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PEOPLE TALK

Michael E. Driscoll has been a fixture on the local restaurant scene for decades first as busboy, then waiter, then bartender. For the past 19 years since Election Day 1985 the former schoolteacher has owned and operated a patriotic pub on Edward Street called Founding Fathers, where customers from around the region get their daily trivia fix. On any day, chances are you will find Driscoll doing what he does best serving his customers trivia questions along with the grub. Call it Buffalo's answer to Trvial Pursuit.

PT: What's the quickest way to a customer's heart?

MD: Trivia. I get them involved. If somebody new comes in who I don't know, I'll pour him a drink, see if he wants food and find out a little about him. ... And someone else at the bar will chime in. And all of a sudden, he becomes part of the scene.

PT: Where do you do your research?

MD: I go to the library once a week, and I take out five or six books, and I just put them on my kitchen table. I call it my desk, and my kids sit on my lap and read stuff. There might be a book about animals. There might be a history book. There might be a book about butterflies. And I love to watch "Jeopardy."

PT: Do you juggle?

MD: I flip glasses. I've done it since I was a kid, flip things.

PT: It takes a special kind of person to be a restaurateur.

MD: Yeah. You have to sacrifice a lot of your own social life. But the nice thing is that people come to your place to party, and then you don't have to spend money.

PT: Describe your place.

MD: A little, out-of-the-way pub where everybody knows your name. Nothing fancy. Our mailman actually does come in and sits at the bar and eats popcorn.

PT: Tell me something about patriotism.

MD: It's different things to different people. To somebody from Oklahoma, it might be the ability to have a gun. To me, it's just being historically in touch with the presidents and what America was all about in the beginning. I know there's a lot of bad things about this country, but I'm proud of it.

PT: Any adverse reactions to pictures of certain presidents?

MD: Some people want to throw things. If I had Clinton behind the bar, or Bush or Ronald Reagan. Of course, they don't do it, but that's their right.

PT: What's the strangest thing you've seen from your side of the bar?

MD: Two Irish brothers were in town for their sister's wedding, and they sat and had a few beers. The next thing I know, they start duking it out. We got them outside, where there was a torrential downpour. They were out rolling in the street, and we honestly thought they were going to drown. So somebody got an umbrella, and went out there and pulled them apart. They came back in hugging and kissing and finished their beers at the bar. It was weird.

PT: What is the key to your longevity?

MD: Consistency. Nothing has changed other than a few pictures moved around. The menu is still there, and we still give away nachos and popcorn. We are getting older, but younger people are taking over.

PT: Do you sometimes feel trapped behind the bar?

MD: Yes, when you have someone who is drowning their sorrows, on either end of the bar. There is nowhere to hide. But it doesn't happen often.

PT: How are your feet?

MD: I'm lucky. I wear good shoes so my feet don't bother me. I'll tell you what gets tired at the end of the night: your back, because you're bending over a lot making drinks, washing glasses. And the backs of your legs.

PT: Do customers confide in you?

MD: When people start to get on personal things, my job is to steer them away. Let them meet other people. Let them do trivia. Maybe a couple of jokes here and there. Bartenders always have bad jokes. My job is not to listen. They can go to their priest for that.

PT: What topic do you steer away from religiously?

MD: We don't really talk about religion much. I would say the military. Sometimes we get ex-military people in here and they want to talk about their time in the service, about Desert Storm or Vietnam. I try to steer it the other way because some of these people have been through some bad things. Maybe one guy protested a war, and the next guy was in it, or lost a brother in it. That's a potential argument right there.

PT: What is the most popular drink?

MD: Vodka and iced tea, almost since I started bartending in the late '70s. I think it started on Elmwood Avenue at Casey's. The funny thing is, if you go 50 miles from here, they never heard of it.

PT: Do long hours affect your family life?

MD: I've tried to work that out the best I can. My wife, Lisa, knew my profession when we met, so she's gotten used to it. She works a regular job. I'm lucky that she is smart and does all the book work. ... I try to come here and work lunch, then go home to watch my kids come off the bus, take them to tennis or wherever they have to go. Then we have dinner together, and my wife gets home and joins us. I change and go back to work. Depending on the day, I might be here till 4 a.m. And when I get home, they know that Dad has to sleep. Don't jump on him until at least 10 a.m.

PT: What will you do when you retire?

MD: Come in and do trivia. I really look forward to going to work. You never know who's going to come in. There's always something new.

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