Monday, January 23, 2006

The passing of an era

I was talking to one of the guys at the deli-mart last night about the old TV show "Cheers"... He had asked me if there could ever really be a place like that because all the bars he's ever been too were just dance clubs disguised as bars. Never any local color...
Well, I know of one. At least it was like that for a while.
My "Cheers" was Leneghan's Tavern on the corner of Frankford Avenue and Arendell Street in Northeast Philadelphia.
It was one of the few places in my early adulthood where I felt totally at ease. It was like coming home walking through that kelly-green door with the stained glass Irish flag as a window. It wasn't just a neighborhood bar, it was a place where you could actually take your wife and kids to... Had a full menu with about the best hand-carved roast beef sandwiches in the world, aside from pizzas, cheese fries, cheesesteaks... It was more than beer, it was a place to go when you've seen too much and wanted to escape for a while. Where the people you were with knew exactly why you were there.
It was a cop hangout too... How I started going there. My brother was a regular there for years and when I got on the job I started to frequent it too. Any time of the day you could find fifteen or twenty off-duty cops, firefighters and nurses there... It was also called for a time "Homicide Detective Division, North" because a lot of the Homicide Squad would show up and stake there claim to a section of the bar...
It was also a place that sports were on the TV's all the time, except at 6 PM, when the local news would come on... WPVI Channel 6 only, then the whole bar would watch Jeopardy! Then sports would go back on... I walked in one slow night and sat down and ordered up a beer. I looked at the TV and asked the bartender, Jimmy what was on...
"Checkoslovakian Women's hammer throwing..."
"Women's hammer throwing? That's a woman? Who's winning?"
"I don't know, but I got a 'C' Note riding on the redhead with the mustache and five O'clock shadow..."
It was that kind of place. The 76er's, Flyers, Eagles, Phillies... Always on. A dart game or shuffleboard game was always in progress and I was a pretty good dart thrower... Made the league three years running.
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were special there, they always had one good local band or another playing, and Sunday nights, Jerry the DJ would spin the oldies until 2 AM. On special occasions, the huge one being St. Patrick's Day, bands would come from as far as Ireland to play all day.
And everyone knew everyone else. They were real friends who would drop anything to help you in the blink of an eye.
And like Cheer's, there was plenty of local color... Always something to laugh about. And everyone had a nickname. Some not all that imaginative, like my brother and I collectively were called the Wolf Brothers. Myself alone was "Tommy the Cop", we had K-9 Joe, another cop, Homicide Tommy, Newfie Sandy (who had a very thick Newfoundland accent, stuttered horribly and got worse when he was drinking) Rotten Ronnie (Who got that moniker from having the lay off his whole roofing crew on Christmas Eve one year) Earl the Girl, Rhino, Mike the Chinaman ( lost a testicle to cancer and became 'Won hung Lo') Mike the Mick... Mikey 'heh?' because he was deaf as a post and would say 'heh?' all the time, 'Brand em' and strand em' for getting women to get a tattoo with his name on it, and as soon as they did he'd dump them and last but no least was Schleprock. (who deserves a post all to himself, and I'll do one later this week... He was a scream!)
It also was used in the filming of a ill-fated TV show about Philly firefighters called "Philly Heat" that never got past the pilot.
When I left Philadelphia to move to Arizona it was in the process of being sold...
I went back last year and had to stop in. I'm sorry I did because I was saddened by what I saw. The place looked the same, but somehow there was a thin veneer of dirt over everything. The new owner and time hadn't been very kind to my old haunt. Seems like all the old faces were gone too... Newer, seedier faces were replaced by the familiar smiling ones from my past. I didn't recognize anyone. I had one drink and left with a tear in my eye. It was saddening to see another part of my past gone like that. It was truely a passing of an era in my life. But I'll always remember those days fondly.
I do understand that the owner's son opened up another one and I plan on going when I get back to Philly next time. If you're in Philly, check it out of me and let me know how it is...
Leneghan's Tavern
704 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do?
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we chooseWe'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
~Mary Hopkins
Copyright 2006 Thomas J Wolfenden


DivineMsN said...

I work down the street from that address. I don't think I ever saw a tavern there on Chestnut St but the next time I walk by it I'll check.

ahamilton said...

I can't wait to hear about Schleprock (sp?)

berly02 said...

I wish we had something like that in my town.

Lisa said...

Being of the German Catholic small town variety, there were plenty of bars like that where I grew up. There really were no dance bars. Because have you ever seen a German Catholic small towner dance? (Badly!) Alot of people have nicknames and at times I've had to stop to think to remember their REAL names. But yes, those are great places.

Sherri said...

Oh, that sounds so sad. I don't have anything like that near me, wish I did.

Cheryl said...

I've got that in my neighborhood, right across the street from my building. I wish I could visit this place though.

Lindsey said...

It's great to have places like that. We have one here called the Whistlepost. It's next to the train station. We get quarter shots when a train goes by. All of my friends work there so they all "know my name."

JenJen said...

Tom, that's the most moving and touching Ode to a Tavern I've ever read.


honkeie2 said...

I had a place like this from my high school days. It was torn down so years ago and made into a school. It was a bit dirtier than yours and allot less wholesome but still it was my "Cheers". It was sad to go back yeas later to see it all boarded up and condemed.

leneghan said...

Thanks for the comments. Tony leneghan is my father. He is back in business at Tyson and the Blvd. Also my three brother each have tavern's in the Northeast I think you would feel right at home in their places. Leneghan's Irish Inn, Leneghan's Crusader, Leneghan's Pub, Leneghan's Irish Pub.

MIKE said...