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Monday, January 11, 2010

A quiet man and his singular triumph

By Dick Hirsch

Among a small but discerning group of adherents, Ed Bergmann is a man to be cherished and glorified, a man who deserves accolades for his singular accomplishment. But he seeks no acclaim, preferring, instead, to operate quietly and unheralded, dedicated to the work that he feels fate has chosen for him.

Like countless other individuals, after years of regular work in a job at which he found success but not true satisfaction, destiny took him in an unexpected direction. When Bergmann first arrived in Buffalo from what was then Czechoslovakia in 1970 he was 34 years old, an energetic and personable man with spring in his step and independence on his mind. He wanted to operate his own business.

So he became a house painter. He had no fear of extension ladders and dormers topping three story frame homes on small lots in the older sections of the city. He hustled for business, knocking on doors and promising quality workmanship and prompt completion of the work. He rejected inferior paints and assured his customers that he used the best materials and would avoid spattering droplets of paint on the driveway or the front walk. He scampered up those ladders, worked long hours, acquired a lengthy list of satisfied customers, and seemed to enjoy his work.

But as he grew older, scaling the ladders and positioning himself on the scaffolds became less appealing. While house painting had enabled him to provide for his wife and family, there was lurking in his mind a feeling that he should find an opportunity to do something more significant than scraping and repainting clapboard siding.

“Painting is a good business and most customers appreciated our work because their houses looked much better with a fresh coat of paint,” he said. “But I was getting tired of it.”

It was about that time---1986---when fate intervened. On this particular day, Bergmann and his wife, Anna, went shopping at the Broadway Market. They shopped there often and usually the visits were uneventful. This time it was different. As Bergmann searched for a parking space, cruising slowly down Gibson Street, on the west side of the market, he noticed a for sale sign on a building near the corner of Sienkiewicz Place. It was a narrow two story building, with a residence upstairs and a tavern on the first floor. The tavern was called The Three Deuces, a meaningful name to poker players, as well as a salute to the building’s address, 222 Gibson.

Bergmann, then 50 years old, decided he could envision himself as the proprietor of a neighborhood tavern rather than a painting contractor. He bought the building and the business for $35,000, did some work to spruce up the appearance of the place, received the necessary licenses, and soon was situated behind the bar.

All of this provides an interesting example of a mid-life career change, but it doesn’t explain the action that transformed Bergmann into a personality revered by those who know of his primary accomplishment.

Bergmann is a beer drinker, a description that applies to many from his native land, both Czechs and Slovaks. He resolved to introduce his clientele to what he believes is the world’s finest beer, brewed since 1842 in the town of Pilsen in his homeland, a brand called Pilsner Urquell. It is a brand so deified in the world of beer drinking that it was responsible for the creation of a whole new category of beer: pilsner. It could occasionally be found in bottles in those days, but Bergmann resolved to buy it in kegs, thus enabling him to serve it on draft.

That sounds like a simple goal but it turned out to be a daunting experience. He located a distributor who imported the kegs, but who would not arrange a Buffalo delivery. He did deliver to a club in Rochester, however, and Bergmann proposed a plan in which he would drive to Rochester on a prearranged schedule and load his car with the precious pilsner. He did that for some time until the distributor realized he had an indefatigable advocate for the beer and arranged for it to be delivered.

Now he patiently draws drafts of Pilsner Urquell at $2.50 a glass, while regaling visitors with tales about his most famous customer, Dominick Hasek, the renowned Czech and former all-star goal tender for the Buffalo Sabres. With pride, Bergmann serves what he regards as the world’s best, but if you don’t like it he’ll be glad to draw you a glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon for a dollar a pop.


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