Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Bartender Eulogy

I was rooting around in a file drawer this morning trying to make space for all this student aid/tax crap (and possibly get writing inspiration) when I ran across this eulogy for an old friend.  Nick was my bartender for many years. A great, unique person. Like many bartenders, he didn't drink too much, because he saw too much of the toll booze took on people.  However, he wasn't opposed to making a buck on the misery - he just wanted to avoid visiting any upon himself.  When he did drink he liked Ouzo - he was Greek so he grew up with the stuff. When you had a shot with Nick, you knew you were in the Circle. If it wasn't Ouzo - Nick liked expensive wine.  Had my first taste of Chateau Petrus with Nick.  If it was the holidays he'd drink Krug champaigne.  But mostly, he never drank.  My store of tales about Nick and the Sand Bar are legion. It was fun to get my memory jogged today, I'd forgotten all about the saga of Perry the Biker. And yeah - I did get some inspiration from the back of the file drawer where I found this eulogy and the first chapter of a book I never intended to finish.

Bartender Eulogy

There should be a favorite bartender in everyone's life. I have one and I'm glad.  It makes me feel that much closer to some of my heroes. Hemingway had a favorite bartender.  So did Dean Martin; he had several.  Peter O'Toole had one that traveled with him like an alcohol dispensing Jeeves to his Wooster. I met my favorite bartender when I was twenty three, which I figure is fairly lucky for one so young.  I was doubly lucky to find that particular bartender working in a bar that I fell in love with at first sight.

The first time I walked into the Sand Bar Saloon I smashed my knee into a knob on the cigarette machine that stood just inside the door.  I staggered the rest of the way in clutching my knee and cursing a blue streak. Simultaneously, Nick the bartender and Perry the resident fixit guy, bouncer, barfly biker hollered at me to watch my language.  Taking a look around as the pain subsided, I came to the quick conclusion that this bar wasn't even close to being a place where one might worry about watching their language.  Still, with Perry, looking fiercely like Genghis Khan behind his Fu-Manchu, told me psychically that an attempt at civility was being made here and if I didn't go along with the program I just might receive a beating.  Probably out back by the dumpsters where the noise wouldn't upset the customers.

Nick pointedly ignored my mumbled apology and made a visible effort to snub me further as I mounted an ancient bar stool.  Three or four stools down, Perry leaned way out over the bar as if to look down into the drink well behind the bar.  He slowly turned his head in my direction and stared laser beams at me with cold blue eyes.  I calmly took a leisurely look around the place making sure to scrutinize everything with a puzzled squint on my face I had cultivated from watching the actor Jack Nicholson in any number of his films.  In hindsight, this look only made me look mildly retarded rather than detached and cool. Perhaps this is why Nick and Perry suddenly took grudging pity on me. Perry blinked , tossed his head like some kind of sagebrush stallion and dismissed me with a snort. Nick meandered over to me after making sure all the other barflies had been taken care of first.

 "What''ll ya have, young man?" he barked, flipping a paper coaster on the bar in front of me. I asked about draft beer.

He pointed his hand at me like a pistol, emphasizing each choice with a shooting motion at my heart.  "We got Bud, Miller and...Black Label."

I picked up on his hesitation before he said "Black Label", and knew immediately that this was a test. But it wasn't much of a test.  In those days, I was a connoisseur of cheap beer, and at the time I considered Black Label to be the king of cheap beer.  Nowadays, I know better and just consider it to be good, decent beer at a fair price.  I responded cheerfully.

"Oh Black Label, please.  A pitcher."

Nick pulled the trigger on his finger pistol and flashed a 100 watt Cheshire cat grin at me.

"You are correct, young man!"

He blew out his imaginary pistol, his signature move.  I was to see that finger pistol thousands of times over the next decade I spent inhabiting that place.

I introduced myself as Nick stood waiting for my pitcher to fill, He shook my hand, put his hands on his hips and spoke as his eyes shifted all around, monitoring the customers for wants, needs and trouble.

"Name's Nick.  I own the place. Don't get used to calling me over to ya.  Just raise your hand and I'll get to ya.  don't pound your empties on the bar to get my attention. That's rude and it pisses me off. And don't do a buncha other stuff I can't recall right now.  Don't worry - I'll let ya know when your screwin' up.  Just mind your manners, don't do a lot of yellin' and cussin' and we'll be friends."

