The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume V, Number 2, Pages 24-27
This is the thirteenth in a series of legendary recollections of the Northwest written by Lynn A. Hull who had been a lumberjack for many years. The stories, written in the form of letters to his son, take place in the 1920's and 1930’s.
Louie, the Greek
All small coastal towns here in the Pacific Northwest are built around sawmills and of course the logging necessary to keep them operating and all I have ever been in have one or two restaurants operated by Greeks. This place was no exception as we had the Greek's greasy spoon restaurant which was officially named "Louie's." This was quite a place, a meeting place for the sawmill workers and loggers to gather, especially on payday night.
The Greek's menu never changed. Always the same answer to "What's to eat, Louie?" "Rus biff, appliss and stromberry pie, lotsa coffee, what you want boy?" So you took roast beef flavored very strong with garlic (I asked Louie once why so much garlic and he said, "Sommstime meat steenk - put lotsa garlic, no steenk, who cares huh?"). Apple or strawberry pie and that coffee - you had your choice - CHEW IT OR SWALLOW IT IN CHUNKS - it was nearly always as thick as pancake batter, and to "Louie your coffee is rotten," you'd get, "Whatsa matter boy, she's damma fine coffee, you no like, go to Chinaman's place, you find out Louie damma fine cook." The reason Louie's was so popular to the millworkers and loggers wasn't his cooking. It was his other business that drew them in. In the back room Louie dispensed liqaor, by the drink, bottle or gallon jug - and he had made this illegal business of his a good profit making venture.
In the restaurant mill workers and loggers were sitting around tables drinking out of coffee cups - but not coffee - that sly Louie was filling their cups at 50 cents a piece and out of a coffee pot too-with moonshine whisky - it looked legal to anyone who wasn't in on the know with everyone drinking coffee and anyway he couldn't seat them in his back room - that was for storage only. Out here in the restaurant everything was so friendly, everyone talking and drinking.
The fight was on!
Many times when Silent Bill was overdue one of us would find him at Louie's and gently steer him home. There was always a friction between the loggers and the millworkers that would be brought out when they had a few drinks and as both met at the Greek's for eating and drinking. Louie's restaurant was installed as the proving grounds to both factions and many a civil war between them was settled here - sometimes the loggers were winners, sometimes the mill workers - whoever won were the soberest. Their fights were always forgotten in a day or two and few remembered who had won. They always were ready to fight again on payday, to settle it once and for all. This night Silent Bill was long overdue and I started the search for him by going straight to Louie's. When I got there the place was full of men, loggers and millworkers, so drunk and others that would join them soon - I'd forgotten this was Saturday night and payday. I had already seated myself and looked over the place for Silent Bill, when I heard a loud curse and a cup hit the wall. The fight was on, everybody throwing things, dishes, chairs and fists amid loud cursing and groaning. I had no chance to get out the front, side or back door so I stayed put. Meanwhile Louie joined into the battle, but only by yelling and ducking things flying through the air. I joined him but only in the ducking and watching for a chance to depart. The Greek was yelling, "Hokay, boys. I call plissmans. You stop brekking my place, you pay Louie, Hokay, you no talk - damma you I call plissmans now!" With that Louie starts for the door but he can't make it, there was too much fighting going on between him and the door - then a loud crash as somebody dumped that old piano, that had at least half a dozen keys missing for a long time, off from the small stage it was on. Again Louie was heard, "tousant dollars I charge you, damma you, one tousand dollars!" Nobody listened, nobody stopped fighting except for the two or three men who were on the floor; I don't know whether they were resting, tired of fighting or knocked out. The fight went on, first on one side of the place and then the other, and I still couldn't get away and I still was ducking. All at once it started to quiet down leaving a few here and a few there still swinging, not throwing anything now as they were fighting in close quarters and methodically trying to gouge out a few eyes and bite off some ears or fingers for the glory of the sawmill workers or loggers or whoever happened to be on top. Louie was meanwhile screaming his woes for all the world to hear: "Louie damma fool - work alIa night, alIa day - make money - make $200 week, save money - then you damma fools brek place all up every paydayLouie borrow money so open up for buziness. Louie crazy, whatso matta no plissman!"
"...the police entered the front door."
I remembered now of Louie nailing up a banner on Monday morning after a payday "Louie-Open for business as usual," and knew then that Louie had survived many a battle like this before. It was all in the game to him. An opening was cleared to the side door and I took off for it-made it and crossed the street to join the crowd who was watching just as the police arrived-out of the side door and back door streaked a bunch of men as the police entered the front door. They were inside a few minutes and out they came with those men that were resting on the floor (I think it was them as they were being carried) and Louie who was still talking, "Hokay boys I feex you good. No more eat Louie's damma fine food. Louie go back work in sawmill, how you like that?" and they were on their way down to the pokey. After the police and Louie were gone and the crowd had broken up and left, I went back in the building to see the damage. It sure was a shambles, not a dish, window, chair or stool were left unbroken - even the counter was on its side and that poor old piano was beyond repair. The door to the back room where Louie kept his stock of liquor was open. Looking in there I saw broken bottles, broken jugs, some with a few spoonfuls and some with cupfuls of liquor still in their broken parts-and over in the corner with his handkerchief as a strainer held over a big pan and pouring these small amounts of liquor into it was Silent Bill. He never looked up but kept right on pouring and straining as I said "What in Hell are you doing?" I got this reply, "You still damn idjit - glass gotta come out before drinking." I helped Silent Bill strain and carry the spoils of war home, all three gallons of it. As I passed Louie's place the next morning it was closed, for the first time in several years the banner wasn't over the door. Louie the Greek had quit! By George he wasn't fooling - but I bet he won't like the sawmill after his three ring circus.
Silent Bill straining the booze.