Wednesday, August 02, 2006

That, My Friends, Was a Bartender

The pedestrian who makes the toddle a couple of blocks south from Penn Station on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan may, if he is alert to such things, spy what was in 1982 the best little Irish pub in New York: the Molly Wee. I carefully restrict my contentious assertion to that year because I haven't been back there in twenty years, having moved on to other places and other times. But in 1982, that was the spot Where Everybody Knew My Name.

I was living in a ground-floor sublet on 28th Street at the time, fresh out of Kenyon and miserably rent-poor -- no, that's not strong enough: I was a rent-pauper. But when a paycheck came in that wasn't already garnisheed by the landlord, I would gather up my roommate John, the gorgeous redheaded colleen who would grow up to become Wonder Woman, and a few other of our circle of cronies, and assemble there to gather wool and get on the outside of the bartender Seamus' Olympian hamburgers and some Guinness.

Seamus was a publican's publican. I was just reminiscing about him with Wondie, and she remembers him as fondly as I do. "He protected me when I was in there," she said. Nobody ever hit on her or did the disgusting things men do to attractive women in bars -- not on Seamus' watch. Once I heard a commotion down at the other end of the bar: a drunk commuter, passing time before the late train left Penn Station for Islip, forgot himself and announced pugnaciously to the world, "Oh, yeah? Well, you don't have to be Catholic to be Irish!" Seamus leaped over the bar -- he was no gazelle, this lumbering, meaty man -- and executed the first and only bum's rush I've ever seen performed outside the comics pages or a Thirties farce -- left hand to the back of the coat collar, right hand grasping firmly the seat of the pants -- and the hapless inebriate crashed out into the Eighth Avenue pedestrian traffic. I don't think the matter under discussion was what caused Seamus to move so fast and so efficiently; I think he was far more offended by the potential breach of the peace.

By 1984 many of us had come to recognize the connection between Manhattan rents and our inability to eat regular meals, and we decamped for the greener pastures of Park Slope and environs. I'm given to understand that nowadays you can't touch the place, but in those days it was blissfully affordable compared to Chelsea. Our connection to Seamus and the Molly Wee slowly faded, but in those magic few moments in October of 1986 when the Mets made it to the World Series, we made it a point to gather the old gang together and watch Game Six in our old haunt.

Somewhere in the early stages of that unforgettable game (for readers uninitiated in the history of baseball, it's agreed among the cognoscenti to be one of -- if, indeed, not the -- greatest, most melodramatic ballgames ever played), the redoubtable leftfielder Mookie Wilson came up to bat. It was a rock-solid tradition among Mets fans that when Mookie batted or made a play in the field, you yelled "Mooooo!" at the top of your lungs. Which is what I, there in the stool under the TV I'd arrived an hour early to claim, did.

Seamus whirled about behind the bar, his face flushed and his eyes flashing. He pointed an outraged finger in my face. "Nobody boos moy Mookie!" he snarled. "You boo moy Mookie in moy bar and you'll foind yourself out of here on yer arse!" Timidly I tried to explain the custom -- a little surprised that he hadn't noticed people doing it before. He turned away from me, plainly disgusted, and began washing glasses.

Some five minutes later, he gently put a shotglass down next to my beer and poured a shot of Old Bushmill into it, quietly rapping the bar with a thick knuckle as he withdrew. That, in all his humane benevolence, was Seamus.

That whiskey was going to prove a problem. It's well known that people who are terrified of flying will occasionally try to allay their fear by drinking heavily during a flight. But the alcohol has no effect, because the terror and tension and fight-or-flight adrenaline far outstrip it. Of course, the instant the plane touches down and the poor bastard begins to feel safe again, the booze comes on like a blow to the back of the head, and the attendants have to pour him off the plane.

