“This guy has to be the Charlie Brown of bar owners,” I thought when I walked into the one-year anniversary party at John Barchi’s World of Brew and found hardly anyone there.
And to think I had been afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a parking place.
It was last Sept. 2, one of those nights with two things happening at the same time. The one that won out was a youth performance of “Godspell” in Wilkes-Barre. My student Mariel McCullough’s 10-year-old daughter, Torrance, was in the cast and I couldn’t let either of them down. I figured I’d be back in Pittston early enough to show my face at World of Brew, but was sure I’d wind up parking a mile away. Mike Sperrazza and his son, Eric, were playing and they’ll pack any venue, anywhere, anytime.
Except, it turned out, World of Brew on its first anniversary.
When I pulled into the parking lot and saw about eight cars there my heart sank. I had been sure this was the night John Barchi would turn things around.
I did not known John before he opened his bar but found out the first time I met him I had taught his daughter Jillian at the community college. She’s a lovely and talented young lady.
I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who takes a chance in business and to the extent I can will offer my support. John’s dream for World of Brew was not so much of a bar as a “bottle house,” a place where a customer could drop in and buy a six pack or even a bottle or two of craft beer. But no sooner had he opened than Lucy pulled the football away. State liquor control laws were amended and just like that six packs were available everywhere, from super markets to convenient stores.
I did my part the first Christmas John was open. He sold these hand-made wooden six-pack carriers with a cool metal bottle opener screwed onto the side and I bought several as gifts. I’d select six unusual bottles of beer and add a few packages of jerky which he also sold. A big red bow completed the look and I was proud to present them.
But my holiday business alone could not keep him afloat so John went in a different direction. He pulled out the beer coolers and replaced them with a stage. He brought my friend Paul Martin in a couple of nights to host an open mic. At one I stopped in for a quick beer to show my support and the place was so hoppin’ I stayed until closing. At another, I was the only customer there. And also wound up staying until closing because I didn’t want Paul playing to no one.
John tried everything. He built a better stage. He booked popular acts. One evening last summer he got Gene Philbin to park his Peculiar Culinary food truck outside and got Phyllis Hopkins to entertain inside. What a night. But it was just one night.
Still, John wouldn’t give up and I began to think “this guy is more of an optimist than I am.” And in that, he is more Charlie Brown than I thought. In one Charles Schulz strip, Charlie Brown says, “An optimist is someone who believes tomorrow will be better. I’m such an optimist I keep thinking yesterday will improve.”
That’s John Barchi.
He went into 2018 with renewed vigor and a new plan: to rename World of Brew and to create an outdoor entertainment area. The first he did on his own, the second came about with the help of James Callahan, former owner of the popular “Rattler” bar on North Main Street in Pittston.
It wasn’t easy but together they’ve pulled it off.
In May, Border Bar replaced World of Brew. And on June 9, the curtain went up on Camp Rattler, billed as an “outdoor beer garden.” I stopped to check it out last Sunday and was “blown away,” to borrow a term from my youth. The tables are large wooden spools turned on their sides, the “bar” a few wooden planks that look thrown together at the last minute. It’s exactly the feel Callahan was going for. “I like to call it Mad Max Bartertown meets the St. Cecilia’s Church Bazaar,” he says. The description fits.
The name Border Bar was inspired by the bar’s location which is more or less on the border of five municipalities. “I’d have to check it out,” I told Barchi, “but I get the feeling at Border Bar you can drink a beer in Hughestown and then hit the men’s room in Pittston Twp.”
Zoning issues turned into another of those elusive footballs, but Barchi and Callahan are working around it. Because of noise ordinances, the outdoor music must end by 9. “But that’s okay,” Barchi says. “At 9, we bring it inside.”
Actually, for someone my age, 9 is the witching hour. By then I’m ready to call it a night.
Among Barchi’s and Callahan’s experiments is something they call “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
“Sundays are for Bloody Marys,” Callahan says, “and summer is for Bloody Marys outside with great music.”
The great music today will be provided by Mike Miz, who’s as close to a superstar as you’ll find around here. He dazzled everyone at the last Second Friday Art Walk in Downtown Pittston.
He’ll be performing from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, July 1.
Temperatures in the 90s might hurt the crowd, but I for one intend to be there and look forward to enjoying a Blood Mary the way they serve them in Chicago, with a beer on the side. I’ll be sure to wear sunscreen.
If you’ll forgive one last Charlie Brown reference, his comic strip friend Marcie once told him, “Charlie Brown, your optimism should be framed.”
So should John Barchi’s. Framed and hung on the wall at Border Bar.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.