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The Tender Bar

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"J.R. Moehringer grew up captivated by a voice. It was the voice of his father, a New York City disc jockey who vanished before J.R. spoke his first word. Sitting on the stoop, pressing an ear to the radio, J.R. would strain to hear in that plummy baritone the secrets of masculinity and identity. Though J.R.'s mother was his world, his rock, he craved something more, something faintly and hauntingly audible only in The Voice." "At eight years old, suddenly unable to find The Voice on the radio, J.R. turned in desperation to the bar on the corner, ...
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2005 Hard cover New in very good dust jacket. Tiny crinkle at top of dust cover spine Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 384 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Boston, MA 2005 Hardcover 1st Edition New Condition in Fine jacket Brand New, Dust Jacket In fine condition Multiple copies available this title. Quantity Available: 6. ... Category: Fiction; ISBN: 1401300642. ISBN/EAN: 9781401300647. Inventory No: 1560739431. Read more Show Less

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New York, NY 2005 Hard cover First edition. Stated First Edition New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 370 p. Audience: General/trade. Book Description The ... New York Times bestseller and one of the 100 Most Notable Books of 2005. In the tradition of This Boy's Life and The Liar's Club, a raucous, poignant, luminously written memoir about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a bar. J.R. Moehringer grew up captivated by a voice. It was the voice of his father, a New York City disc jockey who vanished before J.R. spoke his first word. Sitting on the stoop, pressing an ear to the radio, J.R. would strain to hear in that plummy baritone, the secrets of identity. Pulitzer prize winning author. Read more Show Less

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2005 Hardcover New. New. Hardcover in dust jacket. 368 pages. 1401300642. No remainder marks.

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New York, NY 2005 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 384 p. Audience: General/trade. the book and the jacket are in brand new ... unused condition 10-9-8-7-6-5-4 Read more Show Less

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Overview

"J.R. Moehringer grew up captivated by a voice. It was the voice of his father, a New York City disc jockey who vanished before J.R. spoke his first word. Sitting on the stoop, pressing an ear to the radio, J.R. would strain to hear in that plummy baritone the secrets of masculinity and identity. Though J.R.'s mother was his world, his rock, he craved something more, something faintly and hauntingly audible only in The Voice." "At eight years old, suddenly unable to find The Voice on the radio, J.R. turned in desperation to the bar on the corner, where he found a rousing chorus of new voices. Cops and poets, bookies and soldiers, movie stars and stumblebums, all sorts of men gathered in the bar to tell their stories and forget their cares. The alphas along the bar - including J.R.'s Uncle Charlie, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike; Colt, a Yogi-Bear sound-alike; and Joey D, a softhearted brawler - took J.R. to the beach, to ballgames, and ultimately into their circle. They taught J.R., tended him, and provided a kind of fatherhood-by-committee." Torn between the stirring example of his mother and the lurid romance of the bar, J.R. tried to forge a self somewhere in the center. But when it was time for J.R. to leave home, the bar became an increasingly seductive sanctuary, a place to return and regroup during his picaresque journeys - from his grandfather's tumbledown house to the hallowed towers and spires of Yale; from his absurd stint selling housewares at Lord & Taylor to his dream job at the New York Times, which became a nightmare when he found himself a faulty cog in a vast machine. Time and again the bar offered shelter from failure, rejection, heartbreak - and eventually from reality.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
In a place that inspired Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, young J. R. Moehringer lives with his single mother and mercurial grandfather in a cramped home with a rather-too-colorful cast of strident aunts, down-on-their-luck uncles, and their various offspring. It is 1970s Manhasset, Long Island, and J.R. is lonely and adrift.

Desperate to escape, J.R.'s mother takes him on long drives, where his dreams are fueled by the sight of the deep, plush lawns and dazzling, gated mansions that served as Fitzgerald's East Egg. But it is J.R.'s introduction to the local pub and its vibrant constellation of characters that would have the greatest effect on him. A panoply of discordant human notes, by turns raucous, witty, vulgar, and wise, these men -- who never quite grew up themselves -- became, for the forlorn young J.R., a veritable symphony of human succor and safety. As J.R. becomes a man, however, he realizes that the bar doesn't grant wishes as much as fill needs in a place where accepting the inevitability of failure is a defense against future disappointment.

