I remember the first bar I ever frequented on a regular basis. It was our “club” on Okinawa in WWII. Well, actually, it really didn’t get going until the war was finally over and done with. We were still sitting there waiting to go home, move up to occupy Japan, or support the Marines’ move into north China.
It’s been some 56 years since World War II finally played itself out on August 14, 1945, when the Japanese agreed to surrender. On Okinawa, the “party” we had, celebrating the surrender of Japan, was one I will certainly never forget but it wasn’t held in any bar.
We had small campfires going all over the place. Some of our people had stolen whiskey from the officers’ club, and there was plenty of homemade “hooch” from various sources, including our own still. I don’t remember that we had all that much beer, but I know there was some.
Others of our numbers had stolen steaks, hamburger, cooking lard, and zillions of small tins of so-called Vienna sausages, not to mention huge cans of Spam. It was all very festive. They were deep frying everything (in coffee cans and lard cans) and getting gloriously drunk!
Yes, I would have to say we had one helluva party. Our officers were discreet enough to leave us alone. Perhaps they didn’t feel welcome. After all, we’d robbed them blind.
We were DEFINITELY going to party. Most of the officers’ efforts were aimed at getting us to turn in our unused ammunition. We—I say “we” but I had just turned nineteen and was still a private after 22 months in the Marines—I was trying very hard not to get in anyone’s way. I did everything anyone told me to do.
As for that unused ammo, everyone set about discharging their weapons into the air, this in the absence of fire works, of which we had none, but which were clearly called for under the circumstances. The laws of nature had been repealed, it seemed, because I never heard a thing about any of those bullets that had been shot into the air ever arriving back on earth. Obviously, they all went into orbit or something. Remarkably, there were no casualties from that source.
The Marines’ Local
But I digress, and we were talking bars. Our “local” was, in daytime, our mess hall. At night, it became our hangout. That was truly a grunge place if ever there was one. A monster Quonset hut was the main area, and the prep or bar area was a double-length regular Quonset, which crossed it like a “T.” It was the longest bar on Okinawa! The floor was always a mess (it seemed).
The habitués were strange people, too. One fellow had a pet monkey, one of the tailless varieties from the Philippine island of Zamboanga, from whence he had brought that poor besotted beast. When that pathetic primate appeared on your radar screen, holding his tiny tin cup, you were wise to divvy up some of your libation, because if that wretched little alcoholic failed to get his just due, he became very unpleasant.
They say one always tries to return to youthful haunts, so I suppose I am still looking for a drunken monkey with which to share my beer.
Did I tell you that our beer “ration” dwindled from six cans a week to two cans of tomato juice? One week it turned into a can of chocolate toddy (milk) from Australia. It was almost as if we had fallen off the earth, or at least out of the supply lines. No beer and a boring life, with little hope of parole. It was the Marine Corps’ revenge for our flagrant dereliction of duty at the war’s end.
We finally moved up to Japan, to the airbase at Yokosuka, which had been the home of Japan’s First Air Arsenal. Our “gedunk” club there was a little better and the beer a bit more regular, but I’ve written of that already (AABM 21.4).
Grunge Bars Back Home
Back home in Everett, WA, in the summer of 1946 and still not 21, I found a true grungy bar. The Sportsman’s Care on Hewitt Avenue is more sleazy than grungy now. The beer is of the industrial ilk and the food, genuine greasy spoon, so I avoid the place when I visit Everett these days. But in 1946! Well, I was young then.
I even met my stepfather there one night. We had a wonderful conversation about life, our first and last such conversation.
After a stint at Everett Community College, I transferred to the University of Washington in near by Seattle. My favorite college bar in that town was the Red Robin, which was situated across the Lake Washington Ship Canal from the university. The RR now is a dreadful chain, but in that era (1947-48) it was great. I lived in temporary campus housing, and several of us UW swim team types used to swim across the channel and climb the hill to the Red Robin on hot June afternoons during finals week. One of my friends even swam through the two-mile ship canal to Elliot Bay, including passage through the locks—just for the fun of it.
In late 1949-50, I traveled to Springfield, MA, to attend Springfield College, where I found the lovely old Student Prince in that town. This became a favorite in my early college days (1948-49). I used to study in that establishment. They were kind enough to set me a table in the corner, with a lamp on it.
But Not for Long
The Korean War and the long arm of the Marine reserves found me flying (as a radio operator) out of what is now Osaka International Airport (the old one at Itami).
Our noncommissioned officer’s club (I’d finally made sergeant in the reserves) there was quite grungy, as I remember it. There are home movies of me, out of focus, sitting next to and hugging a case of Miller’s, which was something like 10 cents a bottle in those days. Unlike WWII, there was no shortage of booze in that war. We had good Canadian Club at $1.25 the fifth. Better, there was also fine Danish Tuborg at 25 cents the liter bottle, served in a large chilled stone mug. That’s when I first learned about good European beer—Tuborg was actually brewed in Denmark then.
In that “police action,” we flew transport missions in support of the Marines in the Chosin Reservoir area and elsewhere in Korea. I can remember no flight on which everyone on the crew was sober or not hung over. Nevertheless, our safety record was the best in the Far East at the time, despite our maintenance crews’ use of whiskey to keep warm in the freezing cold of that winter.
In downtown Osaka, there was an Asahi-owned, German-style beer hall where I spent many an hour drinking their fairly good beer. Asahi hasn’t always been brewed in Canada, and hasn’t always been “dry” beer, either.
After the war and my hitch in the Marines, I settled down back at the University of Washington to drink beer at the nearby Blue Moon Tavern, true grungy. It is still all of that these days, but the beer is better now. And in downtown Seattle there was—wonder of wonders—a Ratskellar! It was almost as good as the old Student Prince in Springfield.
One never used to have to search long for a good grungy bar in Seattle, and today, it is even better.
One could almost say I grew up in grungy bars. I still love ’em.
Fred Eckhardt lives, writes and drinks beer in Portland, OR. He is the author of The Essentials of Beer Style and Saké (USA).