To The Bar Life

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To The Bar Life[1]
Work In Progress
Original Broadcast Date
Larry Block, Ryan Cutrona, Joe Frank
Serious Monologue, Narrative Monologue, Scripted Actors, 60 minutes
Preceded by: Thank You, You're Beautiful
Followed by: Emergency Room

"We don't have any Jameson's, we got some, um, we got a little Imperial over here."

To The Bar Life is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series Work In Progress. It was originally broadcast in 1987.


Bud (Larry Block), a customer at a bar, wants drinks that Ray (Ryan Cutrona), the bartender, doesn't have.[1]

1:50: Joe recites a prayer, some parts taken from the Tridentine Mass.

2:10: Bud and Ray return, arguing about drinks.

4:50: Joe describes the appearance and behavior of a homeless man on Venice Beach.

7:00: Johnny (the homeless man) was born in NYC in August 1921. His mother, Blanche, 23, died in childbirth; she designed clothes for Broadway shows. His father, Arthur, ran a family cooperage in Hoboken. Arthur gave Johnny to Blanche's mother, a widow, to raise.

8:30: Grandmother and Johnny sailed to Brittany, where the grandmother's family lived, when Johnny was 4. A French boy 4 or 5 years older kissed him on the ship; Johnny avoided him after that.

9:40: They lived on a farm near Rostrenen; they visited Lourdes.

10:50: Joe invites us to drink holy water (perhaps an allophemism for alcohol) in memory of Bernadette.[2]

11:10: They returned to NYC in 1926 (a year later). They had a daily routine on the town: shopping, church, movies.

12:50: Grandmother began taking Johnny to visit his father in Englewood, New Jersey. The grandmother and Arthur argued. Arthur married Anne Stevens, who came to take Johnny home with her after school one day after fighting over him.

13:40: Joe invites us to drink to the wisdom of Solomon.

14:00: Johnny moves in with his father and stepmother. Arthur tries to make a man of him.

15:30: Joe invites us to drink to the mouse Arthur made Johnny incinerate in 1927.

16:00: Joe tells us how pretty Anne was; she looked like Mary Astor.

16:30: Arthur disciplined Johnny with beatings.

17:50: Joe invites us to drink to Blanche.

18:00: Arthur, hopeful at the repeal of Prohibition, invested all his money in up-to-date equipment for the cooperage, but wooden barrels became out-of-date what with bottles and steel barrels, so he went bankrupt, lost everything.

19:40: They moved in with Anne's parents, Charles and Ida Stevens in 1937. Charles Stevens worked for the Hudson River Day Line, which ran ferries on the river. They'd ride them on the weekends.

21:10: Joe drinks to afternoons on the river.

21:40: Hudson River let Charles Stevens go. Arthur begins to drink too much, gets violent.

22:40: Johnny stood up to Arthur for the first time when he came home drunk.

23:20: Ida Stevens died. They held a big wake.

24:40: Arthur got fat and sickly, lost his teeth.

25:30: 1939 September 1, the war started.

26:30: Anne kissed Johnny.

26:40: Johnny took a train to Montreal to join the RCAF, hoping to die.

27:30: 'As time goes by' - Dooley Wilson

29:00: A woman, who sounds like she's in a club, talks about how much he likes love and kisses; Dooley Wilson's 'As time goes by' plays in the background.[3]

30:00: Bud and Ray are back; Ray still can't make any drink Bud wants.

31:00: Joe talks about liquors (Kessler, Johnny Walker, Old Bushmill...) as though they're people. He quotes A Shropshire Lad, 'Malt has done more than Milton can...'.

32:10: Bud and Ray return, arguing about drinks.

33:20: Johnny arrived in Montreal, joined the RCAF.

34:40: Joe invites us to drink to fond farewells.

35:00: After training in Toronto, they shipped out of Halifax to Liverpool.

36:20: Johnny's plane, Wellington bomber AG725L of the 165th bomber command, had its engines fail over the Channel, into which it crashed.[4] Johnny, a turret gunner, was the only survivor. He spent the rest of the war at a desk job. He loved the bar life, drinking from 9 PM to 4 AM.

39:10: Joe invites us to drink to the bar life.

39:30: Johnny returned after the war.

40:20: Johnny went to Villanova on the GI Bill.

41:00: Inspired by Thomas Merton's The Seven-Storey Mountain, Johnny found god and became passionate about his faith.

42:10: Someone (George Murdoch?) recites Merton's eulogy to his brother, who died in the war, 'For my brother, missing in action 1943'.

