Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joe's Bar

I'm going to start out with a reminiscence.  What the heck, I have to start somewhere.  And the thing is that for me, Joe's Bar was the epitome of a Wisconsin tavern.  Or any other state's tavern, for that matter.
The Joe's Bar I'm talking about was in Union Center, Wisconsin, on a quiet back street just across from the railroad tracks.  Joe owned it all through the sixties and seventies.  He was there every day, as far as I know.  I seldom went in there when he wasn't there.  He was a skinny dark-haired guy who always had an unlit cigar in his mouth, chewing it all the way down to a stub, spitting the flecks of tobacco into the garbage while he worked behind the bar.  He was energetic, and made sure he knew everyone who stopped in more than once.  People like me would drive for miles just to stop on that quiet back street for a cold beer and some dinner.

Joe made his french fries from fresh potatoes.  He had a french fry slicer mounted over beside his grill, and whenever he had a free moment he'd run some potatoes through it, and they would fall into a bucket he kept on the floor.  When he had enough potatoes in it, he'd cover it with water and put the bucket into the cooler for later.  When I think back on it, Joe's wasn't unique for slicing his own fries.  Other bars in the area did it too.  But I think he stuck with it long after many of them went to the frozen ones.  There is nothing to compare today, except in some of the more upscale taverns in the larger cities.  It's funny how something that used to be so commonplace is now a delicacy.

Joe also had his meat cut from a local market.  And once again, perhaps everyone did.  Joe's is the one I remember.  If you went in asking for steak and taters, you got a nice t-bone and a pile of fried potatoes, with or without onions, all of it fresh and good.  It was a mighty fine meal at the end of a working day.

Joe wasn't just a tavern owner.  He was a host and an entertainer.  He knew jokes and stories, he had a little dancing puppet that bounced on a board whenever the jukebox played "Happy Birthday".
But then the bar changed hands sometime in the eighties.  And then the bar owners opened up down by the highway instead, and it changed hands yet again.  And as the owners changed, so did the food.  Now instead of steaks from the grocery up the road, they get pre-packaged and somewhat tasteless and mealy slabs of some cheap cuts.  The fries come frozen in a bag, and the potatoes come in a bag sloshing with some brine that keeps them from browning.  It's kind of sad fare compared to Joe's.  The bar is dreary, and so is the food, and anyone who believes otherwise is pretending.

So in starting this blog, I'm going to check out other taverns and restaurants, maybe even a supper club or two, to see how they measure up with what I think is good honest food.  I'm sure there are some out there.  I hear rumors all the time, from friends and acquaintances, of places to check out and places to avoid.  We'll see what happens.

And me?  Well, I'll keep that to myself for now.  Today I painted interior trim for most of the day.  It was a Fine Day for it.  But at the end of the day as I was cleaning up, I heard water hissing from somewhere.  I asked the owner about this.  She didn't know what to make of it, but asked if I could look at it.  I didn't want to, really.  I know this house, and most of the plumbing runs through a crawlspace that's only about a foot or so high.  But it's my job, it pays the bills.  Sometimes.  I went into the cellar, and looked into the access hole.  And way back there in one corner, through a slurry of mud, was a fitting for some old-style plastic tubing that had been popular back in the eighties, but since outlawed.  Or just discontinued.  *sigh*.  I didn't have much choice at this point, not after seeing this.  I climbed up through the hole and pulled myself along on my belly.  The cold mud soaked immediately through my couple of layers of clothing.  It was nasty and dirty and smelled of small dead animals and insects.  I finally reached the fitting and was able, after a while, to tighten it up enough so it only dripped.  One can only hand-tighten those old fittings, and that's what I did.

There was no way to turn around.  All I could do was back out, while my shirt slid up, up.  By the time I got out, there was mud on my belly and in my pants.  It was cold and oozing.  I went back up to tell her it was fixed for now.  I'm not sure she realized what I had just gone through in those ten minutes.  But on the plus side, she wants me to re-plumb that section.  Anything for a buck.

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