Tailhook Tavern in the Great Northeast honors our military men and women and serves tiny Styrofoam plates of Bugles.
There are just gobs and gobs of things to look at on the walls of Tailhook Tavern (3522 Cottman Ave. 215.338.4027), a tiny military bar located in a strip center in the Great Northeast. There are pencil sketches of Marine Rangers. There’s a poster of Frank Rizzo informing you he “means business.” There’s a photo of John Wayne decked out in Army threads. There’s an airplane propeller.
And the patches: There are loads of them. Marine patches from different units, police patches from different districts, fireman patches, patches from the Philly bomb disposal unit, a patch from Vietnam Engine 5 Philly (The Big Nickel)—patches galore, all over. Thousands of them. There’s even a patch for the canine rescue unit that worked the Twin Towers on 9/11 alongside a few “Never Forget”-type posters dotting the walls.
Then there are the stickers on the wall. They’re good readin’. “Do draft dodgers have reunions? If so, what do they talk about?” “We’re Marines. We took Iwo Jima. Baghdad ain’t shit!”
But mostly what catches your eye at Tailhook is the honest-to-God-real-deal rocket launcher behind the bar. You do not want to walk your fuckin’ tab here.
Not that the bar’s owner, Marie Devine, would harm a fly. She sees me eyeing the patches, and brings me a tiny Styrofoam plate of Bugles, the tastier-than-I-remember corn-chip snack I didn’t realize still existed. (And, gotta say, Bugles being the snack of choice at a military bar—nicely played) Divine’s brother is retired military, she tells me, served 34 years all told. She opened the bar with him seven years ago.
Besides Cookie’s Tavern (2654 S. Alder St. 215.271.9487), Tailhook’s sister bar in South Philly, Tailhook is the only military bar in the city, she says. I’ve been to Cookie’s. Sister bar it may be, but it’s not nearly as decked out with memorabilia as Tailhook. The two things I remember most about the place were a sign behind the bar that read “Caution: We don’t call 911” and a gigantic deaf bartender who proudly displayed his freshly manicured nails. He planned on getting diamonds pressed into them next time, he told me and anyone who cared to listen.
Devine and I shoot the breeze a bit. She tells me there are more patches to look at in back, in the room with the pool table. And, yes, she knows John Wayne wasn’t in the military. He gets a pass. “He’s John Wayne,” she says in a way that suggests she didn’t need to say it at all. “Come on!”
She asks if my drink is OK. I ordered a whiskey soda. She made me a Seven and Seven. “It’s great,” I tell her. (Because it actually is.)
At the end of the bar sit two old vets, both nursing Budweiser and adjusting their hearing aids. They’re watching Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, which plays in a continuous loop on the flat screen TV behind the bar.*
I thank Devine for her hospitality and push on down the road to SmokeEaters (7681 Frankford Ave. 215.338.4188), a firefighter themed bar and restaurant owned by actual firefighters, and the last of a day-long Northeast bar crawl that’s just now starting to kick my ass—establishments visited during this excursion include Morrell Tavern, Beef Seekers Inn, City Line Bar & Horseshoe Pits, McNoodles Irish Pub and Leneghan’s Crusader Inn.**
SmokeEaters is huge; helmets, ladders and fireman jackets line the walls. Their version of Bugles here is beer from Hook & Ladder Brewing Company, a brewer out of Silver Spring, Md. There are vintage fire extinguishers by the front entrance, next to signs that demand “No fire department cutbacks!” and notifications of fundraisers for the families of policemen killed while on duty.
There don’t appear to be any firemen here tonight, just an elderly woman sipping suds who has trouble keeping her head up, and occasionally says something to no one in particular.
I can relate.
I drink slowly and watch TV. Ron Howard’s Backdraft starring Kurt Russel and Robert De Niro plays on a continuous loop on the 15 or so giant flat screens around the cavernous dining room.***
**Drop me a line at bmcmanus@ philadelphiaweekly.com, and suggest some more.
***Also not really.
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