Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…
The Great Bengal Pack-In
When The Bar first opened the surface of the bar didn’t have any special construct at the waitress stations beyond the polished brass stanchions designating each of the two stations or “stalls” as they were sometimes called. Even those were not original, but “after market” add-ons.
As on all well designed bars there was a solid strip of molding about an inch and a half high running along the edge of the bar on the customer side. This was a ‘spill rail’ intended to keep accidental spills from drenching the customer. This same rail required the waitress lift their trays up over the obstacle as they took out their orders because when Brunswick originally designed those bars waitresses were a rare thing. No provision was made for someone sliding a trayload of drinks around and off the bar.
This problem was relieved somewhat by two rectangular trays inverted and laid side by side but neither the bartenders nor the waitresses liked this arrangement. The trays slid around and the girls still had to lift their trays over an inch of rail to get into the fray. But that’s what they had and that’s what they had to work with.
When The Bar first opened T.O. only had your basic television hookup. Nothing fancy. A 21 inch television at each end of the bar and a basic cable hookup. The relatively small satellite dish of today did not exist in an affordable form in the latter part of the twentieth century.
To generate more business T.O. decided to invest in a big screen and a projector. He knew very well that most of his male patrons were sport junkies and there was money to be made catering to the NFL broadcasts. The San Francisco 49ers were just starting their Golden Era under Coach Bill Walsh and T.O. was one of the first to locally put in a projector to capitalize on this.
His first projector was a heavy, cumbersome, mobile floor model which proved to be difficult to set up for each use but at the time it was ‘state of the art’ and was an impressive hookup indeed, particularly in a small town bar of the day. Later on he wisely installed a ceiling mounted version. This was much easier to operate since it did not need delicate positioning and focusing each time it was turned on and eliminated the shadow block made when someone walked in front of the floor model. But for this part of the tale, he still had the floor projector.
It is 1981 and after years of mediocracy, the Forty Niner’s are on a roll. Bill Walsh has the magic chalk when it comes to diagramming plays on the board and in the field and he has a team made of men that were the stuff of legends.
I was personally ambivalent about football…I was ambivalent about any major sport actually, having grown up in a home where other things were more important than athletic prowess. I wasn’t very vocal about it. Because, in a saloon, sports means an opportunity to make money. Even a sports know-nothing like me knew that, particularly when it came to football, a certain type of madness descended on the nation and held it firmly in its grip.
Sunday football games made good money for the bar on a day when not much money normally came in. Sunday, after all, was for most, a time to rest and quit what Satchel Paige called “the social ramble.” The football madness would not be denied, however and T.O. was determined to encourage it and profit from it. His big screen was one of the few in the area. The Bar was ready for Game.
It paid off well. They came, they drank, they ate, the went home. And the next Sunday they would repeat the cycle. T.O. had chosen an auspicious year to focus on the football season.
As the Forty-Niners chances for the Super Bowl improved the crowds got bigger A taste of victory was in the air.
There was a crucial Must Win game coming up for the 49ers that no one would be able to see it on local TV. It was against the Cincinnati Bengals and, being a local game, it was blacked out on local area cable television feeds in keeping with The Rules of the day.
What to do?
Now, as I have said, satellite dishes in those days were not these compact little bowls of today that you can fit on the roof of anything stronger than a cardboard box. No, they were great, clumsy things that looked like old fashioned WWII radar screens seen in History Channel or the radio telescopes used in astronomy.
But T.O. had an idea…a brilliant idea…
T.O. lined up a Muscle Crew…an unprecedented four bartenders… plus a bar back and bade me to put four waitresses in the lineup. Most of the creew, including myself, thought he was going a bit over the top in this but…he was the boss…
Quick fix foods were made ready in the kitchen… nothing more complicated than a hamburger would be offfered and nacho chips were laid in.
T.O. rented a couple of long folding tables and put them on the dance floor taking care not to block the cone of light needed by the floor projector. He rented some folding chairs ‘just in case.’
T.O. then put the word out that the Niner’s vs. Bengal’s game would be shown on The Bar’s big screen. He couldn’t legally advertise it in the papers since it was blacked out but he did a big time verbal campaign. He was hoping to get in under the radar and gambled that word of mouth would do the trick for him. His competitors (particularly The Other Place), had they known about it would have been amazed at the chutzpa!
They must have known about it since we shared some customers. But The Other Place did nothing. They didn’t have a big screen yet and besides, how could T.O. promise such a thing being that he didn’t have a satellite and the game was blacked out?
They did not know that T.O. had contacted a satellite company and rented a satellite truck with plans to set up in the parking lot on Game Day.
By law The Bar had to post a sign of how many patrons were allowed in the place according to the local Fire Marshall. The Bar was deemed to have a legal posted capacity of 180 patrons. T.O. figured he might get 200 crammed into the place, maybe a few more…
On Game Day a light rain was falling. There was a heart-stopping moment when the satellite vendor was late. T.O. had some anxious moments. But the driver had taken a wrong exit on the freeway and arrived in plenty of time to set up.
The customers were coming in early. They started coming into the parking lot even as the satellite dish was being configured. But before long the tables closest to the screen were filled, the waitresses hauling trays of drinks, the register ringing merrily. The kitchen was selling burgers and nachos and eveyone was enjoying the pre-game festivities.
