Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Port Richmond Pub

Where heroes hang out ~ Philadelphia Inquirer

Medal of Honor recipients find their way to Mick’s Inn.
By Kia Gregory

Inquirer Staff Writer

In the back room of Mick's Inn are framed, autographed portraits of Medal of Honor recipients. And whenever the heroes are in town, they take to the stools of the dimly lit Port Richmond bar and sometimes buy a round.

Bellied up there last week was Jon Cavaiani. He received his medal after getting his platoon out of enemy fire and enduring two years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

He keeps a bottle of Jack Daniel's, his name taped to the label, in a special spot behind the bar, near the bust of JFK and the leprechaun doll.

"That's tradition," he said of the whiskey, which he takes on the rocks. "You have to have Jack Daniel's in your life. He's been my friend."

Cavaiani, his hair a regal silver, came east from his California home for a national drag-racing tournament. He stopped by Mick's to "have a couple of horns, and renew old friendships."

As longtime bartender Gregg Flaherty tells it, for more than a decade, the esteemed veterans have been coming to what some would describe as a dive bar in this blue-collar, heavily Irish neighborhood, where residents decorate their front porches with American flags and home-team colors.

The lure began when the bar sponsored a hole in a charity golf tournament to support James "Daddy Wags" Wagner. A former Marine and owner of South Philly's Cookies Tavern, Daddy Wags was raising money for the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

As a thank-you, he sent over a portrait of his friend "The Colonel": Harvey C. Barnum Jr., a Marine from Virginia who received the medal for valor in Vietnam.

Being an Army guy, Flaherty wanted an Army guy, so Daddy Wags sent him a picture of Cavaiani, followed by other Medal of Honor recipients from around the country: Ronald Ray, Robert O'Malley, and James Allen Taylor.

They are among the 3,400 service members who have received the nation's highest military honor since 1861.

Above the portraits is a sky-blue flag signed by dozens of them that Cavaiani donated a while back. "Even the president doesn't have one of these," Flaherty bragged.

"Now they all come here," he said of the visiting veterans. "They like it because people treat them like people. Usually they go to affairs where they can't let their hair down and be themselves. Here they can drop an F-word sometimes."

Aside from the national heroes who pop in a few times a year, the regulars are all veterans of something: folded Catholic schools, long-gone businesses, and a neighborhood that now includes hipsters and artists.

They're all from here and know everybody who counts, through family and fading traditions.

One quiet afternoon, a handful stared up at the TV as Flaherty popped open cans of beer. The Phils were tied 1-1 in the first.

The bar at Clearfield and Belgrade Streets, across from a Police Athletic League office and a Celtic shirt shop, has been a neighborhood fixture since 1962, Flaherty said.

It's a place that respects God (a no-parking sign from the 1979 papal visit sits by the TV), sports (Flyers and Phillies championship banners by the door), and its connection to the past.

"People grew up with North Catholic," said Flaherty, wearing a gray '66 NC Falcons polo shirt. "Now that's closing."

After Flaherty graduated, he was drafted and spent 15 months crawling through the thick grass and swamps of Vietnam.
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