Ode To An Irish Barkeep
Every few days, I check the obituaries of my former hometown newspaper.
When I did so, this morning, I saw the name of one of the finest bar owners I have ever met.
Catherine “Katy” McKibben passed away at the tender age of 90.
According to the obit, she owned bars for 47 years in Fort Wayne.
In my younger days as a single and extremely thirsty young man, I found my way into one of her establishments. It was a narrow place tucked in between two larger buildings called The Hideaway. I remember her throaty laugh as my friend introduced me to her. She made us two wonderful roast beef sandwiches. It felt like home. But, as is often the case, her bar was in the way of an expanding business and she was going to have to find new digs.
The place she found was south of the elevated tracks that divide downtown from the southern part of the city. She named it Katy’s Kapers.
It had all the requisite things a bar needs.
A well-stocked back bar.
A pool table.
Plenty of seating.
A large circular brick fireplace was parked right in the middle of the building.
At the far end of the place, opposite the bar area, was a mural that covered the entire wall. It was a landscape painted by one of her bartenders named Walt. He used to love telling the story of painting that while customers made what they thought were helpful suggestions.
The customers were a mix of janitors, bread truck deliverymen, local factory workers, and more than a few of my fellow postal workers. She also had the customers who had followed her from bar to bar during her career. It was a good, fairly well-behaved group. That was because she would put up with nothing less.
Nobody ever enjoyed being a bar owner more than Katy.
Particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. The name might be a giveaway but her place was one of the most popular places in town because that was the day Katy made her famous Irish stew. From the moment she opened up on that day until closing it was wall-to-wall, shoulder-to-shoulder people. The stew always ran out by mid-afternoon. The party, however, ran until well past closing time.
Late in 1990, I started to have a series of conversations at Katy’s with a co-worker. We hit it off. One thing lead to the other, and we have just celebrated our 23rd year of marriage.
Marriage meant the end of hanging out at Katy’s.
I am not complaining. Neither is my liver. I watched guys try to handle balancing family, work and drinking often with disastrous results. I was not going to be one of those guys.
Fort Wayne had a lot of bars over the 47 years Katy owned one. I can only think of two or three that were run by women.
When Katy finally retired, she was still running a successful bar. She outlasted almost all of her contemporaries who were bar owners in business as well as in life.
I wish I could have been at the funeral home as everyone gathered to remember her. I guarantee you laughter through the tears would have been the overwhelming emotion. Just as Katy would have liked it.
So, Catherine “Katy” McKibben, thanks for all the fun and friendship.
Thanks for giving me a spot to sit and chat with the young woman who became my wife.
And as we Irish like to say:
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm on your face
And the rain fall soft on your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.