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End of an era: Boxing Day 1998

December 26, 1998

By Kurt Epps

What's a Zoroastrian, a Methodist, a Roman Catholic and an atheist doing in a British pub run by a Jew the day after Christmas?

Celebrating a non-denominational Christian Mass on an Irish-English holiday called Boxing Day, of course.

They, and more than a hundred others had come to bring food and clothes to New York's needy, and to receive a free pint of the North Star Pub's finest ales in the exchange. The prime mover in this yearly tribute to St. Stephen is Father Larry McCormick, renowned as the "Brewer's Priest." Father Mac is a connoisseur of malted beverages in his own right, and has presided over the official christenings of entire breweries (Ommegang) as well as sending heaven's blessings upon luminaries like Michael Jackson who write about beer.

While Father Mac's annual bar Mass has been chronicled before, it is worth noting that the last service will indeed be the last - at least as its devotees have come to know it. The Boxing Day party which follows the mass (and which always seems to see a substantial increase in the number of worshippers) is controlled mayhem in extremely close quarters. Just making one's way to the daylong free buffet that accompanies the celebration is often an exercise in balance as well as patience, as the crowds shift to let bearers of the bangers and mash through to seek their original spot in this tiny pub.

But next year this time, the pub will not be so tiny. Partners Deven Black and John Belle are about to close a deal to acquire the premises adjacent to the South Street Seaport's best pub, the North Star - Sloppy Louie's restaurant. That acquisition will treble the size of the room that currently holds fifty comfortably, but accommodates four times that number on this special day.

So successful has Father Mac's idea become, that a decision was made in the "Snug" (a cozy sitting room off the main bar) that very day to expand the good father's idea to a bar in New Jersey. That bar, the famous Andy's Corner Bar in Bogota, is none too large either. Some say owner George Gray has more room on his web page than in his place. Richie Stolarz, president of Beers International, friend of George Gray and quite a philanthropist in his own right, declared - via what will forever be known as The Snug Compact - that Andy's would be happy to host such a charitable event. It's planned for December 6, 1999. (The Feast of St. Nicholas, another patron saint of beer according to the knowledgeable Father Mac).

The good father thinks it's high time that purveyors and lovers of malted beverages took the lead in linking acts of goodness with their product. "Alcohol consumption is not, by nature, bad. And I've always said that Boxing Day is an exportable model," says the Patron Saint of Beer Writers. "The beverage industry gets better press for being responsible and accountable, and if the effort serves God's people, it's all for the good."

Richie Stolarz added, "Boxing Day is a wonderful tradition that should be carried out all over the country."

Stolarz's sentiment was echoed by a number of North Star celebrants. Dave from Brooklyn and his sister and brother-in-law Pete and Maureen Licata attended their first Boxing Day and donated heavy winter coats for the homeless. Their quote: "Good bangers and good beer for a good cause!"

The comment was typical of the convivial spirit that permeated the place. Even a potential problem was averted by the spirit of goodwill. In the crush of humanity near the Banger Buffet, Freehold's Joe Benedek lost control of his plate of gravy-drenched bangers and, to his horror, one or two of the tasty morsels landed on the shoulders of two NJ English teachers seated at the bar, Ralph Johnson and Denis Borai. Instead of getting upset and causing a ruckus, the targets laughed and bought the bombardier a pint "to steady his nerves."

Such potential disasters may be history if the North Star pub expands as expected, allowing more room at the Inn. And if Richie Stolarz makes good on the Andy's Corner Bar promise for December 6, that good cheer may spread like wildfire around the metropolitan area.

There are some who might criticize Father Mac's church-sanctioned marriage of lagers and largesse. "It's risk," he says. "There's a certain amount of ill will toward the idea."

But, thanks to you, not on this day, and not at this place, Father.

®Kurt E. Epps 1998 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps