Frency’s: “Regulars But No Rowdies”
Tampa Tribune (April 22, 1976)
BRANDON — It was 4 p.m. on one of those Florida Saturdays when the sun is a white-hot eye staring down over the rooftops and the pavement burns your feet through the soles of your shoes.
But inside Frency’s Bar and Package Store, a barn-like pink building at the corner of Brandon Boulevard and Kingsway Road, it was pitch dark and almost as cold as the beer on tap.
The big color television over one end of the crowded bar was going — a Cincinnati Red had just slammed a long fly off the right center wall — but nobody seemed to be watching the game.
A Twentysomething with long blond hair, and a snake tattoo on his sunburned forearm was putting a quarter in the corner jukebox. He played “Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck.
Frenchy’s manager Bill Williams, a hefty man who could be a stand-in for comedian Jonathan Winters, stood behind the bar, smiling.
Williams, an ex-deckhand and engineer on Tampa-based tugboats, had been coming to Frenchy’s for 15 years before taking the job as the bar’s manager in 1977, he said.
“This is a real friendly place … we got a lot of regulars,” Williams said. “But we don’t allow no rowdies in here,” he cautioned. “Anybody starts anything they’re out the door.”
Slim and Ruth Marks, who were sitting a the bar a few feet from Williams, turned around in their high-backed chairs and looked at the tavern manger.
“I’ll help you run ‘em out, Bill,” said Slim, a career iron worker who lives on Durant Road and has been a Frenchy’s regular for 22 years. “I like this place too good,” he said.
“This really is a family place,” said Ruth Marks, shaking her head and agreeing with Williams’ assessment.
“It’s the onliest damn bar I’d bring my kids in,” said her husband. “I used to come here when they served food back there,” Marks said, nodding toward a corner where a miniature bowling game, the jukebox and a cigarette machine sat.
Lolly McLean, a raven-haired barmaid and veteran employee of Frenchy’s, brought the Marks’ another round of the usual.
“That’s right about the food,” McLean said, “Oh honey, this used to be a fine restaurant, too. You could get steak, lobster, chicken, shrimp and real shoestring French fries.”
The barmaid said she’s been tending bar at Frenchy’s for more than 20 years, “when Brandon was just one service station, a post office, grocery store and beauty parlor.”
“That’s when Frenchy ran the place,” McLean said of the bar-restaurant, referring to the French Canadian man who started the establishment in the late ‘40s.
Since that time said McLean, Frenchy’s has been kind of a social institution and local watering hole for long-time East Hillsborough residents, retired military and tourists.
Frenchy’s doesn’t serve much food anymore, besides an occasional ham and cheese sandwich, potato chips and dill pickles kept in big, brine-filled glass jars behind the bar.
But the dozens of Frenchy’s regulars gather about once a month to have a wing-ding at the bar, usually a fish fry with hush puppies and grits. And there are birthday and anniversary parties for regulars and surprise gatherings like the “wake” for manager Williams’ Datsun pickup which gave up the ghost a while back.
“It was great,” said Williams’ wife Catherine, “everybody wore black armbands and boutonnieres, and they gave Bill a joke wooden tombstone with ‘Rest in Peace,’ and ‘Datsun’ on it,” she said.
Other Frenchy’s customers strolled in and out of the bar during the long, hot afternoon, sitting at small tables and padded booths around the room or perching on bar stools.
At about 6 p.m., one of the younger regulars, 21-year-old Jeff Binkley, dropped in after knocking off from his job at a filling station up the street.
Binkley ordered up a cool one, pulled out the tail of his powder blue grease monkey’s shirt and challenged Frenchy’s maintenance man Les Gordon to a game of “regulation” on the table-top bowling game near the jukebox.
“I bowled a 298 one day at regulation,” said Binkley, smoothing back his drooping black moustache and smiling. “I almost died.”
Binkley took a small silver disk from the table of the bowling game and fired it down the polished surface of the board. The puck slid over 10 metal clips at the end of the table and the 10 corresponding plastic bowling pins above jumped backwards. Bells rang, lights flashed. A perfect strike.
Les Gordon, the challenged, took the metal puck off the bowling table, while the pins were lowered back into position.
“I’ll show you something,” said Gordon, “I’ll show you how to do it.”
The maintenance man danced a kind of soft shoe around a table near the bowling game. He wore work clothes, a red ballcap, and his black low-top sneakers shuffled soundlessly on the linoleum barroom floor.
Gordon slapped the silver puck on the palm of his hand and sang, “ … you are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”
Then he approached the bowling table, hesitated … and slung the disk — southpaw style — over the metal clips in the board. More bells and bright lights.
“I showed ‘em something,” laughed Gordon shuffling back to his seat.
The sun was going down outside Frenchy’s now, the heat was leaving the pavement.
But inside, more people were arriving, friends mostly, and a few strangers.
Les Gordon was dancing around the table, laughing. The jukebox started up again, and Dusty Rhodes was waving a huge fist at America on the television over the bar.
The regulars were back home at Frenchy’s on another Saturday night.