Francis Devaney was an old bachelor that owned the original Homer’s. His nickname was Homer.
Almost everyone who grew up in Vail has a very good memory of Homer’s. As I first knew it, the bar was on the west wall, you entered from the east. Later, he had the bar run east to west on the north side. The wall had a mirror, like most bars, and the walls were plastered with cutesy little signs, like: “The bank and I made an agreement. They don’t sell beer; I don’t loan money.” And another that read: “Helen Waite is our credit manager. If you want credit, you’ll have to go to Helen Waite.”
My favorite memory of the place was when I was in my teens. I must have been fourteen or fifteen. I played pool, pinball, cards with the old men, and, when Homer would get sloppy drunk, I tended bar. Imagine walking into a bar today and seeing a fourteen-year-old boy behind the bar asking, “what’ll ya have?”
Most people drank beer. That was no problem. If it was a bottle or a can, it was in the cooler. If the customer wanted a draft, a basically clean glass was available and you tilted it under the tap, let a little run down the drain, and fill the glass until foam reached the top – or over the top. It didn’t matter. Eventually, you had to wipe the bar off with a wet, dirty, off-white rag. If the bar became too sticky, you might have to find a new rag and break it in.
Often, Homer would be passed out in a booth. Or, he might be sitting at another bar, disturbing any of the other bar’s customers. That’s when some of them would leave to go to Homer’s. This was always after dark, and the crowd wasn’t large at that time of day. Homer’s was mostly a daytime bar.
One night, Homer closed up in a hurry (it’s not like he ever swept or cleaned the bar before closing) and told me drive him and Ray Norton to Denison in Homer’s car, a 1958 Chevy. I didn’t have a license, just a learner’s permit. I drove, Homer in the middle, and Ray in the passenger seat. We all had a beer. As we were driving down Highway 30 west, entering town near the Lucky Lanes Bowling Alley, Norton rolled down the window and threw out an empty beer can.
“Norton!” I yelled. “There’s a highway patrolman behind us!” Norton, with his permanent sad puppy eyes laughed and make a smart-ass remark. The trooper didn’t pull us over, thank God.
We pulled in the Oasis parking lot (Yes, in Denison, Iowa, there is a bar called the Oasis, and it was there long before Garth Brooks wrote his famous song Friends In Low Places). Once inside, Homer went to the bar while Norton and I sat at a table in the darkest part of the bar. Homer came to the table with three beers. I drank that beer with no problem. Besides Millie, the bartender, we were the only people in the bar. Millie is another story for a future blog.
After the Oasis, we traveled uptown to a bar that was owned by Crawford County’s only black man. I had no trouble getting served there, either. But when we hit the third bar of the night, I was refused service. Well! We didn’t give them any of our business!
I know the time period was school time, and it wasn’t a weekend night. I can’t remember the ride home that night or going to school the next day. I don’t think it was because I had too much to drink. The memory lapse is most likely caused by time.
Many kids in Vail will tell you that they had no trouble getting beer from Homer. You see, Homer was a dirty old pervert. He greeted every man by calling him false face, and he called young teenage boys the same. But with boys, he added, “how’s it hangin’?” He would reach to grab you by the genitals, but I’m not sure he actually grabbed anyone. At least, they’re not telling. “Getin’ any?” was another phrase he used a lot.
I don’t know of anyone under age that was ever caught with beer they obtained from Homer. And there was plenty.
After my stint in the Army, I stopped at Homer’s a few times a week. One evening, a guy I once worked with stopped at our house (I was living with mom). I suggested we go get a beer, and I suggested Homer’s because I knew it was quiet and we could talk and hear each other. So, we sat at the bar and ordered a beer (in a bottle – I had to warn Steve not to order a draw). We were the only customers.
All of sudden the door swung open and two guys came rushing in and headed right for the pool table. They dived under it. I knew one of them. The other would eventually become my brother-in-law. Looking out to the street we could see about six or seven cars pull up to the curb, in front of the bar, and across the street. Each car had at least three passengers, some more.
The people getting out of the cars assembled in front of the bar. The door opened and a few big, burly, husky guys stepped in first. “Oh shit! This isn’t looking good,” I told Steve. About that time Homer comes from around the bar with a big revolver. I had never seen a pistol so big.
He told those guys to get the hell out of his bar. Steve and I didn’t know what the hell to do. We sat. Still. The crowd backed out of the door and gathered in the street. Homer pointed the weapon at the two guys under the pool table and told them to get the hell out, too. The guy I knew said something like, “They’ll kill us if we go out there.” And Homer replied, “them or me!”
They scurried out the back door. Homer went back behind the bar, placed the gun in a drawer, and told us he was closing. No problem.
I never saw or heard from Steve again – ever!
Today, Homer’s is much different place. I haven’t been in it for the past twenty years, but from what I’ve heard, it serves good food and the place is clean and clientele has changed. Homer served food, too, I guess. If you liked pickled pig’s feet out of jar, or pickled deviled eggs (also out of jar), or a packaged Slim Jim, Homer had it. Not that I ever tried it.
There are so many stories and memories around Homer’s. I can see that this is going to be Part I.