three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
user_rating: 
0

A Memoir

A-TenderBarEvery person—every person who drinks—wants to find that perfect bar, where the barman has a joke at the ready and pours you a draft the moment you walk in the door. Moehringer, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, found his bar when he was just a boy. The Tender Bar records his fractious upbringing in Long Island in the 1970s, where he and his mother lived with his grandparents after his father walked out on the family. Moehringer finds solace at the local watering hole where his uncle tends bar. He becomes a regular before he can legally drink. The surrogate fathers he meets there teach him by example to seek the solutions to life’s problems in a bottle until, as a grown man, he finally witnesses the toll that alcohol can take.
Hyperion. 370 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1401300642

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Tender Bar is a wonderful read. It will be enjoyed by both sexes, but I suspect men will like it more. Anyone who has ever played on a tavern softball team or spent enough time at a favorite watering hole to learn the quirks of its bowling machine will raise a glass to its clear-eyed and tough sentiment." James F. Sweeney

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"‘To be a man, a boy must see a man.’ The sentence shows up casually, in the middle of a paragraph, but it may as well be the refrain of J.R. Moehringer’s soulful memoir, The Tender Bar. . . . In his efforts to fill the hole where his father should have been, he has discovered consolation in unlikely places and written an aching torch song of a memoir." Donna Rifkind

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Take a lonely, fatherless child living in a state close to poverty and give him an appealing, longed-for outlet populated with larger-than-life characters. It’s a formula that has worked for Great Expectations, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and countless other fine books over the years. It just happens that Moehringer’s tale is true." Jenny Shank

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"This isn’t . . . so much Moehringer’s story as it is a loving and clear-eyed portrait of the sort of community that can be as ruinous as it is sustaining, and the considerable achievement of The Tender Bar is in the beautifully recreated voices, tall tales, and dashed dreams of all the wonderful characters who, unlike the author, never quite managed to make it out of Manhasset—or even bothered to try." Brad Zellar

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Throughout his memoir, Moehringer’s depictions of the bar and the culture that thrives there are always vivid, and his affection for his subjects is tangible. . . . But this insistence on introducing character after character is also a hindrance, as Moehringer’s approach is too frequently to name and organize a chapter around a specific person." Michael Jaime-Becerra

Newsday 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s all very well-rendered, carefully observed and in the end perhaps a little too symmetrical for real life. At times, Moehringer . . . writes like a teacher’s pet polishing an apple to put on Oprah’s desk." Peter Blauner

Critical Summary

Like the author himself, critics fell in love with the colorful cast of regulars who populate The Tender Bar. They were also moved by Moehringer’s poignant if overly sentimentalized, sometimes manipulative, account of the place where he learned what it means to be a man—or at least drink like one. Reviewers ached with the young Moehringer when he tuned his grandparents’ radio to listen to the disc-jockey father who had abandoned him, and they envied the easy camaraderie he found among the shopworn patrons of the neighborhood tavern. Some critics complained that Moehringer removed too many of the sharp edges of his drinking buddies’ troubled lives, but no one disputed his first-rate storytelling.