce Saurro was known as “Z.”  The only time anyone called him “Bruce” was when they were pissed at him, or wanted to bust his balls:  “Come on, Bruce, don’t bogart the damn thing!”

Sometimes it’s clear how nicknames got their start . . . other times they seem to spring from nowhere.  In high school my nickname was “Duck.”  I was proud of the name, had it stitched on my letter jacket . . . but it began as a school-yard taunt.

In junior high, our civics/history teacher was telling us about quacks, illegitimate doctors who promoted fake cures.  John Dalpan was sitting across the aisle, and he turned and stared at me.  “Hey,” he said loudly, pointing, “Mikey looks like a Quack, doesn’t he?”

Everyone in the classroom burst out laughing.  Even the teacher laughed out loud, before she caught herself.  After that whenever I walked down the hallway, the school bullies would slow down and lean forward, calling out — “Quack, Quack!  Quack, Quack!!!”  I wanted to change schools.

As we moved up in class rank, the nickname was softened to “Duck”, and  I just hoped that everyone had forgotten where it came from.

(Original drawing by Nat Boucher)

We have a few good nicknames at Johnny D’s.  Craig Mckoene is now known as “Chombo.”  It began when brunch bartender Siobhan (pronounced Chee -von) Healey took a chipped parrot mug used for the mimosas to give to her elementary school class.  The class decided to name the mug “Chombo” — and when Siobhan told us later, someone looked down the bar and said, “Hey, that should be Craig’s name!”

Craig likes the nickname enough to include it on his Facebook page.

It is a good name, but it also has practical value.  Chombo is the bar-back on busy weekends, and when you’re yelling down to his station from the middle of the bar, it’s hard to get his attention.  You can yell, “Craig!” as many times as you want, but the only person to look up will probably be someone at the bar named Craig.  But when we yell — “Chooombo . . . tap a new keg of Clown Shoes!!!!” — he’ll hear us every time.

Oscar "Scar" Simoza

When not behind our bar, Oscar “Scar” Simoza is a semi-pro rugby player with the Charles River Club.  Bartender Jeremy “JerBear” Newcomer is also an extreme-athlete kind of guy.

But to be honest, lately it’s been a bit slow for good names and nicknames at Johnny D’s.  I remember ten years ago — back when we had real names that could match any club in the country, employee-for-employee.

Charlie Knoble still works in the booking office.  Charlie’s name falls into the category of “Names That say Something about a Person.”  Even at a reception for the Queen of England, Charlie could hold his head high:  “The Duke and Duchess of Yorkshire, your Majesty,  . . . and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Noble.”

We had a floor manager named Phil Savage — good name for a professional wrestler.  Phil had the thick neck and square jaw line to match.

We had a waitress named Ashley Sprinkle.  I’m serious, that was her real name.  I apologize in advance, because Ashley was such a sweetheart — but to me that sounds like a porn star.  Again, I apologize . . . but I didn’t name her, did I?

Another waitress was named Stacey Justice.  John Bonoccorso (then a bartender now our GM), said it sounded like a female state trooper, in full uniform.  “I picture someone in high boots, with one foot up on the running rail, ticket pad in hand,” John said.  “She tells the motorist — ‘Either I can give you a ticket, or you’re going to FUCK ME . . . and you’d better be GOOD!!!’”

(My apologies to Stacey as well; she was a championship tennis player in college  . . . a very smart, funny waitress.)

Speaking of champions, we had another waitress whose name was Ima Champion.  I’m not kidding, that was her real name.  For some reason, Mr. and Mrs. Champion decided to name their little girl, “Ima.”  I have the payroll records to prove it.

But enough of my interest in names and nicknames.  Back next week with more Life on a Cocktail Napkin.

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