Granny Franny gets ready to step out from behind the bar

Longtime bartender retires from Bouy Deck

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

Fran Sims has poured a lot of drinks in her time.

``She's served at least 5.6 million fluids ounces, 437,000 gallons and approximately 350,000 drinks,'' said Ray Massey of the U.S. Coast Guard. ``And that's a conservative estimate.''

After 27 years of service, Sims -- also known as Granny Franny -- is stepping out from behind the bar of the local military watering hole, the Buoy Deck, and into retirement.

``If these walls could talk, there'd be plenty to say,'' said Sims, as she served drinks to a handful of regular customers at the bar this week.

``I could write a book, but I'd have to leave town,'' she added with a laugh.

A military wife, Sims came to Juneau in 1969 after spending time in Kodiak, Ketchikan and various ports in the Lower 48. Her late husband, Donald Frederick Sims, managed the Buoy Deck in the early 1970s and enlisted his wife to help out behind the bar.

``He wanted me to come down and meet some people. The pay was $3.50 an hour,'' Sims said.

At first, some military wives had a problem with a woman working in the Buoy Deck, the hub of social activities for the local armed forces and their families. The subject came up again when Sims' husband died in 1979, said the veteran bartender.

``Some of the wives thought it was wrong to have a single woman working in the enlisted's men's bar,'' she said.

Despite a little flak from a small group of women, Sims rose quickly in the ranks to lead bartender. She also earned the respect of the men that frequented the bar.

``She's a good commander. She's the captain up here and she's in charge. And everyone knows it,'' said Sam Widner, a patron of the Buoy Deck for more than two decades.

Although the military bar is relatively quiet these days, in its prime it was not unusual for the bar to be packed on Friday nights and hopping during the week.

``Fran used to honcho some super Super Bowl games and some really nice holiday brunches. Some really good feeds. A lot of people would come out for these (events),'' Widner said.

Along with all the social activities, the club was also a home away from home for military personnel who left their families behind.

``Fran's been a friend to every homesick and heartsick sailor that walked through those doors. Everybody came here to see Fran and they always left feeling better,'' Widner said.

Another Buoy Deck patron nursing a beer at the bar added that if he doesn't see Sims' truck in the parking lot, he doesn't bother coming in for a drink.

``She knows what everybody drinks and has it out before they even sit down,'' added Nancy Frawley as she sipped her soft drink.

``You've got to make people feel welcome,'' Sims said. ``Whether they're passing through town, an admiral or an enlisted man. I've always treated everybody alike.''

To that end, Sims was a big influence in the bar's renovation in 1986 that turned the enlisted bar and the officer's club into one establishment.

``It took about seven months but it was so much fun. Everybody volunteered their time and we just kept serving around the construction,'' said Sims with a wistful smile.

Although she's seen a lot of action from behind the bar over the years, like most good barkeeps, Sims refused to tell tales out of school.

``In all the years, I don't think I ever called the cops. Everybody helps each other out in here. We've had very few fights and the station always watched out for me.

``This is really a family bar,'' added the great-grandmother, who claims she's been called ``Granny Franny'' since she was a teen-ager.

With almost three decades of service behind her, Sims has collected many honors and honorary titles from the Coast Guard including a 25 years of service pin and an honorary chief petty officer title.

But of all her accomplishments, Sims is most proud of her patrons' clear record with the law.

``Not one of my customers ever got pulled over for a DWI. I would watch them closely and cut them off. I'd even hide their keys in the safe and tell them I didn't know where they were. Sometimes I would drive them home. They would go away mad but come back the next day and thank me,'' she said.

Now, that she's retiring, Sims plans to spend time with her great-grandchildren, garden, crochet, watch as many Mariners games as she can and still work a few hours every week at the bar.

``I've really devoted myself to the club and I'm very happy that the people at the club accepted me and took care of me,'' she said. ``I'm very lucky to have the life that I have.''

For Massey, public affairs officer with the Coast Guard, it's the Buoy Deck and the military that were lucky to have Sims as an employee.

``Fran's made a big difference to the people who came here from all over,'' he said. ``She really makes everyone feel welcome.''

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