Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

John Tebeau, author/artist/professional host behind the bar at Brooklyn's Fort Defiance. (Image: Alex Halberstadt.)
John Tebeau, author/artist/professional host, behind the bar at Brooklyn's Fort Defiance. (Image: Alex Halberstadt.)
Topics: Arts & Culture

What’s the buzz

By Deborah Holdship
.

A cocktail shaker of talents

Tebeau Book: Bars, Taverns, and Dives New Yorkers Love

Rizzoli, 2018

He’s been described in one customer review at amazon.com as a “standout barkeep, natural drinking companion, documentarian, craftsman, artist, and writer.”

But author/illustrator/bartender John Tebeau, BS ’86, sticks with the more humble “professional host,” who recently published his first book, Bars, Taverns, and Dives New Yorkers Love: Where to Go, What to Drink (Rizzoli International Publications, 2018).

Talk about a labor of love. Tebeau’s book showcases more than 70  venues spanning New York’s five boroughs. Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance is the spot where he can be found “hosting” three afternoons a week, and he knows of what he speaks. The book delivers expert commentary that any good pub crawler needs: When to go, where to sit, what to drink, house recipes, and how to get there. Each write-up in the book is accompanied by an “illustrated impression” by the author.

“I come from a cartooning background and I think buildings are fun to draw in a cartoony style,” Tebeau says. “A building lends itself to caricature. You can exaggerate its angles and definitely pull forth some of its personality and soul by drawing it.”

Bars, Taverns, and Dives… is an outgrowth of a self-motivated art project that began in 2013 and continues to evolve. Part guidebook, part love letter, and part art book (“Not fine art,” Tebeau is quick to clarify) the content comprises practical information, history, trivia, recipes, and more.

“I did it because I love these places,” Tebeau says. “Turns out a lot of other people do too.”

Tebeau sells limited-edition originals and digital prints from the book via his website, including images of his favorite joints in Ann Arbor. Many of those Ann Arbor spots remain close to his heart. They set the bar very high when he went searching for NYC substitutes that met his expectations.

The beer garden: Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden & Dominick’s

Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (in Astoria, Queens) by John Tebeau

Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (in Astoria, Queens) by John Tebeau.

“I grew up in Muskegon (Mich.), so I love trees,” Tebeau says. “My parents would take us to the state park all the time for picnics and parties. They’d bring gin-and-tonics and beer, get the grill going. The park was like a giant beer garden for my parents and their friends. The best beer gardens have a cozy feeling of good cheer. All are welcome — young and old. The food is hearty, the beer is cold. It’s leafy and shady and loaded with enormous old trees. And any place you can have a beverage or food outside — I love it. That’s what I love about beer gardens, and especially Dominick’s.”

As a New Yorker, Tebeau finds the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (in Astoria, Queens) fits the bill.

The conversation bar: The Old Town Bar & Arbor Brewing Company

The Old Town Bar (Manhattan) by John Tebeau.

The Old Town Bar (Manhattan) by John Tebeau.

“In short, this is a place where the music or the television does not set the tone. It’s all about talk. And I always felt that way at Arbor Brewing Company,” says Tebeau.  “It’s a wonderful, easy, central place to meet up and have a drink, some eats, and a very good time, whether you’re hanging out with a big group or just a couple of friends.”

The Old Town, near Union Square in Manhattan, is one of Tebeau’s favorite “conversation bars” in NYC. The tavern owner is a fifth-generation Brooklynite who actually describes it that way. And while the Old Town does have a TV, it’s hardly ever on. “Even if it is, you rarely hear it because what you hear is voices,” Tebeau says. “The noise you hear is defined by many people in conversation.

“A lot of times, sitting in a place I love, I find it’s not so much about drinking, though I love a couple of drinks,” he continues. “I just enjoy being in a place known for cheer and good feeling.”

Tebeau also enjoys contributing to that cheer and good feeling. He created logos, six-pack cases, and tap handles in Arbor Brewing Company’s early days. The founders even sport tattoos he designed.

The burger joint: J.G. Melon & The Del Rio

J.G. Melon (Manhattan, Upper East Side) by John Tebeau

J.G. Melon (Manhattan, Upper East Side) by John Tebeau

As a Michigan student, Tebeau was a devotee of the Del Rio. Like J.G. Melon in Manhattan, the Del Rio (which sadly disappeared in 2003) was famous for its burgers. And what makes an awesome bar burger?

“Starch, fat, and salt,” Tebeau says. “If you’re drinking, you have to have all three.”

Plus, it needs to be prepared properly, he says. At J.G. Melon, Tebeau learned the ideal fat content in a good bar burger is about 18 percent, “because a burger isn’t good if it doesn’t have that much fat.” It also helps if the cook sears the meat on a thick, flame-heated, stainless-steel griddle as they do at J.G. Melon. And finally, says Tebeau, “it has to be served on a crappy bun. It’s got to be mushy, like a potato roll or a heated sesame-seed bun. Mushy, white, and crappy.”

When Tebeau returned to Ann Arbor as an alum (after stints in Chicago and San Francisco), he was delighted to find the Del Rio was still such a “wonderful, weird place to go; always rowdy and crowded.” He often stopped for pizza and a pitcher after racquetball with his friend, radio engineer/musician Bob Skon. And while Manhattan’s J.G. Melon attracts a rich and powerful clientele, it’s still a late-night burger joint at its core, Tebeau notes. “These kinds of places exist in their own time zone.”

