Remembering Larry's

Dec 28, 2008

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A friend read Larry's: 'Center of the universe' closing and guessed I might know the place. Not only was I a patron, but I worked at Larry's for two or three years, and lived in an apartment above the bar during my last year in college. Larry's was a huge part of my life. For a time it really did seem like it was the center of the universe.

My friend Stephanie took me to Larry's for the first time, probably in 1985. She thought I'd like the Beatles album they had on the jukebox, Rubber Soul. She was right. For fifty cents, you could play any album side (yes, the juke box played vinyl LPs).

There was a rumor around campus that Larry's was a gay bar; this rumor was somewhat intentionally spread to keep the frat/sorority types out. Larry hated that rumor and once showed us a newspaper ad that he wanted to run that said, almost literally, "we are not a gay bar, anyone is welcome". We all hated the ad and he never ran it. But it was a lefty bastion, and many of the regulars from the neighborhood had deep roots with 60's campus counterculture. It was the one place you could go and find aging hippies, bluecollar workers, punks, and art school new-wavers all sitting at the bar together in the afternoon.

Larry's was both a neighborhood bar and a gathering place for OSU profs and grad students. Undergrads tended to be intellectuals, artists, and musicians rather than weekend warrior kids. Every Monday was "Poetry Night", featuring a reading from a local poet and then open mic...a precursor to the later poetry slams. You never knew what to expect. It could be funny, tedious, moving, or downright violent. Maybe all in the same hour.

Larry's usually had a low-key, friendly vibe. There were three t-shirts you could buy:

  • Larry's Bar, Grill and Seminar
  • Larry's Epistemological and Metaphysical Society of Lower Woodruff Avenue
  • E=mc3

I don't think I ever heard exactly what E=mc3 was all about. One time a patron asked me, "What do you think it would be like if that were the real equation?" I told him, "It would probably be really hot in here." It was probably the only bar where knowing some physics could earn you a bigger tip.

I started working at Larry's as a waitroid, their "non-sexist term" for the job. I'm not sure why they needed that, as I was the first woman to work there in some time. (Lots of people told me I was the first woman to work there at all, but that was completely false...there just hadn't been any for a while. Alcohol and memory loss...) People had a good sense of humor there; for the first time in my life, I felt like I fit in somewhere. That may have been the alcohol, too.

I was thrilled to work my way up to being bartender.

Bartending at Larry' to view on Flickr.

I have so many memories of this place, both good and bad. I made friends I'll never forget, too many of them already dead, and many lost track of (John Fredericks? Andy Neubauer? Tim Costigan? Paula Higgins? Rick Borg?). We had laughs like you wouldn't believe...I remember hangovers where my face hurt from laughing all night. I met my first long-term partner there and would eventually move in with him. I saw two friends get beat up by men they couldn't leave, repeatedly, and learned something about that pattern. Randy sat alone in the back booth and talked to god or others until he started shouting and we'd have to make him leave. "Squeaky" would bum cigarettes from us on the street after closing, no trace of recognition on her face.

Larry's held an annual "prom" that was basically a giant party to celebrate the summer exodus of students. One time we had a wake of sorts; like anything at Larry's, these were always imbued with a delicious sense of entropy. Alcohol was a muse and a curse. People got on the wagon and fell off the wagon so much, one would think that Larry's was the wagon.

It's a little sad that Larry's is closing. People from different eras will remember it differently...heck, people of the same era will remember it differently. But I think we'll all remember it as a special place.

One Larry's regular from my era was John "Jud" McGrody. He was a DJ at the local classical radio station, with a wry sense of humor. We lost him too soon, too...but I don't think that he'd mind if I shared this poem of his I've kept over the years. He read it at one Poetry Night and brought the house down, deservedly so.


"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou..." –Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat

"Sack of Rome, six pack of Rocks, and a case of Do-or-Die." –Larry's patron

Five thousand years ago today
under the endless green primeval midwest canopy
two squat red men stopped here to drink
and got to talking and eating nuts
and stayed till one a.m.
Five thousand years ago today, on a Monday. I got proof.

You won't find this place in the Michelin guide
but it is in the Garcia Marquez Index
of musty, magical, dimly lit places
where people don't age quite as quickly as they could.

It's the bar with the all-talk sarcasm format.
The all-night quipathon for muscular atrophy.
Where it doesn't really matter what you say
because someone at your table just wrote a thesis
on somebody Great who said it Better
but you don't care that all the Great Thoughts
have been thought already by all the Great People
because all the Great People are Dead.
And they can't get us here.

Here, where the outlook's only fashionably jaundiced.
Where pain is only nature's way of telling you you hurt.
Where death is only nature's way of killing you.
Where love is a four letter word
and sex is a five letter word
and nobody spells too well around here
though everyone writes or at least edits something.

Here, where you are only a stranger
if you are stranger than almost everyone here.

Here, where ancient booth carvings tell us
five hundred years ago today
Columbus discovered Ponce de Leon
and they got to talking and eating nuts
and they both drank freely till one a.m.
from the fountain of graceful middle age.
And forgot to leave a tip.

–John Judson McGrody, 1/27/1986

Goodbye, Larry's. Thanks for the memories.

What little of them I have left.