30 Years at Les and Doreen’s: One of the Truest “Neighborhood Bars” Celebrates Its Pearl Anniversary
In my honest opinion, the moment Fishtown jumped the shark in terms of gentrification occurred when the Fishtown Tavern, formerly a beer and shot bar with a trough under the counter, reopened as a chic gastropub. There’s nothing wrong with the new Fishtown Tavern. I like them quite a bit.
However, the irony is not lost on the fact that the once gritty Irish dive bar, which served up bottled beer and a dose of that old-school Fishtown attitude, is now making tacos and pouring Moscow mules. The owners kept the name, but for anyone who remembers Fishtown before the neighborhood’s demographic shift, they’ll remember the drinking culture was much different.
We’ve lost bars like the old Fishtown Tavern, but at least one gem has remained a solid neighborhood watering hole for the past 30 years. Les and Doreen’s Happy Tap (LND’s) at 1301 East Susquehanna Ave. and owner Doreen Thompson have watched the neighborhood change around them. In spite of several other neighborhood bars being bought out and revamped, Thompson is keeping alive one of the oldest institutions affiliated with Irish working-class neighborhoods — the Irish pub.
Thompson has spent most of her life working and socializing at LND’s or “Kelly’s Happy Tap” as it was known for 20 years prior to Thompson buying it. Thompson worked in the kitchen with her mom during high school before becoming a bartender there. She met many lifelong friends, as well as her husband Les, at the bar. Thompson remembers the kitchen being super busy on the weekends.
“It was crazy back then. It was all neighborhood people. Working-class people, truck drivers, gas men,” Thompson said. “We were real busy in the kitchen. There was three of us on Fridays that worked. One did the fryer, one did the grill and one did the bain-marie, which was the hoagies and prep work.”
Much of the staff at LND’s has also been working at the bar for decades and Thompson sees her older staff as an advantage to her and her customers. “They’re better with the customers. There’s no BS, no problems,” Thompson said.
According to Thompson, when the owners of Kelly’s Happy Tap decided it was time to sell the bar, her husband Les made them an offer. It just happened that the Thompsons were looking to purchase a business of their own. According to Thompson, both parties met at Perri’s Pizza to discuss the details and on March 4, 1986, Les and Doreen became owners of The Happy Tap.
Thompson says that the former owners had strong ties to the community and that is something she has tried to maintain herself, even though the neighborhood is changing. “It’s been a bar for well over a hundred years, but the last 50 years, everybody knew Kelly, [he] was involved in the community, which I try to be too.”
Thompson has put together many trips for her customers and has many fond memories from adventures in South Beach and Key West. According to Thompson, her most memorable trip was to Hawaii. “There was, like, 75 people that went. Couples, single women, single men, everybody,” Thompson said.
Many remember LND’s as one of the neighborhood’s smoking bars. But when Pennsylvania banned smoking in bars, Thompson thumbed her nose at the city on this issue. “I love this city, but I hate dealing with them in any manner at all,” Thompson said. “Of course, me being me, I let everybody smoke anyway, so I got fined repeatedly.” Thompson even put out a bucket to collect money for the ongoing fines, which went up each time she was cited.
Finally, the State Police paid her a visit. “I was all the way up to, like, $300, but then the state came in,” Thompson said. “It’s over and done with and I think everybody’s used to it now.”
Looking back on the past 30 years as a business owner, Thompson speaks fondly of her late husband. “Les was a wonderful person. Everybody loved him. He helped any way he could,” Thompson said. “He loved to party, he loved to be with the people.”
According to Thompson, as many of her long-time customers grow older, a new crowd of people has begun to take their place. Thompson thinks this is a good thing.”A lot of our people passed away, or are just older and don’t come out as much. Now the new people are coming in here…[they’re] very great.”
Thompson hopes to keep The Happy Tap the way it is for another 30 years. I’m hoping that I can stay for as long as I can,” Thompson said. “I think a lot of people like to gather here and have a good time.”