The Bars of Solvay

(From the Syracuse New Times, October 31, 1976)

Solvay sits close by Syracuse like a small European city-state. Drawing its tradition from Florence and Monaco, this gem-like principality offers the Syracuse drinker a new world of experience just minutes from our drab, cloud-covered city. The stacks of Allied Chemical rise over Solvay like tall, proud Lombardy poplars; nestled in tree-shaded lanes, the bars of Solvay beckon to the weary traveler.

I must admit I did not find this paradise by myself. Sir Edmund Hillary couldn’t have scaled Everest without his steadfast Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norkhay. Neither could I have ventured into, let alone found, the hostels of “Savay” without my Irish lawyer.

Our first stop on this tour of Elysium was Pozzi’s, 1701 Milton Ave.  Pozzi’s has the warmth of an English pub. This aura of being comfortable and at rest is the main course, but there are side orders of decor (marble bar, deer heads, bank windows) and a colorful clientele. The word in Solvay is that if you can’t get in touch with someone for a few days, go to Pozzi’s. They’ll be there. The Missing Persons Bureau could save a lot of time if they would set up a small booth in the corner. A tip for tourists: All those people coming in the back way don’t live upstairs; they’re just taking the shortest path to the bar from the neighborhood.

Another reason to come in the back door is The New Archie’s, which is cheek-by-jowl with Pozzi’s. In fact, to come in Pozzi’s rear entrance, you have to go through Archie’s, so why not stop for a beer? You’ll get to Pozzi’s eventually; everybody does.

The quaint sense of fun that is Solvay reasserted itself as we attempted to reach The Bridge Street Tavern, 109 Bridge St. Mischievous road-builders, perhaps nostalgic for the Allied beachhead at Normandy, had chewed up the streets surrounding the tavern and made a game out of finding the parking lot. The Bridge Street Tavern itself, though, has recently remodeled and has a sparkling, clean interior. The BST exists to slake the thirsts of area factory workers and to provide a rallying point for Polka Power.  A Congress Beer can sits up by the TV to remind us of Syracuse’s last brewery. Beer here, as just about everywhere in Solvay, is 25 cents a glass, and the selection of bar whiskey is nonpareil. My lawyer grew misty remembering the afternoons he refreshed himself at the BST after unloading boxcars nearby. While he replenished his bodily fluids on those steaming summer afternoons, local workers would dash in on a break, and inhale triple shots with a beer chaser. Things were not so intense this evening, but the memory lingered on.

We then moved on the the well-lit Central City Hotel, 1200 Willis Ave. The Central City Hotel  has also remodeled, I would guess during the McKinley administration. The bar, on the ground floor of the hotel, provides a refreshing contrast to the pretentiousness of other hotel bars, such as Top of the Inn or the old Persian Room. The interior decoration reflects the owner’s interest in fishing and is set off by a fierce stuffed hawk over the telephone booth. This creature startles the innocent drinker on his way to call home, and perhaps sends him homeward a little earlier. Visions of sudden feathery death clouded my mind until another 25-cent draft rinsed them away.

Perhaps prompted by similar thoughts, a gentleman at the far end of the bar informed us he had given his body to science. “They’ve thrown dirt in my face all my life,” he said. “They’re not going to do it after I die.” Another drinker interjected, “Every time I hear this story, it’s different.”

Not to be defamed, the self-philanthropist produced papers from his wallet. My lawyer inspected the documents and clarified the issue, pronouncing the winner the nearest anatomy school at time of expiration.

“That’s right! The antomy school.”

“Anatomy school,” we said.

“Right, antomy school,” he replied.

“Right,” we said, and set off again in search of more excitement.

It was time now for a taste of the unusual, a walk on the wild side. Not everybody in this pastoral province is content with the slow flow of things. The red-curtained Milton A Go Go (a.k.a. Milton Lounge, Milton Restaurant), 1203 Milton Ave., promised a change of pace. I was touched that a bar-owner would name his place after the great English poet, but my lawyer quickly informed me that the bar drew its name from Milton Avenue. The sign outside read “Exotic Dancers.” We entered.

I have been in more bars than I can remember. But for reasons unknown I have never ventured into a bar featuring exotic dancers. It was a magical moment. Well, if not magical, at least a little sleightish-of-hand. The price of beer jumped, but there was no cover charge. The onlookers were intent. This was possibly the only bar in Solvay where nobody was watching TV. Conversation was minimal, except for my lawyer who was filling me in on the history and meaning of topless dancers.

“Although there are only two dancers performing this evening, most times in bars you will see three, in a classic triumvirate pattern. The artists will select four tunes on the jukebox, flashing on the first, removing some garb on the second, and concentrating on various specialty moves on three and four.”

Between songs, to the accompaniment of the whirring and clicking jukebox searching for the next record, the exotics stood about idly, thinking perhaps of defrosting tomorrow’s dinner or the possibility of some more warm weather before winter sets in. Our appetite for the unusual satiated, we moved on for a nightcap.

My lawyer selected Joe’s Village Tavern, 106 Williams St., if only to hear “At the Hop” on Joe’s juke. Joe’s is in Solvay in spirit, if not geographically, and once again everybody was watching TV. It is a very homey bar, sort of like being invited into someone’s kitchen. Beer was 30 cents and, as we had come to expect, everyone was very friendly and polite. It would have been easy to stay, but the moon was high and other obligations forced us to cease our quest.

As we motored back into Syracuse, having each spent $1.85 for the evening’s entertainment, it was difficult to decide which quality spoke better for Solvay. Was it hospitality, or thrift? It wasn’t really  necessary to argue. Just remember, you can let the bars of Solvay into your heart, without their taking your wallet.

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