When throwing around ideas for this week's Bar Guide, the editorial staff started reminiscing about bygone bars: the Bombay Bicycle Club, the lounge in the Admiral Benbow Inn on Summer, the Two-Way Inn (which apparently only had one way in), Nikita's, etc.
One of those old bars, J-Wag's Lounge on Madison, was the subject of a story I wrote back in 1997. It's one of my favorites, one of those that writes itself.
The occasion was the bar's 32nd anniversary under the ownership of Tommy Stewart, who bought the bar from Jimmy Wagner (the J-Wag) in 1965. Employees and patrons were coming together to celebrate the bar and Stewart. The stories they and Stewart shared were funny and sometimes bittersweet.
One anecdote that didn't make the story came from a regular, who, though he admitted to sometimes stealing from the bar, was genuinely puzzled as to why Stewart was stern with him.
Another was from the time before J-Wag's changed from a college bar to gay bar. Stewart, who eventually came out himself, would bring his infant son to the bar, and the patrons would pass the baby along to each other by sliding him on the bar by his diapered bottom. (Stewart teared up while telling me this story. His son was killed in a car accident when he was 21 years old.)
A final anecdote that did make the story involved a drag queen: "Lots of people remember when Ms. Hettie McDaniel earned herself a 30-day ban from performing 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' because her last go-round resulted in flying ashtrays, busted beer bottles, a damaged bar, and a broken wrought-iron table ('It's just the way the song is done,' explains McDaniel)."
With that last bit of mayhem, I turn to points that always need to be made with things like a Bar Guide: everything in moderation and never drink and drive.
When I spoke with Ben McLean, managing partner of Alchemy, and Adam Record, Alchemy's bar manager, for the Bar Guide, both stressed that all bartenders should know their establishment's policy on handling intoxicated patrons. "It's our responsibility," Record says. "We're serving people a drug."
Bruce VanWyngarden is on vacation. His column will return in two weeks.