Jake’s Bar, now open for 74 years on the “make a little on a lot” philosophy, and tucked away on West Chester’s Matlack Street, reigns as the town’s gem, beloved by all ages and walks of life.
Jake’s Bar is the quintessential corner bar; it is the hole which everyone finds themselves tumbling on multiple nights – even days and mornings – every week. The inescapable maze entices you with dollar beers, regulars who become family and bartenders who insult you teasingly. Playful smoke snakes from cracked, worn lips that belong to overworked, over-Jake’s-ed bodies that are entrapped in a cycle which Jake’s has become a part of.
Broke college kids and routine “old-heads” clutter this tiny space. Wallpapered with neon beer signs, a single TV broadcasts to the bar. Scuffles and shuffles are not solely meant for the walking strip (that is still crowded with standing-room-only guests after the insufficient amount of seating is occupied), but for the sandy table that lines the side wall. A chalkboard hangs to remind the players who is up and who is down on their luck with the pucks that night.
Sultry voices escape the jukebox, while liquid gold fills the bulky glass mugs dished out at the wet bar from bartenders everyone knows and loves. Foam spiders down the curved walls of the glass, enticing you to drink more as it thins to the bottom. Promises of constraints and restraints always fall short: never pull through once you are pulled into Jake’s.
The masks are shed when you walk through the door. Voices carry, conversations clash and combine, and vocabulary becomes speckled with colorful language inappropriate for the outside world. When you find Jake’s, you find your new home.
The rough crowd that frequents Jake’s, typically overcrowding the shuffleboard and barstools, has intriguing stories and colorful backgrounds that go on for days. The college kids, with their pitchers and take-out beer, push the tables together and forget about school for a while.
When asked about their favorite part about Jake’s, the resident, self-acclaimed “old-head” regulars automatically shout, “Being harassed by the damn bartender.”
Dwayne, arguably the most loved bartender, returned from a weeklong vacation from the bar, and was awaited by every regular upon his arrival at 5 p.m.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else every night. There’s always a change of pace and the people that come in here make it something new all the time. Mostly it’s loud but calm, everybody’s laughing and having fun, but other times, it can get a little hostile. The booze starts flowing and the guys get a little hot sometimes. You just have to break it up and know who you’re dealing with…then it goes right back to normal,” Dwayne said.
Opened in 1938 by Jake Nastase, Jake’s has been a successful family-run bar, completely customer-centered, with all walks of life filtering in and out of the cozy building. Nastase, when asked about the struggles they have faced over the years, automatically grunted, “Damn underage kids trying to get one by us – hah!” After chuckling at his cut-throat humor, he added, “The town wasn’t a desirable place to live in – there were racial problems in the town and you had to be very careful. This bar took care of all of them and had balance.”
A graduate pf Villanova University from Snow Shoe, Pa, Nastase had family contact in the area and opening a bar “wasn’t a choice. Jake’s is a place you can count on. We’ll be here a long time, and the regulars will always be here.”
Arasio Nastase, the blunt daytime bartender, commends his father on his business ethic saying that his father is a type of person who is “never satisfied, he never settles, and he wants to take it to the next level – he’s never complacent.”
Having drinks inside of Jake’s is not for everyone, but they have still found a way to take care of those customers, as well. “The cheapest six-packs I’ve ever seen in my life is why I go there, I just can’t stand the cigarette smell inside, then coming out smelling like one even after a minute” said senior Alyssa Brown.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Jake’s is how dedicated their clientele are. Another regular, a 61 year-old fondly referred to as “Tex” because of his famous buckle belt collection and time spent in Texas during his war-time years, walks six miles every day to Jake’s and is there by 11 a.m.
“This is my place, man! What would I do all day without Jake’s? Nothin’! I met some of the coolest people here and I’ve been coming here for thirty-some years, I can’t just stop now!” he says just before going to put a mix of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline on the jukebox.
The conversational ability of the Jake’s crowd is incomparable. Anyone can walk off the street, sit down at the thick wooden bar, and start a conversation with whoever is there. You might be there for hours more than you intended, but you will never hear stories anywhere else like the ones you hear from Jake’s.
Arriving at 8 a.m. every morning, Nastase cannot stand the empty bar. “It’s not Jake’s until the people that hang out here get here…this building is nothing without them,” he says early one morning. But it does not take long for that to happen – with the door open, floor still freshly mopped, and carpet not yet laid out, the first customer of the day walks in at 8:47 a.m., and Nastase automatically throws a Miller Lite on the bar.
The clothing of the crowd all resembles each other: disheveled, worn, paint-or-grease stained, with ripped hats and over-worked boots. It is the working man’s bar. Everyone knows each other’s lives, lovingly teases everyone, and makes an effort to make you feel welcome. The jokes never stop and each sentence is peppered with a curse or so. Volume is set on high, and voices compete to be heard over one another.
“Sometimes I can’t take it. I just sit there and shake my head at the ridiculous things being said, grab a six-pack and go home. Other times, I’m just another one of the obnoxious people there with my buddies,” nearby resident Jay Ferriola says while motioning to an argument rising in the corner.
Jake’s Bar has continued to evolve over time to keep up with their ever-changing clientele while still holding to their roots, which has kept it a unique, irreplaceable part of West Chester. Visitors to the town, whether they are from another state or country, are automatically told they must check out Jake’s. More times than not, they buy one of the four-dollar T-shirts for sale, which stay the same each year, except updating the year in the middle.
Residents of the town proudly wear their Jake’s Bar T-shirts and the older the year on the shirt, the more high-fives you get. Jake’s will always be a beloved part of the town, whether you’re a regular, take-out, once in a while, or retired customer with fond memories. The relationships forged in Jake’s, with the help of some cold beer and warm shots, are unforgettable, and the bar itself serves as a melting pot for spans of generations and occupations.
Gabrielle Rosati is a fourth-year English major with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at GR688985@wcupa.edu.