The Natural (no not that one)

The Natural (no not that one)

It’s “hump day,” (the regular league night) and there are six teams of 5 darts player each and eight regular non-darts players in the place. Nearly all seats are taken.

The teams have settled into playing, all three dart boards are busy and have been for over an hour.

Several people are having sandwiches and other snack type food. There’s a customer in the carry-out store being waited on by Mike-the-bartender.

Conversations are battling to be heard over the juke box and no one’s glass is empty.

Laughter and whoops of excitement erupt with some regularity as hits and misses of note occur on the dart boards and some patron asks Mike-The-Bartender to adjust the several TV screens to watch the Phillies’s game.

It’s another dart league night in the Mt. Royal Inn, in Mt. Royal NJ, which has been the case since the early sixties. The place is frequented by some local and national darts notables, such as George Silberzahn (a darts author who began playing darts there in 1965) and Joe Baltadonis (Former national Champion who owns the place and gets to be there almost all the time). The regulars are used to having well known personalities such as these two around so are not impressed.

“Hey Mike, you’re up” is called out. And “Be right there” comes back from Mike-the -bartender as he places money in the cash register after getting someone a refill of something. He’s a fill-in player for when a team member doesn’t show up to play.

The Mt. Royal Inn is this area’s “Cheers where everyone knows your name” kind of place and Mike blends right in. He knows everyone by name and has known them since the first time that person walked into the Inn. He also knows everyone’s choice of beverage, be it mixture, soft, tap or straight. He’ll mention “Been a while since you’ve been in,” if that’s the case, and when pressed he’ll just about know how long. It’s a rare occasion when a person needs to ask Mike-the-bartender for a refill.

You may have heard of Mike-the-bartender before only not by that name (because I just made it up). In case you don’t recognize it here’s where you may have heard of him. It’s an excerpt from a Flight School technique.

“I was in a place called the Mt. Royal Inn playing against a guy named Joe Baltadonis (he owned the place). Joe was my partner, team mate and friend in those early years on the “circuit” and he was the US Open champion, among a bunch of other wins, including one against a world champion in England.

I dropped a line about how I had to carry him every time we played (not true) and how I only got five cents worth of help when he thought he was worth a dollar. Well, after some ‘discussion’ of the type we had at the time, we got to playing for a nickel a game (chuckle)!

We’d been swapping nickels for a while, when I used my last two to buy a beer, they were 10 cents at the time (no smart aleck remarks about 10 cents? How old is this guy?).

I won the next game and Joe only had a dime and a quarter on the bar. He pushed the dime over and said, “OK, I owe you one, shoot the cork.” My response “No way, I want my nickel. You lost, give me my nickel.” His face flushed a little and his jaw tightened but he turned to Mike, the bartender, with “give me a couple of nickels for this dime so I can pay this poug.”

I found out just last year what exactly a poug is, it’s a term from WWII, I think, that described a guy that avoided being closest to the enemy as much as possible and left that dirty work to others. It was a very derogatory term for anyone that is not good. Anyway, Mike, instigator that he was, responded with a glint in his eye, “You want change for that quarter too?” Joe said: “No, I won’t need it, he isn’t going to win any more” and we played some hellashus games from there on.”

Mike’s jocular demeanor is one of the ways he helps to make the atmosphere at the Inn what it is. He’s always with a quip, a joke, maybe something more of an adult nature on his phone, or the latest on a sport team, or NASCAR, or his golf game. Mike-The-Bartender has been at the Mt. Royal Inn for thirty three years he says.

In this place, where people with notable achievements in darts, or other local activities, go pretty much un-noticed, Mike-The-Bartender also goes pretty much taken for granted. And that’s because he’s born to his profession, the consummate bartender.  He’d be a national Champion if there were such a thing. With his golf visor and shorts and smile beaming at you, always paying close attention to you so don’t have to ask for anything- you just get it style. it’s easy to miss just how good he is at what he is doing.

So- here’s to my choice for’ National Champion Bartender’ – Mike Ginipro AKA “Mike-The-Bartender” and all- round good guy.

Next time you’re at the Inn, tell him you’d vote for him too, along with a good tip.

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