Game Six had exactly that effect on me. For the hours it took to play the game, I, and the rest of the Mets fans gathered at the Molly Wee, were tense, silent, concentrated. Knocking it back, of course, punishing the Guinness pretty hard -- but the game was too dramatic for the beer to have much noticeable effect. During Mookie's epic at-bat in the tenth inning, down to his last strike, the entire season riding on his bat, heroically fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch, the adrenaline and tension were unbearable. I think I drank three shots of whiskey during that at-bat alone -- to absolutely no avail.

I do remember the ball down the first-base line trickling through Bill Buckner's legs. I do vaguely remember the sight of Ray Knight crossing the plate, fighting through the gaggle of ecstatic Mets who met him there. I have the dimmest vague, dreamlike memory of standing up to go pee. After that, all is as dark as the grave.

They told me later that I volunteered to go out and hail a cab for those of us returning to Brooklyn. That part I believe. What I do not believe is that I was seen racing up the middle of Eighth Avenue, barking like a dog at the top of my lungs and challenging cars to fights. That just seems out of character.


Gavin M. said...

The Molly Wee is still in effect, but the proximity to Penn Station hasn't been kind.

Commuters and commuters, with a few regular neighborhood-types, aging and riding their stools like thrones.

Not a place for a pop-in, so much, anymore.

blue girl said...

Well, Jeddie -- looks like you got to Stage 10 that time.

I only know about Game Six because of Seinfeld. The *Second Spitter* episode....My favorite one of all time. When Elaine was dating Keith Hernandez.

I'm Keith Hernandez.

Elaine's talking to Jerry and goes...have you ever heard of, um, some guy named "Mookie?"

And he just about falls off his chair cuz he's so jealous of her relationship with Keith Hernandez.

One more thing. You are so goopy that way you write about Wonder Woman.

Yes, I said goopy. Ya chucker.

Wonder Woman is a lucky lady.

p.s. None of these Seinfeld references will make any sense if you've never seen the episode. But, I highly recommend that you do. It's a *classic.*

Kevin Wolf said...


Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Great story... Times have probably changed for the Manhattan rent-paupers. These days, a night in a pub like that would probably set you back a couple of hundred. 'Course, when you're young, you don't care about such things...

Dr Doom said...

In vino veritas. Unhappily before the age of digital video and Youtube. I'm certain it would be madly popular. "The Mad Dog of Eighth Avenue"
It was just as crazy at what used to be McGovern's down on Reade St.

Tom said...

As of the end of 1994, Park Slope was affordable on a librarian's salary, but only just, and that was by having a roommate and living on the numbered streets rather than the named ones, and a few blocks down the slope from the park (although not within nose-shot of the Gowanus Canal). I understand that that's no longer the case.

That was also the time that Pete Hamill published his memoir, A Drinking Life, and did a reading at the Park Slope library branch. Whenever someone asks why I no longer imbibe, I use Hamill's line: I have no talent for it. Wish I'd visited the Molly Wee during my own New York/drinking days, though.

Matt said...

Some five minutes later, he gently put a shotglass down next to my beer and poured a shot of Old Bushmill into it, quietly rapping the bar with a thick knuckle as he withdrew. That, in all his humane benevolence, was Seamus.

Lovely paragraph.


Excuse me.

Neddie said...

Gavin: Well it was never exactly a luxe place -- remember what Eighth Avenue south of about the Port Authority was like in those days, what with your trannie hookers and your 42nd Street demimonde; it was a humble thing but our own.

GlueBirl: Bulletproof: That was me.

That two-part episode of Seinfeld was what originally hooked me on the show! Do you remember that what turned Elaine off Hernandez was that he smoked? Hernandez famously used to sneak into the hallway from the dugout to the locker room and smoke cigs between innings -- it was a well-known secret. Once at Shea that magical year, I watched him through binoculars as he grabbed his pack of coffin nails from their hiding place next to the water-cooler -- Marlboro Reds, box -- and enjoy a quiet ciggie just out of sight of the crowd. How deliciously naughty!

Wonder Woman is a lucky lady

Why yes, she is. Yes, she is.

