Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Len Belaus, 84, has not only tended bar at the Old Homestead for the past 50 years, he has lived above the restaurant for the past 25.
Not just a bartender
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO Talk about staying power!
Many of us know people who claim to love what they do for a living, but Leonard Belaus, 84, of the Old Homestead Restaurant, has been tending bar at the fine dining establishment on 452 Bridgeville Road for 50 uninterrupted years.
Does 50 years seem like a long time? Well, that’s because it is a long time. To put that into perspective, Belaus has been on the job for a total of 18,250 days. If that doesn’t help, 50 years ago a pack of regular cigarettes cost 25 cents 100s were 35 cents and regular leaded gasoline hovered at around 31 cents per gallon.
Belaus’ father was born in Poland and his mother in Dixon City, PA. As Belaus tells it, “I worked in the many factories in Pennsylvania before finally moving to Sullivan County in 1961.”
A veteran of the Korean War, Belaus was stationed in Germany at the onset of the conflict and served from 1950-1952.
Self taught as a bartender, “The Old Pro,” as Belaus is known, landed his first job behind the bar at the old Duke’s Restaurant in Liberty before moving on to the Old Homestead.
Belaus said he met Paul Edelman who, with wife Alice owns the Old Homestead through Paul’s father. “I’d done some work for Paul’s pop and that’s how I met Paul,” recalls Belaus.
“My mother-in-law hired him in 1962 and the rest is history,” said Alice Edelman.
“Yeah, they asked me if I wanted the job, and that was before they did the renovations so nobody even wanted the job,” said a laughing Belaus.
Renovations were completed in 1964.
As sharp as a man half his age, Belaus has a penchant for knowing all his clients’ birthdays. “He’s always kept a calendar behind the bar with everyone’s birthday on it,” said Mrs. Edelman. “But he’s memorized all of it… he’s so sharp it just blows my mind.”
Edelman said that Belaus who for the last 25 years has lived in an apartment above the restaurant spends all day at the establishment.
“It’s funny because my husband always said, ‘I don’t know what the heck he does there all day,’ but he’s certainly there all day,” said Mrs. Edelman. According to Belaus, one of the things he does there is squeeze fresh juice for his mixed drinks. “
“People love that,” Alice noted.
An admitted heavy drinker in his day, Edelman claims that for the past 30 years he seldom has a drink. Belaus has never married and has no children. “I guess I just never found the right person,” he said.
An avid golfer, Belaus tries to get in as many rounds of golf as possible. “It’s just so relaxing and I really enjoy the competition… It’s a sport I can always play,” said Belaus.
As far as memories of the last 50 years, Belaus said, “I have far too many great memories here on the job to list them all, but one thing I can say is that I’ve had no difficulties here. It’s just been one long great time.”
Belaus recalls the effect of the Woodstock festival in 1969: “Boy was business slow during the concerts… traffic was so slow and backed up I don’t think we had anyone in here.”
Asked how she feels about Belaus’ contributions to the Old Homestead, Alice Edelman said, “Oh my, let me just say that if Lenny was to decide to leave here, I really just wouldn’t want to come in .… He does much more than just bartend here.… He’s a part of our family, 100 percent.”
“Not only has he been a legend for the Homestead, but he’s a legend in Sullivan County,” said Alice. “He’s impeccable and he’s tended bar all by himself on nights we’ve served more than 300 dinners. Even if someone is in here once, they never forget Lenny.”
Mrs. Edelman adds, “It’s [the bar] his domain, it really is… he rules the roost and he’s fastidious in everything he does. Every bartender that’s worked here has had to work by his rules, and besides our son JR, no other bartender has ever been accepted by our customers. Before JR it’s been very difficult to find a second bartender because until him people just wanted Lenny . . . absolutely no other bartender has ever been accepted.”
In fact, the Edelmans threw a 50th anniversary party for Belaus on Labor Day this year and according to Mrs. Edelman, “More than 300 people showed up.”
Asked what he enjoys most about bartending, Belaus said, “Everything, but especially I just love serving people and the conversations. I just love learning things about people and listening to them.”
Has Belaus made every drink in the book? “Not the new ones,” he answered. “Boy they’ve got some dandies these days.’
As far as his secret to life, Belaus explained, “Work, that’s my secret, just work, that’s what keeps me going … that and my will, which is why I quit drinking. Most all my friends are dead, so I eat healthy too. Well, I may cheat a little but when I do, I just take another pill.”
Asked when he plans to hang it up, Belaus looked almost insulted as he responded, “Never, I’ll die tending bar… it’s all I know and I can’t think of one other thing I’d rather have been doing for the last 50 years.”