Monday, April 4, 2011

The Snake Bridge

The following story was sent to me by Matt Millbauer,
an old friend and Windsor Terrace native. Thanks Matty!

Back in the summer of 1979 my brother and I had a problem. There weren’t any good neighborhood bars for us to enjoy a nice cold brew and a good ballgame. Well, actually, there were about six or so within a ten block radius, but they were not for us. Those bars asked for I.D., so that was a big problem.

Now, trying to get a beer at these bars was a dangerous proposition. First of all, I was 16 years old and my brother was 14. Second of all, if my parents found out that we were in a bar, we definitely would not have made it to 17 and 15, respectively. And lastly, back then the neighborhood was a different place than it is today. People looked out for each other and that included other people’s kids. If we attempted to get served at one of the local bars, one phone call and we would be dead meat before we got home.

We were actually smart enough to know this too, so Terrace Bar (East 4th & Greenwood), Harold’s Bar (East 3rd St. & Ft Hamilton), Ulmer’s (Vanderbilt & East 3rd) were out. Since we lived on East 5th off Ft Hamilton this would be akin to ‘Shitting where you eat’. There was a bar on Church Ave and East 5th called the Sportsman Lounge, but our Mom’s good friend lived right up the street. Too risky, so in comes Pat’s Pub.

Pat’s Pub was on Prospect Avenue off of Greenwood Avenue down the block from the local firehouse. In order to get there you had to cross what was called by local youth the ‘Snake Bridge’-a fairly ugly green bridge that crossed over the Prospect Expressway. This expressway kinda separated these two areas of the neighborhood. Even though it was really only a stones throw away, we rarely ever ventured over it.

For whatever reason the bridge and the expressway acted as a boundary, and kids from over that side stayed over there and we stayed on our side. Every spring, however these two factions would come together at I.H.M’s annual Bazaar which sometimes involved the local authorities.

So Pat’s Pub was far away enough for us to try to get that beer, but close enough to stumble back home and more importantly not be seen.

We had grown a little tired of having to buy our beer at Wholesale Farms on Church Avenue-the only local store in the neighborhood that didn’t proof. Having to deal with Mike and his mutant fingernails and exorbitant prices was getting tiresome. Not to mention having to traipse all the way back up to the bocce courts on Vanderbilt St. to drink them.

In truth however, the impetus for us to attempt to visit Pat’s might have come from that fact that we had recently ‘procured’ my brother-in-law’s old draft card. It showed that he was 25 years old. This of course did not deter us. Now when I was 16 years old, I looked about 12. Seriously- about 5’4 and 100 lbs. My younger brother actually looked older than me, and with his ‘who gives a shit’ attitude was the logical choice to buy the beer once we got to Pat’s. So with our new I.D. we walked over to the other side on a bright Saturday morning.

It was about Noon when we walked into Pat’s Pub. Actually I scurried in and made a beeline for the back, as my brother Richie sauntered over to the bar. If you have ever seen the movie ‘A Bronx Tale’, think about the scene when the motorcycle club meets up with the mobsters in their bar. That bar was very similar to what Pat’s looked like. It was a very small place, with a square bar in the front and a Jukebox, some tables and a shuffleboard in the back. I think it used to be a place called Jerry’s Hardware a few years before. Either way, it had the vibe of a social club in someone’s living room. As I nervously fumbled with my selections, my brother bellies up to the bar, confidently puts two five dollar bills on it, while lighting up a Parliament. Right now there are exactly two people in the bar besides us. One is the bartender, and the other is a grizzled older man who sits nursing a beer and probably a hangover from the
night before.

“What’s Up. Gimee a pitcher of Bud and two mugs please”
my brother asks calmly.

I am standing there watching this out of the corner of my eye, trying to act cool. It’s not working. The bartender, a guy with many tattoos stares at my brother for what seemed to be 15 minutes without saying a word. He then leans over the bar and asks him:

“Do you have any I.D. kid?”

