A Philly bar isn't quite what it's name promises -- but for one patron, it might as well be.
“Well, this was like the revolving bunk if you know what I mean, and there was somebody’s stuff on it, which I wasn’t going to touch, so she yelled ‘who’s stuff is this,’ and this big motherfucker says it’s his. He had the bottom bunk, I had the top.”
“There’s two foot lockers per bunk bed. I said is that one yours, and he said yes. I said what about this one, and he said that’s mine too.
D Block is an open room with 30 guys, all of them watching to see what Norm would do.
“I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw the guard’s back as she walked down the stairs, and in that moment I realized this is it, so I grabbed my balls and said ‘OK, motherfucker, if you want to go over a piece of plastic, let’s go!’ And the guy looked at me, and said ‘It’s cool.’ Bunkies are supposed to look out for each other, see, and he was the guy who ran the block.”
The day Norm got out, his girlfriend was waiting for him with beer, cigarettes and a cheeseburger with lots of bacon–they don’t serve pork in jail.
“She pulled the car under 95, and I got out and I just screamed as loud as I could because I was free. I ain’t never going back there.”
Norm said he was still using cocaine, though, and with three years of probation ahead of him, staying on the outside didn’t look like a very sure thing.
“Smoke at your own risk,” says the hand-lettered sign above the jukebox, and nearly everyone does—Parliament Lights, GPC’s and USA Golds. Good health is already in short supply among this crowd anyway. Between the canes and the walkers and the overall level of physical infirmity, the place can look more like a doctor’s office than a bar. Patti the bartender has to remind guys to take their prescriptions. They swallow their pills with a beer chaser.
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.”
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.
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.
Year of Beer: Great Lakes Eliot Ness
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