Thursday June 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- As the saying goes, "Oh, those summer nights." Let me tell you, Tuesday was a doozy in downtown Pittsfield.

A disclaimer: I offer friends the opportunity to make up a personal alias or code name for the sake of silliness and anonymity in this column. Brace yourself, and remember, I didn't make them up.

So, after work, I went directly to my standing reading date at the Marketplace Café on North Street with Lawrence of Dublin and Leonidas. Each Tuesday, we show up around 5 p.m. to read books while being serenaded by the Celtic sounds of Rakish Paddy. We were later joined by Tiger Lily and Craven M. Wood.

We also like to take advantage of the deal between Marketplace and the Beacon Cinema, which gets you a $5 sandwich along with a $5 movie ticket ($6.50 for 3-D) at the theater. We had a bloody good time watching "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." It was action-filled and as ridiculous as it sounds.

Afterward, we kept that theme going, and headed to what is known to those in the know as "The JBC."

It really stands for Johnny's Beach Club, formerly Pepe's Wings & Dogs, located on Wahconah Street, a few doors down from Wahconah Park.

It's still owned by John Giardina, who still gets people out (about 20), even on a Tuesday, around 10 p.m.

He also likes to introduce patrons to a shot called "Liquid Cocaine," which traditionally consists of Jägermeister liqueur, and either Goldschläger or Bacardi 151. But for the most part, cans of Budweiser, drafts of Pabst Blue Ribbon and mixed drinks were seen throughout the bar. The bar itself is well-stocked with liquor and domestic beer, between $2 and $4 per drink. Top-shelf liquor or microbrews seekers, however, should search elsewhere.

As it turned out, we knew the lovely lady behind the bar, but expect to be carded otherwise for this age-21-and-up establishment.

A few folks, I overheard, had drifted in from watching the Pittsfield Suns baseball game, but most seemed to be there, as my friends and I were, to enjoy each other's company. It was a middle-age crowd to begin with, but ended up more of a 20-something scene by the end of the night.

Structurally, not much has changed inside from the Pepe's days. There are two main entrances, from the street, and an accessible ramp on the side.

The bar is on the upper level, and there's a small lounge on a lower level (formerly Matteo's Wine Bar) now nicknamed Carl Wins low's. Ask why, and the reply will be "because family matters" -- a nod to a character on a popular TV sitcom which ran from 1989 to 1998.

The barstools are mismatched, some as tipsy as some of the people sitting in them. My favorite is one upholstered by multiple kinds of tape.

Toward the back of the restaurant there's a dance floor space and an exit to an outdoor smoking patio. Open mics, deejays and a few local bands still play there during the week, though the lineup varies.

Nowadays, the decor is beachy, with the grass thatched-hut awning with colored lights over the bar, tiki totems, and photos, posters of seascapes, sandy shores, sea shells and other summer-like kitsch.

Throwback upbeat tunes from the likes of The Beach Boys, Elvis, Dion, and The Drifters played soundtrack to the muted ESPN and TNT shows that were on ceiling-mounted televisions by the bar.

A worn, but playable pool table and digital jukebox occupies the space between the bar and lower lounge. This is where my friends and I continued to hang out for a couple of hours, with various other friendly bar patrons like Mike, J., and "green sweatshirt guy" mingling in.

I think the scene is best summed up by the signs on the restroom doors, one for "dudes" one for "broads."

The JBC is a no-frills, slightly rough around the edges, cash-only, names optional kind of joint. While I was there, no fists were thrown and no one lost a shirt. But if you haven't been before, expect a look up and down when you walk in.

This aside, the bar's a Margaritaville-type place where a handshake is still a solid sign of respect and you can drink or chat your cares away.

And don't worry, as I'm told, "What happens in the beach club, stays in the beach club."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink