~ Malden Musings ~
I have many fond recollections of Mike’s Cafe and bartender to the unwashed masses Walter Wishoski. His awful death recently brought back a flood of childhood memories spent in Mike’s. Opening their doors (the Czechowskis, I believe) at 208 Highland Ave. in (I believe) 1954, Mike’s was a thriving neighborhood bar for a good chunk of many of our lives. I reached out to Dickie (“The King of King Neptune”) Santo to probe his Mike’s Cafe memory bank. The similarities on our Mike’s experience are almost identical. Before it became Papa’s Bar & Grille it was Mike’s Café, where most of the youths of Edgeworth had their first taste of demon alcohol. Thirty-five cent drafts! The jar of pickled eggs on the bar next to the cash register consumed only by the brave at heart. The old saw goes that a newbie to the bar asked Walter (Wishoski) where the ashtray was. His reply: “You’re standing in it!” My first venture into Mike’s was around 1973 as a sophomore at Malden High School (I think the drinking age was 12 in those days). We walked late night through the back door and sat in the lounge area away from the bar. We sent the tallest of us up for six drafts. Because he could reach the bar and his money was green, he qualified for as many draft beers as he could carry back to the old wooden booth with faux-leather covering in the back room. Such memories!
I’ve gone to the Dickie Santo well many times in the past (just last week actually); he contributes pure gold and makes me look good (insert smiley face). Take it away, King of Kings: “I recently read about the tragic accident resulting in the death of Edgeworth’s own Walter Wishoski and word quickly spread around the area. I remember back in the day when my friends and I were in our early 20’s and the Dukakis administration and lawmakers had just passed a law that if you were caught drinking and driving you could face jail time as well as a $1,000 dollar fine. So, during that winter my friends and I decided that it would be best to stay local and not risk driving to the clubs up and down Route 1 or to Revere Beach. All of us being from Edgeworth ourselves, we decided to make Mike’s Café our weekend hangout for the winter. There was probably a dozen of us hanging out there each and every Friday and Saturday night. Mikes was well known around the area and people would come from all over to grab last call which was at 2:00 AM! The first night we stepped in the place we were received by puzzled looks from all the hard-core old timers at the bar and legendary bartender Walter Wishoski as if to say what are you kids doing coming in here! At that time the price for a draft beer at Mike’s was 35 cents! One could partake from a selection of Ballantine Ale, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Miller High Life, or Tuborg to name a few. Walter also poured one hell of a mixed drink as well as a ‘heavy handed’ shot! Food offerings ranged from hard-boiled eggs, whole dill pickles, hot dogs as well as ham & cheese sandwiches, salami & cheese sandwiches, and roast beef & cheese sandwiches which Walter sliced to order and piled so high one thought it was as if you were eating a large sub from the Big A! We also had the ‘dining room’ all to ourselves which included a TV with the old Cablevision ‘remote’ box (connected to the TV by wire) with the A/B toggle switch and channel buttons as well as a Pac Man video game machine! All you needed to bring with you for a fun night was $10.00 which would cover 20 draft beers apiece ($7.00), a roast beef and cheese sandwich ($1.50), 4 games of Pac Man ($1.00) and a 50-cent tip for Walter! We drank so many drafts that it soon forced the price to go from 35 cents to 40 cents per draft for water and labor costs because of all the glasses that Walter had to run through the dishwasher at the bar! God bless Walter as he put up with so much grief from us that winter. All kidding aside, I would like to express my condolences to the Wishoski family for their loss. It is truly a shame and an awful way for him to go. RIP Walter and thanks for the memories!”
Walter’s brother Steve had these words to say: “Walter was a great brother to Denise, Diane and me. He was stoic and a man of few words but judging from the incredible response and outpouring of good wishes from so many people he touched an awful lot of folks. He was a proud graduate of Malden High where I’m told he was on the rifle team. He spent over 20 years in the National Guard from where he retired, he worked for Piantadosi’s and is best remembered as the best bartender Mike’s Cafe ever had. He was honest, hardworking and had an old school work ethic. He loved the Irish American and many of their members have reached out to us. As you would expect, our friends from Edgeworth have been very generous with their praise and regard for him. We will miss him very much. He was irreplaceable as a brother and friend.”
Yes, Walter was a proud member from the class of 1965. Let us take a peek at The Maldonian, Class of 1965 – “Here at M.H.S. We Strive for ‘Peace thru Understanding…’”
- The Maldonian called English teacher Miss Mary E. Heald, teacher, leader, advisor, as well as “our fourth-floor sunbeam.” She was not only the “watchful eye of the Maldonian,” but also the “guiding light and it’s striving purpose” and its “dear and wonderful ‘Mother.’”
- A Malden High School 1926 graduate, Governor of Massachusetts John Volpe, sent a letter of congratulations that was long on academic sterility and short on warmth. Still, an MHS graduate becoming Governor of the Commonwealth? Outstanding!
- Paul Phaneuf was the Superintendent of Schools. Paul Phaneuf was an intellectual giant. His brilliance, his class and his gentlemanly demeanor contributed to Malden’s reputation as one of the best school systems in the Commonwealth. Many a night I would walk into the Phaneuf living room, Paul sitting in his recliner, Ballantine Ale poured perfectly in a pilsner glass at his side and one of the great classics on his lap. Lovely man. His advice for the class of ’65 was epic: “May I suggest that you work for peace in the world by working for peace in your own immediate milieu by loving one another and by ridding yourselves of all traces of bigotry, prejudice and all hatreds except a hatred of injustice.”
- Brendan Duffy was the Assistant Advisor to the Class of 1966 – in the yearbook photo looking like a much handsomer version of his son, Kevin. In 1965 Duff was already a legend. Advisor to the Lion magazine and a member of the Writer’s Workshop, Duffy was a role model and mentor to untold thousands of young minds throughout his storied career.
As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character “Columbo” would say “Just one more thing sir” – I was shocked and saddened, my heart sank, when I read who it was. The “forced intimacy of life in a small neighborhood meant no street corner was anonymous” (I wish that was mine). Or in this case, no neighborhood bar. Mike’s Cafe was one of the (many) legendary “old men’s” or “dive bars” in Edgeworth growing up. Mike’s eventually morphed into Papa’s Bar & Grille owned by a wonderful Medford family. While Papa’s was an outstanding restaurant – it was not Mike’s. Before Mike’s closed its doors, I was a semi frequent visitor there. Walter (Wishoski) was the revered bartender when I first started having a legal draft or two. Some little-known Walter Wishoski facts: According to his high school yearbook, he was a Connie Francis ‘zealot,’ he was on the “Swing ’n Spring” and “Pigskin Panic” committee and was an ardent reader of “warfare material.” I have known Walter’s lovely sister Diane (voted to my all-time loveliest girls from Devir Park team) since I was a youngster at Devir Park, and his brother Steve was the MRA big kahuna for years. My sincerest condolences go out to the Wishoskis – a wonderful Malden family.