I was new to the Philadelphia suburbs and was trying to negotiate the interstate exit that would take me to my apartment in King of Prussia, PA. A wrong turn took me past a quaint looking building where a kind soul was standing near the entrance.
Being a stranger to those parts, I conjectured that this was not someplace a guy like myself would be welcomed in. But, on a hunch, I took a chance and ventured inside. Dave Lukens, owner of the Balligo Inn, welcomed me as a new member of his community and offered a libation from his selection of over 100 brands of beer. Not much of a drinker, I let Dave choose. He brought a bottle of Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, which to this day remains my favorite brew.
This is not to say that Dave didn’t have a tough side. Besides one particular run-in reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dave often boasted of being one of the few who (proverbially) beat City Hall.
Besides being the International House of Beer, the Balligo Inn had live music on Saturday nights. I made it my top priority to sit in on a session featuring saxophonist Joe Fortunato, keyboardist Papa John DeFrancesco, axe-man Eddie McFadden, and drummer Mike Anthony. Between sets, another Franziskaner and Dave’s selection of of the worst reconstituted pizza anyone would dare to serve.
On occasion, I would invite my friends and co-workers to meet Dave. My one great romance while living in the Keystone State was a knock-out who convinced Dave to let her stand behind the bar and mix her own drinks. Everyone enjoyed the tales this raconteur spun… including the story of Dave teaching himself law to get a liquor license without paying the usual fees and taxes.
Everybody has a flaw. Dave’s was his love for cigarettes. He had had a number of bypass surgeries, but emerged from each operation as jovial and ornery as ever. Unfortunately, news came after his last bypass that my dear friend had exited the planet.
The Balligo Inn reopened a while after Dave’s demise under new management. I arrived on a Saturday evening to hear the familiar strains of the jazz quartet. But the new bartender did not share Dave’s friendliness. I was about as welcome as a Freedom Rider at Bull Connor’s front door. Finally, one couple refused to accept service until the bartender would stop ignoring me.
I requested a Franziskaner. He grudgingly shoved a bottle in my direction. It was a Heineken. He refused to offer a glass, or a bottle opener.
As I sat listening to the music, hosting my libation in Dave’s memory, the new owners made it glaringly obvious that I was not wanted there. I waited until the quartet finished their set, then exited. En Route to my vehicle, I overhead the new owner begging police officer to have me ejected. I walked right in front of him as the officer said, “I’m sorry, but if he isn’t doing anything, I can’t force him to… um…” I simply cut my eyes towards the two and shook my head as I left.
Later, a few of my friends gathered to commemorate Dave Lukens, a man who lived by a similar creed as the Hard Rock Cafe. Love all… Serve all.