By Tim Meehan
I am pretty sure I am traveling 50 years back on this one.
In my hometown of Manhasset, a bar named Dickens opened on the far end of Plandome Road. That main drag was home to several bars and gin mills. Just past the old graves of the Christ Church and the older plots of the Dutch Reformed’s dead guys was Kilmeade’s Manhasset Inn. A Prohibition-era speakeasy survived into the seventies in the basement, along with the spiders, kegs and old chug-a-mugs.
Jim and Peg Kilmeade and their chihuahua, Pepy, ran the place and their son Buddy, an accountant by day, took the helm nights. It was favored by Manhasset’s youth, not all of whom were 18, the legal age at the time. It was no Tender Bar, but the Buddy was a tender bartender who listened to all the tales spun by the old veterans and young sports heroes alike while chomping on a big stogie smiling his Irish smile. It was known locally as simply, “The Cave.”
The adjacent liquor store thrived.
A short hop down the lane was Joan & Ed’s, a mostly fire department bar. They didn’t want any upstarts in there. A Chinese place by the station served up Manhattans to those thirsty souls looking for more than a fortune cookie. Over the railroad tracks on right was The Office, cleverly named for the benefit of the Dashing Dan NYC commuters who could truthfully call home and tell their wives they were still at office. At night the cabbies shot pool there and listened to Merle Haggard.
Around the corner was the Jaunting Car, where they didn’t serve Wild Irish Rose, but poured barrels of John Jameson into shots and Irish coffee. The trail went dry for a spell till you stumbled down the stairs to the bar at the Manhasset Bowling Alley across from the old Gay Dome saloon. A pithy name for the corner joint on Gaynor Avenue and Plandome Road.
Last up was the newly resurrected establishment owned by Steve Schnitzer. Dickens seemed big enough to fit the all others places inside it. The barkeeps were an eclectic group of philosophers, underachievers, bookies, undrafted ballplayers and wannabes. Everyone loved them. Chaz Maguire was Numero Uno in style and sagacity. He was in the phone booth quite often, covering the spread. Teddy arranged everything just so. Joey D held the book on all the patrons and the rest of the town for that matter.
John was a part-time bartender who had a nice job on Wall Street and craved the spotlight. Sans the piano man, it was everyone’s kind of place. Those guys did time behind the taps at different joints for years and served up lots of spin and attitude to all comers. Steve’s smile radiated throughout the place.
The weekends had local bands and a group from next door Great Neck. The Meade Brothers became the house band of sorts. We all knew the Meades from somewhere. It was rocking in there till 2 a.m.
A position as “door man,” aka “working the door” collecting the cover charge, was worth $20 a night, free drinks, and some time on the foosball table. A job with benefits.
Softball was life in the easy summertime of those days. Dickens had three teams. Memorial Field was our home diamond. We moved around some with games in Munsey Park, Valley Park and under the lights in Manorhaven.
Memorial Field was a long quadrangle just off the main drag. As the name implies, the field was dedicated to those Manhasset residents that served and gave the last full measure for their home and country. It was where all the Memorial Day Parades mustered out and where the speeches were made. It was bounded on the west by two clay tennis courts and a basketball court to the east.
We weren’t into tennis those days. Manhasset Police Boys Club ( I know, an anachronism in today’s enlightened age) was the building block for our introduction to sports. We had PBC Football and Baseball. Through the ranks we grew. If we were lucky enough our dads took us to see the major leaguers at Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds. No doubt the older we got, we carried that passion for the games that was instilled by the coaches of our youth.
Our games morphed to some rugged football and softball pickup. Cars, cigarettes and poker games took precedent and we carved out a corner of the field in the shade for some memorable games of quarter/half. It was our world.
College, jobs, and military service separated and scattered us.
Then, Steve Schnitzer opened Dickens. It was a game changer that moved us out of the shade and onto the infield.
The Beer Leagues were so popular that Dickens sponsored three teams. Steve’s crew was older, some players brought wives and baby carriages.
Dickens 1 team members were the usual mix of former lettered athletes and bartenders. They had style and played in athletic wear that had stripes down the legs.
Dickens 2 and 3 moved down in age but not talent. We wore jeans and Dickens issued t-shirts. We were the upstarts always vying to unseat the king and his court.
We played each other of course, but also lively contests against North Shore Hospital, Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department, Kilmeade’s (a beer distributor) and others . We played in the Valley with the geese, at Munsey Park with the high traffic and under the lights in Manorhaven.
The early summer evenings were best at Memorial Field with the western skies that glowed down on our play.
The cars flanking the field were a car show by today’s standards. Seventies classics.
The games were umpired, structured play with pitching duels and fielding excellence, with high comedy, snarky comments and wild hilarity. Plus beer. It was a tight community that Steven brought together.
After dusk we adjourned to the bar, where Chaz repeatedly filled the pitchers, the burgers fortified us, the stories flew and the juke box wailed.
It was a time.
—Tim Meehan now lives in Stowe, VT