Gilmores had the superlative jukebox. This particular box had a number of big band 33s, my favorite - Tommy Dorsey's "song of india", Artie Shaw's "in the mood", Bobby Darin "mac the knife" , of course, classic Sinatra and Tony Bennett and for us youngsters, plenty of new music, like Question Mark and the Mysterians "96 tears".
And even though he didn't have a dance license, there were enough cops that hung out that Pat wasn't worried about being shut down, so we danced as long as we didn't get in the way of customers coming and going. (and didn't piss up the bathrooms)
Gilmore's was a neighborhood bar on the corner of Flatbush and Newkirk Avenue...a little triangle of a corner of a block that managed to intersect with Bedford Ave. Bars like that still exist in NYC, but where there was at least one on every block in certain neighborhoods, they're a rarity now.
In those days you went to a bar to drink and socialize, or like in my case to socialize and drink. Most neighborhood bars didn't serve food because that required another license and NYC is a pain in the ass when it comes to licensing. If you needed sustenance, you went across the street for a burger or got some Chinese or you buttoned up, prepared to face the music and went home.
We knew as much about the regulars as we knew about our own families - except certain secrets that were disclosed only after someone died - like Aggie the barmaid was having a mad love affair with Frankie the NYPD detective for many years. She - like his wife, put up with his constant drunkenness and womanizing. He'd bring his woman du jour right into the bar, which is probably why we didn't catch on to the much deeper connection between them.
There was talk that Steve the bartender kept his girlfriends prisoner - they were Irish immigrants - "sponsored" by him, a common practice among certain Irish families in Flatbush who - poor as they were - always had "a girl" who worked her ass off as a maid. It was and might still be a sort of slavery racket where a person is brought to America from Ireland and works off the cost of the passage and citizenship with "interest".
Steve was from the other side and was tall, broad and veering towards middle age himself, a good bartender who bought back every three. He had a shine to him - wearing his regulatory starched white shirt, bow tie and vest, hair slicked back and so far as we could see he was good to his girls - they'd bust out of that mysterious situation sometimes and come to the bar while he was tending. He'd get pretty pissed but they were always young and always round and beautiful and I think he knew he had to put up with their young hijinx, at least for the time he got to "keep them". He knew the rules and so did they.
Everyone knew everyone's business...and it wasn't as if we lived in those places, but they were the center of the community. You'd stop by for a beer after work, meet up with everyone else and ALWAYS checked in on weekends.
Pat the owner had been on the wagon for a long long time but suddenly one day he was drinking again and everyone tried to get him to stop, he wasn't a young man and had been clean for a number of years, but being around his bar every day and every night - it was his business after all - eventually it re-snagged him.
He was old and drinking and in time he took some bad falls going into the basement to retrieve stock and then there was a robbery where he was beaten up pretty savagely and never rightly recovered. By then we had moved on from the neighborhood - John and I had divorced, he went into the Merchant Marines for a few years and cleaned up his act, came home, met Mickey and me and the kid moved to Ocean Avenue to begin again. Even a few blocks in Brooklyn put you in another world and I never went back. Somewhere in that time, Pat died and his kids sold the bar.
Back then there were Irish bars like Gilmores and Moriarity's (mostly a kid bar, great jukebox with rock and roll and Irish music but the place always kind of run down shabby). And then there was O'Briens, which was also a neighborhood place but not really. People came from all over the five boroughs to meet in places like O'Briens because you could get lost in them. They were deep and dark and as a rule, no one was looking at anyone else. You NEVER ate the bar snacks and always drank whiskey or bottled beer.
If you were a regular, that was an indicator there was some serious trouble in you. Like if you were determined to go deeply off the wagon, you'd start going over to O'Briens and proceed to drink enough to kill yourself and black out and no one would care. You'd be scraped off your stool and roughly deposited on the street after lights out. If you did that enough, you'd end up in a hospital or dead. The lights were kept real low except right at the bar where the register was. Bad things always happened in backs of those places. You didn't sit in a booth and even standing at the bar, every surface was sticky. Some of it might have been beer but the rest, who knows.
As it was, kids would come and go - neighborhood kids in neighborhood bars, they'd grow up and come in for their first tap beer with their dad or older silblings and hang out with the regulars and then they'd join the the real world, maybe join the service, get married or get divorced and move on. It was a plateau. Sometimes it was a landing strip. Sometimes it became a final destination and you never went anywhere else. You'd find your lifetime job in a neighborhood bank or insurance company close by - making it easy for you to stop by in the morning for a ball, maybe at lunchtime another and then on to the serious drinking at night. You'd be surprised how many people lived like that.