BANGOR – Beers and tears and lots of laughter in between.
Pat’s Cafe, Bangor’s last neighborhood beer joint, officially closed its doors after last call early Sunday morning.
The doors briefly reopened Thursday for a private party that owner Del Merritt threw to thank some of the people who have supported his bar through the years.
The midpoint of Merritt’s five-hour “went-out-of-business” bash found a crowd of about 40 people, all of whom dropped by to say goodbye to a place they say will always hold a special place in their hearts.
“This was the last ‘beer bar’ around. There’s no other place like it,” said Shirley Philbrick, who tends bar at nearby Judy’s Restaurant, also owned by Merritt. Famous for its hearty breakfasts, Judy’s is staying open.
“It’s just a neighborhood bar that everybody comes to. Everybody’s family here,” Philbrick said about Pat’s.
As beer joints go, Pat’s was about as authentic as you can get. No cocktails, no food, no fancy umbrella drinks – just cold beer and pool.
“It really sucks. I’ve been coming here since I was 16, and here I am almost 50 now,” said Donnie Lahaye, one of three Bangor brothers who have come to think of the crowd at Pat’s as extended family.
“This is where we met,” his younger brother, Timothy Lahaye, said as he draped an arm around his wife, Marta.
“My whole family has been here,” Timothy Lahaye said, adding that he, Marta and the rest of the clan likely would divide their time among nearby Judy’s and the Waverly and The Tavern downtown.
Another brother, Gene Lahaye, was a bartender at Pat’s. He was pressed into service pouring beers during Thursday’s party and was too busy to chat.
Pat’s Cafe has stood at 115 State St. since 1965, when its original owner, Jim Furlong, moved it to “The Hill” from Exchange Street, according to Merritt, who has owned the business for the last 17 years.
Merritt said the bar was named after Furlong’s wife. Although it changed hands a few times before Merritt bought it, the bar has always kept the same name.
Pat’s experienced some notoriety in 1988, when it was the scene of an argument that triggered the fatal shooting of Peter Bassett, a 39-year-old postal worker. The shooting, which occurred outside of nearby Judy’s, remains among Bangor’s unsolved murders.
Merritt blames the neighborhood bar’s demise on a two-year-old state law banning smoking in bars and taverns. At the time, he predicted that the ban would kill his business.
“It happened just as I said it would,” Merritt said Thursday, adding that since the law took effect, his staff at Pat’s has gone from three full-timers to two part-timers.
“We’re being run by communists in this country. It’s crazy,” he said.
Merritt has heard reports that former patrons who used to drop $30 a night at his bar had started frequenting the Eagles Club in Brewer, which, because of its private status, allows smoking.
Because Thursday’s gathering was a private one, attendees were free to light up inside, and for the first time in two years, the air was thick with cigarette smoke.
Among those who lost their job at Pat’s was long-time bartender Noreen Goss, who worked for the former owner and stayed on when Merritt bought the bar.
“I came with the business,” she said while pouring beers for the crowd clustered around the bar.
“And she’s going with the business,” Merritt quipped.
“Hey, anybody want to buy Noreen?” he boomed across the bar, drawing chuckles all around.
“She’s a classy lady,” Jerry Breen, a professional karaoke singer from Bangor, said of Goss.
Merritt plans to turn the bar into apartments, Debbie Merritt, the owner’s daughter and employee, said.
The individually painted ceiling tiles, sponsored for $5 each by patrons, business associates, friends and others, will have to be taken down, but they just might find a new home in her house, Debbie Merritt, who works at Judy’s, said.
Del Merritt said now that he’s running only one business on The Hill, he no longer has to “compete against myself,” so he can offer $2 beers at Judy’s without worrying about hurting the bottom line at Pat’s.
“I’m just going to be more competitive all around,” he said.