The Korea Herald


[Bogdan Kipling] Legendary bartender poured on as his best customers dwindled

By 최남현

Published : June 5, 2011 - 19:00

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WASHINGTON ― As head bartender of the National Press Club, “Big Jack” Kujawski had a prime vantage point to witness the sad demise of print journalism over the past 25 years. To say he didn’t like what he saw is an understatement of star magnitude.

When Kujawski arrived at the NPC in the mid-1980s, its 14th floor bar overlooking the historic Willard Hotel was crowded with hard-drinking and heavy-smoking journalists from across the United States and, indeed, the globe itself.

Among them: legendary New York Timesman R.W. “Johhny” Apple, the London Daily Express’ intrepid Ross Mark and the witty Canadian writer Allan Fotheringham, whose column graced the back page of MacLean’s magazine for 27 years.

Not to mention virtually every wire service reporter and dozens of journalists assigned to the nation’s capital from leading regional papers like the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Denver Post, Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Houston Post and Philadelphia Bulletin.

Some of those papers have long passed the -30- mark ― done in by changing demographics and the ubiquitous Internet. And far too many of their talented reporters have passed on as well.

It’s fair to say that virtually thousands of distinguished journalists ― most of them underpaid in regard to their abilities ― quenched their thirsts with a beer, martini, sour mash bourbon or Scotch and water poured by Big Jack.

As they drank they could listen to Jack bemoaning that his beloved hometown Pottsville Maroons won the 1925 National Football League championship, but were forced to forfeit the title after they were ruled ineligible for playing an exhibition game against a touring Notre Dame All-Star team that included the Four Horseman and other stars from Knute Rockne’s 1924 college champs.

Pottsville, a coal mining town in south-central Pennsylvania, is the home of Yuengling, America’s oldest continuously functioning brewery, and Jack woke up in the morning breathing the same muse of malts and hops that inspired author John O’Hara to write “Butterfield 8” and “Appointment in Samarra.”

Beyond the ill-fated Maroons, Jack’s lengthy list of favorite gripes included flavored martinis, soft journalists and the legions of Washington politicians who deserted the nation’s heroic and needy veterans.

Jack was one of the latter, having served honorably in Vietnam and come away with symptoms that some doctors at Washington’s Veterans’ Hospital traced back to the widespread use of Agent Orange to defoliate Viet Cong hiding places.

A well-read man, Jack could toss out adept literary references and quotes at the drop of bar rag ― often citing such greats as Plutarch, Napoleon, Ambrose Bierce and Dorothy Parker in a single hour.

Among his favorites was A.E. Housman’s line from “A Shropshire Lad”: “And malt does more than Milton can; To justify God’s will to man.”

Jack Kujawski, who died at 72 last month, was more than just a legend to a generation of journalists. When the late author Barbara Holland was asked to autograph her book “The Joy of Drinking” to Jack, she took a slug of Scotch, thought for a moment and quickly wrote: “To Jack, pour on!”

Apt sentiments, indeed, for any ink-stained wretch who has ever wrapped up a hard day’s night at the local bar.

By Bogdan Kipling

Bogdan Kipling is a Canadian columnist in Washington. ― Ed.

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)