A Letter from the Drinking Town #3 – Poetry in Bars and Towels

Dear Worcester,

Every now and then, heading for home, I will stop by Breen’s Cafe to have a beer and watch a little of the Bruins game. I only want to stop there if the Bruins are playing, don’t ask me why. For whatever reason, if I get the chance, that’s where I want to watch hockey.

Last week, the Bruins were playing and I was driving by, so I stopped and got a beer (this is not one of those letters where I write about a new bar to try a gin and tonic in. This is a letter about being at a bar in Worcester and what I and others find in those moments. I figure I will share these with you, if you don’t mind.) The Bruins were doing just fine and the beer was cold. People were talking and having a nice time.

And then I had to use the men’s room.

It’s a bar. There is beer. This is an act that occurs often in such an establishment. I went into the stall and noticed a linen tea towel framed and hung above the toilet. There was a poem on the towel, an old yellowing thing. Around the words were the pearly gates, bottles of spirits, a glass of wine. The things you expect in a bar. Well, maybe not the pearly gates. But that is in the poem.


Let me give you the words to the poem that greeted me in the bathroom stall in Breen’s.

He deserves a hero’s medal for the many lives he’s saved, And upon the Roll of Honour his name should be engraved. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he stands the strain. For the yarns he has to swallow would drive most of us insane.

He must pay the highest licence, he must pay the highest rent. He must battle with his bank and pay their ten percent. And when it comes to paying bills, he’s always on the spot. He pays for what he sells, whether you pay him or not.

And when you walk into his Bar, he’ll greet you with a smile. Be you a workman dressed in overalls or a banker dressed in style. If you’re Irish English Scotch or Welsh, it doesn’t matter what. He’ll treat you like a gentleman, unless you prove you’re not. Yet the clergy in the pulpit and the preacher in the hall. Will assure him that the Churches are against him one and all. But when the Churches plan to hold a ballot or bazaar. They start by selling tickets to the man behind the bar.

When he retires a job well done, to await six feet of soil, Discards his coat and apron, no more on earth to toil. As Saint Peter sees him coming, he will leave those gates ajar. For he knows he had his Hell on Earth, THE MAN BEHIND THE BAR

Now let me say that I didn’t read the poem there. I just realized what it was and took a picture of it on my phone. I then did a search and found it on the internet. Cut and paste and here it is. I didn’t do much heavy lifting. I learned that this poem has been around for a long time. In some places, the poet is Hasty Peter. Hasty writing from Hasty Peter. But for the most parts it is an anonymous poem to be read in a bar for a bar audience.

Which brings up the question, was I expected to read it right there in the toilet stall? Was I going to give me much respected private time to the reading of bar poetry? In the past, were there lines for the john as people finished reading the fine literature waiting for them there?

Before cell phone cameras and internet searches, how did anyone read poetry in public? Did people stand in front of framed tea towels in bars across the county and quietly and conscientiously study the words of the beer soaked bards? Was there slurred discussion of metaphor and hyperbole? Well, there is always metaphor in hyperbole in every bar conversation.

Have we lost one of the great joys of bar going. The reading of accidental literature? I have already said that there needs to be an art walk of bars. Do we need a poetry walk through bars as well? I don’t know if that’s necessary, there is so much poetry in bars to begin with.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love that Breen’s has this piece of doggerel in the bathroom. It feels like what an Irish sports bar should do. It is honest and fun. I know of a few bars that put up the sports page behind plexiglass above bathroom urinals. Getting a tea towel poem is just so much better than the Red Sox box scores.

The poem ain’t much. And it is a little exaggerated about the plight of the man behind the bar, and the rhyme scheme is a little haggard. But like I said, a bar should always have poetry in it, even the stilted kind.

Till Next Time

Dante of Worcester



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