The Third Leader: Last orders

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The Independent Online

A round of applause, please, for Hoy Wong, better known as Mr Hoy, who turns 90 today and is New York's oldest bartender. I would suggest a drink, but, sensibly, Mr Hoy doesn't indulge - having called time after a heart attack, back in 1982.

Mr Hoy, now working at the famous Algonquin, has, over the years, served Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Bob Hope and the Duke of Windsor. He says they were all nice people, which shows why he has been such a great success in his trade - as it isn't true.

The top bar-person needs other qualities, of course (although, thankfully, there is not so much call nowadays to get to the shotgun without the bad guy noticing, Wild West saloon-style). One thinks principally of the ability to look at least half-interested in what the clientele has to say. Can you imagine how many times Mr Hoy has heard it before since he started in 1948? The blather, the bluster, the slurred, the pained and the completely incomprehensible?

As Johnny Mercer so memorably put it in One For My Baby: "If I'm gloomy, please listen to me till it's all, all talked away." Mercy.

Unsurprisingly, then, Mr Hoy proves to be of that phlegmatic turn so often found on his side of the bar. "It doesn't matter what happens," he says. "Turn around, I can forget it." And he's still alive to tell the tale.

I, meanwhile, will honour tradition with a couple he's also heard before. A horse walks into a bar, and the barman says, "Why the long face?". A zebra walks into a bar, and the barman says, "What is this, some kind of a joke?" Cheers, Mr Hoy.