Brag­ging rights: Fe­male bar­tender might be Pa.’s first ‘From the old days’: Reg­u­lars to re­unite for cel­e­bra­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - DAILY LOCAL NEWS - By Gary Puleo gpuleo@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Mus­tangMan48 on Twit­ter

NORRISTOWN»If you’ve stopped by for a drink at Co­letti’s Town Tav­ern any­time in the last half cen­tury there’s a good chance the per­son who poured it and served it to you was Elsie Jag­gers.

The diminu­tive, easy­go­ing woman has been work­ing at Co­letti’s since 1966, when she started out as a cook be­cause a woman wasn’t al­lowed to mix drinks in Penn­syl­va­nia at the time, un­less she was the wife or daugh­ter of the sa­loon pro­pri­etor.

The suc­cess­ful post-World War II ef­forts by male-only bar­tenders’ unions to es­tab­lish state laws ban­ning women from be­hind the bar were re­voked in Penn­syl­va­nia in 1968, giv­ing Jag­gers en­try onto the brave new fron­tier of bar keep­ing.

And now she’s been the res­i­dent mixol­o­gist at Co­letti’s from the era of Richard Nixon to Don­ald Trump, and count­ing.

Jag­gers wasn’t ex­actly keen on earn­ing her no­to­ri­ety as a trail­blazer in the late ’60s. Her mo­ti­va­tion to tend bar came from her boss, who was only too happy to pro­vide im­me­di­ate on-the-job train­ing.

“Char­lie, the owner, put me right in be­hind the bar mak­ing drinks be­cause he needed a bar­tender,” Jag­gers re­called. “He’d say, ‘Go make me a mar­tini, make me a Man­hat­tan,’ and that’s how I learned how to mix drinks.”

The de­mand has changed dra­mat­i­cally since then. There’s not a lot of call for Jag­gers to raz­zle-daz­zle pa­trons with much jig-

ger ex­per­tise these days, but she can still whip up a brandy Alexan­der with the best of them, male or fe­male.

“It’s a neigh­bor­hood bar now ... It’s mostly just beer and shots,” she said.

Be­cause she started bar­tend­ing two days be­fore the rev­o­lu­tion­ary law took hold in 1968, Jag­gers fig­ured she has brag­ging rights as the first fe­male bar­tender in the state.

On Sun­day, she is set to be hon­ored with a 50th an­niver­sary party by her boss, Sam Ngov, a Norristown na­tive and high school grad who bought the bar 13 years ago from Charles Co­letti, whose grand­fa­ther, Pat Co­letti, opened the bar at the cor­ner of West Mar­shall and As­tor streets in the Pro­hi­bi­tion-era year of 1922.

Ngov was de­lighted that Jag­gers came with the sale of the busi­ness.

“I felt great about her stay­ing on be­cause the cus­tomers just love her,” he said.

For­mer Co­letti’s reg­u­lars from the long-gone Alan Wood Steel Co., Lukens Steel and Stroehmann bak­ery in Con­shohocken and Sch­midt’s brew­ery in Norristown were in­vited to the party, Ngov said.

“We texted ev­ery­body we could think of from the old days to come back and say hello,” he noted. “They all moved away years ago.”

“It’s mostly word of mouth,” added Jag­gers, who used to

walk to work when she lived on Lafayette Street.

Then she drove her­self for a while but gave up driv­ing 40 years ago.

“I just de­cided I didn’t want to drive any­more,” she said mat­ter-of-factly.

Most of the time her daugh­ter will drive her to work from the East Nor­ri­ton home they share, and Ngov will drive her home.

Although the at­mos­phere at Co­letti’s and the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood has changed dra­mat­i­cally since 1968, Jag­gers said one thing has kept her on the job all these years.

“I en­joy peo­ple,” she said. “It was like Cheers in here at one time. Ev­ery­body knew ev­ery­body. Now they sort of have their own groups. They in­ter­act with one an­other, but not like be­fore. Things are dif­fer­ent now, but I still love it here.”

Like many jobs, bar­tend­ing can be tough on the body at any age, with con­stant stand­ing, bend­ing, and reach­ing.

But Jag­gers lim­its her shifts to three or four hours and never has any prob­lems, she al­lowed.

“It gets me out of the house and keeps me from go­ing stale,” she said, as a long­time cus­tomer walked by and gave her a hug.

“It’s just an amaz­ing thing she does be­hind the bar,” Ron Ronca said. “She’s been work­ing here 50 years. How of­ten do you see some­thing like that? She’s a won­der­ful lady.”


Elsie Jag­gers serves up a Coors Lite to Co­letti’s Town Tav­ern owner Sam Ngov as cus­tomer John Nelk looks on.

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