Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Drinking With St. Nick

For many of us of a certain age who grew up in the Little Neck area of New York, one place we cut our drinking teeth was Patrick’s Pub.

My first visit there was in 1970 on my 18th birthday, when my dad bought me my first legal beer. It was a true rite of passage, not only of time but of place, for I would spend many an evening and early morning there over the next decade before relocating to Florida.

In 1964 Frank Mockler introduced his family's Irish coffee recipe at the World's Fair in New York. The concoction got such a great reception, Frank and his brother Patrick decided to open up their own Irish pub.

Once in operation, they buttressed their famed drink with traditional Irish dishes.

Patrons enjoyed burgers if so chosen, but it was the menu items like Shepherd’s pie and black-and-white pudding that became staples. Patrick’s kitchen also offered a steak sandwich on garlic bread that was a fan favorite. Everyone had their favorite dish to help soak up the alcohol. Mine was the ample helping of steak with three eggs, a four A.M. meal I ended many an early morning with after spending the night in Manhattan.

Patrick’s stayed open for nearly 40 years. The building consisted of two adjoined sections, a long bar section, complete with dartboard, that opened out into a well-lit dining room in the back of the building. The tavern in Cheers had nothing on this place.

Naturally, St Patrick’s Day was a major night for the pub. Customers would dive into plates piled with a generous serving of corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes while pipers serenaded them—if one considers the sound of bagpipes as euphonious.

Drink enough whiskey or green beer, and everything starts sounding good.

Another big night—certainly my most memorable—was December 24, 1971. I was in the Navy and home on leave at the time. Visiting Richie, one of my best friends, we hung out at his parents’ house for a while but decided early in the evening to visit Patrick’s. People usually needed a reservation to get in, but since it was only a bit after 10 at night when we left his place and midnight mass hadn’t even begun yet, we took a chance on getting a table.
With money in our wallets and hope in our hearts, Richie and I drove over and found that our luck held out.

I opted to go in uniform that night. Although people in the armed forces weren’t greatly loved at the time, I still ran into a number of veterans at the pub. Being in uniform proved a good way to sometimes score free drinks while there, swapping stories though most of the older guys had the better and livelier ones; I hadn’t been in long enough to gather my own.

“Look at that,” Richie said to me as we walked in. The place was crowded, but he pointed to an empty table in a far corner of the raised dining room that adjoined the bar.

“Great,” I told him. “Go ahead and grab it while I get a pitcher.”

Ordering our beer and an appetizer to justify taking the space in the dining area. I also sprang for a couple of shots of whiskey to make some boilermakers. That seemed a good way to toast in Christmas morning.

Not long after midnight, we—along with everyone else in the back room—heard a booming, boisterous “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merr-r-ry Christmas, everyone!”

There, in the side door that led to the parking area, Santa stood in all his glory. The outfit and beard were perfect, but his basso voice was the real attention-getter.

Our faux Santa wended his way to the first table, sat down between two couples, and started singing “Jingle Bells.” Everyone in the place joined in while Santa sat there conducting the chorus with a mug of beer he’d grabbed off the table.

The tune over and all applauding, St. Nick now moved to another table and started in on “Oh, Christmas Tree,” refilling his empty mug from that pitcher of beer. At times, our St. Nick conductor forgot some of the words but filled those gaps by loudly belting out “Da-Dadada-Da-Dadada” followed by “Da-Dadadada-Dada!”

That carol done, he stood and moved to the next table. Once there, he started in with “Silent Night.” Of course, now everyone quieted down to reverently sing when I noticed that the mock Santa, between slurring the words to the carol, was refilling his mug from their pitcher too.

"Check it out,” I nudged my friend and pointed. “Santa’s getting tanked. On everyone else’s beer.”

And so he was.

“Think I wore the wrong outfit tonight,” I noted.

As the night went on, we noticed he never hit any table that didn’t have both an obvious couple and a fairly full pitcher within reach: our Santa spent time with a different group, leading them in song while siphoning—at times spilling—the contents of whatever pitcher was there, pouring a portion into his own glass.

Eventually the crowd thinned out, leaving behind the last few stragglers—including Richie and myself—and one snoring Santa.

The bartender came over to wake him. “Come on, Santa. Time to get back to the North Pole and the wife.” He removed the hat and wraparound beard, then stood back. “Anyone know this fellow?”

His identity was a mystery as none of us still there recognized the guy now collapsed against the side of a dining room bench.

The bartender eventually called a cab after checking his wallet for a name and address. With daybreak approaching, the rest of us left. I left facing the daunting task of trying to wrap presents under the influence. Still, it had been one extraordinary Christmas Eve.

So, join me and raise a glass to the Mockler brothers and people like them. They give us great memories as we move along in years, and those remembrances make getting old worthwhile.

Bill Cushing lived in numerous states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico before moving to California where he now resides with his wife and their son. As an undergrad, he was called the “blue collar” writer because of his time in the Navy and as a shipyard electrician. Earning an MFA, he retired in 2020 after teaching college for 23 years. His prose has appeared in print and online. Bill has three poetry books available, most recently...this just in...from Cyberwit. Bill’s current project is a memoir focused on his years aboard ships.