Monday, August 28, 2006
Serious Beerdrinking in the '60s - the neighborhood bars of my youth pts 1/2
Kenmore fine restaurant Lou Boggia phone
Henry Loden Old Town Bar
Al Cooper Big Bill cool truckdriving
Gerdes Skidmore Owings and Merrill the great
Louie's on 3rd Av, bar on 18th Pete Donnelly getting smashed, literally
Kluge's basement this is table number one, where the hell is two
Walk to the BX Taft HS good ballgames, Mad/Lex/Willis
Golf at Mosholu, permit tennis milkman on disab $70 Pelham, Van Courtland walkover rightofway Split Rock the paradise of the plebs Latourette w/ view x hole
Permit $10? Steve Rosen and Jerry
Tennis Central Park Permit $7.50?
Bethesda fountain. Graziella on bike think of Picasso's Nightfishing at Antibes
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
PPM at Miami Auditorium garbage up some food
CCNY Mary Southern 30c meal
LOOKING BACK by Wally Dobelis
The Neighborhood Bars of My Youth
When you think of Hotel Kenmore today, fine dining will be the last thing to come to your mind. Yet, in the 1950s it had a good restaurant and a bar. My friend Luigi with whom I shared the mailroom duties introduced me to it, and we would stop there for beers (okay, one beer; my pay was $35 a week) once in a while, after delivering the registered mail to the 23rd St. post office. Lou, a prankster, would excuse himself, and next thing I knew a uniformed busboy would be walking through the dining room with a placard, announcing "Call for Mr. Dobelis."
A much friendlier and less formal bar was The Old Town, still today on 18th St., West of Park Ave South, with cut glass swinging doors and sawdust on the tile floor. Henry Loden, the nearsighted owner, would play chess for hours with some regulars, while we, at the back of the bar, would celebrate Friday night by singing the old favorites, Peg o' My Heart, Frivolous Sal, Danny Boy and the Irish Soldier Boy. We had some fine Irish tenors, particularly my corporate general counsel friend, the Old Curmudgeon, then young and attending Fordham Law at night. Fridays were big for getting together and unloading, because all of us were in night school four days a week.
One of the regulars was Al Cooper, a wizened old gent who had a trucking business out of Burroughs Calculator (now Food Emporium) back door, kittycorners across the then 4th Ave from the bar (it became Park South with the arrival of the median or mall, some years later). He survived to his late '80s on a bottle of Dewars a day - nobody ever saw him eat. Although he would drink also at the Southern, Gerdes' and Pete's, of which later, the OT bar was his office, where he would ply his clients with whiskey and soft words. Paper work was minimal. He was wll known: "Jeez, I was walkin' down Madison Avenue the other day when I saw Cardinal Spellman. I tipped my hat and sang out: 'Good mornin', Your Eminence,' and he came right back with: 'Good mornin', Mr. Cooper.' Jeez, you coulda knocked me down with a feather! But then I remembered that Mrs Cooper has been into good works around the Power House (N.Y. Archdiocese office in the Villard Houses, 50th and Madison) for years, and he musta seen us together. What a memory!"
Al was into good works himself. In 1957 my office put together a Holiday Gifts Committee, of which I was president. We collected about $1000 a year and bought 20 turkeys and assmbled 200 food packages in the company lunchroom, for delivery to the neighborhood charity groups and churches. We bought banners for Young Israel and a radio for the Madison Golden Age club, to replace the one recently stolen. We had carols and Gilbert and Sullivan songs in the lunchroom, with a special dedicatory announcements, courtesy of Musac and John Jarvis, their Texan engineer and another OT bar regular, who knew every word William Schwenk Gilbert ever wrote. He would also quote Samuel Pepys and recite Keats (he pronounced them Peeps and Kates, even though challenged on the latter) at lengths deemed excessive by some.