The sports bar: Stan’s & Fraser’s Pub

Stan's (Near Yankee Stadium, The Bronx) by John Tebeau

Stan’s (Near Yankee Stadium, The Bronx) by John Tebeau

“I’m not much of a sports-bar guy, but if I want to watch a game, I want to be somewhere that people appreciate it,” Tebeau says. “I think Fraser’s Pub [in Ann Arbor] is kind of perfect in that way.”

Even as a college student, Tebeau favored the places “where everybody went: grown-ups and townies and students and professors, old people and young people.”

Stan’s near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx is similar, he says. “The place gets just packed before every Yankees home game. It’s one of the loudest, rowdiest sports bars I’ve ever seen. Everyone goes here before, during, and after Yankee games. And if you have no ticket, you stay right there and listen to the crowd roaring down the street.”

The happy hour place: Brooklyn Inn & Ashley’s

Certain places simply shine at happy hour, says Tebeau. He describes these happy-hour havens — Ashley’s in Ann Arbor, for example — as “the quintessential third place.”

Brooklyn Inn (BOERUM HILL, BROOKLYN) BY JOHN TEBEAU

Brooklyn Inn (Boerum Hill, Brooklyn) by John Tebeau

“There’s a certain feeling of people getting off work and having a couple of beers at 5:30 that is unlike the weekend feeling of watching a ballgame, or being out late on a Friday night when you just want to party. It’s that between-work-and-home feeling. It’s that quintessential third place.”

Happy hours often take on a ritualistic vibe, and the bar should be able to nurture that ritual, Tebeau says. He found that convivial sanctuary at Ashley’s when he was a student, and again as a returning, professional alum. Tebeau and his Michigan Radio colleagues consistently sat at a front table by the window so they could watch people on State Street between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The chapel-like Brooklyn Inn serves up that same energy, he says. “It’s a beautiful, bare-bones place. No food. Just a jukebox. The staff is consistently welcoming, the price is right. It’s got an old mahogany bar from the 1880s, 20-foot ceilings, stained glass, and huge mirrors. The boss says the room itself is ‘sacrosanct.’”

Easy elegance and cozy hospitality: Neary’s & The Earle

Neary's (Midtown East, Manhattan) by John Tebeau

Neary’s (Midtown East, Manhattan) by John Tebeau

A historical element can lend tremendous personality to a bar, Tebeau says. Manhattan’s Neary’s opened in 1967 and the artist describes it as “so warm and wonderful. It just feels cozy and well-tended. Kind of like the way I used to feel at the Earle.”

The Earle opened in Ann Arbor in 1977 and, much like Neary’s, it exudes understated elegance and cozy hospitality.

Neary’s founder, Jimmy Neary, can usually be seen chatting up the customers, who feel more like old friends than patrons. One of Tebeau’s fondest memories is meeting 96-year-old Mad magazine artist Al Jaffee there, and being escorted by Jimmy Neary to Jaffee’s regular booth. “That’s good hostmanship,” Tebeau says.

“It’s snug and lively and is a Manhattan stalwart that’s been there 50 years,” he says. “The Earle has been around almost as long. It’s always fun to go to a place that is one or two steps above all the other spots downtown.”

Cheers to that!

 

Deborah Holdship

Deborah Holdship

DEBORAH HOLDSHIP is the editor of Michigan Today. She joined the University in 2007 as editorial manager in the marketing communications department at the Ross School of Business, where she was editor of Dividend magazine for five years. Prior to working at Michigan, Deborah was associate director of publications at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. From 1988-2001, Deborah worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where she was a reporter and editor at Billboard magazine and an associate editor and video producer at LAUNCH media. Follow her on Twitter: @michigantoday.

COMMENTS

  • John McDaniel - MHA 1966

    John …
    Great to see … many thanks for your contribution to our overall enjoyment well being !
    As a (former) bartender “in the day”at the ole Pretzel Bell, I know what a warm and friendly “watering hole” means to folks,
    I can’t help but think you should also do one on the UofM student/faculty favorites in Ann Arbor.
    I’ll certainly buy the book as a freference for my future trips to NYC.
    Best, Mac

    Reply

    • John Tebeau - 1986

      Hi Mac,

      Thanks for the note and your enthusiasm! I would have loved to have seen the old Pretzel Bell back in the day. My mom and dad haunted that joint when they were at UM, but I missed it. Fortunately, A2 boasts a ton of great spots. So much to love on a visit back there.

      Go blue!

      John

      Reply

  • Richard Macias - A&D ‘59 Rackham ‘60

    John,
    In the 80s I was part owner of the Del Rio building (not the bar) and my office was on the second floor corner. What a treat it was to wander downstairs for lunch or at the end of the day, join the excitement of the Del Rio crowd. Often the Ron Brooks trio would add to the festivities.

    Reply

    • John Tebeau - 1986

      Ah, those were the days. Great atmo and the best pizza in town, hands down. I MISS THE DEL.

      Reply

  • Sandra Ahrens Albrecht Montgomery - BA '73 MUP '77

    I lived in Ann Arbor for many years and the Del Rio bar was my favorite place for a great burger and beer. I remember the amazing jazz groups that used to play up front. The crowd was always friendly and rowdy! Loved it. A great memory! Wish I could have a burger from there now!

    Reply

    • John Tebeau - 1986

      I have a cartoon you would like to see, one I did of the Del back in 1997. Email me if you’re interested!

      Reply

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