Roxborough’s blue-collar bars offer many sensory delights.
Poor guy. He’s barely peered his head in the door before being admonished with a loud, angry chorus of “Nooooo!” from the bartender, the six or so daytime drinkers scattered around the rectangular bar and the four guys playing pool, unmistakable scorn on their faces.
“You’re flagged, motherfucker!” says a man, pointing a pool cue violently.
“Motherfucker, you’re flagged,” the bartender screams, shooing him with a yet-to-be-opened can of Miller Lite.
Then, in unison, all of them: “FLAGGED!”
Poor Guy blinks slowly, absorbs the blow, and withdraws back into the sunlight outside, heartbroken.
I’m at DeLeo’s Cafe (405 Dupont St.), a working-class dive on the Manayunk/Roxbourgh cusp, where they don’t take kindly to strangers—non-regulars here are gazed upon openly and with suspicion. Some of the regulars physically recoil in the presence of newcomers, hovering nervously around their drinks and waiting uncomfortably for the intruder to leave so they can go back to being themselves. Others take the opposite tack, turning the Asshole up to 11, puffing their chests and cursing loudly with gusto.
It’s called DeLeo’s Cafe, but it’s not a restaurant. Hell, it’s barely even a bar. Talk Roxborough/Manayunk dives—Peck Miller’s Bar, Pop Pop’s II, Cresson Inn, T Hogan’s Pub—to anyone who knows and DeLeo’s will come heavily “recommended,” always with equal measures of sarcasm and caution. “It’s a reaalll classy joint. Make sure you put your wallet in your front pocket.” “Top notch. Don’t make eye contact.” “Cream of the crop. Put your wallet in your front pocket and don’t make eye contact.”
There’s a distinct B.O. funk in the air at DeLeo’s that suits it perfectly. In the last few years, it’s been written up for fruit-fly infestation, roach infestation, mouse infestation and spider infestation. Also, for not cleaning utensils properly, which seems redundant as they’ve also been cited for not having a proper sink for sanitation.
But no one here is thinking about any of that, and instead are shaking their heads, marveling at the gall of Poor Guy, coming back here, and so soon.
So what’d he do?
“He smeared his own shit all over the walls and floor of the women’s restroom,” the bartender answers, his mouth switching back and forth between gleeful smirk and bitter disgust.
Ahhh. That’ll do.
“At least it was his own,” I joke, enough Old Grand-Dad in me to feel loose, but not so much I feel like my smart-ass commentary is welcome.
The bartender shoots me the best courtesy smile he can muster considering he’s missing several teeth. He pours himself a shot of Jager, downs it, walks out the door after Poor Guy, and is gone for quite some time.
A couple of the regulars grumble about whether or not he’s gone to get more ice to stock the Igloo cooler he’s serving the beer out of on account of the fridge being on the fritz. Fed up, one of them takes off for Pop Pop’s. “It’s cheaper and their beer is colder anyway.”
I follow him out the door in due time, and make my way over to a much more festive Pop Pop’s II (7168 Ridge Ave.), home of the $2.50 40-ounce Piels. They’ve got a great jukebox here—ZZ Top, Sinatra, the best of Yes (!). There are two Creed CDs in the thing too, but no one here gives them much play.
George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” starts blaring, and a man a couple stools down starts singing the chorus to the woman he’s with, changing the words slightly.
“I’m bad with my bone.”
There’s a woman dancing wildly to whatever comes on, about to bounce right out of her Rolling Stones’ shirt. She all but loses her mind when Foreigner’s “Double Vision” is punched up. If you ever feel half as passionate about anything in your life as she does about the opening line—“Feelin’ down and dirty, feelin’ kinda mean”—you’ll do just fine.
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