The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
"When St. Peter sees him coming, he'll leave the gates
ajar; for he knows he's served his hell on earth as the
man behind the bar". My late, great friend, Charlie
Cybulski, long time professional bartender at Newark's
Treat Restaurant and Union's Swiss Chalet (formerly
Walton's Union Tap Room) never tired of quoting those
lines from a poem by unknown author Hasty Peter.
Hours of searching the web found no information as to
the identity of Mr. Peter, but evidently Charlie thought
he had hit a home run with his poetic tribute to the
noble profession of bartending. Mr. Peter's epic, "The
Man Behind the Bar" can be found in its entirety at the
end of this article. Any reader familiar with Rudyard
Kipling will easily see that the creator of Gunga Din must
have had an influence on the writings of Mr. Peter).
Charlie was one of the great ones, always personable,
immaculately groomed and ever attentive to the empty
glass. He was from the old school in that he believed
strongly that bartenders should always wear ties, long
sleeved shirts and vests while behind the taps. If one
happened to be a regular, most often your drink was in
place in front of your usual stool as soon as you came
through the front door. Charlie occasionally used corny
old bartender jokes to amuse the patrons, one of which
caught me the first time I saw it, and feeling foolish at
the time, I was vindicated later when I witnessed dozens
of other newcomers fall for the same gag.
Charlie would make sure all glasses were full before he'd
announce to those within earshot, "I'll be right
back...I'm just going downstairs to tap a new keg".
Then he would start at one end the bar, and walking
with knees ever more bent, would appear to descend an
unseen flight of stairs with less and less of his body
visible until his head completely disappeared at the
opposite end. Many drinkers would rise off their stools
and crane their necks in order to get a glimpse of the
hidden staircase, only to see sixty year old Charlie
squatting on his haunches and laughing like hell.
Charlie also had the usual gripes about absentee
management, drunken patrons and penurious tippers.
His biggest complaint was that after forty years of
tending bar in "nice" places," a twenty one year girl with
big boobs and no brains can earn more tips in an hour
than I can in a night".
Another of the good guys was Heinz Muller, for many
years the head man at the Spaeter Club in Union, and
also a subscriber to the tie and vest bartender attire
theory. Heinz was either extremely smart or very
forgetful because after downing several steins of
imported German beer the amazed regular often found
himself with nineteen dollars change out of twenty. On
the other hand he was either very stupid or very loyal
because after being pistol whipped by two robbers who
emptied the cash drawer shortly after closing time, his
first call was to Gerhard, the owner who lived upstairs.
When Gerhard came down to find the till empty and his
bartender bleeding, Heinz handed him a roll of bills and
said "Here boss...I managed to save the twenties".
The first bartender I ever dealt with on a regular basis
was the late Harvey Gillespie, Sunday night man at the
Rahway Inn. He was the first because he didn't believe
in making his friends wait until twenty one before
enjoying Pabst Blue Ribbon, usually served with a wink
and the statement "this is with the owner"!
Jeff Levine, my current "man behind the bar" at the
Gaslight, can't possibly have my drink ready before I'm
seated because with the dozen or so excellent house
brews and guest beers available I never know what I
want without a little thought. Jeff however comes very
close to that level of service when he shakes my hand
while holding an empty "cocked" pint in his left and looks
me in the eye with bated breath as he awaits my
decision. If something is running particularly well such as
Thursday night freshly tapped cask conditioned ale, in
hushed tones he'll reverently suggest "have the
cask....it's good". A good bartender in a beer place
absolutely must know and love beer. Jeff does both!
There are always a few bad innkeepers to deal with. One
in particular was right here in Union. About twenty five
years ago , when the craft beer movement was in its
infancy, a local pub, which no longer operates and shall
remain nameless, took an ad in the local weekly paper
which said something to the effect of "Who is the Ale
Man?" (borrowing a line from 1960's Ballantine
advertising), an informing readers that "ale men" could
find Pete's Wicked, Sierra Nevada, Guiness, Sam Adams
Boston Ale and a couple of others on tap. It sounded
good to me so one Saturday night I ventured into this
tavern which I had previously avoided because of the
crowd, filth and lack of decent beer.
I ordered a Pete's, which tasted fine but noticed that
neither the clientele nor the cleanliness has changed
along with the taps. The grossly over endowed barmaid,
who was eating chicken wings behind the bar, asked me
if I'd like another. After I requested a Sierra Nevada, she
wiped her greasy fingers on her T-shirt and actually
stuck three fingers inside my glass. With her thumb
pinching the outside, she carried it to the tap tower to
be refilled. I was out the door before she turned
around. So much for Charlie's theory of big boobs
generating large tips. Maybe she used the Sierra
for a finger bowl!