Anyway, Al contributed the services of his truck and driver for the day. Big Bill, with his cherubic face, was control fanatic, and would drive me crazy, sitting next to him in the cab, as he elbowed out other drivers. He played "chicken" on the road with every truck- and cabdriver, looking pleasantly expressionless past them as he outbluffed them. He never had an accident. A bunch of us would go with him on the pre-Holiday delivery, then return to the OT, where Al, John Jarvis and others of our gang would be waiting, to hear our stories. We would try to catch up with them drink-wise, and it was on one of these occasions that Henry Loden barred us, for the night. Somehow the Old Curmudgeon and I had gotten into an argument as to which of us was a more accurate snowball thrower. So we went outside and hurled snowballs at a lamppost. After a 30-throw tie the OC switched over to underhand delivery, claiming that there were no restrictive clauses in the bet contract. I objected. OC was then the local garbage ball pitching champion, and could throw a softball that would rise 15 feet and still cross the plate within the strike zone. So he won, and we returned, to the jeers of assembled company. This hurt, and we went back, assembled a load of snowballs, and bombed our friends at the bar. That was fun, and when we came back with a new supply we were greeted with a salvo made up from our old snowballs. This was enough for Henry, and the lot of us was out on the street, Al and John excepted, Christmas spirits notwithstanding.
The Southern Restaurant was another favorite of Al's. It was owned by Boris and Charlie Ackerman who eventually opened the Old Forge at 200 East 17 St., currently in it's third generation, as Mumbles. The old Southern site became the famous Max's Kansas City, of which more yet some other time. Now it is a Korean deli. Southern's lunch counter was was where I would catch a quick 50c dinner before rushing off to Baruch for classses. The bar, besides Al, was a favorite of Harry Glemby's, world's biggest hairnet distributor. Older than Al and accoutered in the style of an opera impressario (Al affected more of the classic houndstooth-dressed and hatted racetrack-tout style), with a cigar and his French Legion of Honor rosette in the lapel, he would arrive with one or more beautiful tall women with lapdogs in tow, and preside over the bar for a while before departing on his business. He was Al's oldest client, and they had shared adventures in the old bootlegging days.
Al also liked John Gerdes' Bar, across from what is now Ottomanelli's on 18th St., victim of the wrecker's ball in 1960. It was our summer favorite. When the heat exceeded 90 degrees and local companies, then not air-conditioned, closed at 3 P.M., John's was the coolest place to spend the hours before one would dare go into the street and face the rigors of the subway. Draft beer being the only effective cure to avoid heat prostration known to man, we considered that we owed it to our healths to spend five or six hours with John on these danger-filled days. Besides, the usual suspects were there, ready to share facts, opinions and trivia.
There's more, I have lots to tell about the two Connelly's, Pete's, Lui's, Luigi's, Paul and Jimmy's, Garden Bar and Joe King's German Rathskeller of world-wide fame. Another time.
The Neighborhood Bars of My Youth Part II
Tuesday's Downstairs is a fine jazz palace, the best of this neighborhood, which once sported a Condon's on 16th St, across from the Zeckendorf Towers (Condon's replaced Z, a fine Greek restaurant that was a pleasure to eat in for some 10 plus years). The Garden Restaurant and its successor, Tramps, both had some jazz, if memory serves. Tramps became a country-western-rock hall, as is its successor, Shades of Green. Only Tuesday's Downstairs has lasted, no doubt due to the rock-steadiness of its Monday mainstay, Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar, who continues to play with his group, at age 80, with no visible effects of age. More power, Les!
