Joe Regan went directly from walking the hallways of Olney High School to tending bar at Regan’s on the Boulevard.
“I graduated on June 19, 1957, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said as he sat on a stool at his bar.
The venerable Regan’s has occupied the southeast corner of Whitaker Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard since 1944. It’s outlasted nearby giants such as Sears, Canada Dry, Sealtest, Mrs. Paul’s and Exide Battery. Charlie’s Pizzeria is still there, but not as long as Regan’s.
Martin Regan, an immigrant from Kilmovee, County Mayo, Ireland, purchased the bar at 4149 Roosevelt Blvd. He raised his family on nearby Rorer Street. His son helped out, starting to tap half kegs by age 10.
The elder Regan operated the bar until he passed away, a day before his son’s high school graduation.
Marie Regan, Martin’s wife, became the owner, with Joe managing the bar. Marie died in 1981.
On Saturday, Regan’s welcomes all its current, former and future patrons to attend a 70th anniversary party at the bar. The fun starts at noon.
“I expect a hundred and forty, a hundred and fifty people,” Regan said. “I don’t care how cold it is. I hope it don’t snow.”
Regan’s is perhaps best known for its lighted “Ladies Entrance” sign on the outside of the bar. Inside, in a back room, there remains a button women used to have to push to order a Schmidt’s, an Ortlieb’s or another popular beer of that time.
Those are remnants from an era when some people thought it wasn’t proper for a woman to be seen drinking alcohol with men in a public place. Regan, who lives in Mayfair, still remembers the prices from back then.
“A glass of beer was a nickel, and a shot was 15 cents,” he said.
The stainless steel refrigerator remains after all these years.
“My father bought that in 1954,” Regan said. “It still works. It keeps the beer ice cold.”
Business is not as bustling as it once was, as the neighborhood demographics have changed, the economy has tanked and businesses have moved.
“I used to have 20 Canada Dry drivers a day,” Regan said.
Making things even more difficult is that the city wants to raise the annual property taxes at the bar from about $1,700 to $5,200. Regan is appealing.
“It’s a little corner bar. I don’t have five grand.” he said.
Regan, who turns 75 on Jan. 22, worked 80 hours a week until he suffered a heart attack in 2011. He’s had quadruple-heart bypass surgery and battles two bad knees and aching rotator cuffs.
“I have a woman doctor, and she said, ‘Joe, you can’t do all those hours,’ ” he said.
Over the years, Regan sponsored and coached many softball, football and basketball teams. He’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Softball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia All-Star Chapter of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. On Labor Day weekend 2002, his team won the ASA/NASF Class B Modified national fast-pitch softball championship, the first Pennsylvania team to do so.
“I’m so proud of that,” he said. “We didn’t lose a game. In six games, we scored a hundred and thirty runs.” ••