Ten years ago, when Billy and Lori got married, Susie and Krissi, in preparation for the wedding had a manicure and a pedicure. They didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a tradition of long standing in our lives that came to be called “Nail Night!”
Late afternoon, every other Wednesday after work, my two ladies would go to see Kim at Best Nails on Second Street in Mineola and have their nails done. This continued even after we’d sold the Mineola house and made Ocean City our permanent home. When it started, Krissi was working in a cardiologist’s office by the train station in Mineola and living home. It continued as she still worked and went to CW Post for her Master’s of Public Administration degree. It was still a thing when she stopped living at home, and moved to Astoria, and she commuted via the Long Island Rail Road after she got her MPA, and started working at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
It just so happened that separated from Best Nails by an alley, was the St. James Restaurant. While Mom and Krissi went and had their nails done, Dad held down a seat at the St. James’s Bar and waited for the girls. When they were done, we’d all have a drink at the bar, and then get a table in the restaurant and Dad would buy dinner. In fact, the St. James and Nail Night was the place we first met Michael shortly after he and Krissi started dating (she actually left him alone with me that first night), and for the rest of the time, every Nail Night, Mike and I joined the bar crowd at St. James waiting for our girls to show!
And quite a crowd it was! There were Doctors and other staff from Winthrop hospital just down the street, there were folks stopping for a shot or two on their way home from the train station, there was Ed who was a local Judge, and as Mineola is the seat of the Nassau County Government, there were lawyers, like Glenn the real estate lawyer, who actually handled the selling of our Mineola house for us! It was an interesting mix of folks who lived and worked in the neighborhood, with lots of regulars. It was a great location, and a good bar, but the real reason that these folks gathered at the bar of the St. James was the man behind the bar, Dennis Sweeney!
Dennis had been a commodity trader on Wall Street, who just had enough. His brother owned a bar and restaurant, and Dennis had done his fair share of time behind the bar, so he knew his way around. As he told us, it was a better life, with none of the pressure and the BS of his former life. I know we were very happy he made that decision, as were the rest of the St. James regulars! When Krissi worked at that local Doctor’s office next to the Mineola Train Station, she and her co-workers would often stop in, as did her Mom and Dad on days other than Nail Night, sometimes just for a drink with Dennis! Dennis was the father of two daughters, and we knew that he would watch out for Krissi, and in fact, when Mike started hanging around with us, Dennis gave Krissi a thumbs up on her new boyfriend!
Unfortunately, after years of having the same owner, new owners bought the St. James, and things started changing. Menu items that had been popular for years were re-worked, often times missing the mark in the opinion of regulars. The new owners wanted a new “vibe” and started to mess with personnel and the atmosphere. Gradually, the place felt less like Cheers and more like a sleazy sports bar, with too many TVs and too loud music! If their intention was to chase away the regulars, they were doing a good job!
Eventually, our Nail Nights ended, as we spent more and more of our time in OC and had less and less desire to be on Long Island. Eventually we heard that Dennis had less and less desire to be behind the bar at the St. James, and he moved on. We were sad, but totally understood! The last time we were in the St. James was 3 years ago on the weekend that Krissi and Mike got married. We were doing the rounds of Mineola, and in an effort to re-create those early Nail Nights with Mike, we went back to St. James for a drink. We found that without Dennis behind the bar, the bar that you had trouble finding a seat at back in the day, was now deserted! (Don’t get me started on why people buy a popular restaurant/bar and then change things and drive away the regulars!)
So turn the clock forward to the end of May, when we ran into a former neighbor who had been a fill-in bartender at the St. James. Turns out he knew that Dennis had moved on to Leo’s in Garden City, the next town south of Mineola and just blocks away from the St, James. With this new information, Susie and I resolved to stop in and see Dennis the next time we were on Long Island, and we did exactly that!
We got two seats at the end of the bar, and there was Dennis at the other end. As he walked towards us, he realized it was us, put a big smile on his face, and we had a wonderful reunion! We talked about our respective families and what was happening in everybody’s lives, and of course, we had two Grey Gooses Vodkas…shaken, cold, served up with a twist, with the marinated ice on the side! It was great to see him again, and reconnect with an old friend! Susie and I love the relationships we have in life with bartenders, waitresses, and waiters, and we were very happy to once again see this man, who we’d literary spent hours with over the years! As always, it’s the people that make a place special, at least that’s what we think!