The upstairs Tuesdays and its basement was, until 15 years ago, Joe King's German Rahtskeller. I'm not quite sure of the entire series of transformations, but 40 years ago it was a fine beerhall downstairs, with plain wooden tables and a piano, and a young, collegiate crowd. You sat with your group, drinking steins, until someone started knocking his stein hard against the wood, singing "This is table Number One, where the hell is Two," whereupon another table took on the chant, and so on. The other series chants were "ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer; if one ofthem should accident'ly fall, there'd be ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall..." and."...on the dead man's chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum." The piano player could do the entire college song repertoire, from the musical comedy "Buckle down Winsocki, buckle down," to the real: "To the tables down at Moreys... 10,000 men of Harvard...Up the waters of Cayuga, there's an awful smell.... Lavender, my lavender (City College)...Notre Dame," we sang them all. Nobody fought, everybody cheered each other's Alma Maters.
This was congenial, compared to the famous McSorley's on East 6th, which I found somewhat somber and morose, except when my crowd was there. At McSorley's you buy two steins at a time, to minimize the traffic at the bar, and I recall a time time when my lunch crowd of eight had 200 steins. We never made it back to the office. The round-table discussion was "The girl of my dreams (in the office)," and I find it an interesting comment on the times that the favorite eventually became a conductor on the New York Central, and the second choice joined the New York City Police Department. But I do consider it a distinction when, while walking on University Place, I was stopped by a preppy-looking freshman, saying: "Excuse me, Sir, but could you direct me to McSorley's." It was a privilege.
Across from the Rahtskeller was Lui's, an Italian restaurant of renown, best pasta for the price. If you had money, you went to Paul and Jimmy's, then on University Place, where the newest small hotel of distinction, vvvvv's, is sited. P&J ventually relocated in the Restaurant Row on 18thSt, West of Irving.
Now, up the block and around the corner from Lou's was Luigi's, on 18th St East of Third, a bar with a pool table. You could get in trouble there, if you did not act respectful of your neighbor. A smartass could get beaten up upon departure, by the boys. I had a taste of that, for being a peacemaker. But let's move North.
At 23rd and 3rd was Connelly's, the real City College bar, where Baruchites would gather to talk exams and date. They served giant prawns through midnight, and the beer was good. A bit more quiet was Connelly's West of Lex, also a collegiate place. Kluge's Reastaurant , between 3rd and Lex, was a gentleman's retreat, quiet and clubby. None of them are left. Connelly's 3rd got an offer from a bank that they could not refuse; Connely's West was a goner when the styles changed; ditto Kluge's. A bar cannot survive in Manhattan; the quiet drinker who buys two drinks an hour does not pay the rent. I admire the London pubs who make it, their landlords must be patsies, compared to the Manhattan hyenas. My blood boils when I think of the realtors who have destroyed the city as we knew it.
A friend of mine just came back from Saudi Arabia where he spent three months learning client-server systems. It was the most cost-efficient way, three weeks of training and the rest hands-on programming. A monastic life, van transport from the compound to the office and back, no booze. The first Friday the driver inquired: "Sir, do you want to go to the weekly executions?" My friend declined, and the driver thanked him profusely, because he also did not like them, but was obliged to offer. All Westerners attending were given front seats and were obsequiously escorted, because their disgust, facial expressions and occasional womiting were also part of the show. If beheading becomes part of our lifestyle, under the new laws, I insist that real estate overchargers merit public execution, or at least humiliation.
This city is ar risk of survival because doing business here costs too much, and the the interactive communications have made face-to-face contact less essential. Businesses are leaving town every day, or firing employees. The costs are too high. If we abuse it, we lose it, no matter how much the "Let's have lunch" crowd cries. They are becoming redundant in this cost-effective society, anyway. Don't blame me, friends, it is the population explosion, source of all evil. The technology explosion is just providing an alternative to the city. If Downtown USA dies, too bad. Realtors, face your responsibilities, or retire to Fisher's Island.
Once more, I have digressed. More nostalgia next time.
Wally Dobelis claims that his bar days ended in the late 1960s, and the Old Curmudgeon's, his main source, in the 1970s. All subsequent stuff is hearsay. He urges people of his generation to record oral histories of their days in this city on tape. We have all been part of the most explosive events in history of this Earth.