Leave Your Inside Voices Behind at Perry’s Place
If you are going to talk with Perry Hagan in his own bar, you are going to talk to the whole bar. There are no inside voices, no topics that are out of line. Perry’s Place, across from POPS Skatepark on the border of Olde Richmond and East Kensington, is a neighborhood bar, through and through. It does not sell soup anymore, despite what the sign outside reads, so don’t ask for any unless you want to hear a story about it.
Squinting behind the bar through his Coke-bottle glasses and slicked, short white hair is Hagan, who’s there tending bar most nights. He’ll take breaks to scratch his lottery tickets, thumb through the paper or rub chalk on the end of his pole stick here and there, but as soon as the last sip is taken or the ashtray starts to fill, he hops out of his bar stool without any hesitation.
Hagan has lived in this neighborhood for more than 76 years. Born at Memphis and Lehigh, across from the Rectory, as Hagan says, he grew up shining shoes at the local bars and pool halls. Unable to get into the Navy as a teenager due to health problems, he worked at a textile factory in Kensington as a stockboy and ready set of hands.
One story he loves to tell is about the grapes in Mannheim that were the size of baseballs. “Don’t throw them away. The German’s will shoot you!” Hagan jokes (kind of).
Another story was a bit more harrowing. “A big ice box fell on me when I was unloading. Two times as big as this,” Hagan said as he places his hands on either side of the bar, as far as his arms would reach. “Hit me like this, cracked this, couple broken bones here and ribs. Concussion here, concussion in the back. I woke up and there was a chaplain. I guess I went to a church after the hospital.”
Hagan continues: “He said to me, ‘Hey! Welcome back to Private Hagan!’ They all started cracking up and they were having fun. He made a big joke of it. He said, ‘Tell them what you said to me when I went to give you the blessing.’ I didn’t know, and he said, ‘Get the fuck away from me’. I never talked that way to a priest, never.”
After returning to the States in August 1968 by way of Fort Dix, he worked building forklifts at Yaletown. Fast forward to the early 70s. Perry Hagan, Jerry Booth, John Everly and Frannie Dougherty — later to be known as the Magna Four — began hanging around at the bar that would later become Perry’s Place. Soon enough, they scraped together all of their money, and with a little luck, they bought the bar around 1972. They renamed it Perry’s Place for no particular reason, Hagan claims. However, the Magna Four’s partnership was short-lived — Hagan bought them all out, one by one, by 1977.
One of Hagan’s warmest memories of the bar is from New Year’s 1978. It was a celebration of ownership and the place was filled wall to wall with familiar faces. The pool table and shuffleboard were stacked. “Everybody came to see me, to congratulate me,” Hagan said. “All of my friends.”
“You’re not going to get the WHOLE story,” a patron named Jerry said matter-of-factly from across the bar.
“But make sure you mention Pole with the Soul, the DJ. He played here a lot, made the place,” Hagan said.
Hagan remembers how the street looked when he was young thanks to a framed picture he keeps atop the bar’s sliding-door beer cooler from the 1900s. Hagan worked at the bar with his five sisters and brother, and Mrs. Booth, Jerry’s mom, would bring in “some of the best bean soup you would ever have,” Hagan recalled. “She was like my mom. If you said something bad, she would smack you.”
Once Hagan’s children got older, they started picking up shifts as well. Hagan’s wife, Josie, also maintains regular bar shifts to this day.
“That’s why I come over here to work. I get tired of watching TV or reading the Daily News, the funnies… that’s it, “ he said. “I like seeing all these people all the time… and even the new people! If you come in here night after night, I’ll remember you!”
Hagan has seen the neighborhood change, but he thinks it’s for the best. One thing that hasn’t changed much at the bar are the patrons’ faces and their claimed stools at the bar with orange marble-looking tops.
“Jerry and I have been coming here for the past 30 years,” a regular leaned over in his stool to say, one leg in mid air. “[Hagan’s the reason] why.”
The real lasting appeal is Hagan himself. He’s attentive but crass, and not shy to hand out some blows to the ego here and, more often, there. He has heart, even taking his 90s dirty joke book he’s jokingly eager to show into account. When someone new comes into the bar, they still have to pass the last standing 19125 bar test. But, when you do, you’ll be getting one last round and burning the filter of a cig talking to people who might as well be family. It’s Perry’s way. •