by John Howells and Marion Dearman
(Discovery Press, copyright 1996)


Printer's Saloons

Because newspaper printers worked irregular hours, usually the night shift,  in order to get out the morning's newspaper, they had little normal social life. Even those non-tramps, or "homeguards" who owned homes and raised families, found they had little in common with their neighbors. While printers had leisure time during the day, their neighbors were working.  While printers were not working their children were in school. Therefore, printers tended to socialize with one another.

Those who weren't married, or those who were tramp printers found that the local "printer's saloon" was the place to be for companionship. Open at 6 a.m. (to catch the printers coming off the "lobster shift"), the saloon would stay open until the wee hours of the morning to accommodate printers getting off work after the paper went to bed."  Newsmen, sportswriters and editorial staff also worked these weird hours, and traditionally, they too patronized printer's bars. 

A printer's saloon was an important first stop for a tramp printer coming into town.  There he could learn which newspaper or commercial printing plant would be best to find work.  He could find out where overtime is being worked, and which printing offices paid over the prevailing wages. If he needed money, the saloon owner or bartender would usually stake him until payday. Not paying the bartender back promptly was a serious breach of etiquette among tramps. One who welshed on a loan could be ostracized by his brethern

When a traveling printer entered the saloon, it was old home week. Many of the stories we received from tramp printers concerned printer's bars.

Brownies Bar -- Ft. Lauderdale
Don Cleary, 1960s

Brownie’s Bar has been a printers’ hangout in Ft. Lauderdale for as long as it has been there. It’s the oldest bar in town. Paul Newman filmed a movie here once and some scenes took place in Brownie’s. It’s a shot-draft type saloon, where if you pile up peanut shells in the ashtray, the bartender (Frank or Ernie) comes along, picks up the ashtray, and throws the shells at the floor behind you.

On lunch breaks we’d all pile into the chairman’s car and head for Brownies; Frank and Ernie would have the beer poured and sandwiches half made by the time we got there. Ed Wernike was chairman in those days. Of course we were always late getting back to work because the drawbridge would usually be up to allow the “Jungle Queen” cruise ship to pass. If it wasn’t, we told the boss it was and gave him a bag of peanuts. That always pacified him, just like any monkey.

Federal Bar, Albuquerque
Jack Reuter and Frank Graham, 1940s

In mentioning printers’ bars, don’t forget the Federal Bar (now gone) in Albuquerque where many a printer’s wristwatch adorned the bottles on the back bar as security for bar bill. Then in Cleveland, there was: Mickey’s Radio Grill, Billy Goat, Grand Rush, Bob & Junes, Bowl Mich, Trotter’s Ohio Inn, Queen’s Paradise and the King’s Palace, etc., etc. And don’t forget the Texas Ranch.

Cleveland, 1950s

It was in Cleveland when a tramp printer went out to lunch one night, got to enjoying himself too much to go back to work. Assuming that he’d been fired, he returned three nights later to collect pay for the half-day’s work. When he came into the composing room, the foreman jumped him, screaming, “Where the hell have you been? You’re late! Get to work!” Things were so confusing, with new tramps, one-town tramps and all that overtime, that the foreman didn’t know who was working where or on what shift. The guy got paid for the week!

Chicago, 1940s

Another time a tramp named Rigsby was slugged up on the Chicago Tribune. After belting away a few drinks at lunch he forgot where he was working. He entered the Sun-Times composing room and was pounding away on the keyboard for about half an hour before the foreman (Koerner, I believe) told him that he was working on the wrong rag.

Gilmore’s Zoo, Indianapolis
John Edward Hicks, 1890s

“When I was in Indianapolis, Gilmore’s Zoo was in North Mississippi Street, across from the State House. It was a burlesque house with a bar attachment—something on the free and easy order -- one of the better class saloons was the House of Lords on West Washington. 

Then there was Pat Welsh’s bar on the south side of Washington street between Illinois and Meridian; and Bird’s Point at Illinois Street and Indiana Avenue, which were frequented by the typographers. 

There were other places, too, that arrested the attention of those who juggled the silent little messengers of thought, such as the Corn Exchange and the saloons of Henry Smith, Charley Lauer -- to say nothing of Doc Zapf’s Washington Hall where a thirsty printer could get a drink and play a game of cocked hat.

Printers' Club, San Francisco
Don Cleary, 1950s

In San Francisco, the printers had a private club a few blocks from the newspaper where Bob Brice and I used to go to play cards ’til dawn. The fridge was usually stocked with beer and a cigar box for contributions. One day Pappy Hilton, a well-liked makeup man showed up in town. We found out his birthday was coming up soon. So his big-hearted printer buddies got him a birthday cake and took it to the club on the night of his birthday.

Pappy didn’t show up right away, and we found that no one thought to bring any candles. But someone found a box of big wooden matches, so we stuck them upside down in the cake instead of candles. We played more cards and drank Lucky Lager. Towards dawn Pappy came out of the rickety elevator, feeling no pain, giving no explanation as to why he was late for his birthday party. 

The card game broke up and we all sang “happy birthday.” Then someone lit the “candles.” Pappy leaned over to blow out the candles while all gathered around telling him to “make a wish.

But someone had stuck a two-inch salute firecracker into the cake, fuse up, and it was lit along with the matches. When the salute went off, it didn’t leave a bit of cake on the plate; it was all over the walls and ceiling. A few days later Pappy told us: “That was the best damn birthday cake I ever had.”

St. Louis Printers’ Saloons
Lou Bruske, 1950s, 1960s

The bars near the St. Louis Globe were: the Typo Bar (at one time a swinging place); the Chili Bowl and Bar (later the Press Box). These were the hangouts for drinking your lunch. On 12th Street, was the Missouri Mule (now Missouri Grill) where printers from all three papers ate. 

Next door was Pete’s Bar and Grill, a small place, but where most tramps first hitting town went. It was owned by Pete Catanazaro and his wife Gert. They liked tramp printers and granted them credit for food, a few drinks and maybe a few dollars for room rent until payday. Pete would even call in sick for you if you were too sloshed to go to work. He would call the cash-in man for you, and if he okayed a loan, Pete would give you the money and the cash-in man would pay him. Pete and Gert died several years ago, then it became Larry’s 711 Club. A retired Post-Dispatch proofreader ran it for a while, but today (1972) it is called The Front Page; the younger travelers of the 60s and 70s probably know it by this name.

Jakle’s Chapel, Terre Haute
John Edward Hicks, 1890s

“When I arrived in Terre Haute, I went immediately to the saloon of John Jakle at Fourth and Ohio streets, where it was only necessary to lay a printer’s rule on the bar to get a drink. This jovial old German, known to the printers as ‘Jake,’ would stake a traveler to a meal ticket and a room until work could be found. He told me he never lost a cent on a tramp printer, for as soon as they got work, they would come to him on their first pay day and repay the money advanced and in many cases pay the bill of some pal who had failed to get work. His place was known to the touring fraternity throughout the country as “Jakle Chapel.”


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Pages by John Howells and Marion Dearman, authors of "Tramp Printers"

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