When you walked into Charlie Quinn's Deep Right Field Cafe, the small tavern across 20th Street from Connie Mack Stadium, the scent of history and spilled beer smacked you in the face.
Its floor was coated with sawdust, its walls adorned with sepia-toned photos of old ballplayers clutching impossibly tiny gloves or big, unwieldy bats. The kitchen served passable soup and much-too-thin-for-Philly sandwiches. The bar itself was shiny mahogany with a brass footrest.
In 2018, teams and the companies that own them have perfected the art of siphoning cash from fans before and after games. Take the hedonistic Xfinity Live complex. Please. Quinn's overcharged, too, but it was always a Philly taproom, a working-class haven, a neighborhood joint that happened to sit in a ballpark's shadow.
Located in a corner rowhouse, it was for six decades the most popular pre- and postgame stop for Phillies and A's fans. Prior to 1959, when alcohol sales were finally permitted inside the old North Philly ballpark, you could buy a "cold pack" of beer there to drink inside, then hurl the empty cans at the usually woeful home team below.
Phillies management dined and drank there, too.
"Sometimes two or three of us would go there for a semi-decent pregame dinner as the press box only offered hot dogs and sandwiches," recalled Larry Shenk, the retired Phillies public relations executive.
It hardly needs noting, of course, but sportswriters frequented Quinn's before, after and — if the stories I heard from colleagues in the Bulletin sports department were true — during games. So, too, in that less pretentious age, did ballplayers, many of whom were in-season residents of the Swampoodle neighborhood.
A small, wiry man who always wore a white shirt and tie, owner Charlie Quinn grew up nearby. A devoted St. Columba's parishioner, he was, Daily News columnist Tom Fox wrote after the saloon keeper's 1974 death, "as Irish as a six-pack."
Among his prized possessions were the baseballs stored behind the bar, the ones autographed by the likes of Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Connie Mack. Quinn also maintained a meticulous registry containing the signatures of every ballplayer-customer.
Its contents began with Mike Kilroy, an 1891 Phillie and the brother of original owner Matt "Matches" Kilroy, and ended dozens of pages later with Don Money, a promising Phillies infielder who became a four-time All-Star with the 1970s Milwaukee Brewers.
Gamblers who haunted Connie Mack assembled there, arguing baseball and odds with the regulars. Analytics weren't discussed, except when bartenders tried to calculate change from the bucks that customers handed them for a Schmidt's and a shot of Old Grand-Dad.
The establishment dated back to Shibe Park's debut in 1909, the same year Matt Kilroy opened the bar on the first floor of his home in the 2700 block of North 20th Street.
A Fishtown native and the uncle of future Eagles Pro Bowl player Bucko, Kilroy had been a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher. With Baltimore in 1886, he recorded a never-to-be equaled 513 strikeouts. A year later, he won 46 games.
Thanks to his renown and the bar's proximity to the home team's bullpen, its popularity spread. According to Bruce Kuklik's To Everything a Season, "Relief pitchers would leave the right-field gate near the bullpen to tilt a few during the early innings of games."
Over the years, those thirsty pitchers reportedly included everyone from Lefty Grove to Dick Selma.
Future Philadelphia Mayor James Tate, a friend of the A's Jimmy Dykes, was a regular. When Tate ran for the state legislature in 1941, Quinn's hosted his campaign rallies. Politics, in fact, was as popular a topic as sports, and in the 1940s, one of Kilroy's sons, Elmer, was elected a state representative.
Kilroy, who died in 1940, ran his business as a luncheonette through Prohibition. He finally sold in 1939. Three years later, Quinn bought and renamed it.
Perhaps the tavern's most memorable night came on Oct. 1, 1970, when a Phillies-Expos game officially closed 61-year-old Connie Mack, nee Shibe Park.
Quinn hired five extra bartenders and an accordionist. He needed them. After the Phils' 2-1 win on a chaotic night now known as the "Woodchoppers' Ball," a customer entered carrying a hunk of the bullpen wall.
"Put it in the back room," Quinn instructed.
A few minutes later, when another walked in with a ballpark urinal, the owner had no suggestions.
"I looked out my upstairs window in the eighth inning," Quinn's wife, Mary, said at the time, "and the flag was coming down."
As the beer and sentiments flowed, accordionist Tommy Moffitt helped maintain calm. Soon nostalgic customers were singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
A rowdy patron dumped two bags of sawdust on the floor and, sometime near midnight a Quinn's regular, Blanche Day, 71, waded into it. Angered by the dismantling of her beloved ballpark, she channeled a memory from the days she'd spent watching Mack's great A's teams across the street.
"She kicked the sawdust aside like she was digging a hole in the batter's box," Fox wrote, "and she mimicked Max Bishop's stance and swing. `I'm an old-fashioned baseball fan,' Blanche Day said. `There are no baseball fans today. They're all vandals.' "
Sitting at the end of the Deep Right Field Cafe's bar, Charlie Quinn — who told Fox that if his place had been insured, he'd have let the fans dismantle it as well — wiped away tears and offered up a perfect epitaph for a fading taproom, a dying way of life.