Eat at Joe’s

The next best thing

The next best thing

Joe’s Bar & Grill is long gone. Joe’s was the place my brothers and I frequented for a number of years. In fact, both of the twins tended bar at Joe’s from time to time.

Alexion’s is a neighborhood bar introduced to the Ingram softball team by the team that represented the St. Paul Roman Catholic Seminary. They were our biggest rivals for a number of years, but we often shared a few pitchers of beer at Alexion’s following our hard-fought games. I took that picture in 2008. I’m guessing the establishment is still doing business.

Joe’s bar was run by Joe and Emma Haberstroh – a German couple who eventually sold the place, retired, and moved back to Germany. The people who bought the bar cleaned and painted the place – removing all the atmospheric dirt – and it was never the same.

Joe’s is on my mind today because our local Thrivent for Lutherans chapter is planning a good old-fashioned summer picnic to be held at Christ the King Lutheran Church in August.

Joe’s used to host three picnics every summer. Joe’s was the Elliot section of Pittsburgh’s version of Cheers. It was the place where everyone knew your name. The regular customers were a good group of people who liked to eat, drink, and sing.

Joe had an extremely large fishbowl brandy snifter that he kept on a shelf behind the bar. It could probably hold more than a gallon of liquid. But Joe used it to hold money… the contributions made by the regular customers.

I doubt if Joe and Emma (Emma did all the cooking and acted as the waitress) ever received a tip. But customers left money on the bar and tables to be added to the brandy snifter. That money accumulated all year long and was used to finance the picnics.

The picnic planning committee would reserve a place with a shelter and a ball field. (The best place also had a dance hall!) On the morning of the picnic, the regular customers would show up at the bar bright and early and start loading their cars. There were cases of beer and soda, large pots and pans, and many coolers filled with food and ice.

When we arrived at the picnic grounds, Emma would set up her portable kitchen and start cooking hot dogs and sauerkraut, corn on the cob, Pittsburgh Bar-b-que, and other tasty treats to go along with the potato salad and coleslaw she’d already prepared. The food table would also be piled high with cold cuts, cheeses, and various types of bread and rolls.

In the meantime, laundry tubs were filled with beer and soda and lots of ice.

Soon, the horseshoe games were set up along with the volley ball and badminton nets. Softball games were started and people who weren’t interested in any of those activities were tossing Frisbees or footballs. If a swimming hole was close by, many of the teenagers would head in that direction.

Yes, these were family picnics. Everyone was invited to bring their entire families.

At some point, the organized contests began. The three legged race, the sack race, and the egg toss were among the favorites. One year one of my brothers rented a very heavy stuffed bull. Contestants grabbed the ‘bull’ by its rope tail and threw it. The technique used was similar to the Olympic Hammer throw.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with the hammer throw…

Now, imagine someone using a similar technique to throw a stuffed bull.

Interestingly enough, the people who threw the most bull at the bar were not among the top finishers of this event.

Once the sun set, a bonfire was lit. We’d all gather around the fire and someone would start the singing. We sang all the old time favorites – Shine on Harvest Moon, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, and many others.

While the older folks were singing and enjoying the fire, the younger kids were busy catching lightning bugs and teenagers were spending time in the dance hall or simply walking in the moonlight.

All too soon, it was time to pack up and head home. Everyone had had a wonderful time. If it was June, we’d start looking forward to the July picnic. If it was August, we’d start looking forward to next summer… and encouraging everyone to be generous with their donations to that brandy snifter.


4 Responses to Eat at Joe’s

  1. Joan Haberstroh Rien says:

    Joe and Emma were my parents and it gave me goosebumps to read this story, not to mention tears in my eyes. My parent retired to San Lorenzo CA not Germany and are both gone. I am so glad to see their memory is still alive! Thanks for the memories! Joan

    • jimsjourney says:

      You’ve aroused my curiosity. I remember their son, Joe – he and I graduated from Langley the same year, and I remember Mary Jane (?) who taught me how to dance the polka. However, I don’t recall you. I do recall a younger daughter. Is that you?

  2. Joan Haberstroh Rien says:

    Yes thats me, I live in San Lorenzo Ca in the same house my parents bought when they retired here, I am married with 2 great children. My sister Mary Ann lives in Antioch CA and married Jim Buchanan from our little town also. She is retired and has raised 5 wonderful children. Joe lives in Largo Florida where he retired after raising 4 children. Thanks again for the memories! I’m also curious were your brothers Lew and Bill? I have very good memories of them. Joanie

  3. Jim Leeds says:

    My apologies to Mary Ann for getting her name wrong. Bill and Lew, the twins, were my older brothers. We lost Bill about five years ago to cancer. Lew died this past summer from a heart attack.

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