on February 17, 2006
With all the hubbub going on in the world today both globally and personally, a dark bar with a receptive and smart bartender serving good booze and tasty, greasy, salty appetizers along with a knowledge and opinion on a wide range of subjects is an oasis for many men.The world of the mostly men's bar is a world without women even though many of the men who go there are married or attached, it is not a place for your significant other. What it is, is a place for a man to complain about women, give their opinions about women without recourse and generally act a fool. It's mostly about Sports, Politics and World events. It is often the last bastion of male camaraderie in our contemporary world of girls wanting to join the Boy Scouts. Male bars come in all shapes and sizes and can, of course be Gay, Straight, Yuppie (and its various offshoots) or Country: Alaska has them as does Rhode Island.
J.R. Moehringer's memoir "The Tender Bar' is about this world and his place in it and what he gained and lost because of it: "Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel closer to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship. For better or worse my holy place was Steve's bar." Steve's ( later re-named Publicans),and the regulars there (Cager, Uncle Charlie, Steve, etc.) become J.R.'s surrogate fathers: they teach him responsibility, honor, how to conduct himself as a gentleman...and frankly how and what to drink and when yo check yourself and stop. His Uncle Charlie in particular takes a keen interest in J.R. and though Charlie's life is far from perfect, counsels him on love, women and college.
J.R.'s main beef is that his father is gone but not completely out of reach: his father is a disc jockey and JR reverently listens to "The Voice" nightly: "The Voice was mine. As my dependence grew, so did my tolerance, until it was no longer enough merely to listen. I began talking back. I'd tell The Voice about school, Little League, my mother's health...if I timed it just right-listening when The Voice was speaking, speaking when The Voice was not-it almost felt like a conversation." On the surface this is humorous stuff but ultimately it is real, sad and very touching.
All boys/men have a special relationship with their fathers, of this there is no doubt and when J.R. actually meets his father later in the book, it is cathartic for both he and us: "The feel of my father, the thrilling width of him, the scent of his hair spray and cigarettes and the whiskey he drank on the plane made me weak. More than his feel and smell, the fact of him staggered me."
Unfortunately, because of the James Frey-irization of the Memoir form, I found myself doubting the veracity of a couple scenes in this book: J.R.'s exchange with a priest on a train for one seems too pat, too obvious, and too convenient. ("People don't realize how many men it takes to build one good man"). But as far as I am concerned, the Memoir has more to do with how we remember, i.e...interpret scenes/events in our life and not a stenographic recall of exact words and actions.
"The Tender Bar" is rich with the detail of a life fondly and of course tenderly recalled: it is funny, sad, silly and Moehringer makes it important to us because it is important to him. "There is strength in the union of even very sorry men," Homer wrote thousands of years ago and Moehringer quotes him here and how apt a quote it is for, though as foreign and mystical to some people as a harem in Algeria, the men's bar was and is one of the few places in which men can relax, let their collective hair down, meet up with friends, have a strong drink and hopefully engage in elegant,intelligent and involving conversation
on October 25, 2005
I was right there with JR, with letter opener in hand, when he opened the acceptance letter to Yale. I felt his frustration, anxiety and panic when he thought he lost his first lover, up on the cliff. I wiped away a tear when he gave the Yale ring to his mother.
The business of memoir writing is no easy task. It puts the writer in a extremely naked and vulnerable position. There is no story to hide behind. It's a virtual splaying of one's own guts which takes real courage and honesty to accomplish effectively.
Well... JR's done it. Bravo!
on March 17, 2006
I loved this book! The writing is amazingly interesting and every bit of sarcasm and wit comes shining through. The beginning of the story isn't unusual in itself...a young boy being brought up by his struggling mother without a father at home. He's desperate for some male leadership in his life and isn't simply fulfilled by his colorful extended family members. What is unusual is how fun this book is to read considering it's a memoir, at least in my experience with memoirs. The bar comes alive in your mind and you can see why this boy is entranced with the men that work and drink there. His descriptives are clever and entertaining the entire way through. I gave this book to my husband to read when he had to go out of town and he absolutely loved it. This coming from a man who rarely reads unless he's plopped on a beach somewhere, and even then doesn't care for too many books. I eagerly anticipate the author's next published book!
I received J. R. Moehringer's memoir, "The Tender Bar," as a gift from someone who knew I was a reader of the underground writer Charles Bukowski (1920 --1994) whose novels and poems deal with hard drinking in squalid flats, poverty, horseracing, and exploits with women. His story "Barfly" became a movie some years ago.
But there is in fact little resemblance between Moerhinger and Bukowski. Moehringer is a successful reporter, a graduate of Yale, a fellow at Harvard, and the recipient of a Pulitzer prize. Moehringer's book tells the story of his troubled early life and of his experiences in a tavern called "Dickens" and subsequently "Publicans" in his hometown of Manhasset, Long Island. Manhasset is about 17 miles from New York City and formed the setting, as Moerhinger frequently reminds his readers, of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." His voice is more ambitious and literary than that of Bukowski, a great deal more social (Bukowski frequently drank alone), and much less given to failure, violence, and self-loathing. Moehringer explores how he was able to make a success of his life while Bukowski dramatizes his near-continuous pattern of failure.
