I have little doubt that many of our more senior readers had “big fun” back in the day when they went out on the town on Friday, and particularly on Saturday nights. I can relate to this, as I too was young and enjoyed nights in the streets once upon a time. Some of you do not like to think about this phase of your lives, as you were truly “out there.” You hung out trying to be a modern Don Juan or you fooled around, drinking that “idiot juice.”
Today, as grandparents and great-great grandparents, you attempt to project the image of one of the “goody, goody” people; that segment of the population that never did anything not in keeping with their God-fearing standards. You churchgoers want to ignore your past transgressions. But let us face it; there are things we did in the past that we prefer to leave in the past and hope will never see the light. If you are honest with yourself, you recognize that the time you spend in church today may have been significantly impacted by your Saturday night behavior of the past. These memories may resurface as we take a trip back in time to those bars and clubs that many of us frequented; those watering holes in our neighborhoods, with catchy names and opportunities for big fun back in the day.
If you are in the bar and club frame of mind, where do you go today? I hear many people say they refuse to go to a bar or club, given the level of violence that often occurs in these places. The fights and shootings you hear about were not an issue during my generation’s heyday. We occasionally had our flareups, but generally verbal confrontations were the result, and they were eventually brought under control. We were sometimes led to a bar or club by its name; an interesting name that took us there without concern. We even felt safe visiting the bars or clubs with exotic names.
You figured they were safe because you observed females entering the “Ladies Entrance,” characteristic of most bars in the past. Yes, there was a separate entrance for females; they entered through the front door only if it was the only access to the bar. You may also recall that females avoided sitting at the bar because it was not woman-like; they sat in booths or at tables. While most bars had a jukebox, the music was not loud as is characteristic of today’s bar music. Then again, the R&B and soulful ballads of the past were never loud. It was also unnecessary to have security guards or bouncers. These qualities revealed the character of a bar back then. So, where were your favorite spot” to sip your Canadian Club and ginger ale, vodka and orange juice, whiskey sour, rum and Coke or my favorite when I was hanging out, Scotch and milk, back in the day?
Those who grew up in South Philadelphia may recall frequenting the Progressive Club. Other South Philadelphians might remember evenings at the Citizens Republican Club or the Postal Card. Just the names of these bars bring back those name brand drinks that have gone by the wayside. A number of you struggled to get home from these outings after consuming drinks that were mixed or consumed straight up. I will never forget those drinkers who spent time in these bars and only made it home through what I refer to as “a running drunk.” This usually involved those who were so intoxicated that they did not simply walk, but were moving quickly on their toes, giving the appearance of a slow run; stumbling against the wall, as this, the running drunk maneuver, was their only hope of remaining on their feet. We do not see running drunks today, as there are not many people going out to bars today getting drunk on Old Grand Dad, Seagram’s VO, Chivas Regal, Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels or I.W. Harper. Those were names on bottles that could be found not only in public bars, but also behind some home bars, back in the day.
The excitement on 52nd Street led many West Philadelphia residents to spend considerable time at hangouts in that area. Someone reading this column today frequented the Agua Lounge, a quaint-looking bar on the corner of 52nd and Irving streets. This was not a bar for “hardheads.” This bar clearly catered to a more refined crowd. Traveling a few blocks south on 52nd Street, there was the Pony Tail Bar and Disco. This bar was another story; here you found a wild crowd that was fueled by go-go dancers who lined the bar and were well placed in every corner. This was not a place for the faint of heart. I understand that this bar was survived the test of time, as it still operates at this location with a format similar to the past. Other bars in the 52nd Street area were the Top Shelf, Hollie’s High Spot, Big Jim Tucker, Mr. B, Commodore and the Swank. But the bar in which everyone had to show his face back then was Mr. Silk’s Third Base. This bar also on 52nd Street near Spruce played on its theme, suggesting that you stop at Third Base before going home. If you hung out on 52nd Street back then, if you did not stop at Third Base before going home, you had to stop at Foo-Foo Regan’s restaurant to pick up a “Mamma Jamma” sandwich to eat on your way home. These are experiences you could only enjoy had you been around back in the day.
North Philadelphia had bars and clubs that drew people from all over the city. Broad and Oxford streets was the location of one of the more popular bars, the Ebony Lounge. It was located in the basement of the Chesterfield Hotel, a landmark that deserves its own back-in-the-day column, given its significance in the lives of Black people. It was particularly important in the lives of the performers at the nearby Uptown Theater. This hotel was where many performers stayed while appearing at this venue. One event that will always cause this bar to stand out in my mind involved one of our local civil rights activists who asked the waitress to bring him some “drinking liquor” before he ordered his lunch. I just had to see what was brought to him. Did anyone besides this activist drink Old Crow? Other bars in the North Philadelphia and Center City area were Sugar Shack, Cadillac Club, Second Office and Wreck-A-Pom-Pom. But in North Philadelphia, the bar of all bars with the coolest-sounding name was Up Jumped the Devil Those who frequented this bar were known to be dripping with perspiration when they left. Was this your hangout, back in the day?
Those who lived or traveled to the Germantown, Mt. Airy or the West Oak Lane sections of the city, had their special spots also. I know your thoughts go to places like the Liberty Belle, Proper Place, Sonny’s, Tobin’s and of course, Richard’s Lounge. Many of us had some fun-filled evenings at Richard’s Lounge.
Recognizing the dangers of excessive drinking, I certainly do not want to see a movement back to the drinking of hard liquor that was characteristic of bar-hopping in the past. While these “acting the fool” days are gone, for most of us, reflecting on them brings to mind experiences we do not see today and in all likelihood will not see in the future. Clearly, these bars are gone and for many bar goers, wine has replaced hard alcoholic drinks. Thus, the only way you can relive these experiences without a great deal of grief and without a headache is by taking a trip such as the one taken in this column today, to bar life, back in the day.