A keenly heartfelt memoir by a writer who has been deemed "the best memoirist of his kind since Mary Karr," The Tender Bar is filled with insight into the most fundamental human longings. Before J.R. can grasp such insight though, he is forced to face the truth -- about others and, most important, about himself. (Holiday 2005 Selection)
Bob Ivry
The book ends up being funny, vivid and clever, peppered with self-deprecation and populated by larger-than-life lugs.
— The Washington Post
From The Critics
"The best thing about The Tender Bar is that it is many stories in one."
— Entertainment Weekly
Janet Maslin
… the real richness of The Tender Bar lies in its including so many of these individual events while still keeping a larger literary context in mind. After all, the bar was called Dickens. The patrons loved talking about writers. And Manhasset was "Great Gatsby" territory. One of the book's funnier moments comes when two of Mr. Moehringer's many mentors realize, in horror, that the Kid has never read it.
— The New York Times
Vanity Fair
In his gimlet-eyed memoir, The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer lovingly and affectingly toasts a boyhood spent on a barstool.
Publishers Weekly
Moehringer capably reads his own memoir, which takes him from a peripatetic Long Island childhood to life as a budding journalist at the New York Times. Torn between the feminine comfort of his mother and the masculine camaraderie he finds in a series of bars and taverns, Moehringer details his difficult but loving upbringing. Having lived the experiences of his book, Moehringer brings to life colorful characters, like his stuttering grandfather. His soft, deep voice complements the warmly rendered history that celebrates the oddly composed parts of his childhood, and how time spent in a series of bars carousing with father figures formed him. The uniform tone of the audiobook is hampered by the jazz noodling that appears at the beginning of each track, which interrupts the book's passage through time. Still, listening to Moehringer's soothing voice is like basking in the glow of a barroom storyteller-not the one who shouts to be heard over the din, but the one whose story is good enough to make everyone keep it down. Simultaneous release with the Hyperion hardcover (Reviews, June 27). (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Avi Kramer
In this coming-of-age memoir, Moehringer narrates his upbringing in Manhasset, Long Island with the luster of a pure storyteller and the sensitivity of someone who has gone through it all and survived. He was a fatherless boy who loved nothing more than the Mets, and wanted nothing more than happiness for his mother. The two of them lived in the smelly, falling-apart home of his grandparents just steps from the local watering hole. There Wall Street execs and blue-collar workers alike were made to feel at home, and literature and war were discussed with the same frequency and emotion as New York sports. While J.R. knew his father, a disc jockey in Manhattan, only by his voice on the radio, the men at this bar, from the time he was ten years old, guided him, loved him, and made up the only paternal influence in his life. These hodgepodge characters included his best friend and cousin, McGraw, who chugged glasses of milk and always wore a plastic Mets batting helmet, and perfectly nicknamed local men (Joey D, Bobo, Cager, Colt) who lived all of their evenings on the barstools at Publicans. J.R. found comfort and companionship where others might have seen buffoonery and drunkenness. J.R. dreamed of being a lawyer and buying a house for his mother. At Yale he struggled academically and went through the euphoria of love and the pain of a broken heart. Coming home to Manhasset after graduation, he sold kitchenware before landing a job as a copyboy at The New York Times. He began a novel about Publicans, becoming a regular at the place he most revered, jotting notes on napkins. He drank more and more, until one event changed him, and the bar, irrevocably. All the while we are remindedof how each milestone in his life, good or bad, was cheered or lamented, gin or scotch in hand, alongside the men at Publicans.
Library Journal
Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize winner, Yale graduate, Harvard fellow, and national reporter for the Los Angeles Times, grew up in a bar. Specifically, Publicans, a Manhasset, Long Island, NY, bar. Abandoned by his radio host father and raised by a strong but luckless mother, he looked to the neighborhood bar for male role models. There he was taught such disparate lessons as how to throw a ball, how to bet on horses, and how to analyze a poem. His teachers were a hilarious, flawed, and diverse lot-Wall Street financiers, actors, poets, cops, bookies-and Moehringer's knack for characterization brings every one of them to life. At Publicans, the author found a home, the masculinity he yearned to assume, and eventually, the strength to leave. Just like at Cheers, everybody knew your name at Publicans. They also knew your cousin's name, your grade point average, and the best Frank Sinatra song to mend a broken heart. Highly recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Jan Brue Enright, Augustana Coll. Lib., Sioux Falls, SD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It takes a gin mill to raise a child-or so one might think from this memoir filled with gladness by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times correspondent. In the early '70s, grade-schooler Moehringer lived with his mother in her father's house in Manhasset, a small town 17 miles east of Manhattan that F. Scott Fitzgerald used as the setting for The Great Gatsby. Listening to the radio for his absent father (a drunken deejay), puzzled by his slovenly grandfather, the boy had no male role models until Uncle Charlie took him to the local saloon where he bartended. Moehringer evokes the sights, sounds and smells that gave Publicans (originally known as Dickens) its sodden charm: not just the beer and the fund of coins accumulating in the urinal, but the "faint notes of perfumes and colognes, hair tonics and shoe creams, lemons and steaks and cigars and newspapers, and an undertone of brine from Manhasset Bay." Sporting Runyonesque nicknames like Bob the Cop, Cager, Stinky, Colt, Smelly, Jimbo, Fast Eddy and Bobo, the bar's denizens included poets, bookies, Vietnam vets, lawyers, actors, athletes, misfits and dreamers, all forming "one enormous male eye looking over my shoulder." Moehringer captures in all its raunchy, often hilarious glory the conversations of these master storytellers, as intoxicated by words as by alcohol. Their saloon community later provided a retreat for the author following a disastrous collegiate love affair and failure as a New York Times copyboy. The 1989 death of charismatic owner Steve began Publicans' demise, but also propelled 25-year-old Moehringer into growing up, as he left his buddies behind and began his journalism career anew out West. A straight-upaccount of masculinity, maturity and memory that leaves a smile on the face and an ache in the heart.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401300647
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 9/1/2005
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

J. R. Moehringer

J.R. Moehringer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2000, is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in Denver.

Biography

J. R. Moehringer has an old-fashioned flair for infusing potentially hard-boiled subject matter with humanity and pathos. This gift was first evident in "Resurrecting the Champ," an article which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. The article detailed Moehringer's attempts to track down former boxing champ "Battlin'" Bob Satterfield. However, percolating just beneath the surface of this "where-are-they-now" sports story was an issue much closer to Moehringer's heart: the gnawing need to locate the father that abandoned him as a boy. The resulting story not only became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, but it also gained the attention and accolades of everyone from Chris Jones of Esquire to Katie Couric of The Today Show.

