Hanging with Joe Fahey in 2008

Hanging with Joe Fahey in 2008

My how time flies. In some ways it’s hard to believe that I am preparing for my 22nd Johnny’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. In other ways it’s holy crap, here we go again! When I bought Johnny’s in January of 1996 I had many wonderful customers who remembered the wild and crazy celebrations that marked every Saint Patrick’s Day at Johnny’s Bar & Grill. I’m so grateful for the shared memories because many of them are no longer with us. Joe Fahey and Mark Francis were two of the Johnny’s originals that treated Saint Patrick’s Day at the bar like the biggest holiday of the year. They schemed and planned the giddy activities that were to take place at the bar long before the auspicious day arrived. Good friends like our beloved John O’Brien, very obviously of Irish descent, made Saint Patrick’s Day one of the biggest and best days of the year at Johnny’s. I will share an excerpt from my book with more of that story at the end of this article.

Joe Fahey and Mark Francis in front of johnny's back in the day.

Joe Fahey and Mark Francis in front of Johnny’s back in the day.

We’ve lost so many cherished friends from the hayday crowd and we miss them all. I was absolutely thrilled to see the picture that Joe Fahey’s daughter, Allison Griffin, shared. It was from a Pinnacle Newspaper article, but I don’t know what year it was. What really blew me away was the fact that Johnny’s is spelt with a (y). Not only does it say Johnny’s on Joe and Mark’s shirts, but the Pinnacle spelled it that way too. What’s the big deal, you may be asking?

You see when I bought Johnny’s the name of the bar had been changed to It’s Showtime. When I mentioned to a previous owner that I was going to change the name back to Johnny’s she informed that I couldn’t because she still had legal rights to the name. It was listed with the city’s business licenses as Johnnies. I changed the (ies) to (y’s) and the name was back as it should be. Until I saw Allison’s picture I thought that was how Johnny’s was spelled originally. I’m going to have to spend some time at the Hollister Historical Society to get to the bottom of this mystery.

When the long lost neon sign found its way back home we had Hollister’s renowned painter, Earn the Burn, paint over the (ies) with a (y’s). Sadly the historic sign stayed mounted in front of Johnny’s for a very short time. Because Dani Merrill had taken the sign down when she changed the name it was no longer grandfathered in and exempt from the ordinance that prohibits signs from being mounted above overhangs. When ordered by the city to take it down or face consequences, we put it on roof on a couple of hobby horses so that it could still be seen from a distance. We were then threatened with a huge fine if we didn’t take it down. Still oblivious to the extent of Johnny’s historical significance we left the neon on the roof uncovered and it is in a very sorry state today. I will be kicking myself in the tail for that one forever.

Me and John O'Brien going WAY back.

Me and John O’Brien going WAY back.

Sorry for meandering, back to the story at hand. When John O’Brien told me about the wonderful shenanigans that used to take place on Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided to honor history and bring the holiday back to its position of grandeur at Johnny’s. Serving fabulous corned beef and cabbage was a big part of the revival. Fortunately my wonderful cook at the time, Ralph, had a great recipe for cooking the official boiled dinner and we still use that recipe today. For 19 years I sold the scrumptious meal at lunch time and gave away the dinner. As years passed people started calling and asking when the free food would be served so they’d know when they should arrive. With a the exception of a wonderful group of ladies, the old timers that really appreciated our efforts slowly disappeared. So last year I charged for the dinner at the bar. $5.00 a plate is still an absolute steal and dinner’s to-go are available for purchase at the regular price of $10.25.

The corned beef started cooking early this morning.

The corned beef started cooking early this morning.

We cook the meat low and slow with lots of onion, garlic, spices and a little something special that I will keep secret. Throw in a heaping helping of love and you have the best darned corned beef and cabbage in San Benito County. We have party favors, drink specials, Irish music, and a mighty festive atmosphere. Johnny’s is truly the place to be in San Benito County on Saint Patrick’s Day. Even after 21 years I find myself getting as excited as a schoolgirl with her first crush. However, sometimes I get so wrapped up in the busyness that I forget to smile. Feel free to remind me to do so before 11:00 p.m. After that I can’t be held responsible for my reaction. I start my day at 5:30 a.m. to be sure that the lunch and party go off without a hitch. Get there early for a good seat and party favors because it’s first come first serve. I look forward to seeing you all.

                                    One of my favorite St. Pat’s Day pictures.

Here is my memoir Born Again in a Biker Bar excerpt that I promised you.

 

Saint Patrick’s Day, 1996

Saint Patrick’s Day was upon me before I knew it. Many of my older regulars had told me stories about Johnny’s legendary parties, and I planned on bringing the bar back to its days of grandeur. John O’Brien, one of our very best customers, was Irish in every sense of the word. When John was Hollister’s city attorney, he had the clout to get San Benito Street closed in front of the bar so that the patrons could have wheelbarrow and wheelchair races. One year they flew the Irish flag attached to a hot-air balloon above the bar. The balloon climbed so high into the clouds, they got in trouble with the FAA.

