Drinking with family

By LIZA WEISSTUCH  |  May 9, 2011

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SHANNON TAVERN

558 EAST 3RD STREET, SOUTH BOSTON | 617.269.9460

Jerry Bowen defies you to identify two fingers on his bear-like hands that are anatomically correct. "They've all been broken back into place," he'll tell you. Jerry favors sambuca and old Westerns. He has a pudgy cat named Dog. And he doesn't tell stories. In conversation, he's "merely stating data." Jerry's business card lists "Uprisings quelled," "Tigers Tamed," and "Lunches" among 24 services Shannon Tavern offers. Jerry's father, John, a native of Cork, bought the bar in September of 1960. Jerry was 11 months old. "I don't know if he bought it for me as a gift or a sentence," he still ruminates.

To know Jerry is to know his mother, Bridget. "What she says goes," a patron told me one afternoon. "You have to meet her." So I did. Sundays are Mother's Day in Jerry's book. She and John come in the morning to tidy up the bar. Bridget has bright blue eyes and a gentle but determined manner. ("She drives like Mario Andretti," Jerry says.) John, 89, is frail and walks with a cane, but that doesn't stop him from hauling bulky trash bags outside. Or indulging in a Seagram's VO and water.

Before they bought the bar, John had a good job with the gas company. "In those days, wives didn't want husbands to take a job in a bar" — never mind own one, says Bridget. Shannon was one of the first Irish bars in the neighborhood among the many owned by Italians. It was popular with the multitudes of longshoremen working nearby who frequented for John's dinners of beef stew on Monday. John would order 50 cases of Old Thompson American Whiskey at a time.

On a recent Saturday night, the crowd erupted into a deafening cheer when the Bruins defeated the Canadiens in overtime. Adele, Rammstein, and Johnny Cash blasted from the jukebox.

Bob and Pearl were at the bar. He'll be 68 in July. She'll be 72 in July. Her nickname is Pearl Jam. They bring their own beer mugs and coasters, containing photos of them together. They made their leisurely way through a pitcher of Bud. I caught Mikey, 25, Jerry's middle son, at the end of the bar. He showed me his tattoo: a rosary.

"My grandfather always asks if I have my rosary beads on me, so I got this," he says. "I'm really close with my grandfather."

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