Tom: I'm given to understand that what is historically referred to as "Red Hook" (which is where we lived, 14th between 3rd and 4th, near the 9th Street F Train stop and very much within olfactory reach of the Gowanus), is now referred to by real-estate weasels as "South Park Slope," which cracks my ass up. "Last Exit to Brooklyn" takes place there.

jmcq said...

If it weren't for the 2004 postseason, I'd have to push back from the Neddie bar, wipe away a tear and bid you adieu, because I was one of those for whom "Game 6" became shorthand for life's suffering. I tried to listen to the series on Armed Forces Radio in Tokyo, where it was morning and I was in Japanese class, with an earphone tucked into the ear opposite Takemura-sensei. Not as good a story as it ought to be, because I couldn't really follow the games, but in retrospect that's just as well; breaking down and crying in the middle of class would have been bad form. Japan, you know.

But without 1986 (and 2003), 2004 wouldn't have been half as glorious, so here's to you and your Molly Wee, and to your Seamus and your Mookie and your Wonder Woman, and next round let's raise a glass to good Bill Buckner, who had to shoulder that ire and derision and infamy for 18 years. Forgive me, Bill, for ever saying an unkind word about you. And thanks, Neddie, for a lovely tribute.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

Nice post Ned.

Around the same time, I used to frequent a pub called "The Quiet Man" after the John Wayne movie. It was somehwere in midtown - probably around 45th and Madison but I think it is gone now and I can't remember. It was a pretty nice place, with pints of Harp, Guinness Stout and Bass Ale.

The regular bartender was a middle aged Irishman, and one night after a smoke we went in there and I ordered a Bass. I said to him something like, "Listen - when it comes to the struggle, I'm with the Irish, but I do like English ales," and he said just a above a whisper with a bit of a wink, "Don't worry lad, and don't tell nobody but I like a bass m'self now and then!"

There was this crazed Viet Nam Veteran who was a regular - but he wasn't threatening. He was always in a good mood, buying people drinks, telling a joke or chatting up the 30 something buisiness ladies.

One night we were in there and there was a commotion. People were shouting and cheering. We made our way over to the corner, and there he was arm-wrestling some happless harry. They both had burning candles under their arms and the veteran was smiling - apparently losing the challenge - his arm just inches from the flame.

He was just toying with the guy. After what seemed like minutes, but was probably just 10 seconds or so, he turned the tables and now his opponent was on the ropes. He tried to be as tough - but he wasn't. As his arm got close to the flame - he gave up.

Everyone cheered as he made his way to the bar to buy the victor a stout.

Damn, I wish I knew you when.

(An aside to BG - "Who's this chucker?")

glue birl said...

Let me just go crazy here for a minute to get this out of my system:

Don't chuck, never have chucked, never will chuck. No chuck!

And you wanted to be my latex salesman...

Back and to the left. Back and to the left.

I'm not driving him to the airport!

So Biff wants to be a Buff.

Ya gotta see the baby...

That is one magic luggie.

She looks like Lyndon Johnson.

Don't you love to make a key?

*I'm* Keith Hernandez...

Ok. I'm done now.

I'm going to go play on my blog now.


WW said...

Actually, Neddie and I knew a Chucker, way back when and, oddly enough, his name came up in conversation just the other night. Coincidence? I think not! More likely conspiracy theory.

Matt said...

WW said...

Whoa. I just felt a tremble in the time-space continuum.

Will Divide said...

Walked by the Molly Wee many many times when I lived on 21st near 8th, though Peter McManus on 7th was my local, that and the Old Town. But we were neighbors once, Neddy, and glorious days they were.

I was working the night sports desk for the NY Times' online news project in '86 for game six. (Yes, a little thing called NY Pulse which the gang on 43rd St. killed not long after the Series.) Annnnyway... by Mookie's last at bat the news feed from the AP had stopped. EVERYONE was watching the game, we had it on the TV in the office. I then had the distinction of crashing the whole system with my headline for the game story: "Amazin'!!!!!!!!!"

Exclamation points in heds are not Times style, don't ya know.