Of Beer and Gentlemen (Guest Post)

Of Beer and Gentlemen (Guest Post)

In the opening to his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities Dickens wrote of that time period as “the best of times and the worst of times”.  This was how I and my best buddy Stan felt on that hot August afternoon.

It was the best of times – beer was 10 cents a glass, but it was also the worst of times – you had to be 21 to drink it.

Until now our foray into the world of alcohol had been precarious.

We had swiped the odd bottle to share from my Pappy’s reserve, but that was risky.  Even when Pappy was well pickled he still remembered how to count.

There was Jed, a kid in the neighborhood, who was just breaking into bootlegging.  If people paid the prices he asked, he would be able to retire before he was 30.

We had tried a few public houses, but usually we didn’t even get to sit down before we were asked if we were 21.  The more we tried, the thirstier we got.

We had even thought of moving to New York State where the legal drinking age was 18.  We gave up that idea. We thought we would get too thirsty along the way.

It was frustrating.  We had the cash, we both had part-time jobs.  It was becoming more and more the worst of times.

One day, Stan came up to me on the street (we lived just a few houses apart) with the announcement that we were going drinking at the beer parlor that afternoon.  We didn’t use the term ‘pub’ – that was British, or ‘bar’ – that was American.  In our world, men, and sometimes women, drank beer in beer parlors.

Stan told me he had tried a place in the seedier section of town. He had just walked in, sat down, ordered a draft and was served.  I received this news with mixed feelings.  Stan was 18 but could easily pass for 20; I was 19 but was often taken for 16 or 17.

Then again, what did I have to lose?    It was worth a try.

Usually we walked everywhere.  But today, as we were anxious to get on our way, we decided to take the bus.  The fare was 10 cents (the cost of a beer) but it was a very hot afternoon and this plan had indications of turning into a special occasion.  It was worth the extra cost.

On the way Stan explained the plan.

“The beer is 10 cents a glass, 20 cents for 2, right?  We put down a quarter but we don’t let him have the nickel change as a tip.”

“Why not?” I wondered.

It was in situations like this that Stan’s brilliance came to the fore.  He continued,

“If we give him a tip right off, he might think that we’re trying to suck up to him.  So instead, after we’ve had a few, we tip him when we’re leaving.”  Stan had it all figured out.

After getting off the bus and walking briskly for a few minutes we found ourselves at the door to the Grand Hotel.  We went right in and sat down. Things didn’t look too promising – there were only about six or seven other people in the not-so-grand room.  There was no chance of getting lost in the crowd.  I sat facing the wall, trying to appear as innocent as possible.

After a 30 second eternity the barkeep came to our table and asked:

“What will it be, boys?”

Stan replied confidently, “2 drafts.” After less than a minute the barkeep returned and placed two glasses of draft beer on the table.  Stan put down his quarter.   The barkeep took the quarter, made change, hesitated for a few seconds, and placed the nickel change on the table.

As I started to gulp down the brew Stan told me to take it easy.

When the second round appeared I put down a quarter. Stan reminded me not to leave a tip.  During our third round an older gentleman staggered over to our table.  With hands visibly shaking, he asked if we could spare 10 cents for a beer.  Since we were feeling pretty good, Stan said, “Sure, we don’t want you to go thirsty!” and flipped him a dime.  He thanked us both, shook our hands, thanked us again, called us gentlemen, returned to his seat, and waved another thank you across the room.

After a few minutes, the barkeep, with a very serious look on his face, came over to our table without his tray of beer.  We thought that if we were going to get the heave-ho it didn’t matter now.  We had had our fill.

He leaned over the table, and said: “Fellows, I want to ask you something.”  After a pause, he continued, “That old guy across the room…………Is he bothering you?”

“No, not at all”, we said.

He continued, “Well, if he does, let me know and I’ll throw him out on his — !”

I don’t know how we kept straight faces.

When our thirst was quenched we made our way to the exit. As we passed the barkeep, Stan put a quarter on his tray. As we passed our new friend, he waved and called us gentlemen again.

I’ve always enjoyed beer.  I’ve tried many brews from home and abroad and never had a beer I didn’t like.  Yet, the best beer I ever drank was at The Grand Hotel on that hot August afternoon when I was 19 and Stan was 18.  Beer was 10 cents a glass and of course you had to be 21 to drink it.

Oddly enough, Stan and I never went back to The Grand.

We had passed the test, we had come of age.  We were now gentlemen.


This is a Guest Post from my good pal, Morty.  Morty is the kind of guy who says things like he did today when I called him:  “You know, I’m going to invent a phone cord that doesn’t tangle.  I’ll become a millionaire.”

When I pointed out to him that nobody uses corded phones anymore so his dreams of wealth are based on a flimsy premise, he responded, “A phone with a cord is like an umbilical cord.  You don’t really need it, but it comes in handy.”

And yeah, Morty has Tourette Syndrome.

Do you remember the day you became a gentleman?  Or your first foray into the world of alcohol?  Or maybe you want to lobby for corded phones. We would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below.

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