September 1, 2009 / 2:49 PM / 10 years ago

After 76 years, last call draws near for bartender

PITTSBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Pittsburgh bartender Angelo Cammarata served his first beer a few minutes after Prohibition was lifted in 1933. Soon he will serve his last.

Pittsburgh bartender Angelo Cammarata serves beer at Cammarata's Cafe in Pittsburgh's West View section, August 31, 2009. REUTERS/John Altdorfer

The 95-year-old, who is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest-serving bartender, only had one break in his career — to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

When Prohibition ended he was working in his family’s shop in Pittsburgh’s North Side, selling 10-cent bottles of Fort Pitt Beer just past the stroke of midnight. He was 19, liquor laws were few, and patrons stood on the sidewalk, beers in hands.

“We had about 20 men standing outside waiting for us to open,” Cammarata said. “That was the beginning of something.”

The business sold 12 cases of beer in its first two hours.

Soon Cammarata will give his last call at Cammarata’s Cafe in Pittsburgh’s West View section, though an exact date has not been determined.

His sons Frank and John, who own the bar, have sold the place and are waiting for state liquor control board approval of transfer of the liquor license, which was one of the first bought in Pittsburgh prior to Prohibition’s repeal.

Cammarata and the cafe, which was started as Cammarata’s Grocery by his immigrant father and relocated to West View borough in 1954, are local institutions. Despite his age, he still works three to four-hour shifts daily at the small neighborhood bar.

Recently he proudly pointed to a wall of the homey, wood-paneled bar, which held various certificates honoring the veteran barkeeper, including a framed letter from former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.

“Tending bar is an education. You have to follow what’s going on. You have to be crisp,” he said.

A Catholic, Cammarata attends church regularly and cares for his wife of 71 years, Marietta. They have four children and 21 grandchildren.

His advice to others is: Know thyself.

“You have to take care of yourself, and you have to respect yourself. Your image is important ... I love myself first of all. If I’m not honest with myself, I’m not honest with others,” Cammarata said, slapping a hand on the bar to make a point.

One change he has witnessed is women being welcome in bars. “Now, there are more women tending bar than there are men,” Cammarata said.

He still enjoys a regular Jim Beam bourbon and Coke.

“I have a drink at my own bar. It’s like being at home and having a glass of water. But it’s not every day.”

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