As a Cocktail Week special, Eater recently sat down with Jeannie Talierco, a "lifer" at Hank's Saloon in Boerum Hill. She's got some stories to tell:
[All photos by Marguerite Preston]
Jeannie Talierco doesn't want to say how long she's worked at Hank's Saloon. "Just put that I've been working here a long time," she says. Hank's itself has been around for about a century, first as the Doray Tavern, a regular hangout for many of the Native American ironworkers who helped build the Empire State Building. It sits in a squat old building on Atlantic Avenue, just a few blocks from the Barclays Center. Inside on a Sunday afternoon, classic rock is playing on the jukebox and there's a football game on. The bar stools are about half full, and Jeannie knows almost every customer by name. If she doesn't when they come in, she does by the time they leave, calling out after them, "It was a pleasure to meet you!" She is the kind of bartender who calls everyone "hon" or "sweetheart." She is also the kind of bartender who rinses off the top of can of PBR before she serves it, and who keeps a stack of photos of the regulars who have passed away in a drawer behind the bar.
Hank's came close to shuttering a few years ago. The lease problems were solved, but the financial problems were not. Now Jeannie says that the building has been bought by a developer. Within a couple of years it will be demolished and replaced by new construction. Until then, here's Jeannie on her many years behind the bar:
How long have you worked here?
I worked here a long time. It used to be called Doray's. That was about 14 years ago. D-o-r-a-y for Dottie and Ray, and they were here for many, many years. 40 years. I walked in this door, she hired me on the spot. I didn't come for a job neither, I just walked in the door and she said, "You're hired." And it used to be all ironworkers, Mohawks from Canada. They would come during the week, and there used to be furnished rooms on State Street. Most of them lived in the area, and during the week they'd come to work and then on weekends they'd go back to Canada. When it was Doray's, it was family. My boss used to take us every May to the El Carib in Mill Basin, 50 of us, and pay for it. It was like going to a wedding without the bride and groom. Dinner, dancing, everybody being merry, happy. And then the last year when we went, when the wife passed away, it wasn't the same. We never went back. She was feisty. One thing about her, she always stuck up for her bartenders. And he looked like W.C. Fields and Humpty Dumpty. They were the best, best, best ever. Took care of all of us, the customers, the bartenders. Phenomenal what they did for us, the bartenders. Everything we wanted, they gave us. It's like a big family thing here. All old-timers used to come here during the day time. They're all gone. Deceased, retired.
When did things change?
Well then it became Hank's. My female boss, Dottie, she passed away first, and then he retired and sold the bar. And then the son from O'Keefe's, Dave Shereem bought the bar and named it Hank's for Hank Williams. He thought it was gonna be a big biker bar, but it didn't surface as that. And the old-timers kept dwindling—he passed away, he moved away—and the last ten years it's completely different.
What's it like now?
We still have some people that came from way back when, when it was Doray's, but now it's more...I don't know, it's a different generation. I go with the old school, the old generation. But everybody's cool. We have a decent crowd here during the day. In the nighttime it's different, it's music. I'd rather do the daytime because it's more mellow for me. Well that's not true, because I'm a crazy woman, I'm crazy, but I love it. I love working here. I've never had a drink behind the bar in all the years I've worked here. I'm business. And I take no bull, from nobody. And I guess I'm gonna stay, we should be here at least another year and a half. We were supposed to go down three years ago, but what happened was the third guy that took it over, he bought the bar, and my boss John, he leased the bar. But now the bank took over the bar, and with that someone recently just bought it over. So we'll be here for another year and a half, at least. And then they'll knock it down, and what they wanna build is apartments, a highriser, I don't know. And what they're going to do here, maybe they'll have another bar, I do not know. The neighborhood's changed, but it's still a good day bar. A very good day bar.
What was it like when all those ironworkers were here?
