Family Portrait: Ricky McIntire

Ricky McIntire, or “Ricky Mac” as he’s known, loves to make people happy.

As a bartender at a number of Philadelphia’s favorite bars, Mac enjoys taking a little time to make people laugh and perhaps bring a little happiness to those who belly up to his bar. “I care a lot about people; at the end of the day, I go through the events of the day in my mind and try to make sure I was good to everybody.” PGN had a chance to talk with the popular mixologist about his recipe for success.

PGN: So what’s your best drink? RI: My best drink is anything with vodka. I put it in everything. It’s like my chicken stock!

PGN: Nice! Are you a Philly guy? RI: Yes, I was born and raised here in Philly. I lived in L.A. for a year, but moved back because it was going to kill me. I hated it out there.

PGN: Any siblings? RI: I have an older brother. [Laughs.] But I was a mistake! My mother said that women back then didn’t have all the options that they do now. My dad is an engineer and my mother was a keypunch operator. You know, when they had the first computers and everything was on those cards with the holes in them. She did the data entry on those. She worked at Villanova University, so it was cool. I got to go there for free. I wouldn’t have gotten in otherwise!

PGN: What did you study? RI: I went for English and theater. I soon learned that I couldn’t make any money in either of those fields, so I got into the service industry. I’ve been working at Woody’s for almost 20 years.

PGN: That’s a long time. RI: Yeah. I started as a bus boy at a restaurant in Havertown called Nais Cuisine. I started when I was 14 and, by the time I was 18, I was pretty much running the place. It was owned by a Thai family and we were very close. They didn’t speak much English, so I taught them how to read and write … and drive. I worked there for 19 years. I started at Woody’s in 1990, so I’ve been there for about 19 years too. I can’t decide if I’m really loyal or lazy!

PGN: What did you learn about the Thai community? RI: They’re a wonderful culture. Very respectful. They really appreciate their elders and other people. If they say they’re going to do something, they do it. And if you’re friends, you know that they always have your back. You know without a doubt that they won’t disappoint you. I went to Thailand with the family for a month, though I only lasted 23 days. I really wanted to live like the people from there, but it was tougher than I thought it was going to be. They came from nothing and were from a very rural area. There were a lot of bugs; I was wrapped up in mosquito netting every night. The food situation was also hard for me to handle and there was no indoor plumbing at the majority of places we went. I’m not too high-maintenance ­— I don’t need color TV in my hotel room — but having to check my shoes each night for scorpions got to me after a while. It didn’t help that I was there in July, which was crazy hot and humid. I heard a comedian say that it was the equivalent of going to the south side of hell in August. PGN: What were you like as a kid? RI: I was a weird kid. I was always picked on, so I tried to be funny and divert the attention that way. I was tall and skinny. I was 6 feet at about 11 years old and I don’t think I weighed more than 100 pounds until after I graduated high school. I was teased a lot. I wouldn’t go back to that age for a million dollars. In fact, I’d trade you 10 years off my life if I could have skipped that period. It was awful, but I made it through. If you can make it through public school as a skinny, gay, awkward kid, you can make it through anything. Now nothing phases me: “Oh what, there’s an earthquake coming? OK, no sweat … I’ve been through puberty.”

PGN: What helped you get through? RI: Theater. I loved theater and the attention I got. I still do! It’s why I like being behind the bar — every night is like a show.

PGN: So at 6-feet tall, did you enjoy any sports? RI: No, but I played on almost every team because my father was the coach. They just never played me unless we were really losing badly or so far ahead I couldn’t screw it up! In baseball, I was so deep in left field you couldn’t even see me. They’d have to tell me when the inning was over.

PGN: Worst sports moment? RI: I was on the soccer team as fullback. At that position, you weren’t supposed to move, just stay put and protect the goal. One time, I got the ball and got so excited, I started to run and kicked a goal. As a fullback, you’re not supposed to do that. Especially since I kicked into our own side and scored a goal for the other team! Somehow in my excitement I got turned around. It wasn’t one of my father’s proudest moments as a coach.

PGN: What’s your ethnic background? RI: I’m half Irish and half Italian. I was raised Italian because that’s what my mother is and she ran the household. She comes from a family of 10 kids — four boys and six girls — so I basically had six mothers. My father was an only child, so he didn’t stand a chance! He also traveled a lot when we were kids, so she was the disciplinarian; she got to play the bad guy. He’d come home on the weekends with airport presents for everyone and get to be the good guy.

PGN: Are they still around? RI: Oh yeah, my father just turned 80 and he just got a new hip; my mom’s … well, nobody knows how old she really is, but she’s close to that, and she has new knees. They’re, like, bionic now. It’s amazing: My dad could barely walk and my mom couldn’t get out of a car and now she’s practically doing somersaults.

