The U.S. saloon is not what it used to be. At least, the saloons that have television sets. From Kerrigan's Kozy Korner to the Stork Club, barrooms have suffered from an influx of "kids and marginal drinkers," which one Manhattan elbow-bender has scornfully dubbed "The Television Set." Last week, during the Louis-Walcott fight (see SPORT), "The Set" was out in force.
"In watching the screen," complained one bartender, "people forget what is the prime purpose of a bar, which is to drink." He had three solutions for that: 1) "An extra employee to rove through the crowd and remind people that their drink is getting low"; 2) "Fill the first row with fast Scotch drinkers, and push them slow beers to the back. However, that is too ideal to be practical, because you would be offending a beer drinker who could easily develop into something better"; 3) "Raise prices during television hours; most places do."
But television seemed to be discouraging a certain type of trespasser on the great male sanctuary. Said one tavern keeper: "Funny thing, hustlers don't play these bars with television much, not until after the program is over for the night. Too much conflict of interest."
Small-time "saloon vaudeville" was having trouble, too. A bartender explained: "Quite a few clubs around, they used to have a couple acts in on Saturday night. Now they get a television set. It's cheaper, and they get all the business they can handle, so they drop the acts. It'll ruin that part of show business."
In a few places, television was meeting real resistance from the drinking customers. On Manhattan's Gin Lane (Third Avenue), and in Chicago and Los Angeles, barflies seemed to have reached a conclusion long since reached in Britain (where pub hours are short): "It takes up too much drinking time, you know." The more sophisticated had also become bored by anything but large-screen (at least 19 by 25 in.) telecasts.
But, like it or not, the trade was forced to string along with a Chicago barkeep: "You gotta have it whether you want to or not . . . or you start holding hands with yourself."