Tributes paid to the late Michael McCourt

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Michael McCourt RIP, pictured in 2011 alongside a bust of his brother, Frank
MICHAEL McCourt, the brother of the Pulitzer Prize winning author, has passed away in San Francisco at the age of 79.

MICHAEL McCourt, the brother of the Pulitzer Prize winning author, has passed away in San Francisco at the age of 79.

For decades, Michael had been the hugely popular front of house in many of San Francisco’s well known bars, most recently in Original Joe’s in North Beach, where he had been referred to as an “Irish superstar”.

While Frank shot to fame in his 60s with Angela’s Ashes, Michael was the only McCourt son not to write a memoir of his life.

His older brother Malachy, an actor and author, spoke of his brother’s passing this Saturday morning.

He said Michael passed away peacefully in the presence of his second wife Joan, and his children, Mary Angie, Mikey, John and Katie.

“I have no reason to doubt that he is dead but I can’t absorb it. Mike was one of the funniest wittiest of men, a hugely popular figure in San Francisco in the bar business. He could tell you go to hell in such a charming way that you would enjoy the journey.

“He will be cremated and there will be a party in a few weeks for the friends at Original Joe’s.

“Thanks for the laughs Mike, that was your credo. Let us know how it is wherever you are. Love you brother,” he wrote.

In 2009, he was described in the San Francisco Sentinel as being famous in the city. “An Irish barkeep, he has been doing his acerbically witty, curmudgeon schtick around town at various local watering holes for over 40 years.”

Michael was born in Limerick and moved to America in 1954 when he was 18 and spent four years in the Air Force.

But his heart lay in the bar business. He told the San Franciso Chronicle that one of his pet peeves is bad manners, especially those who snap their fingers at a barman, or people who peruse the wine list and then order the house wine.

“I hate to harp on simple manners, but if you want to get a bartender’s attention, be polite about it. I had this clod and his girlfriend push their way up to the bar. He barks at me: “Bartender I would like to have a woody Chardonnay.” She pipes up with “and I’d like a grassy Sauvignon Blanc.” So I said, “Do you want to start a goddamn fire or do you want to have a drink?”

After working in New York and Santa Monica, he moved to San Francisco in 1969 and was hired as a bartender for Perry’s on Union Street, where he remained for 21 years.

Last year, coinciding with his 78th birthday in February, the Marina Times wrote “To judge Michael McCourt as simply a bartender is to miss the point. He is a populist philosopher and storyteller who almost incidentally dispenses drinks. McCourt offers strong opinions on just about anything, along with strong drink — when it is required — and does so with style and self-assurance. Then, there is his near encyclopedic knowledge of his daily communicants’ favourite topics: old movies, old actors, legendary drinkers, football picks, baseball batting averages, and a remarkable store of other valuable but arcane information.”

“They’re not making bartenders like Michael McCourt anymore.”

He is survived by his wife, children, brothers Alphie and Malachy, and pre-deceased by his brothers Frank, Oliver, Eugene and sister Margaret.