Those ironworkers were unbelievable. I used to work in O'Keefe's on Court Street. When I was working there I met a lot of ironworkers, so when I came here, they were here. I was a queen. They treated me like gold. But one time, talk about a funny time, I used to dress with the little short shorts and whatever. So I come in, I'm all dressed up, his name was Brodney, he's chasing me around the bar! And I'm screaming, "I'm not working here no more! I'm not working here no more! Why's he doing this to me!" He was so drunk he thought I was his wife or whatever. For two months he never came back. And then one day he comes in like "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'll never do it again." And then this is the best: Mike. Mike looked like Bill Clinton. I used to call him Bill Clinton. Really nice guy, working down the block or whatever, always coming in with the guys. So one day I got a Jameson 12 or something, I got him really messed up. So now he's fighting on the floor and he screams up, "I'm gonna take Jeannie to the hotel tonight!" I was so embarrassed. I went like this [covering her face], I served my bar, he leaves. The next day I see him creeping down the block, he's really a gentleman, just happened that night, whatever. He walks in, he goes "I'm so sorry. Jeannie, I'll never do it again." He left me a tip. I said, "I don't want the tip," and he said, "No, you take it. I'll never do that to you again."
So they were all scared of you!
It's not scared, it's respect. You know, I get the respect. And I get the jerks. Last year we had the Barclays Center, it was the best lunch crowd I ever had. From July to September. Those guys were phenomenal. They were gentleman, they'd spend the money, they'd come lunchtime, they were great. They were really great. Some of them still call me. Like the guys that are in the neighborhood, they'll come back to visit. Which is good. Those ironworkers and my old-timers, unbelievable....Once this one old-timer was really mean and nasty. So I said to him "If you're going to be nasty, don't come here. That's it." I went home crying, that's how bad it was, 'cause he called me a name. The next day I told him, "That's it, you don't come here no more." He became my best friend in the whole world. We'd eat lunch every day, he took me to Manhattan to eat, he cleaned up, put cologne on. Because he really hurt my feelings, you know, I was a newcomer here, and he was cursing me. He became my best buddy, couldn't do enough for me. Every day bring me lunch, flowers. You know what it is, just because you don't have to disrespect me, just like I don't have to disrespect you. But if you're gonna be stuck with me, don't fuck with me. If there's a problem you don't like, you just don't come here when I'm here. Come the other shifts.
What were you doing before you worked here?
Believe it or not I worked in a research library in the Pan Am building. I was a research librarian. Very interesting. And I had my two children, and what happened was, they were young, and nobody wants to take care of your children, so it's either your job or your children. So I left my job and I was hired to waitress. I went into a bar uptown and he said, "Get behind the bar." I said, "Excuse me?" he said
"Behind the bar," and that's how I learned. And ever since then I've been bartending.
What do you like about working here?
Everything. I like being in control.
In control of what?
The bar. I like a very clean, neat bar, I got us an A two years in a row. I like everything in place, everything in order. I'm very fussy.
What time do you start work?
I used to start at eight in the morning. Eight to six. But now I come in at 11, and go home at six. Except Sunday I work 12 to seven, and on Monday and Tuesday I work to seven.
What's your typical day like?
Alright, in the morning—it used to be the ironworkers at 12. But now they're not around anymore, so now I get people that work in the bank, a couple stragglers, a couple of my regulars. Some days could be three people, some days could be 10 people, some days it could be three hours with nobody. It depends on the day, it depends on the mood and whatever. But usually we pick up at around three in the afternoon, four in the afternoon. With the Barclays Center we're doing extremely well. You have the basketball, you have the concerts. Nine Inch Nails brought in a lot of good people. My boss said Pearl Jam too, but I wasn't working those nights. And not only us, the whole area now. It's doing very good business with the Barclays Center now.
Why don't you work at night?
I can't do nights no more. I've done my share of nights.
When did you stop doing nights?
Oh, maybe 12 years ago, maybe even longer. I've worked here and another bar. I wanna go home, eat, be with my man, see my great grandbaby, you know what I mean? Be with the family. And now it's young, with the music. But I still do okay. And I always work by myself. Everybody gets someone to work with them, I'm always by myself. It depends on the crowd. You know, it's like anything else, shopping, one day it's busy the next day it's not, you know what I mean? But I have a lot of people from way back when. At least half of my customers are from when I first started. It would've been many more but they're all deceased. You get some good, you get some bad shit going on too.
You have a lot of regulars. Do any in particular stand out?
My customers are great. All of them. We have Dennis who's been in here like a hundred years. Dennis is like the bar stool, he's always here. But Dennis is cool. He helps out a lot. But I take care of him, we all take care of Dennis. Dennis used to be a porter here years ago, but he blew it. And then from that he went from seven days to two days. Now he does the garbage two nights a week, gets a few dollars. He blew it because he was doing things he shouldn't be doing. Drinking while he's working, which is a no-no, you know? But now he does the garbage, we feed him, he's very well taken care of. He gets a few dollars. And we don't serve Dennis hard liquor, only beer...