This was good advice as I would discover in the coming years. I minded my manners, didn't cuss much and kept my conversations to something just above the jukebox's constant roar.  I spent many nights on last call patrol and eventually came to have a friendship of sorts with Perry who, one gray November, was suddenly deported back to his native Canada on the day after Thanksgiving.

Nick taught me to play cribbage (he cheated) and let me have control of the remote to the one TV in the place when I parked at the bar.  I became the television referee, which relieved Nick of a fairly big headache. Soon I had the regulars trained to my personal video tastes outside the mandatory football, baseball and basketball that were the bar's TV staples.  Transient and tourist customers were routinely told the TV channels couldn't be changed when I was in the house.  We spent many woozy, drunken nights in the dim heart of winter playing cribbage, or euchre watching "Fawlty Towers" re-runs and old movies.  I remember a motley collection of drunks, bikers and factory rats begging Nick to stretch closing time 30 minutes so we could catch the end of "The Maltese Falcon".  I spent a lot of my days off sitting up front next to the giant front window writing while Nick's sister, Irene, poured me huge muddy cups of rancid coffee.

The place was perfect in those days. It had the grimness of Harry Hope's Saloon in O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh", the exotic-ness of hemingway's "La Floridita". That said, it was it's own place, as well. A dive, a pit, a den. A haven, a keep, a home. And Nick was the soul of that place. Even though the bar was always like half past midnight in the afternoon, Nick made you feel better about wanting to sit there even on a shining day in May.

And then, one day, I met a woman who sat next to me at the bar who caught her hat on fire with her cigarette.  She calmly, without missing a beat talking to me, put the flame out with her dainty little glass of Black Label. I was gone, smitten and done.  Soon we were engaged and married.  Nick took a shift as bartender at our reception.  He gave us a check for a hundred dollars, took me aside and pointed his finger pistol at me.

"Now you're married." he said. "I don't wanna see you kid's comin' into the bar every night.  You're different from the rest of those stew bums in there. Go have a life an' stay away.  You won't hurt my feelings any. You just go have a life."

Good advice. Which we followed.  We waited a year and went to the Sand Bar for a first anniversary drink.  Nick was there.  He bought us a drink and told us to get out.  Which we did. Several times over the next few years we'd go into the bar from time to time and Nick would always rush us out.  Eventually, we stopped going completely. Once in a while, when we'd pass by the place, we'd tell each other that we really should stop in and say "Hi" to Nick.  But we never did.

Nick Pesotolus 1926-2004


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2012 05:57 pm (UTC)
why did you never finish the book? my mother was a bar maid when she was alive-she was killed in a car wreck December 1968 after closing a bar-I grew up in bars-years ago I bought used a memoir titled "The Tender Bar" by J. R. Moehringer front cover "Moehringer has crafted a yearning, lyrical account of his fatherless youth and the companionship he found. . .among the Dickensian characters at a neighborhood bar"-peace
Feb. 25th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
Re: novel
I have that Tender Bar book, but haven't read it yet. I'm sitting here looking over this chapter from the crime novel I was going to write and I'm thinking it's not bad. I'll probably tinker with it to see if it goes anywhere. There must have been a reason why I stopped, but I can't remember. Maybe I got bored with it.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:01 am (UTC)
Love the eulogy. Curious about the unfinished chapter.
Feb. 26th, 2012 10:45 am (UTC)
This is fantastic. But you know I'm instantly drawn to stories about bars and bartenders.

Also, did you know that Black Label is the most popular beer in South Africa? They brew it differently down there, and it's much better than what we get in the states.
Feb. 26th, 2012 01:40 pm (UTC)
Good taste those South Africans. I don't drink it much these days as the decades of drinking it have left me with a certain...er...sensitivity to that particular lager. Now I only drink it if I'm in a bathroom or right next to one. The reaction is instantaneous and pretty incredible in a horribly disgusting sort of way.

Patriz, I keep staring at this chapter like I'm looking at someone else's work. The thing's about 20 years old and I have no idea where I was headed with it. Oddly, there are characters in it that show up in other things I've done since then, but damned if I can remember even doing this particular piece. Must have had a load of Carlings on when I wrote it.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )