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Phineas Poon at the Red dog

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2008

An elderly couple walks through the door of the Red Dog Saloon in downtown Juneau and the first thing they do is look up. They look up at the stuffed black bear climbing the pole in the middle of the room and the stuffed butt of the man trying to get away. Or they look up at the mountain goat perched above the door or the 7-foot painting of a sprawling naked lady hanging on the wall.

David Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David Sheakley / Juneau Empire

Almost instantly their good time is interrupted by a man over the microphone asking, "Can I help you sir? Do you have a reservation? Well, I have reservations about you!" Followed by a quip to the man's wife, "Oh, so you're with him now, eh?" They laugh and step in further. They're game.

The man on the mic is Phineas Poon, a.k.a. Tag Eckles.

Poon is one of the four resident musicians performing during the summers at the world famous bar. He plays an old-style honky-tonk piano and favors turn-of-the-century tunes like the "Maple Leaf Rag" and "Ain't She Sweet."

His show opens with background music played over the conversations of the people sitting at small round tables, drinking beers and chatting about their travels.

Then, after a time they are greeted by the man on stage wearing a bowler hat, vest and garters on his sleeves.

"Good afternoon! I'm Phineas Poon. Welcome to the Red Dog Saloon!"

Poon immediately launches into "Oh Susanna" a song everyone instantly recognizes and starts to sing along with. At the end of each phrase, the piano stops and the audience sings out the last word in unison. They're hooked.

The entertainer then leads them through a rendition of "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean," and the entire crowd raises their glasses above their heads swaying together and singing, "Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my Bonnie to me!"

Now that he has their attention, he invites everyone to "play a dirty trick on the next person who walks in."

"I'll give you the cue. I'll say, 'Look who's here!' And I want you to give them a big Alaska welcome. I want you to greet them like you haven't seen them in 30 years!" he tells the crowd of about 200.

After a few minutes another couple walks through the door and stops to shake off their umbrellas.

"Look who's here!" calls Poon.

The mob responds with loud cheers and hollers, applause and whistles. The couple, looking bewildered, steps back and decides to leave. They're not game.

And the crowd laughs and carries on.

• Teri Tibbett is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She can be reached at www.tibbett.com.



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