My brother, as confidant a 14 year old you would ever find, now seems pissed that this guy has the audacity to proof him. So with a roll of his eyes, and cigarette in the corner of his mouth, he flips my brother-in law’s draft card over to him. By this time, I am shitting it out over by the jukebox. I am having visions of the barkeep pressing a silent alarm and S.W.A.T appearing at the front door any minute now. Another insufferable minute passes as the bartender looks over the I.D. then my brother about 58 times.

“ So Mr. Ortiz, it says here that you are 25 years old.”

“Yep, that’s what it says.”
my brother answers quickly, now clearly perturbed.

I feel the moment of truth is upon us as the barkeep looks one last time at us and then looks over to his lone customer who has been sitting quietly, clearly amused by the scene playing out in front of him. At last the bartender turns to his other customer and says:

“Do you believe the size of the balls on this kid?”
The customer shakes his head as he stifles a laugh.

The barkeep doesn’t say a word as he tosses the I.D. back to my brother. That’s it I figure we are done. He then, to my shock and amazement, silently pours a pitcher of beer and grabs two glasses. He looks at us and says:

“One pitcher, sit in the back and leave when you’re done.”

My brother smiles at him through his cigarette smoke
as he grabs our bounty.

“Keep the change”, he says.

Needless to say that was probably the fastest we ever drank in our lives. We stumbled out of Pat’s Pub into the afternoon sun and found our way back over the snake bridge into our territory. We were late for dinner that night, allowing for many basketball/softball games to help us sober up. I really don’t remember going back to Pat’s again, it closed down no long after that summer and by that time age didn’t matter. I think all the fun was in the chase, anyway. Now if we could only get served at Ulmers- no bridge to deal with.

Matt Millbauer


KARMABrooklyn said...

Which corner of East 3rd Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway was Harold's on?

Ron Lopez said...

Harolds was on the South/East corner of East 3rd and FHP. I think there is a Chinese take-out place there now.


Elliot James said...

Great story. Anyone remember a dive bar called The Chesterfield Lounge on Flatbush? I can't recall the cross street.

alcatrazzledazzle said...

I love this piece. Brilliant! Also, I moved near 4th and Greenwood a year or so ago and have always been curious what that empty bar/restaurant place is on the corner. Thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I definitely remember the Chesterfield. I spent many, many of my college age nights there (1980-1984). It's been a long time but it was around Glenwood Road, give or take a block. It was the first and only topless bar in our area of Brooklyn me and my friends knew about. Later we discovered another one also on Flatbush Ave. a few blocks north off of Ditmas Ave. We went in one night and were the only white guys in there! Kind of like the bar scene from "Animal House"! Anyway, Chesterfield had 2 rotating older bartenders; a hefty Irish guy named Billy and a feisty 'broad' named Dixie. A 7 oz Bud was only $1. until 8 pm when the girl started to dance for the night. Then they were like $3 or so. So we would get there around 7pm and pound a bunch of Bud nips before the price went up! There was another woman pushing 70 at the time (whose name escapes me) who would waitress the few tables & booths there. She was a burlesque dancer in her day, and there were some pictures hanging up of her from that time. She looked pretty darn good and was well-endowed. She would occasionally hop up on the stage and do this sort of jerky dance and lift up her top, exposing her old lady mega-bra! Somewhat disturbing now but back then it cracked us up. There was a Chinese take-out place right across the street that had a thick plexiglass barrier like banks do. It wasn't the best of neighborhoods there if you remember. We would stumble across Flatbush all drunk to get some food, making fun of the workers there while we waited. Not cool, I know, but we were young, drunk and stupid. Anyway, thanks for reminding me of that place and all the great nights I had there. All the best. - Joe A.

Anonymous said...

I just remembered - the old waitress at Chesterfields name was Betty.
- Joe A.

cath said...

I can't believe how many bars there were in the vicinity of Fort Hamilton and Greenwood where none stand now! It's hard to even imagine one in that area now. When did they all close?

Casey Nicole said...

Funny to read my dad owned sportsman lounge