Babe

Babe, I believe his last name was Hert, was in Saint Michaels grade school with my oldest sister Kay when the school was located one block up from Edgington Lane. It is an apartment building now. I believe they were classmates so that would make Babe around 95 or 96 if he were living today.

He was an institution at The Alpha Bar and Grill and was in his best form around 1957 when I got home from the service. The bar was pretty much a man’s domain in those days with gallon jars of hard boiled eggs, small wieners and pickled pigs feet all soaking in a clouded vinegar sitting on the bar. The food consisted of ham sandwiches on rye with homemade very hot mustard. The ham was sliced from a full ham standing in a stainless steel rack as the sandwiches were ordered. When the ham got down to about a third left it went into a big pot for bean soup. All the food preparation took place on the back bar.

I remember Friday evenings when the crowd was 3 or4 deep at the bar and the topics of discussion were sports, hunting and fishing, women — anything but business. The crowd ran the full socio-economic spectrum but the boss or chief of the outfit was Babe who in his imperial judgement decided who would get served next. He lorded over the loud but orderly crowd with a quiet dignity ; he never was ruffled and was considered by all a cool, in-charge guy.



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He was always dressed in a starched white shirt, half covered by a white apron that was positioned over the top of his protruding belly and tied in the back.   It covered his legs on the front and sides and hung down below his knees. He was short and the whiteness of his outfit was offset by the red hair on his muscular arms — his cuffs folded almost to his elbows — and the red hair that circled his bald head. His eyes small and alert looked out over a bulge of chew tucked in a cheek.

It was impossible to get his attention to get served, he had his own private method of selecting his next customer. There was a pay phone on the wall next to the door going into the back room. We were at the end of the bar next to the phone and “Ackie”, Howard Atkinson, put a coin in and called the Alpha and ordered 5 beers for the end of the bar. Babe answered, turned, looked at us with total detachment and continued to serve in the order only he understood.

One of the Mead boys was home visiting from New York. He had a friend with him, they were thinking of opening a bar in the big city. He wanted his friend to see the Alpha so they stopped in for a drink. They sat at the bar, Babe leaned into them and said “What will you fellows have?” The reply came “ I’ll have an Iron City”, and the the fellow from the big city said “I would like to have a dry martini with a twist”. This was when West Virginia was a dry state and liquor sales were against the law and “drinks” were burbon and water or a shot with a beer chaser. Babe went through all the cupboards in the back bar, turning bottles and reading labels. He finally returned to his customers with a bottle of Iron City and told Mead’s friend “We just ran out of dry martinis with a twist.”   The friend said “ If we can take him with us to New York we will have a successful bar.”

Babe is gone, liquor is legal and women are no longer considered “Ladies of the Night” if they are seen in a bar. I am not sure the moose heads mounted on the wall approve.

 



12 Responses

  1. Tom"Otto" Camobell

    Thank you Bill Hogan…….that article brought back a lot of good memories. In the 50’s my Dad would take me to the Alpha. I remember Babe, just has you described him.
    In the early to mid 60;s I was old enough to go to the Alpha myself. I remember Mary, the lady who prepared those ham samdwiches……one called a “Fat Boy” named after a customer who had always ordered them. The bean soup was great….While the Alpha is a fine place today…….. I always try to stop whenever I get to Wheeling……but the days you describe were the memories I will always treasure at the Alpha.

    Reply
  2. Keith

    I was married to one of babe’s nieces and spent many good times playing cards with him he was the soul of alpha and there will never be another vabe hirt

    Reply
  3. Joe Basil

    Babe used to work for my Dad “back in the day”. He carried the Hod. If you know anything about the plastering business that is no day at the beach. I remember when he first found out that I was “Jiggy” Basil’s boy a big smile lit up that great face of his. He told me he liked working for my Dad because he was tough but fair. I’m sure that made 2 of them. I’ll never forget Babe! Thanks for highlighting a very special Wheelingite. Joe Basil

    Reply
  4. Yam Rutesellar

    Babe didn’t just pour beer, he was a master mixologist. Home for college summer breaks when I’d be all “beered” out over a long evening I’d order one of his sweet cocktails as a change of pace. Whiskey sours, Gin Rickey..Singapore Slings. I’ve never tasted any finer anywhere.

    Reply
  5. Msrk

    My mother’s second husband, Sid Weissman, was also a fixture at Ye Old Alpha. In fact, he and Frank Miller hunted together. The last time I was there, he game trophies still adorned the walls, and I hope the still do.

    Reply
  6. Mark

    Every year a local radio station would run the ugliest bartender in the tri state area with the winner winning an all expense paid week vacation to the Bahamas. Babe won it every year the contrast was held until the station finally gave up and stopped the contest.

    Reply
  7. Steve Johnston

    My first at the bar, sitting with the adults, legal beer was poured by Babe. More than a few came after that one but, that’s the one I’ll always remember from a man I’ll never forget.

    Reply
  8. John

    Always had a chew and I don’t recall seeing him spit. . . He was one of a kind. Bill, thanks for writing this.

    Reply
  9. Doug Anderson

    Appropriate to post this column in this season. Each year for Lent, Babe would forgo his chew tobacco. The permanent bulge on the left side of his cheek would sag, and his disposition moved a few degrees past stoic. Easter was his big release, and a warm smile greeted customers on Easter Sunday. The other apocryphal fact regarding Babe is that even though he constantly had a “chew” in his cheek, no one ever saw him spit. I know I didn’t.

    Reply
    • Bill Hogan

      As soon as I saw “apocryphal”, I knew we had hooked a college professor,

      Reply

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