It is not every day that one can walk into a bar at six o’clock in the evening and be greeted by an eighty-four year old woman in a soft pink cardigan sweater with pearl buttons, serving beer to her customers. “She is our shining beacon,” one of the gentlemen announced as soon as he saw the expression on my face. He then told me that Rosie began working at Rief’s Tavern as a young woman, when there used to be a kitchen in the back. She would cook side by side with “Mama Reif.” Today, the kitchen is gone, but what remains is a room complete with a pool table, shuffle board and golf machine. Farther back, there is an outdoor garden.
Rosie returns each Wednesday to act as the bartender and to serve her loyal customers. “We are doing our best to keep her out of retirement,” one gentleman piped in. He told me that he travels in from Queens every week “just to sit at the bar and order a drink from our Rosie.” Rosie smiled and commented, “I’ve been around a long time, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best bartender.” Apparently, others do not agree.
Before I could fully explain my reason for stopping by, several people interrupted me, wanting to tell me not only about Rosie the bartender, but about the history of their neighborhood tavern. Michael and his friend Susan were kind enough to speak on behalf of everyone, as he seemed to have been coming to Reif’s the longest. Michael has lived in the area for his entire life. When he was just a toddler, his mom would “kick” both he and his dad out of their apartment on Saturday afternoons, so that she could clean, and his dad would take him to Reif’s. This was in the early 1960s. Today, at the age of fifty-three, Michael still lives nearby and continues to patronize the tavern.
As for the origins of the bar, John and Bobby were two brothers who opened Reif’s in 1942 and then were clever enough to purchase the building a number of years later. In 2016, the next two generations are still running the place and living upstairs. The environment that these two men created years ago has continued on, so much so that Michael told me that though they might be considered a “dive bar,” to the many locals who frequent Reif’s almost every night, but, he said “This is family.” The regulars are involved in every aspect of each other’s lives, attending celebrations from births to funerals. They even “abandon the bar sometimes” to go bowling together, and have traveled as far as Barbados as one big happy crew – including the Reifs. After spending a very pleasant time with this splendid group of regulars, (this clause refers to you, not Michael) I received one more heart-warming quote from Michael: “This place is not just about having a cocktail in a bar, it is more like a social club that if you’re lucky enough, you get to be in it.”