体育投注平台Fanelli Café, at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, in SoHo, is said to be the second-oldest continuously operating drinking establishment in New York City. The original building, erected in 1847, housed a grocery store where customers could drink liquor and beer and perhaps gain access to the bordello in back. After a new building went up, in 1853, the ground floor was described as a saloon. Michael Fanelli bought the place in 1922 and operated it as a speakeasy during Prohibition; his name remained on the neon marquee even after his family sold it, thirty years ago, to a Romanian named Hans Noe, who passed it on to his son, Sasha. In recent decades, Fanelli’s, as it is usually called, has been a tin-ceiling beer-and-burger stalwart in a neighborhood whose oft-lamented transformation from factory district to art hub to Euro-mall is perhaps best epitomized by the Prada store across the street. The Prada sales staff often drink at Fanelli’s after work.
In 1990, Hans Noe hired Bob Bozic, a former heavyweight boxer and bookmaker, to tend bar. Bozic chattered too much and antagonized some of the other employees, but his numbers, as measured by the cash register, were strong, so Noe kept him around. Twenty-two years later, he’s still there.
体育投注平台On a recent afternoon, a young woman came in with a few paperbacks, sat down at the end of the bar, and ordered a veggie burger and a glass of water. She had long dark hair and dark eyebrows and a half smile. She began reading one of the paperbacks. Bozic went over and peered at the back of it. “The Pearl,” John Steinbeck.
体育投注平台“Where you from?” he asked her.
“Up the street.”
体育投注平台“ ‘Up the street.’ I mean originally.”
体育投注平台“Queens. But originally I’m Greek.”
“Greece! I knew you had to be from somewhere, since you still read. Where from, Thessaloniki?”
“Corfu. Are you from somewhere?”
“I’m Serbian,” Bozic said.
He asked what she did, and she said she was a bankruptcy attorney. “So you’re a lawyer,” he said. “O.K. What did your dad do?”
“He had a Greek diner. His name is Spiro.”
“Spiro! How many daughters does he have?”
“Three kids—two daughters.”
“Spiro must really love his daughters,” Bozic said. “I met Irene Papas once. It was one of the great experiences of my life. Bring your dad here and we’ll moon together over Irene Papas.”
Bozic has spent a great deal of his life telling the story of his life. He never tells it start to finish. He drops in on various episodes, like a man watering his plants. The chronology is slippery. To have a sense of the whole, you have to have passed a lot of time in his company, as a friend, a lover, and /or a patron. To know Bozic is to rehear his stories. A few years ago, he admitted to his ex-wife that he feared he might be a little self-absorbed, and she replied, “It’s more like you’re self-fascinated.” A boxing columnist wrote of him in 1969, “He seemed delighted to get what he said written down.”
体育投注平台Bozic isn’t the first boxer or barkeep to talk a lot; everyone’s got a story, pal. But his, hopping from Belgrade to Afghanistan, from memories of a vagrant stretch on the streets of Toronto to a bout against Larry Holmes at Madison Square Garden and a possible claim on a Serbian spa and a coal mine in Kosovo, tests the confines of the form. He tells his tales without bravado or bombast. He often punctuates them with a shrug, as if they were nothing to him.
Bozic, who is sixty-one, is a stocky six feet two, with bearish arms and shoulders and the belly of a man who likes a beer at lunch. He shaves clean what hair there’d still be over his ears; he’s got a melon. His features manage to seem both doughy and sharp—with his arched eyebrows and his piercing eyes, he looks a little like Lenin after a back-alley beating. He speaks in the sinusy muffle of an old prizefighter and has a bulldog laugh, all grunts and snorts. He often taps your arm or shoulder when he’s telling a story, to make sure you’re listening. He tears up easily, thinking about all that he has been through and the people who have put up with him.
Bozic delights in surprising people. He almost wants to be mistaken for a lunk, so that he can prove otherwise. He courts underestimation and the opportunities it furnishes for theatrical correction. It’s like a desire for vengeance—Charles Bronson wandering mug alley with a loaded gun. Bozic never graduated from high school, but in his teens he became an avid reader—fiction, poetry, history, foreign policy. He works just four shifts a week—Thursday through Sunday—which leaves him dozens of hours for books and periodicals. He lives in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn, on the second floor of a walkup, and reads in a leather easy chair in his bedroom. He keeps old issues of Foreign Affairs, The New York Review of Books, and National Geographic in chronological order. The day I visited, the books on deck were “Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong,” by Marc Hauser, and “Justice for Hedgehogs,” by Ronald Dworkin. His thirst for knowledge nearly matches his hunger to show it off. He has an acute memory and is ever poised to demonstrate his familiarity with Dickens and Dickinson, his proficiency in Mandarin, and his enthusiasm for opera and ballet. He has stockpiled the kind of geographical arcana that can ingratiate a man with strangers.
Twenty-two years of this, at Fanelli’s, has turned him into a destination bartender. The bar is brightly lit, and he paces behind it like a man onstage. Now and then, he shushes the bar and asks whether patrons, in exchange for a free drink, can name the seven dwarfs, the nine Supreme Court Justices, or the leader of Hezbollah. A perennial poser is “Who was Pip’s girlfriend in ‘Great Expectations’?,” which can get an entire bar muttering about Miss Havisham. He talks about his exes a lot, and when he starts in about the one he refers to as Stella (she said, upon meeting him, “Wow, a real-life Stanley Kowalski”) you may wonder to what extent he thinks he’s Pip.
体育投注平台For some people, all this is a reason to stop in often. For others, it’s a reason to stay away. He’s not necessarily very good at mixing drinks; he won’t make, as he says, “anything that takes labor.” He has a tendency to harass certain patrons if they don’t say “please” or if they ask him, “What’s your best tequila?” When the noise gets to him, he lowers his trousers, to quiet the room. (He does not wear women’s undergarments, in spite of what his Wikipedia entry says; that was added by a friend last year, as a joke.) Bozic occasionally makes women cry. (And when he does he tells them to go to his favorite bookstore in the Village and pick up a paperback, his treat—“Red Cavalry and Other Stories,” by Isaac Babel, or “The Bridge on the Drina,” by Ivo Andric.) But he runs a good saloon. If there’s trouble, he defuses it, without having to ball up his fists. He cuts off the drunks, keeps spare umbrellas on hand for sudden squalls, shuffles customers around to make space for someone’s mom, and, like any barman with a following, dispenses a lot of free drinks.