Tucked away in the most forgotten neighborhood in Providence, a little piece of the city's colorful political history sits on its last legs.
The Old Timer's Tap, once owned by the late Ward 6 power broker Vincent Cirelli, has always been the kind of place you had to drive past twice just to make sure it was open. Poorly lit and without any flashy signage, it seemed more like an old-school social club that required a password than the friendly local watering hole Councilman Cirelli wanted it to be.
Now the family is selling off the Mount Pleasant Avenue property in an attempt to wash its hands of a sinking business in an increasingly sinking neighborhood. Located on the northwestern side of the city, Ward 6 is about a half-mile from everything else in Providence — the spacious homes near Rhode Island College in one direction and the fancy restaurants on Federal Hill in the other. If things are happening in the city, it's a safe bet they're not happening here.
That wasn't always the case. Mount Pleasant Avenue was never Thayer Street, but the Old Timer's tap at least gave it a pulse. The bar was a hotbed for political activity (and a card game here or there), which filled the neighborhood with Councilmen, police officers, and when the Providence Journal was still strong, plenty of reporters looking for a scoop.
"I remember the Old Timer's Tap very well," former Mayor Joe Paolino recalls. "When I was on the Council, we would have meetings there or we would go there after Council meetings. We made a lot of political deals in that place."
At the center of it all was Cirelli. A round, cartoonish figure, the Councilman knew how to play the game as well as anyone in city politics, constantly making trades for jobs, favors, and of course, votes. And when he didn't get his way, Cirelli had a way of making his presence known. Perhaps the most famous example would be the time he got physical with a colleague during a meeting in City Hall.
The details are a tad foggy (some say it happened in the Council Chambers and others say it happened in the Clerk's office) but everyone seems to agree that Cirelli, angry over a deal he wasn't in on, walked up to another Councilman and cold cocked him just to make a point.
It is unclear if the two made up over 'Gansetts at the Tap.
But the glory days are long gone and after the Councilman passed ownership on to his children, you were more likely to find those on the city's most wanted list hanging out there than you were a politician or a member of the media.
And while it did catch on again last decade when Showtime's Brotherhood used it to film part of an episode, the newfound fame, much like the show, was short-lived. The Old Timer's Tap, for all intents and purposes, was tapped.
So can it be resurrected? Dan McCusker, the realtor in charge of selling the bar, says the listed price is $225,000 and he's received a few feelers but no offers yet. He said it could take a year to find new ownership, but he's hopeful a buyer emerges.
"It's a great place," he said. "You walk in and it's like a time warp. It still feels like the '70s."
The difference, of course, is that when people drive by the Tap now, they don't check twice to see if it's open.