At one time, I think seven “beer joints” dotted the landscape beside U.S. 460 from the state line at Glen Lyn to Fountain Park, before ascending the steep climb of Oakvale Mountain heading to Princeton.
Of course, that was the case in many areas before four-lanes and interstates took away the traffic from the two-lane blacktops many of us grew up with.
As far as I know, only two of the traditional beer bars are left in Mercer County: The Bull’s Eye near Oakvale and The Last Resort near Athens. Could be others I don’t know about.
For some people, these bars were “dens of iniquities.” For many young men of course, they were rites of passage. And for others, just a place to hang out, drink and talk.
In my family, or at least for some since most did not approve, the tradition was The Bull’s Eye, or Chris’s Log Cabin, named for a late owner.
She was always the same, very calm and collected and nice, but tough.
I have heard countless stories that took place there over the years, and witnessed a few myself. As time passes, of course, those stories always left the impression that trouble was routine in beer joints.
Trouble certainly erupted, but from my experience, it was more the exception than the rule, mostly just local residents hanging out and having a good time.
However, they were basically bars and anytime alcohol is served some people can’t handle it and start something.
As my late friend Boots Abshire, who was my father’s pal, used to say, if you can’t handle it, don’t drink it. Boots was a tough man of Polish descent and a very good friend to have.
You have to also keep in mind that these bars were popular during an era when the drinking age was 18 and, frankly, no one really cared. I drank younger than that and I was a scrawny kid, but, of course, I knew a lot of people who hung out at The Bull’s Eye because my father was well-known there (I am a Junior).
In fact, one of those popular “stories” involved him and Boots as they stopped one evening to have a few PBRs, their beer of choice, before heading home after a day’s work at the paper mill in Covington.
While they were there a couple of strangers came in, started a tab, and drank several bottles. But they got up and started for the door.
That’s when Chris hollered at them and asked them to pay their tab.
One of those guys turned around, looked at her and said an expletive I cannot repeat here, obviously with no intention of paying for anything.
You didn’t disrespect women in that manner back in those days, especially someone as well-liked as Chris.
My father was an easy-going man by nature, fun to be around. It took a lot to anger him. But when he did lose his temper, well, he did not hesitate to act.
Those words had barely left the stranger’s mouth before his mouth met my father’s fist, knocking him through the screen door down a couple of steps and onto the ground outside.
Not many people were there at the time, I was always told, but the few who were exited quickly to see what would happen, right on the heels of my father, who pounced on the man who was on his back in the dirt.
He always told me he was very thankful Boots was with him because Boots pulled him off the man whose throat was in the grasp of my father’s very strong hands.
When he finally let go, the other stranger helped the man to their car, and tires screamed as they hit Route 460.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not the type of incident anyone would ever want to be involved in and I am not condoning any of it.
My gosh, my father could have ended up in jail for a very long time if not for Boots.
It’s just that we so often talk about, and write about, the wonderful memories we all have of growing up in these hollows that we may ignore another side of life that many of us experienced.
It was not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it was a reality that impacted our lives in some ways as much as all the countless hours we innocently spent in church.
None of us can ever live in a bubble, and it’s not these experiences themselves that change us.
How we handle them and whether we learn from them defines who we are.
Charles Boothe is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org