Another long gone (no wonder) Union pub was the
perfect example of an "old man's bar". It was a few
doors down from the bank where my new bride worked
and I stopped for what I thought was to be a quick beer
while waiting to pick her up at quitting time. walking in, I
saw no patrons and what to me at the time was an old
man (late fifties?) watching an afternoon soap on TV.
Taking a seat and checking out the taps I decided on a
Rheingold and waited patiently for "mein host" to
acknowledge my presence. I coughed, shuffled my
barstool around, lit a cigarette, dropped my keys on the
floor, drummed fingers on the bar and did everything
short of leaping over the Bar and making off with the
cash register (not that there would have been anything
in it). Finally, I called loudly, "Excuse me! Can I get a
beer?" To which this gracious host replied "As soon as
the program's over".
Must have been a hell of a happy hour.
I've cited a few of the "good" and a couple of the "bad".
Time for the "ugly". Midway between the home I had
just bought and the apartment we were renting a few
blocks away stood the Cabin Grill, a shot and beer joint
offering nothing that interested me except proximity
and Ballantine Ale on tap.
Each night after work I'd go to my new house and slave
away, cleaning, painting and making it livable after
having been vacant for three years. And each night I'd
stop at the Cabin to have a growler filled with Ballantine
to enjoy at home. This nightly growler was filled by a
nondescript bartender who was neither particularly
friendly nor particularly unpleasant. He was just "there"
,filling my growler. He did have , however, a small
growth over his left eye which appeared to be more
than just a mole, and which each night seemed to be
larger. After a couple a months it was enormous, almost
entirely covering the eye. At that point I'd had enough
of the Cabin. I couldn't enjoy the ale after charting the
daily progress of the tumor and with all sympathy to the
unfortunate man, I couldn't believe that anybody would
want to be served with that huge thing staring them
right in the face.
Some time later I felt like a draught Ballantine and
stopped in . A new man was behind the bar and I
inquired as to where the other guy was, and was asked
"you remember that thing on his head?..well...it killed
Thus ends this little discourse on dealing with
bartenders. Check below for Hasty Peter's saga of how
bartenders deal with us.
The Man Behind the Bar
You have read in song and story of the man behind the
gun, How he battled for Old Glory and the victories that he
won Oh the rattle of the battle was but music to his
ears, And we hail him as a hero and welcome him
We also sing the praises of the man behind the
plow, For we can't live without him, that's a fact we
must allow. But there's one whose praises I would sing, and sing
them near and far, He's the hero of all heroes, is The Man
Behind the Bar.
Now the man behind the gun I know has done some wondrous deeds
And so hast the man behind the plow who sows those wondrous
seeds. Each in his own peculiar way has served his country
well But each expects to get his pay for what he has to
The soldier gets his pension and the plowman gets his
due And neither ever knows or cares who pays the
revenue. But when the country needs a coin to carry
on a war, They always put a tax on The Man
Behind the Bar.
He must pay the highest license, he must pay the highest rent,
He must settle with the agents though they don't take in a
cent. And when it comes to paying bills, he's Johnny on the
spot. He'll pay for what he sells you whether you pay
him or not.
Yet the preacher in the pulpit and the lecturer in the
hall Will tell you that the churches are against him one
and all. But when the church decides to hold a raffle or
bazaar, They start in selling tickets to The Man
Behind the Bar.
And when you walk into his place, he greets you with a
smile Be you worker dressed in overalls or banker dressed
in style. Be you Irish, English, Dutch or French, it doesn't
matter what He'll trust you like a gentleman unless you
prove you're not.
He must listen to all arguments that happen in his
place, And he shows no partiality for any creed or
race. The bunch outside can knock the King, or
Kaiser or the Czar But he has to be neutral, does The
Man Behind the Bar.
It matters not the aches and pains and hardships he endures
He doesn't tell you all his troubles, though you can always tell him
yours And if the weather's hot or cold or turns from rain to
snow It's up to you to tell him so, he ain't supposed to
Should he sit down to read the news, some fool with half a
bag Pulls up a chair beside him and begins to chew the
rag Though Job, they say had patience, a more patient
man by far Then Job could ever hope to be is Tthe Man
Behind the Bar.
He deserves a hero's medal for the many lives he's
saved And upon the wall of honor his name should be
engraved He deserves a lot of credit for the way he
stands the strain And all the bull he has to swallow would
drive most of us insane
Yet the time will come when he must shuffle off this mortal
world Hang up his coat and apron, on this earth no more to
toil When St. Peter sees him coming, he'll leave the gates
ajar For he knows he's served his hell on earth as The Man
Behind the Bar!
has to say
and it could
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by Dan Hodge