Joanna Leban has been a bartender for 23 years in Manhattan’s East Village at Doc Holliday’s (East 9th Street and Avenue A), ten minutes from her home. Over the years, she’s acquired hundreds of stories from behind the bar. All names have been changed in this new monthly column!
MO and FLO
Mo is such a regular at the bar that he could be considered “furniture.” Although he has questionable grooming habits, he seem to have a way with the ladies and can be quite charming when he applies himself.
He’s been married three times—once to a Playboy bunny (or something) and certainly has had his share of women. Sometimes rude and cranky, he nevertheless knows how to treat a lady: with proper manners, and old school respect.
This Tuesday, like so many others, he was hitting the Pabst and Kentucky Gentleman at his normal leisurely pace. Late night, he was still in full swing as he headed outside for a cigarette break.
Shortly afterwards, the doors to the entrance swung back open, and lo and behold, Mo stepped back in with a lovely-looking old lady.
“Tanqueray martini straight up—very, very cold, no olives, no nothing,” she politely ordered. Apparently Mo had approached her on the sidewalk to ask her inside for a drink, AND she accepted his offer.
It wasn’t long before I was intently listening to this woman, entranced by her mannerisms and utterings. Her name was Florence, a.k.a. Flo and as Mo quickly pointed out, their names rhymed…was it a match made in heaven?
Over the next few hours, I tried to absorb as much as I could about Flo:
She was born in Manhattan, and has lived on 10th Street, a few blocks away, for 79 years. (Both Mo and I commented how she looks better than he, a man 20 years her junior, does…) Born May 28, 1927, Flo was once married to a man who smoked heavily and passed away in 1991. She never had children because they were “too busy having a good time.” By the time they seriously considered it, she had passed her childbearing years.
Flo exhibited some unusual facial expressions, like an odd crinkling of the nose, and a wide smile that appeared at strange times.
I asked if she was a movie star. “No,” she told me, but she was an actress, a member of AFTRA, who didn’t have to pay her union dues. She must have been “grandfathered in.”
Because she was well dressed, I asked whom she’d dined with. She proudly claimed to “always go out alone”. Friends her age don’t like to go out to dinner, to bars, essentially. They don’t like to spend any money. So she flies solo.
She talked about how fancy the food is at the Japanese Restaurant, and how she prefers simplicity. She reminisced about Nobu, famous chefs, food presentation, and how things used to be. As the martini disappeared, Flo grew even more talkative, and a bit crazier.
She called herself a virgin, which I quickly rebutted, telling her she must be a born-again virgin. Well, yes, a born again, having not had sex since 1991, I suppose that applies. Wow. She talked to the other patrons at the bar, which at that point, were only two. She took a liking to Karen, and told her to pull her chair closer. Florence commented on how smart and beautiful Karen is, and started asking cliché philosophical questions like if she knows what love is. Every sentence now began with “Listen…” and then she began to contradict herself…first talking about how she would never tell someone not to smoke, or try to control or judge anyone for their choices…Not ten minutes later, she did just that, asking why a girl like me is working in a place like this, calling my co-worker a fake, and wondering how anyone could drink beer directly from a bottle.
She also became flirtatious with Mo, and again mentioned being a born-again virgin. For a second, I questioned whether I heard it right; “You know how tight I am down there?” she informed Mo, and then added to the pot, ” and I never had children.” Wink, wink.
Mo turned beet red. She said he is too young for her. But, there seemed to be some weird sexual tension between them. I was in mild shock.
She challenged another customer to grow some balls and pull up a chair to talk to her. He was a twenty-something, calling her babe, and saying things like “my bad.” She was offended by his nonchalance, and ordered him to leave her alone. She was getting somewhat belligerent, and who wouldn’t after fifteen years of celibacy? I’d be crazy and cranky, too.
Flo does look like a movie star, especially when she smiles, and she made me miss my grandmother. I like her. A lot. I wanted her to come back. Every night. Somehow, I doubt that would ever happen, and I wonder IF I’ll ever see her again.
I tried to make sure I would, by inviting her to our Anniversary party this weekend. I even wrote the information down for her, so she wouldn’t forget.
After 3am, she announced it was time for her to go home. It was raining and cold, so I offered her an umbrella, and Mo wanted to put her in a cab. She refused both, but said she will see us Saturday. I hope she keeps her word.
Maybe I should have asked her for her number…
Visit Doc’s, “a little bit of Country in the city,”
141 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009