Jan 16, 2011

Benny and Theresa's

BL's Restaurant is now called BL's Tavern, but is
still in business at the same location as 50 years ago!
In New York state in the 1950's, the legal drinking age was 18.  That meant that I could legally drink the last few months of my senior year in high school.  The following summer, my friend Hal Johnson and I decided to try to find the sleaziest bar in our home town of Schenectady, New York.  I don't recall that we had any specific guidelines; I think we thought we'd know it when we saw it.

We decided that there were some prime areas in which to look -- upper Albany Street, certain parts of Mont Pleasant, parts of Broadway, and Front Street were some that I remember.  Each night, we'd go to a couple of bars to have a couple ten cent drafts, known as "dimies."  After a couple of weeks of this research, we were covering the bars on Front Street, a street that paralleled the Mohawk River.  That night, we discovered "BL's Restaurant" at the corner of Front Street and John Street.

BL's never qualified as a sleazy bar, but the wonderful people that frequented the place became some of our best friends.  Hal and I would spend many nights at this tavern throughout our college years.

BL's took its name from Benny Lenciewicz, the proprietor.  Benny, along with his wife Theresa, maintained a clean, friendly establishment.  Profanity or antisocial behavior were simply not allowed.  Theresa kept a baseball bat behind the bar and made it clear that in spite of her diminutive size, she would not be afraid to use it.  Benny and Theresa lived on the second floor of the building that housed the bar.  Some biographical notes about the inhabitants of BLs might be of interest:

was almost certainly an alcoholic, but was only a binge drinker.  He would disappear for a few weeks at a time, during which Theresa would run the place by herself.  Benny loved to gamble on the horses and maintained file cabinets full of data on jockeys, horses, trainers, stables, and the races themselves.  He claimed to make money on the races and I believe he did.  When he would go on one of his excursions, he would often return with substantial money that he claimed he made at Saratoga, Aqueduct, or some other racetrack.

 was the former Theresa Barone.  She was an absolutely wonderful lady, and totally devoted to Benny.  She was a very hard worker and never touched a drop of alcohol to my knowledge.  Her brother Tony had been a boxer in his earlier years and he occasionally stopped by the bar.

 (last name unknown) was a sweeper at the General Electric Company.  He was marginally retarded, but was a delightful individual.  He could be found at BL's every evening.

 (last name unknown) was a produce wholesale merchant.  He was in his sixties and lived with and cared for his mother, who was in her nineties.  I don't believe Pops had ever been married.  Every evening, he would stop at BL's on his way home from work, usually around 9:00 PM.  He always had one drink -- a cup of black coffee laced with peppermint schnapps.  Benny and Theresa had a ritual of harassment that they perpetrated on Pops.  They would start reading obituary notices of people that were Pops' age.  Theresa might start, "Say, Benny, did you see that Mary Battaglione passed away?  It's here in the Gazette.  What a tragedy.  She was only 63 years old.  Just dropped dead with no warning."  At this point, Pops would start to protest.

 was a gentleman of color who usually dropped by at least three or four times a week.  He was a laborer at the GE plant but was quite interested in the stock market.  He frequently gave out unsolicited advice: "You boys need to invest in alumington.  It's the metal of the future!"

One evening, Hal and I took our mothers on a date to BL's.  Benny and Theresa even put a tablecloth on one of the booths in the back room.  Benny cooked steaks and baked potatoes and even made a salad.  It was quite the occasion!

I have only the fondest memories of this place that we found purely by accident.  I think it taught me that good, wholesome, kind and gentle people may be found in the most unexpected places.

1 comment:

Mikey said...

For me it was the Last Chance't Saloon, in Rochester, which my First True Love and I frequented until the end of our loveship. It was a friendly bar, with a friendly bunch of regulars who enjoyed playing the piano and a bunch of instruments hanging around. We all loved to sing the Old Songs, and most of us knew most of the words. I wish my memory were as good as Bob's, because a lot of wonderful (I think) memories came out of that grand old bar.