Friday, January 14, 2011

Former Northeast Tap Room Owner Back in Berks

There’s a light around Pete Cammarano.
It’s not the light from the ancient Reading Premium beer signs behind the bar at Mike’s Tavern.
Pete, 53, of Reading owned and operated the Northeast Tap Room on North 12th Street for almost 20 years.
He sold the Tap Room in 2003 and moved to Seattle and then Memphis, Tenn., looking for a new start.
He came back to Reading and bought Mike’s at 135 Exeter St. in May, from the Duplak family, who owned and operated the bar for 76 years. The original liquor license hanging behind the bar is dated 1934, one year after Prohibition ended.
Mike’s was popular with shift workers at the former Dana Corp. Parish plant. The blue-collar shot-and-beer crowd is gone.
Pete bought the Northeast Tap Room in 1983 and replaced a Budweiser tap with one of Yuengling’s varietal beers. Eventually, the Tap Room offered 100 different beers. The tavern started drawing beer aficionados from all over Berks County.
Then around 1990, the microbrew craze hit and the Tap Room was a hot spot.
While living in Memphis, where he opened a hoagie shop, Pete came home for the holidays in 2009 and visited Mike’s, which had been one of his old haunts.
The owners were looking to sell and Pete saw a way home.
Since May, Pete has transformed Mike’s. Stella Artois is the most conventional beer on tap.
“The Stella Artois is there on tap so the others can be weird,” Pete joked.
Mike’s features three varieties from Lagunitas Brewing Co., San Francisco, on tap and 80 other beers, domestic, international and “weird.” One tastes like Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak.
Pete, almost from the day he left Reading, felt the tug of his hometown calling him back.
As the light faded outside one recent afternoon and patron after patron wandered in, Pete greeted each by name.
The patrons at Mike’s, many former denizens of the Tap Room, will tell you that it’s the warm light of Pete’s beer knowledge, mellow personality and friendly smile that keeps them coming back.
For Pete, he says he’s home for good.
“This is where I’m supposed to be and it feels really good to be back,” he said.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Eagles vs. Giants, 1968

A snowball hit my bedroom window on Christmas morning, 1968.

It was the O'Hara boys.

It couldn't have been 9 a.m., and already they were suited up in New York football Giants uniforms.

John, 11, a notorious instigator, was spinning a football as his brothers Patrick, 9, and Victor, 8, blew on their hands and jogged in place.

"Are you coming or what?" John snarled.

I was pulling on the pants of the Eagles uniform my dad had just given me for Christmas.

At 10, I already was an inveterate Eagles fan. My father sold bobble dolls, pins and pennants with his partner, Jack Becker, at Franklin Field. I sat on the cement stairs in the stands behind the Eagles bench on a crushed cardboard box my dad gave me when he greased the security guard. Back then it took only $5 to get a 50-yard-line seat for the second half. Another buck got me hot chocolate and a hot dog.

Jack O'Hara must have gotten to the stores too late, or maybe he was in New Jersey, when he bought his boys their navy blue football costumes.

Nevertheless, it would be two-on-two, All-Star format, on the lawn of the Norris Hills Apartments.

Did I mention it was snowing?

It was me and Patrick against John and Victor. We kicked their butts.

The field was on a slight, north-south grade. There was a parking lot on top and an enormous evergreen at the bottom. The sidelines were the sidewalk and an apartment building.

As usual, John and I were the protagonists. Victor and Patrick were supporting characters.

John was much stronger and more athletic than I was, but he also was a hothead.

Patrick and I waited for Victor to fumble the ball or drop a pass from his frozen hands. John would unravel, and we'd sweep to victory.

Win or lose, we walked off heroes. In uniform. Bruised and bloodied. Veterans of a real tackle football game. A snow game, at that.

Even though John was angry at Victor for fumbling a last-ditch, razzle-dazzle kick return, he piggybacked him home when the boy complained his feet were frozen. They probably were. His mother, Lenore, would see to them.

When Dad asked who won, I told him, "The Eagles did, of course."

Mom made us some hot chocolate.

Dad and I sat by our cardboard Christmas fireplace and laughed at replays of Eagles fans throwing snowballs at Santa Claus.