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