With the publication of Moehringer's first book, it is clear that his journey remains ongoing. The Tender Bar is a memoir that finds Moehringer digging deeper into his own past with yet another decidedly masculine backdrop, the local tavern. Moehringer writes about Dickens Bar in Manhasset, Long Island, with a rhapsodic affection that conjures a setting more akin to a family living room than a haven for drunken carousing and televised ball games. He portrays the various barflies as colorful fountains of homespun wisdom, reserving a special fondness for Steve, the owner of Dickens who provided a sanctuary for the drunks in Moehringer's neighborhood. In fact, in the wake of the meltdown at Three-Mile Island in 1979, several patrons even called Steve to find out if they could use the airtight basement of Dickens as a makeshift fallout shelter.

Moehringer found his own sanctuary at Dickens at a young age, long before he could even utilize the pub for its intended purpose. Instead, he found a home where the various rummies served as stand-ins for his absent father, who is merely a phantom-like presence in the book. He speaks of his disc jockey dad as a disembodied voice over the radio, and young Moehringer spent many hours with a radio pressed against his ear in a futile attempt to connect with the father that left him. However, at Dickens, Moehringer found a group of men who welcomed the boy into their world and supplied him with their own brand of woozy fathering. Colorful characters with names like Colt and Joey D. (not to mention Moehringer's own Uncle Charlie) guided him through his young life, functioning as the various components of the male role model he so desperately needed.

As Moehringer grew older and faced challenges that he never dreamed of as a boy, Dickens would continue to serve its chief function for him as a refuge with a built-in ramshackle family. The Tender Bar is no mere sugar-coated tale of drunks with hearts-of-gold, though, and the sweetness is often underlined with the bitter realities of both bar life and modern life. The story's climax set on September 11th, 2001, plants the fantasy world at Dickens firmly and tragically back into Earth.

The complexity and pure readability of The Tender Bar certainly has not escaped critics, whom are already hailing this memoir as "funny, vivid, and clever" (The Washington Post) and recognizing that "listening to Moehringer's soothing voice is like basking in the glow of a barroom storyteller-not the one who shouts to be heard over the din, but the one whose story is good enough to make everyone keep it down." (Publisher's Weekly).

Moehringer has assuredly survived the ups and downs of his unconventional upbringing, winning the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2000, and continuing to work as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. With the highly praised publication of The Tender Bar he may very well find himself playing a role for his own readers not unlike that of his boozy benefactors back at Dickens: a storyteller with a gift for making the world seem a little less lonely.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Moehringer:

"I have a weakness for really bad TV. The badder, the better. Particularly reality TV."

"I care way too much how the Mets are going to do this year."

"Some years ago I started taking cello lessons. Learning to play had been a dream for years. But my job, and my book, and my utter lack of talent, sidetracked me. This year I'll take up my cello again, not only to unwind but to better understand the rigors and rewards of ‘practice.' Maybe if I publicly declare my goal, here and now, I'll feel added pressure to stay with it this time...."

"I'm blessed by friends. The ancient philosophers thought friendship the cornerstone of happiness, so I never miss an opportunity to give thanks for the people who make me laugh, kick me in the pants, and steer me clear of the jagged rocks with their sage advice. Without Sloan and Roger Barnett, Jim Newton, Emily Nunn, Amy Wallace, Bill Husted, et al., The Tender Bar wouldn't exist and my life would be many shades dimmer. To know me is to love them."

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    1. Hometown:
      Denver, Colorado
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale College, 1986
    2. Website:

First Chapter

Prologue | ONE OF MANY

We went there for everything we needed. we went there when thirsty, of course, and when hungry, and when dead tired. We went there when happy, to celebrate, and when sad, to sulk. We went there after weddings and funerals, for something to settle our nerves, and always for a shot of courage just before. We went there when we didn't know what we needed, hoping someone might tell us. We went there when looking for love, or sex, or trouble, or for someone who had gone missing, because sooner or later everyone turned up there. Most of all we went there when we needed to be found.

My personal list of needs was long. An only child, abandoned by my father, I needed a family, a home, and men. Especially men. I needed men as mentors, heroes, role models, and as a kind of masculine counterweight to my mother, grandmother, aunt and five female cousins with whom I lived. The bar provided me with all the men I needed, and one or two men who were the last thing I needed.

Long before it legally served me, the bar saved me. It restored my faith when I was a boy, tended me as a teenager, and when I was a young man the bar embraced me. While I fear that we're drawn to what abandons us, and to what seems most likely to abandon us, in the end I believe we're defined by what embraces us. Naturally I embraced the bar right back, until one night the bar turned me away, and in that final abandonment the bar saved my life.

