What’ll You Have? Pabst Blue Ribbon!


I’m taking a leaf from my blogging daughter, the Little Pig – she says if you’re feeling trivial, just go with it. I like to read guys like Spoke and Larry Livermore – they always have something stimulating to say, but as for me, I’m a talking pig. I ponder about lots of things – sometimes it’s Jesus, and today it’s beer.

Last night Leonard Saldorf commented that in Milwaukee a restaurant is considered trendy if it serves something besides beer. Suddenly I remembered being a little kid (this happens a lot). I was sick in those days with rheumatic fever and had to stay in bed. Mom put a card table beside it for my toys and books and – a radio. I liked to turn the radio around and lie in the dark looking at the golden light from the vacuum tubes while listening to my favorite radio programs.

On Sunday afternoons there was Jack Benny and Phil Harris And Alice Fay and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. They made me laugh and laugh. I loved it when Jack would have to go down to his secret vault to get some money and the stairs would squeak and his voice would start to echo. I could just see the scary cobwebbed cellar beneath his Beverly Hills mansion.

I am digressing mightily here. On to beer. There was another program called Duffy’s Tavern. I think it was more for adults because I couldn’t understand any of it but I liked to listen anyway. I liked to imagine a dark tavern (which I gathered was some kind of a bar) with all the great guys sitting at the bar telling jokes while Duffy served up more glasses of beer.

They must have had a regular glee club there because every few minutes the guys would break into song, and the song always went like this:

What’ll you have?
Pabst Blue Ribbon.
What’ll you have?
Pabst Blue Ribbon.
What’ll you have?
Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer!

I could see them sitting at the bar with little red bow ties on. I think they were swinging their glasses in time to the music. They knew what was good – Pabst Blue Ribbon!

When was the last time you saw a can of that? If you ever do, it will be on the bottom shelf of the liquor store cooler, in brand purgatory. It’s gone with the great guys in red bow ties, with Duffy’s Tavern and “Schlitz, the Beer That Made Milwaukee famous!”

Out where I lived, in San Francisco, those were “Eastern” beers, and they cost a nickel more a glass than local beer (how does an 8 year old kid know this stuff? Because I would read the menu, of course). San Francisco vacant lots featured beer cans with a rooster on the label called Goebel’s, and a beer with a smiling Ben Franklin on the can named Burgermeister and a beer with a big X on the can called Lucky Lager (it was “age dated” so you could tell if it had gone sour or not) and there was Hamn’s Beer and Falstaff Beer and Acme Beer and more – this is without thinking about it. I think they all tasted just the same unless you were a lager connoisseur, but what did I know? I just liked to look at the cans in the weeds and think how one day I would go down to Duffy’s Tavern too with all the guys and sing glee and tell jokes and if the phone rang I wasn’t there.

Funny what the media teaches a kid. Of course none of it ever happened – the Sixties happened.

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