Way back in the last century, around 1977, there were no “craft beers.” There were, however, a wide variety of beers and ales from around the world. My friends and I would sometimes take a forty-mile drive down to Allentown from Stroudsburg (both in Pennsylvania) to The House of Imports and sample great libations. They also stocked “culinary delights from Europe” like chocolate-covered insects.
We would drink a little (it was a long drive home) and buy a lot to take out — a couple of cases each. About a block from the bar was a large beer distributor that the Town Tavern (a local Stroudsburg bar) received weekly deliveries from. This distributor stocked Bass Ale from England. My friends and I petitioned John Flood, the owner of the Town Tavern, to add Bass Ale to his weekly order, and he agreed.
Everything was fine for several weeks, but then other people started buying our beer! Something had to be done!
I had only a casual friendship with John, but he seemed like a good guy. I explained the situation, and he was sympathetic to our plight. Although the craft beer movement was still far off, he decided to offer a large selection of imported beers on tap… 12 taps to start. He was going to need someone to manage this transition and I raised my hand first. I got the keys to the bar and an El Camino (half truck, half car). We had a few beers to cement the deal, and the next day, John started remodeling the bar.
I had a day job delivering papers and magazines for Tri-State News, so, at first, I only worked part time. On the weekend, I helped with the renovating (while drinking beer). It took a couple of months to complete. I began working from 6:00pm to 2:00am while still working during the day. After a while, it began to be too much effort to do both jobs. Then one day something funny happened… I was driving on my magazine route when I saw my ex-girlfriend, Sherry, driving next to me. I tried to motion or signal her to pull over, but instead she locked the car doors and clutched her little dog. We had lived together for four years, and I never abused her in any way.
The fact of the matter was, she left me for Luke the Drifter (this is not the Hank Williams Christian alter-ego) a few months prior to this unexpected meeting. Luke was well known among the “River Rats” — squatters along the Delaware River where they claimed land earmarked for the Tocks Island Dam (an Army Corps of Engineers project). Luke was known for stealing other guys’ women if they were away or incarcerated. But the Tocks Island Dam story is for another post.
After my unsuccessful attempt to give a friendly “hello” to my old flame, I completed my route and returned to the shop. I was told to go to the boss’s office. The door to his office was open. My boss was at his desk and motioned towards the door as he said, “There’s someone here to see you.” It’s Luke the Drifter and he’s mad and also bigger than me. My boss had a lot of awards in glass cases, and we broke a few slugging it out. I got a cut on my lip, and I lost my job. Now I could bartend full time.
It was getting close to St. Patrick’s Day, our target for grand re-opening. John Flood and his wife, Criss, were good people. They married late and had 7 children between them. If you worked at the bar you were family — you could drink (and eat) gratis. Whenever you walked in there, your money was no good, whether you were working that day or not.
St. Pat’s Day was a big success. We opened at 11:00am and people were lining up, eager to bend an elbow. Of course, we had no green beer, only authentic English ale. I was fortunate to be paired with a very pleasant young lady. We made about $300 in tips and I went home happy.
The next day, I had the same co-worker. Like I said, she was really nice (in several ways) and everything was going fine. The bar was busy, and we were both hustling beers. Then, a customer requested a food order. I did what I believed any red-blooded American guy would do: I called my co-worker over, and told her this guy wanted a cheeseburger and fries. She gave me a look and plainly told me (and I quote), “Well, go make it!” This flabbergasted me, as no one told me there would be cooking involved and I only knew how to make a cheese sandwich. Reluctantly, I walked over to the grill. How hard could it be? I took a hamburger patty out of the fridge and threw it on the grill, then dumped some fries into the fryer basket. I had to get back behind the bar… people were thirsty. I turned the burger over, and put some cheese on it then I pulled a quick beer. I rescued the fries just in time (they are better well done, anyway) and served the customer, who thankfully had no complaints about the food.
Everything was going great. It was a lot better than delivering magazines, plus I got to meet girls (and take them home, if I was lucky).
Then, one afternoon, Luke the Drifter strode in. I was the only person behind the bar, so I had to wait on him. He ordered a burger and a beer. Okay. I poured him a beer, and then went over to the grill. The urge to spit on his food was tremendous, but public health laws and my conscience prevailed. He left a satisfied customer, and even gave me a tip.
I never saw the guy again. A few weeks later, I quit in order to join my good friend TanTar in Philadelphia and form a blues band. Big Bob, our bass player, gave me and my guitars a ride down to Philly. It was the Fourth of July, 1977.
John Flood’s Dead
Written and performed by Gary Newton