Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Tugy's Bar

Tugy's Bar in Covington was a landmark establishment for many years, the cornerstone business of the Southern Hotel building and at one time the only bar located inside a parish courthouse in the country. 

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The bar was opened by a Covington bartender Julius "Tugy" Tugendhaft  around 1935,  and it was originally located in the southeast side of the ground floor of the Southern Hotel on Boston Street in Covington.  Tugendhaft moved the bar to the southwest corner of the building around 1961.

Philip E. Pfeffer recalled that Julius Tugenhaft was a public spirited citizen involved in many community projects. "He boasted that he charged a cent a bottle of beer more than other places, and that these pennies would build him a house. This turned out to be true," Pfeffer said.

He sold the bar around 1964 to Al Poncet, who continued its operation for another 20 years. 

Next door to Tugy's at one time was the Colonel and Son Restaurant, owned by Colonel Earl Wilson and his son Earl Wilson, Jr. There was a connecting door between the cafe and Tugy's, so the restaurant could serve beer to its customers via Tugy's. 

Debbie Diamond, the Colonel's daughter, said that he retired in 1961 after almost 30 years in the Army and moved the family to Covington. "My Dad and brother decided to open the Colonel & Son cafe together. I waited tables in there as a teen. We served some of Covington's best coffee and biscuits made by Mrs. Minnie in the kitchen. Almost every morning a regular group of men met for coffee there. One of them was Mr. Roy Johnson, the father of our mayor today, Mr. Mark Johnson. Mr. Roy had a great personality. A really nice guy who was always laughing and smiling," Debbie said. "Those two passageways both connected to a back entrance to the Southern Hotel, which was owned for awhile by my sister and her husband, Sylvia & Harold Glockner."  The Southern Hotel closed in the late 1960's, but Tugy's Bar persevered.

Tugy died in October of 1971. The 900 square foot bar continued to operate, but it was soon to be rejuvenated when the St. Tammany Parish government purchased the building in the early 1980's for use as its administrative offices and a couple of courtrooms and police jury meeting room.

Officials allowed Tugy's to continue operating as a barroom as it had for half a century.  The bar had been allowed to remain in the newly-designated courthouse because of its "historical significance."

 It was tradition that after every police jury meeting, parish officials would "re-convene" at Tugy's Bar to relax and talk off the record. A former city councilman was quoted as saying, "There's no telling how many deals were cut in there. That was where the real meetings were held after the meetings."

John "Pizzie" Romano, bought Tugy's from Al Poncet in 1984. He had once tended bar there when he was 18 years of age, and when he purchased the establishment, he was 46 years old. 

Romano was a well-respected businessman in the community. He owned the Heritage Lounge,  Pizzie's Po-boys, Romano's Grocery, and Romano's Steakhouse. He was the Director of the Brand Commission and the Assistant Director for the Horticulture Commission for the State of Louisiana. In addition to serving on the Covington City Council and the City of Covington Planning and Zoning Board, he also served on the St. Tammany Parish Hospital Board of Commissioners. 

Sixteen years after he purchased Tugy's, however, a new courthouse was built at the end of North New Hampshire Street, just three blocks up the street. As a result, the Southern Hotel building was no longer needed by the parish. Romano told a newspaper reporter that when the parish moved out, he lost about two-thirds of his business. "It was a great crowd. You would have a carpenter sitting right next to a judge," he was quoted as saying. 

The parish eventually sold the building to a private individual for $885,000. The new owner increased the monthly rent on the barroom space, a cost that the sole business left in the building could not afford. Romano closed the bar in February of 2004, much to the shock of many Covingtonians.  He owned the bar for 20 years.  "It is such a part of Covington history," he said, "I would never consider moving it out of the downtown."

Photo of Ten Year Class Reunion crowd, St. Paul's School Class of 1975, at Tugy's Bar in 1985 (Photo source: Warren Illing)

A legend was gone. It had at one time been a central focal point of St. Tammany politics, but after 69 years of operation, that distinction had moved on.

But then, around 2010, the bar re-opened briefly as "Tugendhaft's Tavern," run by Steven P. Reed.  He was granted a conditional use permit by the Covington Zoning Commission to proceed with re-opening the legendary business, although under a different name, since Romano had registered the name "Tugy's Bar."

The business was closed once again a couple of years later, however, when renovations began on the Southern Hotel building under its new ownership. The space occupied by Tugy's Bar thus became hotel meeting rooms, still a place for people to meet and speak to each other, but without the beer taps. 

The iconic Tugy's neon sign is now on display at the H. J. Smiths Sons General Merchandise Store museum on Columbia Street. 

Romano died on Dec. 23, 2018, at the age of 81.


The landmark neon sign

See also:

John Fahey Honors Tugy Tugendhaft   

Businesses Located Inside the Southern Hotel

Signs of the Times

Photo Processing Technical Notes