And still they came…
Now the bar was full, too. As were all the round tables and smaller cocktail tables. The Bar Back and I were setting out folding chairs so we could double and triple the patrons at the tables.
And still they came…
Someone had the novel idea to actually sit on the bar itself.
Next thing you know there were tiered seats.
A row of people sitting on the bar.
A row of people sitting on barstools
A row of people sitting on chairs in front of the bar stools.
People were sitting on top of the electronic games.
People were clinging to the room dividers.
They were everywhere…
And somehow, through it all, this mass of sports starved humanity minded their manners and thoroughly enjoyed what they knew to be a very special game and at the same time a risky situation that everyone knew could go any number of ways. No one wanted to mess it up.
This was, after all a room full of mostly guys drinking mostly beer and steadily getting more inebriated as time went on.
But there were no fights. No arguments. No macho posturing. Nothing but people enjoying the moment. I think they all understood that, to enjoy the game, all must cooperate and mind their manners.
The kitchen dishwasher was going full tilt all day washing glasses because there was no way the bartender could handle washing glasses and make drinks too. The Bar Back and myself took turns running racks of glasses to the kitchen and back.
The Bar Back was kept busy hauling ice, cutting fruit, stocking booze, emptying the trash cans. The beer was consumed in truly awesome quantities. I was mother-henning my saucer eyed flock of waitresses, emptying their wastebaskets, giving encouraging words… At times I wondered, as they pulled away with overloaded trays, if they would make it back to the bar as the disappeared into the happily cheering sea of humanity.
There was always a line to the restrooms and I had to restock the toilet paper in both restrooms twice before the day was out. This in a place where each bathroom stall held four rolls.
Someone did a head count at half time. It was truly incredible.
The crowd numbered just over three hundred people!
No one could quite believe it.
When halftime finally arrived some of us stepped outside for a little relief. There was a light rain but light enough that it was almost a mist and quite refreshing to tell the truth.
Thar I wuz, taking a break when I was approached by a newspaper reporter, a woman, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle.
“You have too many people in there.” she said.
“Yes ma’am.” said I.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?”
“Do? Why, I ain’t gonna do anything ‘about it’ I’m just going to try to get through the day without having my crew collapse on me.”
“Well, it’s illegal to have that many people in there.”
“Missy, since we’ve been out here in the parking lot I’ve seen three cop cars and a fire truck drive by apparently disinterested in the proceedings here. I think they know better than to try to disrupt what you see before you.” “Now it may be true that we’re in violation here” I continued, “but you’ve seen for yourself that the crowd is well behaved. This is a happy crowd. This is a crowd that knows that it must be ‘ruly’ to take in the viewing of the game today. Ergo: ‘ruly’ is required. UNruly is out and Not To Be Tolerated”.
“Lemme tell you something. This country was founded on people fed up with governmental rules and regulations. But I’ll tell you what you, as a staunch, law abiding citizen can do.”
“What?” she asked.
“When the game starts again,” I said, “You can go pull the plug on the TV. I’ll even show you were it is. ”
“Yep. You go ahead and Do that. Make your speech about how wrong it is how illegal and immoral it is and pull the plug on that game for god and country. Of course you realize something don’t you?”
“No, what?” she asked.
“You’ll never make it out of there alive. They’ll git you before you make three steps to the door and tear you to pieces. You’re better off waiting around and seeing if this turns into a disaster. Then you’ll have your real scoop.”
And so the game resumed and to everyone’s great joy, it was the best kind of football….exciting and with no clear winner until the last minutes of the fourth quarter. It was a Niner’s victory, chiching their shot to what eventually became their first Super Bowl win and the start of the team’s Golden Era of Walsh and Montana. There were celebratory rounds bought and consumed and the crowd filed out without incident, joyfully exhausted and ready for a nap. The crew was burnt and battered but happy because the tips spiked in celebration.
All of my flock survived little the worse for wear if you didn’t mind the thousand yard stare.
No injuries, no disasters, and a rarity…a positive article in the local papers about a saloon, our saloon and the resourcefulness, nay, the vindication, of T.O.’s well thought out success.. It was a glorious day in the history of The Bar.
Ten days later two faux marble slabs were delivered and installed at the waitress stations, paid for out of the profits of the Great Bengal Pack-In. Roomy, smooth surfaces replaced the uneven, upside down trays and made solid, non-shifting take-off ramps level with the top of the spill rail molding on the bar. They were the final touch in making the bar labor friendly for bartenders and waitresses alike.
After the slabs had been there for two weeks no one could remember what it was like when they were not there.
But those who had attended the Great Bengal Pack-In never forgot it.
It was a memorable day…
…everyone was glad when it was over…
Paper Dolls by Vann
This one was an early effort. The airbrush was off in the future and I was working largely with ink and watercolor pens on card stock. I had a fascination with yellow eyes. I had seen eyes so light brown they were golden on one of my guitar students and I never forgot them. Every once in a while would make some in a painting with yellow eyes. Very distinctive. The special ink for lips had been discovered and put to use…
This is an unsigned work since Paper Dolls by Vann had not yet come into being.
But it would…