The sun was high, the mood low and late afternoon soon would be giving way to evening on a postcard-ish day in Victoria as two tourists chose to give their dogs a rest at Bart’s Pub.
In from Georgia—Savannah to be precise—the silver-thatched, 60something man and woman had spent their day in trundle, trekking to and fro without aim or design, as is the wont of many visitors who make the pilgrimage to our lovely little seaside city which, on this day, was adorned in its customary summer coat of calm and serene. They were weary, these two happy wanderers, yet comfortably at ease and finding solace in a pint and the relaxed atmosphere of the English-style watering hole on the southern edge of downtown.
Perched on the stool to their right, at the end of the bar nearest the patio, was a middle-aged man wearing a soiled ball cap, an unkempt collection of chin whiskers, bent eyeglasses and the hint of overindulgence. This was Tim, a talk-a-lot, long-time regular.
“You see that guy behind the bar?” Tim said, turning to the folks from Savannah and pointing to Jack the barman.
“Ya, what about him?” the male Georgian asked.
“He’s the day bartender here at Bart’s, and he’s a legend in this town. A real legend.”
“Really? What’s his name?”
Idiot. The name’s Bergin. Jack Bergin. Best barman this side of anywhere.
I’ve long held that it is the patrons—the locals, if you will—who give a pub its personality. That, at least, is my experience. It was the quirky cast of characters who repeatedly drew me back to the Toad In the Hole Pub in Winnipeg’s eclectic Osborne Village, and now, at a later stage in life, I find a similar comfort in the crowd that gathers at Bartholomew’s Pub in Victoria. Each time I walk through the doors and plop my tiny butt at my corner table, it’s as if I’m sliding into my favorite pair of jeans, perhaps in part because most of the daytime regulars are of a vintage similar to that of myself and my jeans—faded.
It is the barman, however, who stirs the drink, figuratively and literally, in any pub (in Jack’s case, that drink would be a wicked, world-class Double Caesar that is a full-course meal).
The barman, or woman, is the maestro in a maelstrom of imbibers. Anyone can pour a pint or pop a top, but not everyone can be a bartender. The good ones can control and cajole. They know when to laugh with you and when to laugh at you. They are equal parts psychologist, psychiatrist, sounding board and voice of reason. They know their patrons’ peccadilloes and peculiarities, what to forgive and what to forget. It isn’t an easy gig, but some make it look easy. Like Bergin. Jack Bergin.
I cannot hazard a guess as to the number of watering holes in which I have bent my elbow, but I am quite certain that it is more than one and less than 1,000. What can I say? I’m a pubaholic. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either. It’s not like I need monthly meetings and a 12-step plan to curb my cravings. More to the point, I have no desire to curb my cravings. I embrace my pubaholism. I’m all about the Bs—a bit of beer, a bit of baseball, a bit of blues, a bit of banter, a bit of Bart’s and a bit of Bergin. Jack Bergin. Best barman this side of anywhere.
Jack is a long, tall beanstalk who didn’t need much convincing when managers Val and Jennifer offered him a job pouring pints and listening to tales of woe at Bart’s 12 years ago. Back then, he looked like something off a Wild West poster, a Buffalo Bill doppelganger with a thatch of stringy, curly hair and chin whiskers. The long locks are gone, but he still has those same soft, kind eyes, a temperment as even as a Sunday morning and a crackling sense of humor.
Oh, sure, Jack has failings, but cheering for the Oakland Raiders and Boston Red Sox are forgivable offences as long as the pints are cold, the food is warm and the room is welcoming.
That’s always been my experience at Bart’s, not only because of Jack, but others who have been on the business side of the bar or working the floor. I’ve had my faves—Aleah, Heather, Emma (all three of them), my lovely adopted daughter Ashley, Janet, Jody, Marshall, Natasha (both of them), Christy and, of course, the unforgetable Irish Adam, who is blessed with more boundless, unharnessed energy and enthusiam than any person I know (if only he would learn to speak English).
But, as I said, Jack is the straw who stirs the drink for Bart’s proprietors Jennifer and Bob.
And here’s one more thing you should know about Jack: As terrific a bartender as he is, he’s even a better person.