45:00: The poem 'pierced Johnny's heart'; he joined the monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky, where Merton lived. Joe describes monastery life. The abbot became increasingly familiar at their weekly conferences. When the abbot kissed him, Johnny left, drifted west, ended up in Venice.

48:40: Joe quotes Matthew 26:48-49 on the betrayal of Jesus.

49:00: Bud and Ray return, this time Bud unhappy that Ray has none of the bar snacks he wants.

50:30: Joe recites a poem in praise of drinking.

55:20: Bud and Ray return, arguing about bar snacks.

Legacy Synopsis

A narrative monologue, cut with acted scenes and Joe toasting characters in the narrative and reading a poem praising liquor.

The acted scenes feature a customer in a bar, Larry Block, who attempts to order drinks and snacks, only to discover that everything he orders is not only unavailable but totally foreign to the bartender Ryan Cutrona.

The narrative is the story of Johnny, filled with details about his life in the 20's and 30's:

  • His catholic mother dies giving birth to him, and he spends his early childhood with a caring, widowed grandmother.
  • Memories of a childhood trip to Brittany, being kissed by an older boy on the boat, visiting Lourdes.
  • His father re-marries, and his stepmother takes him from his grandmother, in a scene reminiscent of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
  • His grandmother is forbidden to visit, moves back to France.
  • His father invests in a modern cooperage, is financially ruined, and becomes a violent drunk.
  • Memories of ships on the Hudson.
  • Johnny stands up to his father.
  • Boisterous fun at his step grandmother's wake. War begins.
  • Johnny grows close to his stepmother. He fights with fascists in a German-American movie theater. He and his stepmother kiss. The next day, he gets drunk and enlists in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
  • Enthusiastic recruits board the ship for Europe.
  • He's shot down on his first mission, gets a desk job, invites death when London is bombed.
  • He returns from Europe, finds religion in a Thomas Merton poem and joins the monastery in Gethsemani.
  • When the abbot makes a pass at him, he heads west, eventually becoming a homeless person in Venice Beach.


Shared material

Additional credits

The original broadcast credits state: "With Larry Block, Ryan Cutrona, George Murdoch, and Joe Frank. The program was recorded by Tom Strother and Eric Myers, and mixed by Jeff Sykes."


  • This is largely a retelling of the material from A Kiss is Just a Kiss, cut with poetry and toasts by Joe, and a bar room acted dialog.
  • The bar room dialog may have originally been recorded as part of In The Middle Of Nowhere. It features the same actors (Larry Block & Ryan Cutrona), the style seems consistent, and the customer makes references to needing to unwind from a traumatic experience and not having a working car, both of which are consistent with an early scene in which Bud and Ray meet. Both programs also feature a prominent reference to Lourdes.


I didn't listen for years: the opening conversation is hard to make out and not worth any effort - a witless version of Monty Python's 'Cheese shop' sketch; I expected the rest to be no better. Thanksgiving afternoon about 10 years ago I went for a walk, copied 3 episodes of Joe's shows to my Coby, then added 'To the bar life' in case I went long, which I did. I found Johnny's story, and the accompanying music, excellent, one of Joe's best. I don't care for the rest, especially after re-evaluating Merton.Arthur Peabody (talk) 13:04, 26 July 2022 (EDT)

I kept track of the last 14 years of the episodes KPFA aired, the last 13 of those WBEZ and WNYC did, the last 8 years KDVS did. None of them aired it - perhaps for the reason I didn't listen for so long.Arthur Peabody (talk) 13:04, 26 July 2022 (EDT)

A number of homeless people on Venice and Santa Monica beach have chatted me up. Johnny doesn't sound like one of them. I think it's fictional - it has too much detail, is too neat. The portions of 'A kiss is just a kiss' that I have heard are much more detailed.Arthur Peabody (talk) 13:04, 26 July 2022 (EDT)


  1. I take the names from 'In the middle of nowhere'; they mention the towns of Paisley and Kimball, which also appear in it; Block and Cutrona played the same characters in it. Block's car is broken in both.
  2. the patron saint of Lourdes
  3. re-used in Love Is and Where Will It End?.
  4. 'Bomber command' was the name of the whole British bomber enterprise, which was divided into squadrons; there was no 165th squadron.
    According to Wikipedia there was no type 725 of the Wellington bomber.
    According to the rafcommands database there was a bomber with ID number AG725 that crashed on takeoff from Malta 1943 May 4. It was a Martin Baltimore, not a Wellington, a light, not heavy, bomber. All the crew were killed. It was in the 69th squadron. It did have 1 Canadian crew.