DRINKING TO & BRAGGING ABOUT NOLAN


Published in the January 1997 New Mission News as "I Did the Dovre".




The author at the bar. Collection: Victor Miller Archives.

I attended the Mission's most serious and subtle graduate school of politics, sociology and psychology, where I studied under the best. That is to say, I used to frequent the Dovre Club, and even tended bar in the employ of the Grand Host himself, the late great Pat Nolan.

Priveleged to enjoy a freewheeling yet economical artist's lifestyle in my twenties, it allowed me the occasional luxury of late-morning visits to the Dovre for a sip of peat and a look at the daily papers. Twice I'd found Warren Hinckle's ubiquitous bassett hound Bentley sniffing his way up Clarion Alley, and knew its return meant a drink on Warren. It was always fun to see, among the gravediggers and piano movers at the bar, the officers of the Women's Building and Nolan turning on the charm "Ah, darlings, we haven't seen ye down here in a while". Campaign manager Jack Davis came in often despite Nolan's verbal abuse, and when asked point blank refused to tell me what line of work he was in, probably thinking I was joking to even ask.

I was always trying to convince Nolan that he should commission me to do murals on the Hunger Strikers and the Irish Struggle, concluding in heroic depiction of the Final Defeat of the British Army in Ireland, as the toast posted above the door read. When I'd told him I'd been reading James Joyce, Nolan spat and urged me to read Brendan Behan's _Borstal Boy_ instead, for a sense of his own Belfast.

One morning Nolan announced he'd fired another bartender. Soon I was to learn that the barstools there were filled with his former bartenders, but I piped up "Pat, I could work for you tonight". I bragged of past experience as a civilian bartender at the NCO/Enlisted Club at the Presidio, which I'd gotten only because my Fillmore Street friend Leroy was dating a woman who helped manage it and they wanted one white guy working the monthly All-Night Soul Discos.

Nolan's set of rules was simple. "Now Michael, we had one fookin' idjit workin' here, he got so fookin' drunk he forgot to lock up the place afterwards. Now, you fookin' won't go doin' that on me, will ya?" On my honor, Pat, I won't. Pat felt confident enough, and handed over the keys. And I didn't get that drunk, though I knew that to refuse drinks customers wanted to buy me would have been considered rude and high-hat, so enjoyed the wares of the house as I worked.

Evidently the night's reciepts were in order, for in the next few months I worked the Dovre about a dozen evenings more, usually called by Nolan at the last minute. Fellow professionals like Mean Jean Green came in to see if I was worth my salt. The three brothers who worked in the shipyards, whose father let loose his Doberman every morning on Clarion Alley then swore at it until it ambled home, always endeavored to cajole a final drink on the house from me.

I soon learned how to carry on a sports conversation without knowing a thing about the players but giving the impression of grave and considered agreement with the conversation's proponent. One minute a guy was bragging about his beautiful teenage daughter and the next I was gently relieving him of a long-necked bottle with which he was about to brain the oblivious stranger on the next stool.

To be a bartender in the Dovre was to keep house in Pat Nolan's name. Ruling the roost from behind the bar, I felt I was in a position of command that a great general had entrusted to me, or like being a Guest Host for the Johnny Carson show. But I didn't work there long enough for Pat to finally blow up and fire me, which all assembled agreed was the inevitable conclusion to a stretch on his payroll.

So since there's still unfinished business between us--me not being fired, plus a ten dollar loan I meant to pay back these twelve years--I somehow can't really buy this death of Nolan shite. It seems another elaborate prank, like when we celebrated the Dovre's Twentieth Anniversary at year 16 1/2. Maybe in the tradition of Howard Hughes, a spate of rival wills and pretenders to Nolan's boundless estate of good fortune will show up. Jesus Mary Joseph, I'm hoping one turns up where Nolan left the fookin' Dovre Club to me.


(c) Mike Mosher 1996.

Pat Nolan, as Mike remembers him.




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