There are a million stories in the semi-clad metropolis and this is one.
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and in each neighborhood there is a distinctive culture or ethnicity. Each neighborhood has gradually become more mixed and diversified. In South Philly you have the Italians, in Fishtown the Irish. West Philly and North Philly are predominantly black. In Center City you see the greatest diversity, but it too has its own characteristics. In Kensington, where Tony’s Way is located, it is mainly Spanish, as in Puerto Rican. Tony’s Way is a little Puerto Rican bar nestled below the elevated Blue Line in Kensington.
I lived in several different neighborhoods in Philadelphia. For a while I lived in Fishtown in a little house across from the Palmer Cemetery. Fishtown is a neighborhood that adjoins Kensington. I would sometimes walk over to the Blue Line to take it into town. On the way back home when I arrived at my stop and descended the steps from the “El” I would find Tony’s Way beckoning to me in the darkness. So one night I hustled there inside.
I stepped inside of the brightly lit cantina and immediately was blasted with the sound of Latin music blaring on the jukebox and uproarious laughter. The joint was juking and very colorfully decorated with tinsel and streamers and signs of various descriptions. Very festive. The bar was in the center with seating all around. Behind the bar were a pair of barmaids in cut off jeans and tank tops.
I stepped up the the bar and ordered a shot of tequila and a Corona. That was what everybody else was drinking. I had a couple of rounds then stepped back into the night and walked home.
Since Tony’s Way was right on my way as I walked back and fourth from the El, I started to become a regular. I would go over in the afternoons sometimes and on the weekends. One day I was in there having a beer and a shot when Tony walks over to me and introduces himself.
He gave me a broad smile and stretched out his hand which I took. He had a strong grip.
“I’m Tony,” he said. “This is my place. Welcome. If you ever find you have a problem here, you see that large fellow sitting over there in the corner? That’s Ricardo. He’s my cousin. And do you see that other fellow standing over there? That’s Edwardo. He’s my other cousin. You just call one of them over and he will help you.”
He smiled again and patted me on the back and strolled off to greet the other customers. That was how it was at Tony’s Way.
One Friday night I walked over for a little entertainment and to see if there might be some Puerto Rican girls just dying to meet me.
There was line to get in. So I queued up and waited my turn to be let in. As I was waiting I noticed there were a couple of bouncers at the front door. They were frisking people, as in patting them down for weapons, before they were allowed in. Now this wasn’t too unusual for Philadelphia so I didn’t think too much of it at first. When It came my turn they just waved me in.
So I entered the establishment and walked around the bar to the other side so I could keep an eve on the door. I ordered my usual: A shot of Jose Cuervo and a bottle of Corona with a lime wedge.
I got to noticing the way the bouncers were frisking the patrons. A guy would step up to the door and they would frisk him and then they would wave him on in. A couple of girls would step up up and they would get waved through. A guy come in gets frisked. The girls get waved through.
As I’m watching this it slowly begins to dawn on me, hey! Wait a minute, I didn’t get frisked. What’s up with that? They must not have thought I was dangerous enough to frisk. Now in Philly, it’s not enough to look tough. You got to look dangerous too. So this was beginning to bother me a bit and I was feeling a little slighted if not insulted.
I turned to my fellow barfly sitting next to me and relayed my tale of woe to him. He said, relax, they probably just know you.
Ohhhhh! Yeah! I never thought of that! Well, I felt a whole lot better then and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
I moved away from Philly a short while after that incident. First to Trenton then back home to Kentucky. It’s been about 10 years since I had been to Tony’s Way, but I always had fond memories.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel back to Philadelphia on business, and while there I wanted to visit some of my old neighborhoods and stomping grounds
The first thing I noticed was the sign was down So I was’t sure if it was still Tony’s Way or not. I stepped into the bar from the bright sunlight and waited a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the light. I sat down on a bar stool and ordered a shot and a beer. I looked around and things looked pretty much the same. It was early afternoon so not too many people were in there. My eyes came to rest on a familiar character who was sitting across the bar from me reading a newspaper.
I finished my drink and walked around the bar and approached the man reading the paper.
“You’re Tony aren’t you? I don’t know if you remember me or not but a few years ago when I lived in Philly I used to come in here. You were always very nice to me. I’m in town for a short visit and I just wanted to come by and say hello.”
“Yeah, I remember you,” he said. “Your hair was a little longer then. What happened to you?”
“I moved away.”
“Where did you move to?”
“To Kentucky?” He started laughing, Why’d you move to Kentucky?”
I explained I had family there and that was my home state, but he couldn’t get over the fact that I moved to Kentucky.
“Hey Angelina!. Come over here.” He waved the barmaid over. “This guy used to come here all the time, but he moved to Kentucky.”
“Kentucky?!!!” Then she started to laugh.
She moved away from us and took another customer’s order who had just sat at the bar. And she told them what Tony had said and they laughed. Then the people sitting next to them started laughing and shouted, “Kentucky!” when they laughed. And pretty soon the whole establishment was laughing and shouting Kentucky! And no one was laughing more than Tony and me. But after a few minutes the laughter eventually died down, but it did not die down entirely for a long time for always at this table or that a new area of laughter would begin.
I drank free that day. Of course I suffered the next day from a hangover. But it was definitely the best day of my trip.