“Welcome to the Emerald Pony my friend, what can I getcha?” the old barkeep asked as I sat down along the brass rail.
“I’ll have a pint and a shot please.” I took off my jacket and looked around. The place was empty except for a small gaggle of old timers sipping quietly in a booth near the door. Fabric shaded lights cast a ruddy glow over the dark wood paneling, giving the place an old world feel.
The bartender placed a foaming glass of Guinness down in front of me next to a generous shot of Jameson. “What brings you to Boston?” He said as he wiped down the beer tap.
“I look that much like a tourist?” I said.
He shrugged and turned to place some pint glasses on a shelf. I looked over his shoulder and saw a picture frame hanging next to the mirror. Inside was a perfectly preserved handlebar mustache.
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
“Ah, that my friend is quite a story.” He said without turning around. “Buy another round and I’ll indulge your curiosity.”
“Alright, I’ll bite. Set me up with a couple more.”
The barkeep served up another round and pulled up a tall stool on his side of the bar.
“That my friend is the actual handlebar mustache of Samuel F. Sons, the best bare knuckle boxer in all of Boston back in the late eighteen hundreds.”
I knocked back the whiskey and wiped my lips with my sleeve. “I thought that was John L. Sullivan?”
The bartender’s eyes lit up and his voice dropped to a whisper. “History favors those who survive my friend. Now god bless Sullivan’s Irish soul, but you see, Samuel F. Sons was unbeatable. He would take on three or four guys at a time. It is said that he once put on an exhibition down at the docks where he let a draft horse kick him in the forehead. The poor animal broke its leg and they had to put it down. Folks said Samuel’s power came from his perfectly formed handlebar mustache. As you can see, it was a real beauty. It made the ladies swoon, and the men green with envy.” He took down the picture frame and sat it on the bar.
“I have to say, it is impressive.” I said.
“Samuel’s success was the cause of his downfall. You see as the odds grew that his opponents would lose, the amount of money that could be made got too large to ignore. So large in fact that it caught the attention of Jimmy Doyle, the boss of what served as the Irish mob back then. Jimmy wanted to get Samuel to throw the upcoming fight with Frankie ‘Fisticuffs’ Fitzgerald, so he could make a killing with the bookies. Jimmy sent five of his meanest guys over to persuade Samuel to cooperate, but Samuel wasn’t used to taking orders from nobody. Out of the five that went in, only two guys were able to walk out on their own. The other three were carried or buried as they say.”
As he spoke, the barkeep refilled my pint and placed it back on the bar in front of me.
“Now old Jimmy Doyle was used to getting his way, so he sent another round of even meaner guys over to bring Samuel around to the idea. Again Samuel sent em back broken or badly bent.”
“Finally Jimmy had to employ a more subtle plan of attack. He enlisted the womanly wiles of a certain Lila Jones. A lady of the night from New Orleans who was known for her seductive ways.”
“The night before the big fight with Fisticuffs, Lila got Samuel drunk on Jameson, and when he passed out, she cut off his mustache with a straight razor and put it in some waxed paper. Now nobody knows if it really was the mustache that gave him his power, but Samuel did lose the fight. He went down in the third round with a fractured eye socket. Thousands of dollars were won and lost.”
I drank my beer and continued to listen. I looked at the framed facial hair and could almost smell the sweat and blood and hear the roar of the crowd.
“Well you see, old Samuel was mad as a fresh-cut bull, and after the fight he waited until Jimmy and his boys were all havin drinks at their favorite pub. Samuel walked in with a barrel of lamp oil over his shoulder and locked the door behind him. He threw the barrel at Jimmy’s table and set them all on fire with a candle from the bar. Everyone, Samuel included, died that night. Everyone except the bartender. Jimmy had gotten the mustache from Lila as a trophy, and was parading it in front of the boys when Samuel showed up. The bartender grabbed it before the roof came down.”
“You see, that old barkeep rebuilt the pub right over the ashes of the old place, and he named it the Emerald Pony. You’re sittin over what would have been the barrel room back then. The present owner is the great-grandson of that old bartender. The handlebar has been here since the place opened.”
I looked at the mustache in all its manly glory and drained my glass. “That was worth the price of admission my friend.” I tossed two twenties on the bar and got up to leave. Just as I reached the door, I stopped and turned around. “Wait a minute. Sam Son and Lila. You crafty old bastard.”
The booth of old guys burst out laughing and slapping their legs. The old bartender just smiled and said. “Welcome to Boston.”