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The Tender Bar: A Memoirby J. R. Moehringer
Synopses & Reviews
A moving, vividly told memoir full of heart, drama, and exquisite comic timing, about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a bar.
J.R. Moehringer grew up listening for a voice: It was the sound of his missing father, a disc jockey who disappeared before J.R. spoke his first words. As a boy, J.R. would press his ear to a clock radio, straining to hear in that resonant voice the secrets of masculinity, and the keys to his own identity. J.R.'s mother was his world, his anchor, but he needed something else, something more, something he couldn't name. So he turned to the bar on the corner, a grand old New York saloon that was a sanctuary for all types of men — cops and poets, actors and lawyers, gamblers and stumblebums. The flamboyant characters along the bar — including J.R.'s Uncle Charlie, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike; Colt, a Yogi Bear sound-alike; Joey D, a soft-hearted brawler; and Cager, a war hero who raised handicapping horses to an art — taught J.R., tended him, and provided a kind of fatherhood by committee. When the time came for J.R. to leave home, the bar became a way station — from his entrance to Yale, where he floundered as a scholarship student way out of his element; to his introduction to tragic romance with a woman way out of his league; to his stint as a copy boy at the New York Times, where he was a faulty cog in a vast machine way out of his control. Through it all, the bar offered shelter from failure, from rejection, and eventually from reality — until at last the bar turned J.R. away.
Riveting, moving, and achingly funny, The Tender Bar is at once an evocative portrait of one boy's struggle to become a man, and a touching depiction of how some men remain lost boys.
"[Signature] Reviewed by Terry Golway You needn't be a writer to appreciate the romance of the corner tavern — or, for that matter, of the local dive in a suburban strip mall. But perhaps it does take a writer to explain the appeal of these places that ought to offend us on any number of levels — they often smell bad, the decor generally is best viewed through bloodshot eyes and, by night's end, they usually do not offer an uplifting vision of the human condition.Ah, but what would we do without them, and what would we do without the companionship of fellow pilgrims whose journey through life requires the assistance of a drop or two?J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize — winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, has written a memoir that explains it all, and then some. The Tender Bar is the story of a young man who knows his father only as 'The Voice,' of a single mother struggling to make a better life for her son, and of a riotously dysfunctional family from Long Island. But more than anything else, Moehringer's book is a homage to the culture of the local pub. That's where young J.R. seeks out the companionship of male role models in place of his absent father, where he receives an education that has served him well in his career and where, inevitably, he looks for love, bemoans its absence and mourns its loss.Moehringer grew up in Manhasset, a place, he writes, that 'believed in booze.' At a young age, he became a regular — not a drinker, of course, for he was far too young. But while still tender of years, he was introduced to the culture, to the companionship and — yes — to the romance of it all. 'Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel close to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship,' he writes. For young J.R., that place was a gin mill on Plandome Road where his Uncle Charlie was a bartender and a patron.The Tender Bar's emotional climax comes after its native son has found success as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times. On September 11, 2001, almost 50 souls who lived and loved in Moehringer's home town of Manhasset were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. One was a bartender we've met along the way. Another was one of the author's cousins.Moehringer drove from Denver, where he was based as a correspondent for the Times, to New York to mourn and comfort old friends. He describes his cousin's mother, Charlene Byrne, as she grieved: 'Charlene was crying, the kind of crying I could tell would last for years.'And so it has, in Manhasset and so many other Long Island commuter towns. Moehringer's lovely evocation of an ordinary place filled with ordinary people gives dignity and meaning to those lost lives, and to his own. Agent, Mort Janklow. (Sept.) Terry Golway is city editor at the New York Observer. He is also the author of the recently published Washington's General (Holt), a biography of Nathanael Greene." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[O]utstanding....Moehringer has hours and hours of stories that any bar hound worth his stool would bend both ears to drink in. Thankfully, the writer has opted to put them down on paper. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Funny, honest, and insightful, The Tender Bar finds universal themes in an unusual upbringing and declares a real love of barroom life without romanticizing it too much." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Simply a wonderful book about a heaven of a life that had everything going against it except intense love..." James Salter, author of Burning the Days
"The Tender Bar will make you thirsty for that life — its camaraderie, its hilarity, its seductive, dangerous wisdom." Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
"The Tender Bar, a lovely coming-of-age memoir, begins as a celebration of a saloon....It ends as a richer, more complex story of growing up and sobering up and remembering the lesson of an old-timer at the bar." USA Today
"In his gimlet-eyed memoir, The Tender Bar, J. R. Moehringer lovingly and affectingly toasts a boyhood spent on a barstool." Vanity Fair
"A straight-up account of masculinity, maturity and memory that leaves a smile on the face and an ache in the heart." Kirkus Reviews
"[A]n aching torch song of a memoir." Los Angeles Times
"[A] wonderful read....Anyone who has ever played on a tavern softball team or spent enough time at a favorite watering hole to learn the quirks of its bowling machine will raise a glass to its clear-eyed and tough sentiment." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"The best memoirist of his kind since Mary Karr wrote The Liar's Club." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"The only thing wrong with this terrific debut is that there has to be a closing time." Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
The author's vivid memoir about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a grand old New York saloon that was sanctuary for all types of men — cops and poets, actors and lawyers, gamblers and stumblebums — is told with heart, drama, and exquisite comic timing.
About the Author
J.R. Moehringer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2000, is a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and a former Niemann Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
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