Artie's Party

Once a front in the war against racism, Brownie's gin joint is now the trenches in the battle against yuppiedom

"I don't know where he gets this stuff," she says. "But it's always so fresh. It's not like the stuff that you buy at the supermarket -- you know, the kind that rots after a few days. I can use this stuff for days and days."

She puts her purchases on the counter, but not before she sees Joseph Sebron get up from his place at the bar. A semiregular here, Sebron, at age 72, is a former marine. He says he is bilingual but specializes in "foul language." Apparently, he has decided that late afternoon is a good time to get down on the floor and do sit-ups.

"See, I still have it," he says, mid-sit-up.

Brownie Robertson, the original owner of Brownie's Bar & Tavern, booked Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway
Colby Katz
Brownie Robertson, the original owner of Brownie's Bar & Tavern, booked Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway

Sebron is wearing a wrinkled shirt, a straw hat, and a pendant with the word mother written on it.

"Everything I'm wearing cost only a dollar," he boasts.

No one disbelieves him.

Sebron walks over to where Artie and his buddy George are sitting.

"Are you George?" he asks George.

"No," George says. "My name is Jack."

"So, where's George?"

"I think he left."

When Sebron leaves, George nudges Artie. "Did you see that?" he asks. "I just told him my name is Jack when it's really George."

Artie nods. "I saw," he says. Then he giggles and leans his head in. "Did you see what that guy was wearing?"

The two giggle some more. Like fifth grade girls.

Spath watches the scene from the distance. She calls these customers "her boys." After all, she has been with the place for more than 15 years. "I can't even tell you how many girls I've trained," she says, sighing.

Jeana and Brittney are two of those girls. The two blond bartenders are a mother-daughter team. They work in tandem, teasing the customers with their coy smiles. Brittney, at 18 years old, is new to the scene, but after three months, she's already adopted about "a million father figures," she says. The only weird moment, mother and daughter recall, was when Brittney was hit on -- really hit on -- by one of the old-timers. Eventually, Jeana had to go up to the guy and tell him, "You know, I am her mother." The guy, Jeana recalls, was extremely apologetic. And he left a generous tip to compensate.

Brittney has never met Brownie, though she's heard lots of stories about him. "I'd love to see him," she says.

So would everyone else at the party.

"Say," Artie says, "where is that old fart?"

That "old fart," who is now 96 years old yet still fairly lucid, is at his home a mile away. Brownie's daughter, Susan Gloeckner, had been told that the party was scheduled for 11 a.m. She was informed of the time change only at midmorning. By then, it was too late to change the day's plans. Brownie sits in a brown armchair and reminisces about his time with Artie and the other customers. "I enjoyed every day -- every single day of working there," he says.

But Artie is upset that his buddy hasn't shown. "This is his bar," Artie says.

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