There had always been a bar on that corner, by one name or another, since the beginning of time, or the end of Prohibition, which were the same thing in my hard-drinking hometown-Manhasset, Long Island. In the 1930s the bar was a stop-off for movie stars on their way to the nearby yacht clubs and posh ocean resorts. In the 1940s the bar was a haven for soldiers coming home from the wars. In the 1950s the bar was a lounge for greasers and their poodle-skirted girlfriends. But the bar didn't become a landmark, a patch of hallowed ground, until 1970, when Steve bought the place and renamed it Dickens. Above the door Steve hung a silhouette of Charles Dickens, and below the silhouette he spelled out the name in Old English lettering: dickens. Such a blatant display of Anglophilia didn't sit well with every Kevin Flynn and Michael Gallagher in Manhasset. They let it slide only because they so thoroughly approved of Steve's Cardinal Rule of the Barroom: Every third drink free. Also, it helped that Steve hired seven or eight members of the O'Malley clan to bus his tables, and that he took pains to make Dickens look as though it had been shipped brick by brick from County Donegal.

Steve intended his bar to look like a European public house, but to feel quintessentially American, an honest-to-god house for the public. His public. In the heart of Manhasset, a pastoral suburb of eight thousand people, seventeen miles southeast of Manhattan, Steve wanted to create a sanctuary where his neighbors and friends and fellow drinkers, and especially his high-school buddies coming home from Vietnam, could savor a feeling of safety and return. In every venture Steve was confident of success-confidence was his most attractive quality and his tragic flaw-but with Dickens he surpassed his greatest expectations. Manhasset quickly came to see Steve's bar as the bar. Just as we said The City to mean New York City, and The Street to mean Wall Street, we always said The Bar, presumptively, and there was never any confusion about which bar we meant. Then, imperceptibly, Dickens became something more than The Bar. It became The Place, the preferred shelter from all life's storms. In 1979, when the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island melted down and fear of apocalypse swept the Northeast, many Manhassetites phoned Steve to reserve space in the airtight basement below his bar. Of course everyone had their own basements. But there was just something about Dickens. People thought of it first whenever doomsday loomed.

Along with sanctuary, Steve provided nightly lessons in democracy, or the special plurality of alcohol. Standing in the middle of his barroom, you could watch men and women from all strata of society educating and abusing one another. You could hear the poorest man in town discussing "market volatility" with the president of the New York Stock Exchange, or the local librarian lecturing a New York Yankees Hall of Famer about the wisdom of choking up on the bat. You could hear a feebleminded porter say something so off-the-wall, and yet so wise, that a college philosophy professor would jot it on a napkin and tuck it in his pocket. You could hear bartenders-in between making bets and mixing Pink Squirrels--talk like philosopher kings.

Steve believed the corner bar to be the most egalitarian of all American gathering places, and he knew that Americans have always venerated their bars, saloons, taverns, and "gin mills," one of his favorite expressions. He knew that Americans invest their bars with meaning and turn to them for everything from glamour to succor, and above all for relief from that scourge of modern life--loneliness. He didn't know that the Puritans, upon landing in the New World, built a bar even before they built a church. He didn't know that American bars descend directly from the medieval inns of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which descended from the Saxon alehouses, which descended from the tabernae along the roads of ancient Rome. Steve's bar could trace its lineage all the way back to the painted caves of Western Europe where Stone Age elders initiated young boys and girls into the ways of the tribe nearly fifteen thousand years ago. Though Steve didn't know these things, he sensed them in his blood and enacted them in everything he did. More than most men, Steve appreciated the importance of place, and on the cornerstone of this principle he was able to build a bar so strange and shrewd and beloved and wondrously in tune with its customers, that it came to be known well beyond Manhasset.

My hometown was famous for two things-lacrosse and liquor. Year in, year out, Manhasset produced a disproportionate number of superb lacrosse players and a still-greater number of distended livers. Some people also knew Manhasset as the backdrop for The Great Gatsby. While composing portions of his masterpiece, F. Scott Fitzgerald sat on a breezy veranda in Great Neck and gazed across Manhasset Bay at our town, which he turned into the fictional East Egg, a historic distinction that gave our bowling alley and pizzeria a certain archaeological grandeur. We strode each day across Fitzgerald's abandoned stage set. We romanced one another among his ruins. It was a kick-an honor. But like Steve's bar it was merely an offshoot of Manhasset's famous fondness for drink. Anyone familiar with Manhasset understood why liquor surged through Fitzgerald's novel like the Mississippi across a floodplain. Men and women throwing raucous parties and boozing until they blacked out or ran someone down with their car? Sounded to us like a typical Tuesday night in Manhasset.

Manhasset, site of the largest liquor store in New York State, was the only town on Long Island with a cocktail named after it (a Manhasset is a Manhattan, with more alcohol). The town's half-mile-long main drag, Plandome Road, was every drinker's street of dreams-bar after bar after bar. Many in Manhasset likened Plandome Road to a mythical country lane in Ireland, a gently winding procession of men and women brimming with whiskey and good cheer. Bars on Plandome Road were as numerous as stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and we took a stubborn, eccentric pride in their number. When one man torched his bar on Plandome Road to collect the insurance, cops found him in another bar on Plandome Road and told him he was wanted for questioning. The man put a hand over his heart like a priest accused of burning a cross. "How could I," he asked, "how could anyone-burn down a bar?"

With its curious division of upper class and working class, its ethnic mix of Irish and Italian, and its coterie of some of the wealthiest families in the United States, Manhasset was forever struggling to define itself. It was a town where dirty-faced urchins gathered at Memorial Field-to play "bicycle polo;" where neighbors hid from one another behind their perfect hedgerows-yet still kept careful track of one another's stories and foibles; where everyone departed at sunrise on the trains to Manhattan-but no one ever really left for good, except in a pine box. Though Manhasset felt like a small farm community, and though real estate brokers tended to call it a bedroom community, we cleaved to the notion that we were a barroom community. Bars gave us identity and points of intersection. The Little League, softball league, bowling league, and Junior League not only held their meetings at Steve's bar, they often met on the same night.

