Mar 3, 2013

An afternoon at Bishop's, a South End bar worth its salt (and which might look empty even when it's not)

Two guys walk into a bar. No joke. The hairy guy, a stick-to-the-facts new-in-town type, has his say. The bald guy, a local native, then lets out a stream of consciousness. Maybe he had too much to drink. Then again, maybe the hairy guy should have had more. We write, you decide.

The hairy guy's report:

Bishop's: He was lucky at bars, 
boxing not so much.
In the morning, the hairy guy stopped in at Populace Coffee downtown on Washington and got a detailed explanation of three African coffees. One is said to have "finish notes of apple and pear," another of grapefruit and something. He got one, for $2.65. It's good, though the fruit seemed lacking. But that's fine, really.

A bit later, the bald guy took him to Bishop's bar on Farragut at 19th -- 1.6 miles (according to Google maps) and a world away. A frosty mug of draft beer is $1; a glass is 75 cents; both are a quarter more after 7 p.m. And, for free, the barmaid tosses salt on the napkin before she puts the mug on it. An old Polish good-luck custom, perhaps? No. She said it keeps the wet mug from sticking to the napkin. And it does. It even kept the second mug from sticking. You learn something new every day.

So, without even crossing a bridge, for $3 you can have one cup of imported coffee or three domestic beers. If you want to get it all, it might make more sense to go first for the beers and then get the strong coffee to sober up. Either way, it would take just $6 and a few minutes' drive (though after the beers, maybe you don't want to drive). Is this a great town or what?

But back to Bishop's.

The official listings call it Bishop's Inn, though the sign just says Bishop's. And "inn" suggests that you also could get a bed for the night. We'll check that out next time.
The bar is named for Pat Bishop, a 1920s middleweight boxer (his record: won 1, lost 10). In 1936, he was listed as "Draught & Bottle Beer" at the bar's address, according to a posting on Bay Journal. It looks like he had much more success running a bar than throwing his fists, but we'd guess he could have quickly settled any bar fights.

We sat with one of the regulars, a WWII vet who survived a roof falling on his head in Monte Cassino, Italy, and was in Bishop's for lunch. He has a 2009 Chevy with only 17,000 miles on it and a piano in his basement that (again) is being attacked by mice. Don't you hate when that happens?

Bud Light, Busch Light, Miller Lite and Bud are on tap. A large photo of Pat Bishop in a boxing pose (showing him before he got his nose flattened, the bald guy notes) is on the wall. Two pool tables are in the back room. 

Pat Bishop in his boxing days
The waitress says it stays open till 2:30 a.m. and that it's a real neighborhood place ("like a Cheers bar") -- meaning that if no cars are outside at night, it just means everybody walked or rode a bike.

The bald guy's report:

The journey begins. With both feet and my beer-holdin' hands I fly off into the wild blue blog'sphere in search of the soul of a City ... and maybe even Artie Banaszak, a guy from my old neighborhood. We were tight at one time and I would love to re-connect with him after all these years. (And it ain't about the ten-spot I lent him in 1960. Really. Swear to God.)

So we pick one of my old haunts, a joint where he might likely be. A rather garish red canopy outside says,"Bishop's." I say "garish" now, but then I'm a whore: When I was pushing electricity, I said "the brighter the better," visuals being one of the cheapest forms of advertising. Then again, I once learned consistency is the boogaloo of small minds, so I try to avoid it. Yeah, that's the ticket.... Not boogaloo, that's a dance from years ago. Bugaboo? Hobgoblin? Something like that. Geezer-rememberer Fail.

I open the door and push in. Along with the heat, the sight of the interior floods me with a rush of warm memories and I almost mist up: This is the first bar I was ever thrown out of. Ahhh, the good old days ....

Nah, just joshin'. The interior's nothing like it was then. For instance, the pool table's been moved to an entirely different room, what was at the time I got bounced the former Wojciechowski's Meat Market. (The proprietor had the fewest fingers of anyone I'd ever seen, the others having been lopped off severally at various knuckles -- the mark of the trade -- and I once saw him behead a live chicken over there, but those are stories for another day.) Where the pool table was is now rest rooms. But otherwise, there's the requisite number of Tiffany lamps and beer signs and posters and mirrors. The centerpiece of the S wall is a big picture of the young, handsome boxer, Pat Bishop, original owner and erstwhile pug right next to a large, red-lettered sign proclaiming, "Welcome To Bay City". (I think: It should be at the city limits, like the "Welcome To Fabulous Vegas" signs.)

A quick look around tells me Art B's not here. But Art G is. Just as good. Art G and his lovely wife Florence and their clan were next-door neighbors when I was growing up. They were great neighbors. Florence passed awhile back. All us kids grew up together. Art told us he knew Pat Bishop, used to come here when Bishop owned it. (Before my time. The first "Bishop" I remember was a guy named Tomczak.). He said, unlike the handsome, chiseled youth in the picture, the Pat Bishop he remembered had a flat, pug's nose, (one o' them jab-eatin' kind). My partner Harry found his boxing record and it wasn't exactly stellar, but then again, the Man in the Arena thing. He had the courage to do it. Can't question that.

Art's a WWII vet. Got a Purple Heart at the Battle of Monte Cassino when a chunk of the church fell on him. Never saw it coming. Woke up in a hospital. Two weeks later, he was sent back and he went and checked out what hit him. Said it was huge (spreading his arms apart). Was lucky he wasn't crushed. When we were little kids and did something kiddish, Art would chase us around, reaching in his pants pocket for his knife, all the time threatening when he caught us he was gonna cut our ears off. Ahhh, great stuff, huh?

The beer is cheap, at least during the afternoon. 75 cents for a short draft and a buck for a bigger one. We had a couple beers and some chips and Art polished off a plate of chicken tenders (I didn't know Bishop's served food; maybe they don't, maybe only for their regulars like Art. There was nothing like a menu or anything advertising food. Art sez the bar and backbar are the same as when Pat Bishop owned it. Gotta trust him on that. Wasn't anything I focused on in my misspent youth. Nor now. But there's a comforting continuity in the thought it's the original fixture.

The affable and efficient Deb -- waitress, bartender, hostess, receptionist, custodian and cook -- kept everyone wet and clean. Deb says Bishop's is mostly a neighborhood bar. (Always has been, even if they now and then throw out someone from the neighborhood.) Late at night it would look like no one was there but it would be full from walk-in's and bike traffic. Bearing this out was the fact it seemed like most everyone knew each other.

The age of the patrons at this time of the day ran the gamut from mid-30's on up but was understandably heavier on the retiree/pensioner/geezer-side. I heard one of the old guys at the bar say something about remembering horse-drawn carts. Wow! I thought, that's old. And then -- Hey! I remember horse-drawn carts! What does that say about me? But that guy was old old. Real old. Senior geezer. Not like me. I'm just a "geezer." Makes me feel better to think it that way.

Anyway, Art polished off his food and the two small beers he allows himself per day (diabetes) and left. The place was starting to fill up with a younger crowd getting an early start on the weekend and it was time for us to move on also.

All in all, it was a great start to our odyssey and left me anxious to see what the next stop would bring. What other slices of history might we find? Perhaps the elusive Artie Banaszak? New memories? Maybe we'll even get tossed out ... one can only hope.

  The particulars:

  Bishop's Inn
  804 S. Farragut

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