PGN: What did you like to do as a kid? RI:I used to write a lot; still do. I kept all my thoughts and ideas in journals. I always used to pretend I was something else. [Laughs.] I still do that too. I used to pretend that we were snowed in and I’d build forts and things. Me and my friends would put on shows in the basement and just act goofy. I still love to do silly things. I’m 41, but you might still catch me making the occasional prank calls to people who I went to high school with, specially the ones who picked on me.

PGN: Did you play with your brother? RI: No. When I was born, he wasn’t too happy that he wasn’t an only child anymore. He was a tough guy and we were nothing alike. Come to think of it, I don’t look like anyone in my family. [Laughs.] I think they were just a nice family that took me in! Later in life we became friends. When I was 25, he asked me to be the best man at his wedding, so I figured he didn’t hate me anymore. After that, things kind of turned around.

PGN: What was your favorite toy as a kid? RI:It was called the Frog Box. It was a giant frog about the size of a washing machine. It was huge! The whole mouth opened up. You could change the eyes and mouth and make different expressions, you could put your toys in it and I used to hide in it. That was my favorite. I tried to find one online but wasn’t able to find it.

PGN: An early sign that you were gay? RI: Oh, I had a huge crush on my biology teacher, Jack O’Donnell. He was also the football coach. He lived in our neighborhood and he was gorgeous. He looked a little like Tom Selleck. I would act like I didn’t understand the homework so that I could stay after class. I remember sitting next to him and thinking that there was something about Jack that Jill just wasn’t doing for me.

PGN: How was coming out to the family? RI: Oh, not so good. I actually had to come out to them because of a tragedy. I was working at the 2/4 Club, which was an after-hours club. I started work at 1 a.m. and finished at 6 a.m. I wasn’t out to my mother so I told her that I worked at the post office, which was tricky because she’d ask me to bring stamps home! Anyway, one night one of our coworkers was late. He was like me in that, if you weren’t there on time, you’d better send out the troops because something was wrong. I mean if you can’t make it on time to work at 1 a.m., you need to hang it up. His name was Guy Terozzo, and when he didn’t show up the manager asked me to go over to his house to check on him. I drove there and the door was open. I went upstairs and the place was swarming with police. Since I was still in the closet, I panicked and ran back down the stairs and tried to run away before the cops saw me. No such luck; I got nabbed at my car and then arrested because it looked suspicious that I ran. It was a horrible situation and that’s how I came out to my parents. [Ed. note: Terozzo’s murder was never solved.]

PGN: Did you know him well? RI: Not well. I was a barback in those days, but I was in awe of all the bartenders. That was in the day when bartenders were celebrities. You didn’t have the Internet, you didn’t have out celebrities, so the bartenders were rock stars. If your favorite bartender was working on a Wednesday, you had to go out to see him.

PGN: So to jump back a bit, how was Villanova? RI: Well, I didn’t like it much there; it was too Augustinian. They were very strict and formal. I’m happy for the education that I got, but for theater I preferred the training I did on my own. I did a lot of offbeat plays like “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” at the TLA. I did a lot of gay one-act plays and experimental shows. My family came to see one show that I did where I was tied to my chair in my underwear while this guy was verbally abusing me. I looked up about 10 minutes into the show and the whole row was vacated. [Laughs.] They tried but they couldn’t handle it. This was before we had cell phones, so they left me a little note on my car. But for me, I think my best performance is when I’m bartending. I love to entertain people; if people invite me to something on a day I have to work, I’ll tell them, “Sorry, I can’t go, I have a show at 9 p.m. at Woody’s.”

PGN: What was your worst performing disaster? RI: I missed about 15 pages of dialogue once and didn’t realize it. The cast tried to get me back on track, but I was oblivious. Something shut off in my brain and I just kept going. It was so confusing for the audience. We spent the whole second act trying to reestablish the story line!

PGN: Craziest bar moment? RI: Back in the day, we used to do the New Year’s ladies’ parties and they were off the chart. We would have 1,200-1,500 people come through there in that one day. One year, I rung up almost $30,000 just on my register! It was a different time. Anyway, I’d decided to give up drinking for one year and this New Year’s was the end of the year. I worked New Year’s Eve from early evening until the morning, got a hotel room, slept for three hours and went back for the ladies’ party and did another 15-hour shift. When I finished, a bunch of us decided on a whim to go to Key West. I decided to drink for the first time in a year, so people were buying me drinks left and right. I was trashed and, the next morning, I had to get back on a plane to come home to go back to work. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling very well. The plane wasn’t a puddle jumper, but it was small. I was really starting to feel sick, but the plane was ready to take off so I got on and figured I’d just try to hold it together until after take-off and then I’d lock myself in the bathroom. We finally get off the ground and I headed to the back of the plane … to find nothing but a blank wall back there. I was getting a little shaky, but I figured the bathroom must be up front. I went back up the aisle and now people were starting to look at me because I looked like a homeless person. There was no flight attendant, which I later found out you didn’t need if it was a short flight (we were just going to Tampa) with a limited amount of passengers. So I groped my way to the front of the plane and to the left was the door we came in, to the right was a closet and straight ahead was the cockpit. So I knocked on the cockpit door and the pilots turned around — this was obviously way before 9/11 — and I said, “Excuse me, I can’t find the bathroom.” They told me, “Sorry, we don’t have one, but just relax, we’ll be in Tampa in 50 minutes.” I said, “Fifty? As in 5-0, not 1-5? Oh, no, I’m not going to make it. I need to get off the plane.”

