Full disclosure, I find all of my books second hand in a charity shop which is particularly full of a lot of good quality books that are at least decade old. Thus I came upon this little gem which was published in 2005.
A NYT bestseller (a stamp of approval I think actually bears to correlation to quality), this autobiographical book is a standalone memoir about a pub and all the hijinks within and around it. The Tender Bar is crafted and woven into a magical thing, a humorous and tragicomic take on life living at the bar stool in a legendary pub named Publicans in Manhasset Long Island.
JR Moehringer is the teller of the tale and the main protagonist in this book which reads more like a sweeping epic than a memoir.
The whole American and English thing of mythologising pubs was brought memorably to the TV screen in the 1980’s with the popular comedy Cheers. Well this is the literary equivalent of Cheers, although to say so would be to downplay its playful, literary and deep prose which does have a lot of crunchy substance to it, unlike the forementioned TV show.
Another commonality though with the show Cheers is the setting and the time, the late 80’s, which is to say the halcyon days of the American stock market and American wealth before the stockmarket crash of 89 and a decade later, New York’s darkest hour with 9/11.
This book is about the smelly ripe and seedy appeal of pubs and the vibrant, oddball and slightly dangerous patrons these places contain. It’s about a boy named JR who becomes a man through the drunken ministrations of a whole host of guys in various stages of inebriation in Publicans. It’s a book concerned with masculinity and mateship, joy and sadness and how to live in the world as man.
The pub characters in the book are all real people and Moehringer has used their real names as well, they have each become the stuff of local legend and all of them loom larger than life here.
“WE WENT THERE FOR EVERYTHING WE NEEDED. WE WENT THERE WHEN THIRSTY, OF COURSE, AND WHEN HUNGRY, AND WHEN DEAD TIRED. WE WENT THERE WHEN HAPPY, TO CELEBRATE, AND WHEN SAD, TO SULK. WE WENT THERE AFTER WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS, FOR SOMETHING TO SETTLE OUR NERVES, AND ALWAYS FOR A SHOT OF COURAGE JUST BEFORE.
WE WENT THERE WHEN WE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WE NEEDED, HOPING SOMEONE MIGHT TELL US.
WE WENT THERE WHEN LOOKING FOR LOVE, OR SEX, OR TROUBLE, OR FOR SOMEONE WHO HAD GONE MISSING, BECAUSE SOONER OR LATER EVERYONE TURNED UP THERE.
MOST OF ALL WE WENT THERE WHEN WE NEEDED TO BE FOUND.” —THE TENDER BAR
It’s endearingly intimate and heartbreakingly sad. It’s also absolutely hillarious and heart-warming. If you crave a bit of warm and fuzzies escapism you will love this.
Also and most importantly, if you understand the appeal of strong drink and a dirty old pub filled with incoherent mayhem then this could be a novel for you. This memoir speaks to the heart. Get it here.