Moehringer shows the reader how Dickens and the many men who frequented it (Women figure in the bar as well, but Moehringer was not particularly aware of them as a child.)became important to him as male figures when his father abandoned his family early in his son's life. Moehringer's mother, the hero of this story, unskilled, young, and ambitious for her son struggled valiantly to raise him and young JR (we hear too much in the story of the origins of this name)felt heavily weighed from childhood through early adulthood by his mother's expectations. As a young boy, he experienced the life and camaraderie of the bar as a source of fellowship and an escape from the problems of life. Moehringer shows how the bar both shaped and made the author even while it came close to destroying him.
The book reads well with scenes and passages of eloquence, but it is uneven. I tended to grow impatient with the lengthy scenes in Dickens and with many of the characters who seemed to me oversentimentalized. (There are some exceptions. I enjoyed reading about Moehringer's companion named "Bob the Cop"). I had difficulty sharing or even understanding, in some places, Moehringer's attraction to the bar or to the life he describes and which, eventually, he escapes. It seems to me a harsher, less romantic life than he would have the reader believe.
Some of the scenes in the book that deal with the author's sexual and romantic experiences are well done. But the real interest of the book lies in the unexpected detail and picture, more often than not outside the bar. Thus we meet Bill and Bob, two eccentric middle-aged proprietors of a used-book store in Phoenix who introduce young JR to the love of books. In a chapter called "Father Amtrak" JR receives memorable and sage advice from a priest he meets on a train, as he worries about his grades at Yale and his breakup with his girlfriend. There are some excellent scenes between JR and his childhood friend, McGraw, an aspiring major league pitcher, which inspire JR to toughen himself and to move forward, and some memorable discussions of books and the rewards of reading between JR, Bob the Cop and others. The Preface of the book is well-written, giving a good overview of Dickens and its place in the author's life. The concluding Epilogue is also thoughtful and ties the story together. Thus, while there is some sentimentality and misdirection in this book, the story and the protagonist ultimately come through.
I think this book is more a tribute to a mother's love, to the value of persistence through adversity, and to a growing devotion to reading, writing, and wisdom than it is to the world of pubs such as Dickens. It is a good inspiring read and a worthy first effort.
on September 26, 2005
Don't know where to start on this...its funny, sad, alarming, hopeful, down-trodden, optimistic and pessimistic all at the same time. We all have stories in us like this, only this guy knows how to tell it. A real gift.
Hey JR, your "pop" might have been the "Voice," but your own voice came through loud and clear...and its terrific. Thank you very much for letting us in your head and sharing your life and family with us. God Bless!
on January 10, 2006
I grew up in Manhasset, am the same age as the author, either knew - or knew of - some of the people in the book and likely crossed paths with him at the tetherball courts at Shelter Rock Elementary School.
It's a treat to read any book that is enjoyable, touching and life-affirming, but especially sweet for this reader when the edges of your own memories are given colorful, mythical life through the voice of a talented writer.
During my formative years, Publican's (and the earlier, slightly dingier Dickens) was the central gathering hole for Manhasset - a restaurant as well as a bar (great Surf and Turf). On any given night you were sure to bump into a classmate, a neighbor or even a teacher (this is true today, although the current Edison's is a faint substitute for the much more colorful bar that preceded it. I even recall his Uncle Charlie, in a particularly bad mood, tending bar around 9 years ago). 9/11 changed our hometown dramatically - like many others - making memories of life there in the last few decades that much more cherished - even when the story is a unique and personal one.
For any reader, I think this memoir holds universal truths and immediate emotions, and the author has a unique way of pulling you into his life, making his friends and family familiar, flawed and real. You'll be missing everyone by the last page.
JR, thanks for this wonderful coming-of-age story, for allowing us to see what life was like for you some 10 blocks up the road, and for presenting our hometown as the engaging, complicated, colorful, nurturing and human place that it is.
on September 21, 2005
There are enough detailed reviews here to do this work justice, so I'd just like to add an endorsement for those considering reading it. Tender Bar is a wonderful, nostalgic coming-of-age story. I was entranced by it. Think Salinger, Hornby. Warmth, humor, heartache, life wisdom; JR Moehringer brings it all. I am going to read it again- I already miss it.
Holy Pulitzer Prize, Batman, can this guy write. Young JR, abandoned by his NYC radio DJ father and constantly worried about his mother, finds father figures, salvation and security in the gathering of men at the bar down the street. He writes about his ordinary, fascinating life in a way that makes us feel that we not only know him, but maybe he knows something about us, too.
on September 29, 2005
This is a must read for anyone who grew up in an alcoholic household. My father has been dead since 1975, and I swear that reading this book brought him back to life. I cannot tell you how many times my mom sent one of us four kids into "The Captain's Chair" just to remind my father that he had a family at home. This book made me realize that his cronies at the bar were truly his family. I finally get it! I did not want this book to end.
on October 18, 2005
I just put down this book and after catching my breath and holding back some tears, I miss it already. This book is so funny at times, so touching at times and so profound at times as we watch JR grow up before our eyes. There are some books that you know you will never forget because of how they make you feel, this is one of them.