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Monday, February 4, 2013

Cranky re-run Monday - “JACK’S” – A COLLEGE BAR


This is a post from February 2012.  It was not especially well received, but I liked it so here it is again.

College kids drink. The legal age to drink in most states is 21. Most college kids are under 21. Colleges need a “Jack’s”.

I went to Lafayette College in Easton Pennsylvania in the 60’s. “Jack’s” was a small bar about 10 miles outside of Easton, a small oasis for underage college kids in a desert of farmland and old country roads. Jack was 80 years old; his wife Glad was the same. Jack liked college kids. I guess they made him feel young. We loved "Jack’s". Jack did not ask for ID, fake or otherwise. He did not care, he was 80. What would authorities do, take away his license? I’m not sure he even had a liquor license. Would anyone put an 80 year old in jail for serving underage kids?

"Jack’s" was not easy to find. It seemed only college students knew where to find it. It did not have neon lights to make it stand out, locals did not frequent the bar; I never saw anyone in "Jack’s" that was not an underage college student.

The beer at “Jack’s” was a dime for a six ounce glass; hard booze was…I don’t know, no one ever ordered hard liquor. The juke box played anything from Al Jolson to sixties rock for a nickel a song. Food consisted of a “Glad burger” which was a giant cheese burger, potato chips, hard boiled eggs, and tiny steamed clams from the Delaware River. I doubt if the food was very good, but somehow in the atmosphere of “Jack’s” I have never had better burgers, chips, eggs or steamed clams.

Entertainment at “Jack’s” was the guy on the stool next to you, or Jack himself. There was nothing but good conversation without the distraction of women (patrons of “Jack’s” were all from Lafayette, an all male school). Jack had one good story after another and we never tired of hearing them.

The highlight of any trip to “Jack’s” was Jack’s recital of “The Face on the Bar Room Floor”. It would take several shots and a little encouragement to get Jack to perform but perform he did with gestures, expressions and voice inflections practiced and perfected over God only knows how many years. No one could recite like Jack:

Here is the poem in its entirety; read at least the last eight lines for "flavor"

'Twas a balmy summer evening

And a goodly crowd was there,

That well nigh filled Joe's barroom

At the corner of the square.

As songs and witty stories

Came through the open door,

A vagabond crept slowly in

And posed upon the floor.

“Where did it come from?” someone said,

“The wind has blown it in.”

“What does it want?” another cried,

“Some whiskey, rum or gin?”

Here Toby, sic’ em,

If your stomach is equal to the work,

I wouldn't touch him with a fork,

He's filthy as a Turk.

This badinage the poor wretch took with stoical good grace.

In fact, he smiled as though he thought

He had struck the proper place.

Come boys, I know there's kindly hearts

Among so good a crowd;

To be in such good company

Would make a deacon proud.

Give me a drink, that’s what I want.

I'm out of funds you know, when I had cash to treat the gang,

This lad was never slow. What? You laugh as though you think,

This pocket never held a sou,

I once was fixed as well, my boys,

As any of you.

There thanks, that’s braced me nicely.

God Bless you one and all. Next time I pass this good saloon,

I'll make another call.

Give you a song? No, I can't do that.

My singing days are past.

My voice is cracked, my throat's worn out,

And my lungs are going fast.

Aye, give me another whiskey and I'll tell you what to do

I'll tell you a funny story and in fact I'll promise two.

That I was ever a decent man,

Not one of you would think,

But I was, some four or five years back.

Say, give me another drink.

Fill 'er up, Joe, I want to put some life

Into this old frame.

Such little drinks, to a bum like me

are miserably tame.

Five fingers, that's the scene, and corking and whiskey too,

Well, here's luck boys, and landlord,

My best respects to you.

You’ve treated me pretty kindly,

And I'd like to tell you how,

I came to be this dirty sap, you see before you now.

As I told you once, I was a man

With muscle, frame and health,

But for a blunder, ought have made considerable wealth.

I was a painter, not one that daubed on bricks or wood,

But an artist, and for my age I was rated pretty good,

I worked hard at my canvas, and bidding fair to rise,

And gradually I saw, the star of fame before my eyes.

I made a picture, perhaps you've seen,

It's called the “Chase of Fame.”

It brought me fifteen hundred pounds

And added to my name.

It was then I met a woman, now come the funny part;

With eyes that petrified my brain, and sank into my heart.

Why don't you laugh it's funny, that the vagabond you see

could ever have a woman and expect her love for me.

But it was so, and for a month or two, her smiles were freely given,

And when her loving lips touched mine, I thought I was in heaven.

Boys did you ever see a girl, for whom your soul you'd give,

With a form like Venus De Milo, too beautiful to live,

With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-noor,

And a wealth of chestnut hair?

If so, it was she, for boys there never was, another half so fair.

I was working on a portrait,

One afternoon in May,

Of a fair haired boy, a friend of mine,

Who lived across the way.

My Madeline admired him,

And much to my surprise,

She said she'd like to know the lad,

Who had such dreamy eyes.

She didn't take long to find him,

Before the month had flown,

My friend had stolen my darling,

And I was left alone.

And ere a year of misery had passed above my head.

That jewel I treasured so, had tarnished and was dead.

That's why I took to drink boys. Why, I never see you smile,

I thought you'd be amused boys, and laughing all the while.

Why, what's the matter friend? There's a teardrop in your eye.

Come, laugh like me. It's only babes and women that should cry.

Say boys, if you give me just another whiskey and I'll be glad,

I'll draw right here the picture, of the face that drove me mad.

Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score;

You shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor.

Another drink and with chalk in hand, the vagabond began,

To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.

Then, as he placed another lock upon that shapely head,

With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture — dead!

The end of the performance marked the closing of Jack's bar. One more round of “Dimeys” and it was back to campus. We survived the drunken trip home only because the country roads at 1AM were empty.

Jack was an old man. He was probably a drunk. He had no scruples with regard to Pennsylvania liquor laws.

We received an education on life at “Jack’s” that was not offered at any college.


  1. I loved this story, recalled the old-old days of campus life and those little out of the way spots that catered to the college kids. Sounds like Jack's left you with some fond memories and a bit of education about life. Loved the poem too!

  2. Aren't laws just funny - made to be broken! Our legal drinking age is 18 here but they are trying to change it to 21 - good or bad idea? Who knows.... I just know it won't make a difference one way or the other. There will always be a Jack's somewhere.

  3. I was 18 when you could be 18 to drink. Like anything, you need to know how to do it and you need to know how to set it aside.

    Lovely post. :-)


  4. Great story Joe. A formal education without experiences like these would make for a less than well rounded person. I'm sure you're a better person today because of Jack.


  5. Everyone should have a "Jack" in their life!!

  6. It was legal, but we had a hole-in-the-wall hangout with quarter-a-draw beer and chili night. It should have been ILLEGAL.

  7. I know Jacks. My husband went to Layfette. hope my daughter who goes to this college now knows nothing at all about this nonsense!