Friday, April 24, 2015

Today's MOZEN: A Meditation On The Death of a Friend.

Words and photo by f LoBuono
When I heard the news, it took my breath away. Like the sudden loss of an old friend, I just couldn't wrap my head around it. O'Donoghue's Tavern, a Nyack institution and an integral part of my life was closing after over fifty years in existence. It was the oldest family run tavern left in Rockland County, NY. After one last hurrah, "O'D's" would close forever.

My first exposure to O'D's, as the tavern was affectionately known, came when I first moved to the County in the early 80's. I knew from the beginning that it would be my kind of place. By the time I discovered it, O'D's already had a reputation as the best drinking bar in town. As I was to find out, it would not disappoint. The crowds were always lively and diverse. And, conversation, good conversation, never lacked. Never.You could always find defrocked priests, police captains, fire chiefs, authors, athletes, former nuns, muscians, mothers. fathers, brothers, sisters, teachers, sailors, scientists, doctors, convicts, cads, bounders, and parvenus to engage in lively discourse. On any given night, you could walk into O'D's for a pint and a handshake. Their slogan was "Where The Customer is Always an Inconvenience". And, they meant it - you were not treated as a customer but as family who stopped in to say "hello". Even during my many years as a bachelor, I was rarely lonely - as l long as I could walk to O'D's. It could always be counted on for a good meal and a friendly encounter.

The building itself has a varied and interesting history. First as a stable for the horses used by the adjacent firehouse and then as a speakeasy during Prohibition, the location became part of local legend. When the O'Donoghue's took it over it became a family affair. After working there as a bartender, Paul O'Donoghue, Sr. purchased the place in the 60's and ran the joint until his death a few years ago. His oldest son, Kevin, ran the place for years with virtually every O'Donoghue family member working there. And, it provided employment not only the O'Donoghue's but for others, too. My brother, Joe, worked the bar every other Sunday for nearly twenty years. Kevin also gave jobs to those who needed them most, like the Sri Lankan immigrants who had come to Nyack in the 80's. It was that family atmosphere that made it a location "where everyone knows your name". It was never a fancy place. And, we didn't want it to be. It was gritty and it was real - just like its loyal patrons.

I have had too many experiences there than I could possibly remember, much less delineate. However, there is one that has stuck with me all these years and is typical of an "ordinary" O'D's experience. I had just finished a pint at the bar and was making my way to the parking lot when I noticed a group of three men gathered around my car. It was a classic Mustang convertible - candy apple red with a white interior. It could certainly turn heads and it was not unusual for people to check it out. So, I was not alarmed by the attention. As I got closer, I noticed one of the men, a burly, bearded man, was kicking my tires. I called out, "may I help you"? Paul O'Donoghue, Jr., who I suddenly recognized, replied, "hi, Frank. Let me introduce you to my two friends. This is Terry Southern (the great author of films like Dr. Stangelove and Easy Rider) and this big guy with the beard is Harry Nilsson (the Grammy award winning singer/song writer)". Just another evening at O'D's. I think that I must have died and went to heaven!

Another unique aspect to O'D's was the wonderful, traditional music played every Monday night for over thirty years. The kitchen was closed and the back dining area was devoted to the many musicians who came from all over the County to ply their trade. In the many years of going there, I've heard everything from Cole Porter to "Put Some Whiskey In My Whiskey" played by some of the finest musicians to be found at any venue anywhere. There had been rumors in recent weeks that it all might finally come to an end. But, of course, no one really wanted to believe. Where it all may wind up, right now, is any one's guess. It will certainly leave a void in my Monday evenings.

Kevin O'Donoghue, the family patriarch and the last proprietor, has been in declining health in recent years and the business has faded with him. Attempts to revive the business, including finding new owners, all proved ineffective. Long-time employees and valued customers started to abandon the place in droves. The food declined. The service suffered. The crowds disappeared. The end became inevitable.

I suppose that no one really expected the end to come - at least so quickly. Like most good things, we thought it would never end. But, nothing is permanent. Still, the memories made, the friends met, the good times had, cannot be erased or even diminished. In time, they too will become the stuff of legend.




2 comments:

  1. This is similar to the feeling I had when Elaine's closed. Now I join a second group of refugees looking for a home. It can never be recreated.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nicely written Frank. True to the OD's tradition, I was drunk-called last night from a few of my favorite reprobates who gave me the gift of being included in the end, if only for a few minutes. OD's may be closed, but the spirit of the place will live on for a long time with those it had touched. There is no doubt that I am a better person for my experiences and the friends I had there. What a wonderful world we would have if everyone had a similar experience. Duff

    ReplyDelete