The Greening of Manayunk

Once, the Indians came here to drink. Now, the yuppies do. And ex-mayor Bill Green is right in the middle of it all, merrily ringing up the register

"Used to be you could walk into any bar on Main Street," one of the tribe says. “Get flagged here, go to D.G.’s. Get flagged there, go to Mom’s. Just like that, all night. But you go to these new joints and they don’t want your business."

His buddy raises his hand to count for all to see. "No more Mom’s, no more D.G.’s… "

"A buddyamine went in Mayor Green’s place — the one used to be D.G.’s? Guess what it cost him for lunch. It cost him ten bucks to get outta there. Ten bucks for lunch! And he didn’t have but a couple drafts with it. He ain’t goin’ back, I can tell you that." A man several stools down agrees.

"These Main Liners are buyin’ up all the good joints. They’re gonna force us up into the hills. That’s where we’ll have to go for a drink."

There is a pause of mourning and reflection. A shake of the head.

"Ten bucks for lunch … "

BILL GREEN FIRST set eyes on "the house of cold ones" in 1977. It was Canal Day — the day when Manayunk celebrates the recent restoration of its antiquated waterway — and Green was running for mayor, trying to get people to like him by waving at them, grabbing their hands and occasionally surprising them with their names. He came into D.G.’s intending to work the room. It was the usual crowd, working guys spending their leisure time playing skinch, a Manayunk card game that is similar to hearts, only louder, and rubbing their buddies’ heads for luck on the bowling machine and drinking and cursing and laughing. Green showed up looking as neat and square as a boot-camp bunk. He started in with the rigorous work of turning strangers into votes when something else caught his attention. The room itself.

The lights were dim and nothing was as nice as it could be, but this place was unmistakably, authentically old. It looked the way a modem businessman can spend a fortune trying to make a new place look. And D.G.’s wasn’t even trying.

So all of a sudden instead of trying to sell himself, Green found himself asking John DiGiovanni about buying his bar.

This was no small consideration. John started bartending for his father at 21. That was 1945, and a large piece of his life since then has been spent keeping the beer cold, the lights low and the crowd happy. He did it in a way that didn’t have any more style to it than a pair of work shoes. He just did it.

He was the sort of guy who would sponsor a softball team but tell them to forget it when they wanted new uniforms because there was nothing wrong with the old ones and were they on the field to play ball or look pretty and get the hell out of here because they didn’t drink all that much after the games anyway.

There weren’t many rules here, just simple ones. D.G.’s might on occasion serve a kid his first drink or let the guys gamble on a game of skinch. But if they were looking for a brawl they had to go somewhere else. It wasn’t hard to find that kind of action in Manayunk — it was just hard to find it here.

D.G.’s was sort of a family place — not a place for customers to bring their families, but a place for John and Marge DiGiovanni practically to raise theirs. They split time behind the bar, each catering to a slightly different crowd.