Brass Pony, Gay Dome, Lamplight, Kilmeade's, Joan and Ed's, Popping Cork, 1680 House, Jaunting Car, The Scratch-the names of Manhasset's bars were more familiar to us than the names of its main streets and founding families. The life spans of bars were like dynasties: We measured time by them, and found some primal comfort in the knowledge that whenever one closed, the curtain would rise on another. My grandmother told me that Manhasset was one of those places where an old wives' tale was accepted as fact-namely, that drinking at home was the mark of an alcoholic. So long as you drank publicly, not secretly, you weren't a drunk. Thus, bars. Lots and lots of bars.

Of course many bars in Manhasset, like bars everywhere, were nasty places, full of pickled people marinating in regret. Steve wanted his bar to be different. He wanted his bar to be sublime. He envisioned a bar that would cater to Manhasset's multiple personalities. A cozy pub one minute, a crazy after-hours club the next. A family restaurant early in the evening, and late at night a low-down tavern, where men and women could tell lies and drink until they dropped. Essential to Steve was the idea that Dickens would be the opposite of the outside world. Cool in the dog days, warm from the first frost until spring. His bar would always be clean and well-lighted, like the den of that perfect family we all believe exists but doesn't and never did. At Dickens everyone would feel special, though no one would stand out. Maybe my favorite story about Steve's bar concerned the man who found his way there after escaping a nearby mental hospital. No one looked askance at the man. No one asked who he was, or why he was dressed in pajamas, or why he had such a feral gleam in his eye. The gang in the barroom simply threw their arms around him, told him funny stories, and bought him drinks all day long. The only reason the poor man was eventually asked to leave was that he suddenly and for no apparent reason dropped his pants. Even then the bartenders only chided him gently, using their standard admonition: "Here now-you can't be doing that!"

Like love affairs, bars depend on a delicate mix of timing, chemistry, lighting, luck and--maybe above all--generosity. From the start Steve declared that no one at Dickens would feel slighted. His burgers would be three-inch souffl_s of filet mignon, his closing time would be negotiable, no matter what the law said, and his bartenders would give an extra--extra--long pour. A standard drink at Dickens would be a double anywhere else. A double would leave you cross-eyed. A triple would "cream your spinach," according to my mother's younger brother, my Uncle Charlie, the first bartender Steve ever hired.

A true son of Manhasset, Steve believed in booze. Everything he was, he owed to booze. His father, a Heineken distributor, died and left Steve a small fortune when he was young. Steve's daughter was named Brandy, his speedboat was named Dipsomania, and his face, after years of homeric drinking, was that telltale shade of scarlet. He saw himself as a Pied Piper of Alcohol, and the pie-eyed residents of Manhasset saw him that way, too. Through the years he developed a fanatic following, a legion of devotees. A Cult of Steve.

Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel closer to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship. For better or worse my holy place was Steve's bar. And because I found it in my youth, the bar was that much more sacred, its image clouded by that special reverence children accord those places where they feel safe. Others might feel this way about a classroom or playground, a theater or church, a laboratory or library or stadium. Even a home. But none of these places claimed me. We exalt what is at hand. Had I grown up beside a river or an ocean, some natural avenue of self-discovery and escape, I might have mythologized it. Instead I grew up 142 steps from a glorious old American tavern, and that has made all the difference.

I didn't spend every waking minute in the bar. I went into the world, worked and failed, fell in love, played the fool, had my heart broken and my threshold tested. But because of Steve's bar each rite of passage felt linked to the last, and the next, as did each person I met. For the first twenty-five years of my life everyone I knew either sent me to the bar, drove me to the bar, accompanied me to the bar, rescued me from the bar, or was in the bar when I arrived, as if waiting for me since the day I was born. Among this last group were Steve and the men.

I used to say I'd found in Steve's bar the fathers I needed, but this wasn't quite right. At some point the bar itself became my father, its dozens of men melding into one enormous male eye looking over my shoulder, providing that needed alternative to my mother, that Y chromosome to her X. My mother didn't know she was competing with the men of the bar, and the men didn't know they were vying with her. They all assumed that they were on the same page, because they all shared one antiquated idea about manhood. My mother and the men believed that being a good man is an art, and being a bad man is a tragedy, for the world as much as for those who depend on the tragic man in question. Though my mother first introduced me to this idea, Steve's bar was where I saw its truth demonstrated daily. Steve's bar attracted all kinds of women, a stunning array, but as a boy I noticed only its improbable assortment of good and bad men. Wandering freely among this unlikely fraternity of alphas, listening to the stories of the soldiers and ballplayers, poets and cops, millionaires and bookies, actors and crooks who leaned nightly against Steve's bar, I heard them say again and again that the differences among them were great, but the reasons they had come to be so different were slight.

