a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here's to you Harry

OK... here is your beer!, originally uploaded by Now and Here.

“How does it feel?” - Robert A. Zimmerman

By Amanda Gillooly

I was newly 21, and in love with a guy named John when I first stepped into Harry’s living room.

As a Point Park College student walking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I sauntered past the River City Inn every Friday, at least, and it always seemed so warm. From the picture window peeking out onto the Boulevard of the Allies, I could see businessmen donning loosened ties perched inside on their bar stools, their hands wrapped most often around mugs of draft beer.

It was far past Happy Hour those Fridays, but they always looked exuberantly joyful. “Must be the beers,” I muttered to myself, jealous, more than once, ambling to another night taking football scores for extra cash.

Wrong. Oh, how woefully wrong, I was. And I realized it as soon as I met the bartender.

We immediately were drawn to Harry Patterson, and he was disarming. With brown hair peppered gray, he wore a button-down dress shirt with the top two buttons undone. The sleeves were rolled up carelessly as he maneuvered behind the bar, boisterously singing whatever chorus Bob Dylan was crooning at the moment.

I’d invited John for a drink there that Thursday. And the Thursday after that. And then the next Thursday.

Harry showed us that if you muted the scene in the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” when Jesus turned the water to wine and put on the Bee Gees, it is a hell of a dance party. And John showed me how to drink beer.

Looking around the bar and noting several Post-Gazette staff writers drinking nearby (some of whom had been immortalized in a strange billboard blitz none of us understood but we all made fun of) and told me I needed to start drinking beer. ASAP.

“No self-respecting newspaper reporter gets caught drinking a Zima in a bar, Amanda,” he said, eyeing my girlie drink in distain.

“But I don’t LIKE beer,” I told him.

After inhaling sharply, John ordered me a Coors Light draft and told me I would get used to it – even grow to love it.

“Trust me,” he said, scooting the mug toward me. While there were many other times I couldn’t or shouldn’t have trusted him, I did then. And from that moment forward my favorite cocktail was a shot and a beer.

Just the other night, Sir Harold (my pet name for my favorite bartender) stressed that the River City Inn isn’t a college bar. But that’s how it became my college bar.

And it’s closing.

Harry jokes that there is a poll going, with the winner guessing the day on which he will roll up to the bar to find that his key doesn’t work.

The business has been sold. And while the new owner has insisted on keeping some of the various pieces of art strewn about the place, I don’t know if I will ever again step inside if Harry is not the one dolling out drinks.

With Sir Harold, you always get more than a beer. You get moon dancing. You get sports trivia and movie remembrances. And that doesn’t say anything about the ambiance.

In my imagination, Mick Jagger is belting out, “Gimme Shelter.”

In real life, the playlist is never far off.


Scott Beveridge said...

That guy Harry is the funniest and best bartender I've ever met. Too bad.

Amanda Blu said...

There will be a few events before its demise. You'll get an invite. Hopefully, whoever the new owner is will ask Sir Harold to stay on. He is the heart and soul of that place.

MJ said...

It sounds like you have acquired the taste for beer rather nicely.

And good description of Mr. Harry. He sounds like a dude you could lay all your problems on while throwing back a few.

Amanda Blu said...

He is actually a guy who can make you forget about all your problems. It could really only get better if he yelled, "Big Girl!" when I walk inside and order a drink.

I've never NOT had fun there. You know?

Anonymous said...

May he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Hold tight to your memories for comfort. Rest in peace Harry.

Anonymous said...

I hope the tragic loss of Harry Patterson prompts you to write a beautiful story in his memory. He will be missed by many!

Anonymous said...

Harry was a great guy and a part of the Downtown culture. He will be missed by anyone who ever got a chance to have a one on one conversation with him. Harry made everyone at the establishment feel like the most important person in the room.