Tom Ament loved participating in pranks, so I assumed that the year they’d hung a coffin on the wall with Timothy O’Leary—their imaginary friend—in it, it was his idea. They stuffed O’Leary with newspapers and dressed him to the nines, and they had a full-blown Irish wake for him. I really wish I could have been around in those days.

John O’Brien informed us that he wasn’t going to be in town for St. Pat’s because he would be skiing. “Of all the nerve,” I told him. I couldn’t believe that he was going to miss our first St. Patrick’s Day. Tommy thought we ought to fix his wagon, so he built a makeshift coffin and I blew up a picture of John and put it on a stuffed body and hung him up on the wall. It was sure to add some fun to the party.

Some of the regular customers told me not to get my hopes up too high for a big day, because the holiday fell on a Saturday. “St. Pat’s just isn’t the same when it falls on a weekend,” they said. However, my excitement about our first Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at Johnny’s could not be squelched. I decorated the place with everything Irish. We had shamrocks, leprechauns, and Irish flags everywhere. We had green beer, green wine and green margaritas. I was dressed in green from head to toe, including my socks and underwear. I cooked fifty pounds of corned beef low and slow, with loads of garlic, onions, and spices. Then I added carrots, red potatoes, and cabbage to the pots. Jeana said, “That’s just about the best boiled dinna I ever tasted.” I was dialed and ready for a fantastic day.

Me cooking corned beef.

Me cooking corned beef.

At eleven thirty a.m. the phone rang. I couldn’t believe it! Nikki called and said that she had another earache. By now I knew what that meant. I’d never seen her drink behind the bar in any of the places she worked, but I knew she liked to party. I’d had no idea the extent of her problem when I hired her. I was so angry. Jeana was working already, and now I had to ask her to come in early. There would be only two of us to take care of customers, and I had to get the food out as well. I knew Tommy could help out, as long as I didn’t ask him to wait on tables and he didn’t start drinking too early.

Jeana was great about coming in early, even when I told her I had no idea how late she would need to stay. Ralph had been warming up the corned beef and boiling the vegetables during the day while he cooked lunches. Thank God he offered to stay and help with the complimentary meal.

“You are a gem, Ralph,” I told him. “I know we’re going to be busy, so if you can help Tommy with the food, I can help Jeana keep the cocktails flowing. I’m going to kill Nikki. I can’t believe she did this to me again.”

“You know, I used to have a drinking problem,” Ralph said. “But I always got my job done. I’ve taken a nap or two in the walk-in in my day, but I never missed work because of my drinking.”
“I’m so glad that you quit, Ralph. Two boozers around here are plenty for this girl to handle. I’m afraid I’m going to have to let Nikki go. She always pulls this crap on monumental days. What the hell is up with that?”

“For some alcoholics, that’s just how it is. The more pressure to perform, the more likely we are to get drunk,” Ralph said.

“Thank God for Jeana; that’s all that I can say.”

By four o’clock the place was jammed. We had Irish music on the jukebox, and everyone was eating, drinking, and having a merry time. The free corned beef and cabbage was a huge hit, and everyone thanked us profusely for bringing back the tradition. By eight thirty Jeana and I had green fingers from food coloring; sore feet; and lots of tips in the tip jar. The beer cooler was almost empty, and we were out of Jameson and Bushmills. It was finally slow enough for me to sit down and let her take the bar alone. I’d started work at six a.m. and I was dog tired.

“You close up whenever you need to, Jeana,” I said. “This tired bod needs to go home.” I checked on the kitchen, and Tommy had cleaned it up to the best of his ability, given his lubricated state. It wasn’t the way I wanted to leave it, but I was just too tired to care. I would finish it up in the morning. Once again Nikki let me down, and Jeana and I paid the price. I was going to have to fire her whether I liked it or not. Jeana was ready to take her shifts, and I couldn’t ask for a better replacement.

Jeana and our resident Joe Montana. This is her 21st year too.

Jeana and our resident Joe Montana in 1997. This is her 21st year too.

 

My four J's crew. Jeana, Jeannie, Janette and Joy.

My 1997 four J’s crew. Jeana, Jeannie, Janette and Joy.

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Contact Information

Johnny’s Bar & Grill
526 San Benito Street
Hollister, CA 95023

Phone: (831) 637-3683
Email Us HERE

Johnny’s Hours

Grill:
Mon to Sat   11 am – 9 pm
Sunday  Brunch 9 am
Sunday  Bar-B-Que 1 pm

Bar: 
Mon – Fri  11 am – 2 am
Sat  & Sun  9 am – 2 am

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