A lesson, a gesture, a story, a philosophy, an attitude-I took something from every man in Steve's bar. I was a master at "identity theft" when that crime was more benign. I became sarcastic like Cager, melodramatic like Uncle Charlie, a roughneck like Joey D. I strived to be solid like Bob the Cop, cool like Colt, and to rationalize my rage by telling myself that it was no worse than the righteous wrath of Smelly. Eventually I applied the mimicry I'd learned at Dickens to those I met outside the bar-friends, lovers, parents, bosses, even strangers. The bar fostered in me the habit of turning each person who crossed my path into a mentor, or a character, and I credit the bar, and blame it, for my becoming a reflection, or a refraction, of them all.

Every regular at Steve's bar was fond of metaphors. One old bourbon drinker told me that a man's life is all a matter of mountains and caves-mountains we must climb, caves where we hide when we can't face our mountains. For me the bar was both. My most luxuriant cave, my most perilous mountain. And its men, though cavemen at heart, were my Sherpas. I loved them, deeply, and I think they knew. Though they had experienced everything-war and love, fame and disgrace, wealth and ruin-I don't think they ever had a boy look at them with such shining, worshipful eyes. My devotion was something new to them, and I think it made them love me, in their way, which was why they kidnapped me when I was eleven. But now I can almost hear their voices. Whoa, kid, you're getting ahead of yourself.

Steve would have me say it like this: I fell in love with his bar, and it was reciprocal, and it was this romance that shaped all my others. At a tender age, standing in Dickens, I decided that life is a sequence of romances, each new romance a response to a previous romance. But I was only one of many romantics in Steve's bar who had reached this conclusion, who believed in this chain reaction of love. It was this belief, as much as the bar, that united us, and this is why my story is just one strand in the cord that braided all our love stories together.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. In the memoir, J.R. has a difficult childhood and family circumstances in many respects, but there are also many positive elements to his childhood, including a loving mother and grandmother. Compare Moehringer's portrait of childhood to other memoirs you've read.

2. There are various portrayals of "good" and "bad" men in the memoir. What are the different definitions of goodness in men?

3. Alcohol permeates the memoir. In what ways is it both a positive and a negative factor in the lives of the various characters?

4. J.R.'s mother is deeply conflicted about her living circumstances. Do you think her experiences are representative of the struggles of many single mothers? Do you think she is a strong character? Did you admire her, or empathize with her?

5. J.R.'s grandmother is tremendously long suffering, verbally abused by both her husband and her son, and forced to put up with her husband's stinginess and philandering. Did you find her a sympathetic character? Did her dilemma feel familiar to you?

6. J.R.'s grandfather is terrible to his wife and children, and mostly terrible to his grandchildren. Yet he has occasional moments of greatness, such as at J.R.'s school breakfast. What do you think motivated J.R.'s grandfather? Did you find him likable?

7. J.R. and his mother spend a good bit of time during his childhood looking at other houses, and the ways that other people live. J.R. even peeks in livingroom windows. Consider the ways that such comparisons might be a positive or a negative influence.

8. J.R. grows up without a present father. How do you think his search for a masculine identity compares to that of men who grew up with fathers--good or bad--who were more present in their lives?

9. The men along the bar are depicted warts and all--did you consider them positive role models? Which of the men was most appealing to you, and why?

10. At various points in his young adulthood, J.R. notices that the men in the bar have conflicting attitudes toward success in other men. What does this stem from? Was it familiar to you?

11. Sports and athletes are tremendously important in the memoir, particularly among the men-- athletes are admired and even deified, and games and matches are focal points of drama in the memoir and the experience of them can even become personal milestones. Consider the importance of sports in men's lives and relationships with each other.

12. Sidney is compared to Daisy in The Great Gatsby. In what other ways do characters and circumstances in The Tender Bar resemble that novel, particularly with respect to class and aspiration?

13. In what ways was J.R.'s enormous ambition a positive element in his life, and in what ways was it the source of pain? Is this inevitable? 14. At the end, J.R. suggests that Sidney wasn't wrong to have wondered about a young man who spent so much time in a bar. Did you find her sympathetic?

15. How did you feel about the epilogue, and the way that the events of the epilogue tied together the themes of the memoir? Did you feel resolution? Did you think J.R. had changed? In what ways?

16. Did you see yourself and any of your own experiences as a parent, child, man or woman in the memoir?

The Tender Bar reading group questions provided by Hyperion Books (c) 2005.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 137 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(83)

4 Star

(30)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 137 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2008

    A Place like Home

    ¿Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel closer to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship¿ (8). J.R. Moehringer¿s memoir, A Tender Bar, is a captivating story about how Dicken¿s Bar in Manhasset, New York, was his refuge. His story is one of struggle, ambition, confusion, and lost love.<BR/>Growing up without a father, J.R. seeks a male figure in his life. He creates a character out of the only piece of existence he has of his father: The Voice. It is the voice of his father on a radio station which he relies on as his ¿only connection to the masculine world¿ (17). The lack of a male figure in J.R.¿s life defines who he is and what he is seeking. The bar becomes his father, ¿it¿s dozens of men melding into one enormous male eye¿ watching over him, and guiding him through his life (8). J.R. writes about each man in the bar who impacted him. His style of narrating characters with such intricate detail and an apparent sense of appreciation makes his writing unique.<BR/> The narrative structure of J.R.¿s memoir appeals to the experiences of the audience. The chronological line of events of his life is simple. J.R. faces challenges which most readers could easily relate to. This gives his readers a sense of hope in themselves that they too can overcome their barriers. <BR/>The convincing style he writes in makes every word he says serious and important; hence, his writing is extremely powerful and emotionally involving. Along with telling his life story, he slips in meaningful lessons relating to his own experiences. One lesson involving his dedication to his fathers¿ voice is, ¿Life is all a matter of choosing which voices to tune in and which to tune out, a lesson I learned long before most people, but one that took me longer than most to put to good use¿ (17). He writes in a very simple yet effective style to get his point across. <BR/>J.R.¿s story is told out of appreciation of those who helped him get through his life. He gives greater meaning to that which most belittle or disregard. It is simply a bar he reflects on but he brings out the best of the bar and the men that inhibit it. J.R. says, ¿While I fear that we¿re drawn to what abandons us, and to what seems most likely to abandon us, in the end I believe we¿re defined by what embraces us¿ (4). The bar embraced, and in turn defined, J.R.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2010

