There’s a running gag on “The Simpsons” in which young Bart crank calls the local tavern and asks its bartender, Moe, “Is Oliver there? Oliver Clothesoff?” or some other punny name, causing Moe to ask out loud for the patron and embarrass himself. (“Al Koholic” is another popular one.)
Sounds like pure TV writing genius, but it was actually borne out of real life.
In the mid 1970s, two Jersey City guys, Jim Davidson and John Elmo, had the idea to crank call various bars and restaurants and annoy the people who work there. They particularly liked hearing the gruff voice of Red Deutsch, the owner of the Tube Bar in Journal Square.
Little did they know that tapes they made of their calls would become legend and would be sold on the internet for decades.
Tapes on sale The tapes, known variously as the “Tube Bar Tapes” or the “Red Deutsch Tapes,” capture for eternity Deutsch’s raspy voice asking for “Sal Lami” or “Cole Cutz.”
Deutsch would gullibly shout the name out in the bar, only to get harassed by some drunken patron or no response. Red (who died in 1983) was only a victim until he caught on and started hurling profanities back at his tormentors.
Copies of the tapes circulated to major league ball clubs in the 1980s. Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons,” wound up with a copy and introduced a larger audience to the crank calls on his animated series in the 1990s.
That’s weird The Jersey City Reporter tried tracking down the two men responsible for the infamous tapes, but was not successful.
In fact, even Mark Moran, one of the co-editors of the New Jersey-based magazine Weird NJ acknowledged that they can be difficult to find.
“Seems like these mysterious men have slipped once more into anonymity,” Moran wrote in a recent e-mail. “Best of luck tracking them down and please let us know if you find them!”
Weird NJ was the only publication that conducted an interview with Davidson and Elmo – back in the late 1990s. At the time the pair called themselves the Bum Bar Bastards. They had kept their identity a secret for many years but decided to come out in the open.
In the interview, Davidson described how the calls first started in the early 1970s and were taped on reel-to-reel. When asked why he and Elmo did it, he replied, “Boredom. Because we could. There was no malice intended. We were just having fun.”
Davidson said the tapes of the calls to the Tube Bar began in 1975 and ended a year later. He recalled how he and Elmo would pass by the bar as children and as adults and see commuters go in and out of the bar, with many being thrown out.
“One day we were just making random crank calls when I thought to call the Tube Bar. When Red answered the phone, I just started laughing and hung up.”
Davidson added, “I told John, ‘Hey, you gotta hear this guy’s voice.’ We called back and made most of those calls in one day. The ones like ‘Sal Lami, Cole Cutz,’ I couldn’t believe he just kept calling out the names!” Segments of the tapes, which can be downloaded from the aptly named “Bum Bar Bastards” website (www.bumbarbastards.com), have Red eventually threatening to “cut their stomachs out” or inflict some other type of physical harm.
Davidson said in the interview that the last tape was made in 1978, and he kept it to himself.
The Tube Bar Now it’s a Mexican restaurant, but the Tube Bar was once a commuter pub located in the concourse or alleyway next to what is now the Journal Square PATH Station.
Opened in 1933 by former vegetable stand owner Red Deutsch, it was a place that would stand three to four men deep with 20-cent beer and no stools. The bar was named for the subway tunnels running across the Hudson, known as “tubes.”
The bar eventually was sold by Red in 1980, and he moved to Florida, where he passed away three years later.
The new owners kept the bar in the same location until moving the liquor license across Kennedy Boulevard to what is currently known as the Journal Square Pub.
Old-timers remember the bar for other unique details and for its unique owner.
John Gillen, a Jersey City Police officer, worked at the bar in the mid-1970s after he returned from service in Vietnam.
“When you entered through the doors, there was sawdust on the floor and three chairs at the front of the bar that Red insisted had to be filled before he would allow anyone to sit anywhere else,” said Gillen. “And only thing they had to eat was saltine crackers, hot peppers, and pickles. Eating those would make you thirsty.”
Gillen also recalled Red had several rules they everyone had to comply with.
“If you weren’t drinking, you weren’t staying,” he said. “Red had such traffic in that place he had to tell people to move it along. And if you were drinking beer, he would put you in the back room.”
He also did not allow women in his bar even after laws were changed in the 1970s to admit females into bars in Jersey City. And he scolded his bartenders if they even served a woman.
However, Gillen did say that Red was a nicer man that he is given credit for.
“He would give to any cause no matter what it was,” said Gillen. “And he would cash checks for anybody.”
Well-known Gillen’s friend, Mike Nolan, is currently a bartender at the Astor Bar and Grill on Montgomery Street, but was once a Tube Bar customer. He knew about the tapes.
Nolan said, “They would hand them out at old Sully’s Tavern on Hopkins and Summit [avenues] and they would play the tapes.”
Nolan said that he does not believe that the two men who came forward are the ones who made the tape. He coyly suggested that he knew who really made the tapes, but would not name names.
Nolan said, “What happened at the Tube Bar stays in the Tube Bar.”