When Prohibition went the way of the dodo, the neon went up and the brick walls gave birth to windows that flung open to the bustling of Main Street. My grandfather drank there then. He too was a newspaperman, for the Buffalo Courier Express. And, at the time Ray Flynn himself, whose moniker draped the facade of the brick building in the aforementioned neon, tended the sturdy dark-wood bar, night after night, year after year.
But then Ray died. He left the bar to his son, Tommy. What Tommy Flynn inherited wasn't much; an over-the-hill ginmill on a nearly deserted street with most of the factories and stores and warehouses around it gasping for economic breath. And then the Courier closed and what had kept Flynn's going, albeit by a whiff of vermouth, receded like the ice boom. The heyday of The Golden Dollar seemed to have taken the same train out of town as all the jobs and the industry and the people. Those that were left, the regulars, well, they cashed their welfare and unemployment and third-shift checks at Tommy's bar, had a shot and a beer for a buck, and wished for better days - for better lives.
Then something remarkable happened in the mid-eighties: theater! Buffalo theater bloomed! Many a small stage found a home in an old bus station or on the sixth floor of an office building. It defied the odds--quality theater, professional theater, being done on a massive scale by an abundance of talent. And very thirsty talent at that!
God bless theater folk! They can sniff out a free Happy Hour clam at over a hundred yards. And that's what they did with Flynn's! The only thing that that goes better with red leather and scotch than newspaper people is theater people! Especially when said scotch, mixed with a dash of soda, can be had for a buck! A buck! And Tommy welcomed them - us - me.
I had always known about Flynn's from the raconteurs in my family. But I didn't experience Flynn's until I became involved in local theater. I honestly can't remember the first time I was 'buzzed' through the front door - I only remember the feeling I had, that I had found my place in the world.
And there was Tommy, grinning from behind the bar like some mythic Irish imp--his eyes sparkling, a mischievous smile pursed on his puss. One thing about Tommy, he always looked like he was up to...something. And, usually, he was.
He was the host extraordinaire. The Master of Ceremonies. The career advisor, the psychiatrist, the marital counselor, the chief cook and bottle washer. He had a smile for everybody (that he let in, mind you). He would open "The Book" at your behest and wish you luck. He would escort young ladies to their car in the dank lot and make sure, if you'd had a wee bit too much, to take your keys and call you cab. He was THAT kind of bartender. And he always let you run a tab.
But Tommy was also a man, a family man. He, like the rest of us, suffered deep disappointments, exceptional frustrations, debilitating resentments and heartbreak. Sometimes--and he confided this to me once--he despised the bar, his father, his life. But, really, don't we all feel that way from time to time about our own lives? His 'black' moods were rare, and you really had to look deep to see them. For me, that just made him all the more human, and all the more special.
I met my wife in Flynn's. I celebrated in Flynn's. I danced and sang and caroused in Flynn's. I also cried in Flynn's. I mourned and cursed and fell to pieces in Flynn's. On a cold December night back in 1990, when I was at my worst, I had my last drink in Flynn's. And Tommy was there for it all. Never judging. Just being. Being the best bartender, the best person, he could be.
There were extraneous reports of Tommy's declining health over the years. An occasional sighting at this 'reunion' or that 'opening'. I never saw Tommy again after the inimitable Golden Dollar turned off the rusted rose neon for the last time. Some people are like that - omnipresent in your life one day, vacated the next. That's just the way it is. But, damn, Tommy was a good bartender! In the truest, basest and most correct form of the word. And a gentleman at that.
God bless you, Tommy. Put down the rag. Pull up a stool. Relax. It's your turn to get served. Put it on my tab.
Photo from Forgotten Buffalo's series on 'The Last Call'. Click here to see more.