    Bar none, a good read.

    Over the course of the year, I have picked up and put down "The Tender Bar" at my local book store several times. I was reluctant to read it because of my own childhood memories of living with an alcoholic and also avoiding any confirmation that I may have screwed up my son's psyche as a single parent. Then on my commute home one evening, I heard Andre Agassi discussing his decision to ask JR Moehringer to help write his own memoir and the reasons why he did on NPR - I took the plunge and bought it for my weekend read. Wow, I'm so glad I did. Mr. Moehringer's personal story is alternatively heartbreaking, funny, and triumphant.I can identify with the child that tried to be perfect to the point that it becomes a little neurotic. I loved and laughed so hard when he related the Shakespeare Firestone conversation between the bar patrons aka surrogate father figures - it was on par with Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" shtick (at least to me). I also felt delighted at his various personal triumphs like graduating from Yale or writing for the Times even with his setbacks; and ultimately, the realization that it was time to walk away and move on with his life. I encourage anyone who like myself may have some hesitation to read this memoir - it isn't a sob story or a conceited you-too-can-overcome-your past bromide. It is a well written interesting recounting of insights gained and a loving tribute to people, a place and time in one person's life. Good stuff.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2006

    Disappointing...

    I bought this book hoping to catch a glimpse into a young man's fancy, fascination and feel for growing up in a bar. I was disappointed. Moehringer seems to have a more genuine understanding of blue bloods from his Yale years than bars. He just flat out tries too hard and it comes off as contrived. For example, this rates as one of the more forced passages I have ever read: 'I looked around the barroom. Someone else might have seen nothing more than a random crowd of drinkers, but I saw my people. Kith and kin. Fellow travelers. Every sort of person was there-stockbrokers, and safecrackers, athletes and invalids, mothers and supermodels-but we were as one.' Can't say I have ever been in a bar with 'supermodels' and find it unlikely that they would rub elbows with 'safecrackers' in this wildly eclectic bar on Long Island. Or his his description on seeing Sinatra in person and his observations on the blueness of his eyes: 'They darted left and right, sweeping the room like blue searchlights, and I noticed thet they turned different shades of blue as they moved-indigo, royal, navy.' Romantic yes, but real? Moehringer, a Met fan, takes a Dave Kingmanesque swing and miss at capturing the true feel of working class bar.

    8 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The Tender Bar is a fabulous memoir

    I am not one to read memoirs or non-fiction generally. But, after reading the Agassi memoir (which also rates 5 stars) and was wowed by the writing I had to read Moehringer's memoir. He is obviously a touching, detailed, funny and reflective writer. If you are from New York it may be even more meaningful. I read 52 books in 2009 and The Tender Bar and Agassi's OPEN (written by Moehringer) rank in the top 5 that I read.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2012

    J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar describes Moehringer's coming o

    J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar describes Moehringer's coming of age. He grew up in a decrepit old house with his mother, grandmother, and cynical grandfather in the town of Manhasset, New York. It is a well-crafted memoir tracking the development of a fatherless boy with aspirations to make something of his life. Searching for a mentor, Moehringer finds a group of men from a local bar to serve as a collective fatherly figure. Despite his circumstances, Moehringer is able to rise above the odds and ends up working for the New York Times with a degree from Yale. Throughout the memoir Moehringer describes his struggle to find his place in a variety of different settings. Just as he starts to fit in with the quick-witted men from the bar, he must learn to fit in with the elite of Yale, just when he&rsquo;s thought he&rsquo;s found love, he must cope with the grief of betrayal. He does an excellent job of letting the reader know where he stands in each social scene and exactly how he feels about a character. He includes brutally honest descriptions of alcoholism and its impact on life in Manhasset that make it an emotional read. Even though Moehringer is a very driven young man, time and time again he returns to the bar for comfort. I was given this book by my father and was initially confused by the message he was trying to convey. Most of the book Moehringer is reminiscing his joyous bar days, but towards the end he realizes it is time to move on. He is never resentful of time spent at the bar, he just acknowledges it held him back from greater enjoyments in life. Moehringer touches on all sorts of themes throughout the novel including ambition vs temptation, abuse, envy and success. This was the best book I&rsquo;ve read in a while because of the honesty in which he describes his feelings in every scene. Right away I found myself cheering for his success and cursing those who held him from it. This was an excellent book that anyone looking for a well-written, brutally honest, coming of age, memoir will enjoy.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2008

