"Any bum who can't get drunk before midnight ain't patriotic," was a quote I read one day in a New York gossip column.
It was during the World War II when I was a sailor and it was the first time I ever heard about Toots Shor, who died Sunday.
His patriotic quote was a answer to the government putting a curfew on nightclubs and restaurants.
Several years later, while working in New York, I was promoted from copy boy to artist, and I went to his saloon for the first time in my life to celebrate my $15 raise.
For years since I first heard of Toots I had been reading about the fast funny lines he threws out an I was curious to catch his act.
He was big, about 6-feet-2, and weighed over 200 pounds, bigger than a lot of his customers he greeted with a bear hug a soft tap on the chin. But the size of the customers made no difference - he gave the same greeting to a pro lineman or a heavyweight boxer.
He patrolled his saloon at 33 W. 52d St. in a brash insulting way, using the words, "bum, crumb, and crumbum" to the athletes, news people, writers, advertising men, business men, actors, entertainers, and all kinds of people who could afford to eat and drink there.
Toots was a praticing Jew, married to an Irish-Catholic and the father of three girls and a boy.
For all his toughness he could cry at the drop of a friend. Comedian Rags Ragland once said while talking about Toots being able to weep over friends, "You can make Toots cry with card tricks."
He kept Southern cooking off his
He once set to write a biography of Toots and after finishing it called it "Toots," Considine said the title of the book took a lot of thought, but the book even more time: "I spent 30 years on "Toots" and Gibbon only spent 20 years on 'Decline and Falls.'"
The late Phil Casey, who wrote for the Washington Post Style section, went up to New York to do a profile on Toots Shor and led off with. "Bernard (Toots) Shor, a big man who must be the most celebrated barkeep in history, has just come down with his second case of biography, and he suffers it happily, with lots of brandy and soda."
On occasion I would drop into Toots Shor's. He said hello to everyone warmly but really never knew the names of most of his customers who didn't win a big fight, bat 300 star in a hit show or have a major by-line.
A story going around New York at that time was the $1,000 bet Toots made with Jackie Gleason on who could win the race around the block. They went out front to the sidewalk and stood back to back and started. A while later when Toots came huffing and puffing into the saloon Gleason was sitting at a table with a drink in hand. Toots wents over and paid him off and it wasn't until a while later that he realized that Gleason hadn't passed him along the way.
Gleason had taken a taxi as soon as he got out of Toot's sight.
A few years passed and I was working in Washington. Toots used to get down once in while, once for a Touchdown club roasting where Duke Ziebert remarked, "Toots is the only guy who makes me feel like an Ivy Leaguer."
When I last saw Toots it was during the Democratic Convention last July. He was sitting at a table in his new place across from the Garden with three men who were laughing while he talked.
A man came in wearing a convention straw hat and Toots excused himself and went over to the bar and told the conventioneer. "No one wears a hat in Toots Shor's. Jim Farley never wear one you don't."
Two women at the bar looked and one said, "Who is that old guy?" Toots Shor, and I don't allow hookers at the bar either."
I was sitting at a round table with a group of friends from Washington and he finally table-limped over to sit with us.
He began to talk about the old underworld days and about Owney Madden and Johnny Broderick who was a tough, old N.Y. detective.
The tales were old but interesting as he put himself into every story.
During one part of a story he stopped and asked me, "Do you know what it is like to be tough? It's like this." He reached out and tapped me on the chin with a half-clenched fist, then turned to the table and went on with his story. "In the old days if a guy did that to you, you had to hit him back, or he would own you."
Satisfied with himself, he slipped his soft drink, put it down and went back to resting his chin on his hands that were leaning on the handle of a cane looking a little tired.
A few weeks ago I had occasion to be in New York and when I got off the Metroliner under the Garden. I went up to his restaurant.
Not seeing Toots around I asked the bartender, "Where's Toots?"
"He had an accident: he's in the hospital," he told me. The bartender did not know the hospital and referred me to the headwaiter. The headwaiter said that Toots was in the N.Y.U. Medical Center and added, "He hurt his knee."
The place was almost brand new and looked like just any restaurant without Toots sitting around telling long tales to customers, so I paid my bill and left.