NYC bars all have stories to tell. Doc Holliday’s bartender Joanna Leban has tended the bar for 23 years in Manhattan’s East Village. Located at East 9th Street and Avenue A, the bar is only ten minutes away from the bartender’s home.
Working at Doc Holliday’s for over two decades, bartender Joanna Leban has hundreds of stories about serving customers from behind the bar. Except for Leban, all other names have been changed in this Honeysuckle magazine monthly column. Read on.
MO and FLO at The Bar
Joanna Leban tells Honeysuckle about Mo, a regular at the bar. He’s a patron so frequently, Mo is considered part of Doc Holiday’s furniture. Although he presents himself with questionable grooming habits, Mo has a way with the ladies. He can be quite the charmer.
Mo has been married three times. The first, to a Playboy bunny (perhaps). He has certainly has had his share of women. At times rude and cranky, Mo nevertheless knows how to treat a lady. When he makes an effort, he has proper manners and old school respect.
This week, like so many others, Mo was hitting the Pabst and Kentucky Gentleman, at his signature leisurely pace. Late night, still in full swing, he heads outside for a cigarette break. Shortly afterwards, the doors to the entrance swing back open. Lo and behold, Mo steps back in with a lovely-looking old lady.
“Tanqueray martini straight up,” she said. “And very, very cold, no olives, no nothing.”
As it turns out, Mo approaches her on the sidewalk and invites her inside for a drink. It isn’t long before I’m listening intently to this woman, entranced by her mannerisms and utterings. Her name is Florence, a.k.a. Flo. Mo quickly points out that their names rhyme. Could this be a match made in heaven?
At The Bar
Over the next few hours, I’m trying to absorb as much as I can about Flo. She was born in Manhattan, and has lived on East 10th Street—few blocks away—for 79 years. Both Mo and I comment on how Flo looks better than he. Mo is 20 years her junior. Born May 28, 1927, Flo was once married to a man who smoked heavily and passed away in 1991.
Flo 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 exhibits some unusual facial expressions. Like, an odd crinkling of the nose, and a wide smile that appears at strange times. I asked if she was a movie star.
“No,” she tells 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 claims 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 talks about how fancy the food is at the Japanese Restaurant, and how she prefers simplicity. She reminisceds about Nobu, famous chefs, food presentation, and how things used to be.
As the martini disappears, Flo grow more talkative, and a bit crazier. She calls herself a virgin, but I quickly rebut. I tell her she must be a born-again virgin. Well, yes, she says. As a born again, having not had sex since 1991, she says “I suppose that applies.”
Flo Keeps Chatting
She talks to the other patrons at the bar. At that point, there are only two. She took a liking to Karen, and tells her to pull her chair closer. Florence comments on how smart and beautiful Karen is, and started asking cliché philosophical questions. Like, “Do you know what love is?” Every sentence now begins with “Listen…” Then she begins to contradict herself.
First, Flo’s talking about how she never tells someone not to smoke. And never tries to control or judge anyone for their choices. Not ten minutes later, she does just that when she asks me, “Why a girl like you working in a place like this?”
Winking At The Bar
Next, Flo is calling my co-worker a fake. And says, “How can anyone drink beer directly from a bottle?” She also becomes flirtatious with Mo, and again mentions being a born-again virgin. For a second, I question whether I heard her right. “You know how tight I am down there?” she tells Mo. Then, adding to the pot, “And I never had children.” Wink, wink.
Mo Turns Red
Mo turns beet red. She says he’s too young for her. But, there seems to be some weird sexual tension between them. I’m in mild shock. Next, Flo challenges another customer to “grow some balls” and pull up a chair to talk to her.
NYC Bars and Their Patrons
He’s a twenty-something and keeps calling her “babe.” Then, he keeps saying things like “my bad.” Flo takes offense. She doesn’t like his nonchalance, and orders him to leave her alone. Now she is getting somewhat belligerent. But, hey, 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. That makes me miss my grandmother. I like Flo. A lot. I want her to come back. Every night. Somehow, I doubt that will happen. I wonder if I’ll ever see Flo again. Trying to make sure she’ll return, I invite Flo to our upcoming Anniversary party.
The Bar Party
I even write down the bar address and party information for her. So she won’t forget. After 3 a.m., Flo announces it is time for her to go home. It’s raining and cold out, so I offer her an umbrella. Mo wants to put her in a cab.
Flo refuses both of us, but says she’ll see us Saturday for the party. I hope she keeps her word and wonder, ‘Should I have asked for her number.’
All NYC Bars Have Stories
So c’mon down and visit the bar Doc Holiday’s, where it’s “a little bit of Country in the City.” The bar address is 141 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009. You can also visit @DocHollidays.