The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

J.R. Moehringer grew up in Manhasset, New York in the 1970’s, raised by a single mother and her extended dysfunctional family living under one small roof in a pub-laden town on the north shore of Long Island. He knew his father only as The Voice, a Manhattan DJ who hosted popular radio programs; the image of J.R. with his ear to the clock radio scrolling the dial to find his alcoholic father (he changed stations and jobs frequently) is the heart-rending opening scene in this autobiography.  But this memoir is not sentimental pap; it is a riotous romp and a delightfully funny coming of age story crafted by a writer with a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist’s eye who also understands how to tell a story. Moehringer’s writing made me so homesick for the 1970’s and 1980’s I laughed and wept as J.R. made his way in the world.

When J.R. was in grade school, his mother wanted him to have male influence in his life, so she asked her brother to lend a hand. “Uncle Charlie’s” way of lending a hand was to bring J.R. to his place of employment – a bar called Dickens where Uncle Charlie tended bar and busted heads as necessary. Dickens was bit like a raunchier version of the TV sitcom “Cheers,” populated by a diverse cast of characters: Cager, Smelly, Colt, and Joey D , the bar regulars and Uncle Charlie’s friends who all lent a hand in guiding JR through his early years, and stepped in as the family he so desperately needed.

As Moehringer writes, “”Long before it legally served me, the bar saved me.””
Even when J.R . moved with his mother to Arizona for his middle and high school years, each summer he came back to Dickens, the one true family that was a constant to him. While at Yale, and failing academically and socially, JR was drawn back to Dickens again and again. This cycle continues after college, through a hilarious stint selling housewares at Lord  & Taylor, and failed working stint at the New York Times. Dickens was the one constant in his life.

This memoir makes an excellent book discussion title, and is sure to spark conversational threads of “remember when….?”

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