A South Philly joint with character -- and characters.
“My mother, god rest her soul, talked me out of going into the ring,” he said. “I was like a young Mike Tyson. One, two, three and I knocked them out.”
John was about three inches shorter than Tyson, and a whole lot whiter, but maybe he’d been good at hitting people once. He was bull-necked, and though he’d gone to fat there was still muscle beneath the tallow. He wore gold rings on both pinkies, one with little diamonds, the other with a cross embossed on the front, and a gold chain around his neck.
“I coulda been somebody,” he said. There was no irony in his voice. I waited a beat for him to say he “coulda been a contender,” like Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, but he didn’t, and his delusions of grandeur went far deeper than that.
“I could fight like Tyson, sing like Sinatra, and I’m an artist. I see something once and I can draw it,” John said, warming to his own words.
Elvis Presley came on the jukebox singing “Love Me Tender,” and John turned to a woman named Naomi and began to sing along.
“Love me tender, love me true…”
John didn’t sound like Elvis, nor did he sound like Sinatra singing Elvis. He couldn’t sing at all, really, but that didn’t stop him, at least not right away.
“All my dreams fulfilled. And my darling, I love you and…I’m singing into this beer bottle.”
With that, something closer to the truth started to spill out of him.
“Now I’m sitting here in this bar. I used to be a success. I used to have a business. Then I went away for three years to Graterford prison. My brother, he’s made millions. He’s got trash trucks.”
“Women did this to me. Women destroyed my life. Three women and they took everything. But I’m going to put it all back together.”
His story finished, John started talking to someone else.
“I got gold on my fingers,” he said.
“You got lint,” someone yelled.
Peter Woodall sacrifices his liver, and potentially his nose as he ventures into Philly's drinking establishments. A bartender and West Philly native, he has worked as a newspaper reporter for the Sacramento Bee and Biloxi Sun Herald. Got a tip on a colorful taproom? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neither the building nor the bar had changed much since 1991, when I was 18 and lived around the corner. We bought takeout forties of Olde English 800 there, and sometimes we’d stick around to listen to the jazz combo and live out our Kerouacian fantasies. We assumed Way’s had been there forever;it never occurred to us that you could buy an old bar and slap a new name on it.
Back in 1971, when Dom and his brother Marco took over Friendly Lounge after their mother died business was pretty slow. They’d brought in go-go girls for three or four years, and that kept them afloat for a while. They’ve managed to limp along ever since.
The owner, Jaroslaw “Jerry” Lebin, says there are a lot of dives dirtier than his, and he’s right. Jerry lives upstairs and drinks downstairs and the bar looks like it could be his tchotchke-filled den. There’s a pool table, and photos of his parents and soccer teams he’s coached, and a plaque from when he was an All-Catholic soccer player at Roman in 1972. Below the TV is a bumper sticker that reads “The Navy Yard is...Americans working for America.”
A Philly bar isn't quite what its name promises -- but for one patron, it might as well be heaven after time spent behind bars.
Antonio “Tony” Santiago Jr. is a born glad-hander, ebullient and irrepressible, much like his old employer, Ed Rendell. Before he bought the bar, Tony was then-Mayor Rendell’s driver and bodyguard, and while Tony is far shorter and less corpulent, they share the same warm physicality and democratic plentitude of belly. He works the barroom like a ward heeler, hugging the regulars, announcing that a peddler of bootleg DVDs has good stuff, squashing a beef from a guy who thought it was still Happy Hour.