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The Tender Bar: A Memoir Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 31, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 509 customer reviews

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"Long before it legally served me, the bar saved me," asserts J.R. Moehringer, and his compelling memoir The Tender Bar is the story of how and why. A Pulitzer-Prize winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, Moehringer grew up fatherless in pub-heavy Manhasset, New York, in a ramshackle house crammed with cousins and ruled by an eccentric, unkind grandfather. Desperate for a paternal figure, he turns first to his father, a DJ whom he can only access via the radio (Moehringer calls him The Voice and pictures him as "talking smoke"). When The Voice suddenly disappears from the airwaves, Moehringer turns to his hairless Uncle Charlie, and subsequently, Uncle Charlie's place of employment--a bar called Dickens that soon takes center stage. While Moehringer may occasionally resort to an overwrought metaphor (the footsteps of his family sound like "storm troopers on stilts"), his writing moves at a quick clip and his tale of a dysfunctional but tightly knit community is warmly told. "While I fear that we're drawn to what abandons us, and to what seems most likely to abandon us, in the end I believe we're defined by what embraces us," Moehringer says, and his story makes us believe it. --Brangien Davis

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Terry GolwayYou needn't be a writer to appreciate the romance of the corner tavern—or, for that matter, of the local dive in a suburban strip mall. But perhaps it does take a writer to explain the appeal of these places that ought to offend us on any number of levels—they often smell bad, the decor generally is best viewed through bloodshot eyes and, by night's end, they usually do not offer an uplifting vision of the human condition.Ah, but what would we do without them, and what would we do without the companionship of fellow pilgrims whose journey through life requires the assistance of a drop or two?J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, has written a memoir that explains it all, and then some. The Tender Bar is the story of a young man who knows his father only as "The Voice," of a single mother struggling to make a better life for her son, and of a riotously dysfunctional family from Long Island. But more than anything else, Moehringer's book is a homage to the culture of the local pub. That's where young J.R. seeks out the companionship of male role models in place of his absent father, where he receives an education that has served him well in his career and where, inevitably, he looks for love, bemoans its absence and mourns its loss.Moehringer grew up in Manhasset, a place, he writes, that "believed in booze." At a young age, he became a regular—not a drinker, of course, for he was far too young. But while still tender of years, he was introduced to the culture, to the companionship and—yes—to the romance of it all. "Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel close to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship," he writes. For young J.R., that place was a gin mill on Plandome Road where his Uncle Charlie was a bartender and a patron.The Tender Bar's emotional climax comes after its native son has found success as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times. On September 11, 2001, almost 50 souls who lived and loved in Moehringer's home town of Manhasset were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. One was a bartender we've met along the way. Another was one of the author's cousins.Moehringer drove from Denver, where he was based as a correspondent for the Times, to New York to mourn and comfort old friends. He describes his cousin's mother, Charlene Byrne, as she grieved: "Charlene was crying, the kind of crying I could tell would last for years."And so it has, in Manhasset and so many other Long Island commuter towns. Moehringer's lovely evocation of an ordinary place filled with ordinary people gives dignity and meaning to those lost lives, and to his own.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (September 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401300642
  • ASIN: B000JGWE36
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (509 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on March 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books that paralyzes the reviewer in its beauty. What can I say to convince you to read this book? Ideally, I'd just highlight every single line and make you read it.

It is nearly impossible to pin down one theme Moehringer's memoir is about: Fatherless boys? Working class moms trying to make ends meet? The search for a father figure in a crowd of bartenders? The genesis of a journalist, of a writer? The life of a blue-collar Yalie? Determining one's purpose in life? An intense character study of men in a bar? The rebellion of a son against his mom's intense love and support? Society's love affair with alcohol? In the end, this memoir is all of this and so much more, told in marvelous prose.

The author biography in the back jacket flap reveals that Moehringer is a Pulitzer Prize winner and national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. These facts will help buoy the reader when our author is failing out of Yale, failing at life, or struggling to get promoted beyond his hard-won copyboy position at the New York Times. Moehringer searches for purpose, reason, motivations, and positive reinforcement (other than from his mother). He especially struggles with his unpublished novel, which he worked on for close to a decade (and which I suspect became the basis for his memoir, since the novel was reportedly largely autobiographical).

This is one of those books one needs to own, for the underlining of critical passages and literary references to review again later. Be prepared to get intimate with the tough, ruddy-faced bartenders and barkeeps of Publicans (especially Uncle Charlie, who I have known in another body in my own life), and to put Steve's bar on the list of places to visit before you die.
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Format: Paperback
Take one part CHARMING BILLY, a dash of Frank McCourt, add a shot of "Cheers," serve straight up, and you'll have the charming concoction that is THE TENDER BAR. J.R. Moehringer fondly reflects on his youth, however misspent, within the cooling shadows of the town's local bar.

In Manhasset, the place to go was Dickens (later renamed Publicans) on Plandome Road. Like the pubs of old, it was the place to celebrate, commiserate and pontificate. Sooner or later, everyone wound up at its door, thanks largely to its kind and commanding owner, Steve. In the mid-seventies, J.R. Moehringer was an adolescent badly in need of a father figure. His dedicated mother worked as many as three jobs to keep them on their feet. His grandparents were concerned but somewhat distant; his grandfather was downright abusive to everyone except little J.R., who was so named after his father, a radio disc jockey who has little to do with his son. Moehringer listens to his late-night radio broadcasts and refers to him only as "The Voice," a far away, unknowable being who flits in and out of his young son's life only briefly.

When he and his mother move to Arizona for better prospects and to be near their cousins, he finds himself lonelier than ever. His mother decides to send him back to his grandparents in Manhasset for the summer, and soon he gets his first taste of life around the bar. His Uncle Charlie, at his mother's request, starts taking little J.R. with him on excursions to the beach and to ball games, all of which culminate with a visit to "the Bar."

Finally, he finds what he has been looking for --- a family, albeit an unconventional one. Who wouldn't want to glean all he can from guys named Bobo, Joey D. and Colt?
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Format: Paperback
Just finished reading 'The Tender Bar'.

"Wow" is not a strong enough word for this insight into humanity.

Maybe because of my friendship with McGraw, my growing up in taverns in southern Illinois, my over thirty years of international bartending and my over 5,000 Beverage/Literature library I might be a little more inclined to like this work that uses a drinking establishment as a vehicle to tell a story of growing up.

Moehringer reminds me of Pete Hamil, Art Buchwald and Malichi McCourt but with a more modern honesty for putting his gonads and family disruptions on the bar for all to see. Hopefully in another book my long list of questions about what happened to the great folks in his story will be answered.

Boy, did this old St. Louis bartender identify with Uncle Charlie.

If you are in the liquor industry or have ever been associated with saloons you will have one of your best reads in many, many years.

Thanks J.R., I'm waiting for your next books.
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The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer tells a story about relationships and about what is worth wanting and all that is in between. It is simple, deep, and honest and even sometimes breathtaking in its earnestness to capture what makes us human, tender, fallible, and whole. I was stunned at times by both its spontaneous humor and pathos and found myself laughing out loud in public places while reading this memoir as well as suddenly welling up with tears with yet the turn of another page. There is a depth that caught me off guard, everytime. This is one of those books that I will carry with me in my heart and in my head for a long time to come and I have not felt that way about a story in a very, very long time.
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