I have this old man who would come here every day. He goes, "Listen, I'm gonna die, marry me. Just for my benefits." My boss said do it, I didn't do it, three months later the guy died. And then this old-timer, Angelo, fell madly in love with me. A bunch of us used to go out to bars. I never slept with him, kissed him, anything. The guy died and left me $15,000 dollars in CDs. He loved me! He was respectful, customer-like, and I bought him shirts, bought him gifts, whatever, but never ... My customers are very good.
Do you have any good bar stories? What's the craziest thing that's ever happened here?
Ah, you can't print that.
Can we print the second craziest thing? Or the fifth craziest?
Some bad times, but a lot of good times, but there are some that are really bad. I was told, I wasn't here, that everybody's sitting at the bar, this person came in naked, ran in, nobody said a word, everybody just sat at the bar, came in naked, went to the toilet, came out, ran out naked and went in the car and nobody said a word, they just shook their heads and they watched. We had a couple that used to come here and sit over there, at the booth. And I had an ironworker that sat at the end of the bar and he goes "Jeannie" [pounding on the bar] "look! They were doing no good." So I went to them and I said "Listen, this is not a hotel. Get out of the bar and go to a hotel." You know what I mean? And the Indian's going "Jeannie, look, look, look!"
What's the best time to be here?
It fluctuates. You could be here in the morning, there could be a bunch of loonies and you don't wanna be here. You never know. From one day to the next. Like, this is very nice for a Sunday and it's still early, which is good. It could be like three people. Like last Sunday was dead, I had like four people five people, and then like 4:30 on it's busy. 99 percent of the time it's busy. People come from after work, the Barclays Center, the this, the that.
What do you like to drink while you're not a work?
I'm not really a drinker. A glass of wine here and there, sometimes I go out with my friends. I'll have a Seagram's 7 and Seven-Up, god the last one I had was maybe a year ago. I'm not really a drinker, but I like to eat.
What do you like to eat?
Where are you from?
I was born in Greenpoint. I was born in Greenpoint Hospital, my parents were 15 when they had me. And I raised my kids in Bensonhurst. I'm a grandmother and a great grandmother. I have a 43 year-old daughter, a 44 year-old daughter, a 21 year-old grandson, a 24 year-old grand-daughter, and a 2 year-old great grand-daughter. And I'll be 29 next week.
And where do you live now?
Benson-hoyst. It's changed, everything's changed. Everyone's grown, gone, a lot of people are deceased. People change, you get older. So appreciate being young. Enjoy your life because it goes so quick. If I knew then what I know now, I'd be a real bad person. I'd go out and I'd do everything in sight.
Who is that in that picture behind the bar? Why is that there?
That's Charlie, we gave him a memorial. We had a couple of dead people up, but John said after a while "Put 'em away."
[Jeannie with one of her memorials]
What's Charlie's story?
Charlie just got out of prison, and he was one of the best pool players ever. So we all took a liking to Charlie, but Charlie didn't eat, he was very frail, always smoked but we all took a liking to him. And then Charlie died. Charlie had no means of getting buried, so we buried Charlie. A couple of customers went, I couldn't go because I had to work. And then Sally [holding up another picture] was cremated, so now they both have a memorial. I'm very into memorials. We also helped my bartender, George. George was 48-years-old, Spanish dude, worked here, got very ill. Wound up in Long Island College. He finally passed, so we took a collection, got clothes for him, we laid him out on Vanderbilt Avenue. And his landlord gave me a little bag of information, so what I did, I found his ex-wife and his daughter, who hadn't seen him in 17 years. So with the collection we cremated him, we had a nice little memorial, and I sent her and the daughter whatever money was left. And that was a good time because everybody got together, everybody. And everybody chipped in and there was enough money to do everything for George because George was very good, took care of everybody, showed movies, cleaned up this bar, did decorations in the bar....I've buried about 20 people. We've lost about 50 regulars. We do a lot here. It's like, people go, new people come. People go, new people come.
When this closes, will you retire?
This is in my blood. I'm going to do this until I can't do it. Anything can happen in a year and a half. I'm going day by day, see what happens. I would get something else very quickly. Even John, my boss, he would help me go somewhere else. I would get hooked up. But when this goes I'm gonna die. I'll cry when this goes, I'll be very upset. But I can deal.
· All Coverage of Hank's Saloon [~ENY~]