    Oddly, This Book Gives Me Hope

    ... hope about how a boy-child with lots of assorted father figure types wandering into and out of his life and no dad can turn out-at least in theory-OK... whatever OK is. Perhaps the first memoir I ever read, this beautifully-written, heartwrenching, truly engaging and often funny book opened me up to the possibilities of receiving wisdom from other people's lives, what they dare to share. We've heard 'it takes all kinds' dozens if not hundreds of times, a rule of thumb aimed at quickly explaining away what we don't understand in people without saying 'some people are just weird' or even a truthful 'I don't know' when we ask various versions of 'what's up with that person?' As I became more and more engrossed in Moehringer's life-story, I realized that the pages might hold at least one answer. Moehringer represents an amalgam of the misunderstood. He is a would-be ordinary guy, sharing his day-to-day life, what formed him from childhood, telling what was up with him, in the way I always longed for someone to do. He makes sense of how extraordinary is the mundane in a crazy life, how broken people can still have their perfect moments somehow. Although this book isn't about anyone prominent, it's obvious that Moehringer himself isn't so common and may become truly famous, even more than he has already. It is a brilliant work of heart, soul, emotion and artful languange... of inner struggle and heartache, of courage, grace, failure and triumph, told in a way that encourages the reader to search his own life, and be kinder to himself and others. Any of us may be an example of what 'it takes all kinds' means. Even someone normal. Like... me?

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2008

    Exceptionally rare outstanding read!

    I can't say enough about this book - an avid reader, it is a rare instance when a book connects with the soul. And, JR, reveals his soul completely to us in the Tender Bar. My hope is that the author continues to examine the human condition from his perspective. It's evident that JR was his own worst critic throughout the early years of his life...and, like many of us, he probably has some of those nagging questions that visit us all from time to time. What intellect, what talent. I truly look forward to more from this remarkable author.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2006

    One of my all time favorite books

    Absolutely loved the way this book came to life..every scene and every character was so real, the descriptions made you visualize everything including the furnishings and clothes, the feel of the sun and the ocean water...amazing. Yale and all associated with it rings very true as does JR himself and all the characters for that matter. Even when I truly enjoy a book, I often forget the title or author soon after I've finished reading it unless it's called to mind...not this time - I'll remember and recommend it always.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2005

    Move over, Pat Conroy

    Speaking of sports books, George Plimpton once said somthing like,'The smaller the ball, the better the writing'. In a variation on this theme, Moehringer has written a great book about a seemingly small subject, his neighborhood bar. Don't be fooled by that apparent lack of scope. This bar is just a keyhole that we peer through in order to view a very broad, and very funny universe. Oh, and scary, and warm, and cruel, and sad, and uplifting, and educational. There's even more than that, but don't take my word for it. Read this one for yourself.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    An emotional revelation

    Moehringer pens the deepseated emotions of growing up without one's father. The reader without this experience, will be drawn into the events that produces the mature adult. It becomes evident that the mature adult has been nurtured and cared for by a very strong and principled mother.
    It is a wonderful read, well written, geographically precise, and very memorable.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Touching, funny and poignant

    The Tender Bar made me laugh and cry, sometimes all on the same page! My Book Club friend grew up in Manhasset and recommended it. She recognizes many of the characters. A beautiful story about a young boy, whose only connection to his disk jockey dad is the voice he hears on the radio, who learns to be a man from a motley assortment of bar patrons, book store owners and others, and who is loved and nurtured by a turbulent but remarkable mother. A must-read!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2013

    A great good bye

    Out of the ashes rise the phoenix forged from lost dreams, hopes, ambitions, and actual funerals. Sometimes, you outlive your illussions as the world burns...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Great memoir

    Easy read. Have read 2 times in 3 years. Happy, sad, real.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2012

    Very Enjoyable Read

    I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It was funny, sad, poignent, endearing and I wanted it to continue further into his adulthood merely because I was enjoying the story so much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2012

    Great read!

    I absolutely loved this book! Amazing characters. The life of the author was forever enhanced by his local bar and the group of men who were loyal patrons.

    There are a tons of major life events, but with an equal mixutre of sad, happy and plain realistic. I love the author's thought patterns and his ability to adapt to all situations without becomming bitter.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2011

    Touching

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The author wrote such a touching memoir of his journey as a young boy to a man. I laughed, I cried, and I was very entertained. Overall it was a great book and very well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2011

    Loved it

    I laughed and cried.........his family reminded me a lot of mine. This is a book that while reading makes one want to start writing or keeping a journal of their own dysfunctional family......the weird uncle, aunt, mother in law....etc. Highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2010

    A wonderful read

    Moving, well written coming of age biography. I've recommended it to all my friends.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    Best memoir I've read!

    J.R. Moehringer's easy style of story telling kept me completely engaged in this book and in his story. Having grown up in the same time period as he did, I felt a real connection to him. Although our lives were very different, there were some crossovers, and I could easily relate to many of his experiences. I spent many an errant hour in bars as I was growing up, and have some wonderful, and many not so wonderful, memories of those days. Moehringer's story is a triumph, and he could have ended up quite differently, given the atmosphere in which he grew up. I loved this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2009

    The world is a confusing place for a boy with little guidance.

    J.R. a fatherless boy, lovingly tells the story of his relationship with the men in a neighborhood bar who become his surrogate fathers. They are all alcoholics who have their own pain as well. No judgement, just love these good men as they are.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 137 Customer Reviews

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