At this point I was sweating and shaking and I think I may have even been crying just a little. I started telling them my whole story, how I’d worked for almost 48 hours straight and how I’d been drinking for the first time in a year; the whole thing poured out. The pilot said, “We understand, take your seat.” The next thing I knew, I heard over the PA system, “Ladies and gentleman, we’re making an emergency landing.” Everyone was looking at me, ’cause I looked like I had scarlet fever, but at that point I wasn’t even mortified because I just wanted to get off the plane. We landed at Naples’ naval base and I looked out the window and saw ambulances, a fire truck and people running over from all different directions as a stretcher was being wheeled to the plane. All they knew was that the plane was landing because of some medical emergency! It was so embarrassing. I was questioned by airport security and FBI and all sorts of bureau people. The FBI came in because they thought maybe I was smuggling in drugs from Key West and that’s why my stomach was upset. They decided to search my bags, which I didn’t care about since I knew I didn’t have anything illegal in them. Unfortunately, in my state, I forgot that I had packed a bunch of wigs and beads and a pair of heels for the trip. I was labeled a flight risk and wasn’t allowed to fly for 48 hours. Everyone got fined — they fined me and the pilots and the airline. I was blacklisted from flying USAir until about two years ago. Apparently they frown on forcing commercial aircraft to the ground because you’re hung over!

PGN: Where are you working these days? RI: All over. Mostly at Woody’s, but I also work at Bump and Pure and, on occasion, they’ll send me to their clubs in California.

PGN: Any moving customer stories? RI: Well, I get a lot of people who are just coming out and they tell me that I really helped them through it. But I just recently got a letter from a customer who comes in the bar every night that I’m on the schedule. I mean every night. If my schedule changes, I call him and let him know. He’s handsome and nice, owns his own business, a normal guy. He comes in for one hour only at the end of my shift. He wrote in the letter that after all the stress and problems that he deals with during the day — the recession, the bills, the loss of his mom, everything — he gets to escape for one hour. He said that one hour gets him through the day, just knowing he has something to look forward to. But he does just as much for me: He treats me like royalty and makes me feel special.

PGN: Any stalkers? RI: Well, for the most part, people are sweet. They’ll make me gifts, draw pictures, all sorts of things. You get some people who go overboard. I’ve had some folks cry or send me nasty e-mails if I miss a shift. It can be a little scary, but for the most part, people are great. I can only think of one bad day I’ve ever had behind the bar.

PGN: The last time you laughed so hard you cried? RI: About two hours ago, I was talking to my friend Frankie Morelli and we were spoofing “Mommy Dearest,” the part where she says to her daughter, “Barbara Bennett from Redbook is doing a cover story on me, and I don’t want any trouble … ” I was saying, “Suzi Nash from PGN is doing a story on me … ” and Frankie was saying that he was going to run alongside my car and pretend to be Crawford’s daughter and my friend Jeff was saying he was going to be Carol Ann the maid. We just kept going with the theme until we were all cracking up.

PGN: What would you put in a time capsule? RI: Those pictures of me in drag, because it’ll never happen again! That and a picture of me with my first bottle opener, which I still have. I’d like to be remembered for making people laugh at the bar.

PGN: Do you collect anything? RI: Refrigerator magnets. But only ones of fabulous female celebrities like Cher or Marilyn Monroe. Don’t bring me back a picture of Wrigley Field from your trip to Chicago.

PGN: Favorite smell? RI: It would have to be waking up and smelling my mother making meatballs. She made them herself and it was a 14-hour process. She’d make the gravy from scratch and it smelled wonderful.

PGN: What fictional character do you most identify with? RI: [Laughs.] Probably Donna Mills from “Knots Landing.”

PGN: I’m so gay … RI: That I can’t even believe it myself. I used to hate for anyone to know that I was gay. It took me a while to come to terms with it, and now I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. When people say, “Hi, how are you?” I answer, “I’m gay!” For me it means everything — good, fabulous, crazy, carefree — it’s just my stock answer. I love saying it. I used to really get down on myself until one day this guy said to me, “Why do you hate being gay?” I told him, “This is not the way you’re supposed to be, blah blah blah,” and he stopped me and said, “I’ve seen you walk in and charm a room full of people. You should never feel bad about who you are. You are fabulous.” And then and there I realized he was right. I am fabulous. And I never looked back!

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