Public Houses I Have Known and Loved

My mother’s side of the family — the Baptist side – considered alcohol an abomination, Satanic spittle concocted to rob the imbiber of his or her moral wits, or to shift to a perhaps more accurate metaphor, concocted to de-magnetize the self-polluter’s moral compass.

My father’s people, on the other hand, despite their Protestant names, like Luther and Wesley, seemed not to give a rip about Holy Writ. My mother – praise be — was (and is) a non-judgmental, fun-loving person with a heightened, countercultural aversion to self-righteousness, so she didn’t consider drinking sinful and enjoys a Crown Royal and Coke on occasion.

Mama's childhood residence, the setting of one very unmerry Xmas

Mama’s childhood residence, the setting of one very unmerry Xmas

Nevertheless, her father when he drank was a belligerent drunk (he once locked the entire family out their house on Christmas Day), and my own father reacted to alcohol in Jekyll/Hyde fashion — either he had you on the carpet rolling in laughter or cowering in the closet as he hurled some odd or end across the room. So I suspect that early in their marriage, Mama might have followed in her own mother’s footsteps and attempted to discourage my father from drinking.

Perhaps Mama’s antipathy to Daddy’s drinking explains how I ended up hanging out at bars at a very early age — even before I acquired language and therefore memory. These bar excursions must have occurred when we lived on Wentworth Street or when my parents lived at Clemson. The story goes (and my parents shared it together on numerous occasions to numerous audiences) that sometimes when Mama left me in Daddy’s care, he absconded with me to the most obscure bar he could think of, only to have the phone ring there and the barman to ask if there were a Wesley Moore present. Daddy, according to this legend, awed by Mama’s preternatural ability to track him down, would come straight home to face the wrath of his red-headed Scotch-Irish wife.

No telling the impact the conviviality of taverns — the blinking pinball machines, the raucous laughter, the seductive perfumes, the voice of Nat King Cole on the jukebox — had on my tiny developing cerebral cortex. Some studies claim that exposing infants with their rapidly developing brains to classical music enhances math skills, so perhaps my exposure to cigarette smoke, vulgar jokes, and male camaraderie helped to develop my Dionysian social skills, my ability to strike up an amiable conversation to the occupant of my adjacent bar stool, whether he be a vacationing Wall Street bigshot at the Rue de Jean or a unwashed bearded homeless rummy at Chico Feo.

Truth be told, I like hanging out solo at what my ancestors called public houses.

The Pool Room

My first post-toddler bar/tavern/pub hangout was the S&S Sporting Center (aka the Pool Room) located on Main Street in my hometown Summerville. Although it wasn’t literally a tavern, Mr. George, his wife Monkey, and son Boise served draft and canned beers in an establishment that featured a long bar with at least twenty swivelable bar stools. I sat at that bar many a Saturday or summer day slurping down delicious chilidogs, sipping Cokes, eavesdropping on beer swilling rednecks or wayward Episcopalians.

Scrupulously honest, the Pool Room proprietors demanded proof of age, and when you turned 18, handing your license to Boise as you ordered a draft was a rite of passage. You could go there by yourself and be sure to know someone — if even if were only know-it-all Boise, who not only had an associate degree from Brevard College but who had also served his county in Korea.

Once I hit college and my hair had reached my shoulders, I quit hanging at the Pool Room in the summers. The last time I remember being there, some white stranger with a Hendrix-sized jew-fro came in, and I overheard a redneck say, “Let’s kick his ass before he puts one of them psycheee-DEL-ic records on the jukebox. ”

We started driving to Charleston to hang out at College of Charleston bars like Hogpenny’s or to the Isle of Palms to destinations now long gone.

USC Bars

IMG_1468Let’s see, the Campus Club, the Opus, the Second Level, the Senate Plaza, Capitol Coal, Oliver’s Pub — and, of course, the Golden Spur where Judy Birdsong and I met as bartenders.

Located in the back of the student union building, what the Spur lacked in style — it felt sort of like a cafeteria — it made up in convenience and prices. Happy Hour beers cost 15 cents and a pitcher a dollar. Also, sometimes the Spur featured musical and comedy acts. Steve Martin played there before anyone had ever heard of him, and I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee play there for free.

Being a bartender at the Spur made you sort of a minor celebrity around campus in that seeming strangers recognized you and called you by name, but I tended not to dig lots of the regulars, a few of who seemed to be nascent alcoholics. We had this irritating promotion where you’d by your own Golden Spur mug and carry with you to the bar and receive your first draft free.

In the dead summer time, when I was the only non-managerial bartender, some kids would come in at 11 and stay virtually all day and night. You could set your watch by their coming and going. Then in the high season during Monday Night Football or Columbia’s big party night Thursday, the place would be packed wall-to-wall, and occasionally you’d have to deal with belligerent drunks or puke-bespattered restrooms.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time there. It might be the best job I ever had.

Charleston Bars

Rue de Jean is my downtown hangout, and I’m show up there around 9:30 on the second Tuesday of each month after my book club disperses. What distinguishes the Rue from any of the other bars is Mr. Steve Smoak, a world-class bartender who on a busy night moves with the grace of Nureyev as she slides over to grab a bottle and in one fluid motion scoops ice and pours while seeking eye contact with the next customer. When things aren’t busy, he’s a witty raconteur, a cat who knows his way around.

Of course, the so-called City of Folly Beach probably has more bars per capita than any other municipality in the Palmetto State. I suggest the Surf Bar for visitors and the Jack of Cups for beer connoisseurs, the Sand Dollar for Saturday Night dancing, the soon-to-be-defunct Sunset Cay for sunsets, but, by far, my major hangout is Chico Feo, an outdoor Caribbean bohemian confab of the homeless, the homely, and the hip (though the bartender Charlie is on record as to hating hipsters). Like, Smoak at the Rue who reaches for a bottle of Jameson’s when he sees me coming, Charlie or Hank at Chico dips into the cooler an All Day IPA, which costs a mere 3 bucks.

Some of the clientele are down and out but seem happy, like characters from a Jerry Jeff Walker song. In fact, last Saturday, Greg, a homeless regular, chided me for grading my essays at the Jack of Cups. “You should grade them outdoors,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever sleep indoors ever again.”  It said it as if sleeping under a roof was somehow inhibiting.

“What about the winter,” I said. “Don’t you get cold in the winter?”

“I have a sleeping bag,” he said and smiled and ordered another PBR.

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