Hitting the local bar scene

Remember turning 21? What a relief to finally be legal and throw away that wrinkled, nearly indefinable, fake ID.

Looking old enough was pretty much the rule then, but it was still a little embarrassing to walk into the neighborhood pubs and celebrate turning 21 after being a customer for a year or so.

Fifty years ago, our two neighborhood taverns had the distinction of being among the most popular in Washington state. The Attic and the Red Onion Tavern were located farther east on Madison Street than where they are now and half the size.

The Liquor Control Board was hot and heavy on their cases. If someone of questionable age was caught on the premises, the 14- or 30-day closure law was put into effect.

The last night open before the closure, the tap beer was free because rather than letting it go flat, the clientele happily drank up.

The regulars

Friday and Saturday nights were busy because everything closed on Sundays. So on Friday afternoon, the action started at The Attic.

Shortly after 4 p.m. the Boeing crowd started showing up, and then the downtown group and construction workers, so there was a pretty diversified group.

Happy hour at The Attic was from 4 to 6 p.m. so everyone took advantage of the 5-cent break in price, from 25 to 20 cents for a schooner; bottles were always 40 cents.

Of course, the regulars came in from noon on, and everyone knew each other by the first name.

For those spending a rather long time with their noses in suds, there was quite the array of bar bites.

You could buy or roll the bartender for a hard-boiled egg. The ritual was to roll the egg on the bar to crack the shell, douse it with Tabasco and pop it in your mouth. This was good eatin', albeit, odoriferous.

If you lost the first roll, you could keep rolling and eating eggs till you won, but after eight or 10 eggs, no one's a winner. They sold for 10 cents and even had a sign explaining that the sum included the hen-house rent for 4 cents, the feed for 6 cents, rooster stud service for 4 cents and the wear and tear on the chicken at 2 cents.

If you had a special someone out for the evening and brought them to The Attic, you might order the pickled pigs feet that was displayed in a dusty gallon jug. The sign said 45 cents a foot; nothing on the sign said fresh. It was a good thing they were pickled because they didn't move fast as a food item.

The fixation

The sound of bells came from the Bally Ho pinball machine near the window upon entering The Attic. I had a good friend who had an ongoing war with this machine to the point where he barely nodded a hello when greeted. He never took his eyes off that ball, usually catching a glimpse of a reflection in the glass.

Under his feet all around the machine were piles of empty nickel wrappers for $100 worth or more, indicating the war of the pins had gone on for some time.

When he hit five in a row and the odds were right, he'd yell with delight. He had just hit the mother lode: 500 games, $25. That win didn't come cheap - and it only took four hours, a pack and a half of cigarettes and $100!

On an exceptionally bad run, he once tried to take the machine outside but was stopped just in time.

Moving on

After dining at The Attic and a couple more schooners, it was time for a fine wine at the Red Onion. The two neighborhood taverns, both by coincidence, served the same vintage of loganberry wine. It was a very good year; the gum label was still wet. This floral delight served with 7-Up made one's heart joyful.

On the jukebox, Mario Lanza sang German drinking songs, and all the patrons followed along. Everyone was happy, and then something would happen that is seldom heard today: The barkeep announced the gentleman at the end of the bar bought the house a round. This fellow was heartily toasted by all.

The Red Onion offered other bar bites, and upon consumption of pepperoni and salty pistachios, hot popcorn and mixed nuts, followed by more beer, Mother Nature caught up.

By this time, friends without dates found yours most interesting. Feeling this gathering of hungry wolves it was not a good time to entertain a restroom run. So the thing to do was to take her along.

Two funny guys came into the taverns on a regular basis. One named Sweet Pea was already into his first beer when Sam would enter and say loudly, "Sweet Pea! How are you?"

Sweet Pea would answer, "Well, I'm not feeling that good!"

Sam would reply with a big smile, "Well, you've never looked worse!"

"Say, and you look the worse for wear yourself. How about a beer?"

This was a common routine that went on for weeks. Everyone knew the routine, mimicking and laughing all the while.


What I loved most about that time was how the conversations flourished. There was no TV per se, and sports were only broadcast on the radio. Someone may have brought in an AM radio to hear the sports action of the day, and that was exciting at playoffs time.

Because of the population of Madison Park at that time, most of the residents knew each other by sight and even by name.

We gathered at the bakery, the drugstore's soda fountain for local gossip, the tavern to socialize, the Hollywood Barbershop to get the low-down on the happenings among the jet-set singles, and even while shopping at the different grocery stores and the myriad gas stations, there was excellent communiqué.

We were a small, tight-knit group and, like all things, have evolved through the years, but we're still a neighborhood.

-mail Richard Carl Lehman at mptimes@nwlink.com.[[In-content Ad]]