George Milewski remembers when a pasta special with a beer cost just 90 cents at Hartford's First & Last Tavern. He visited the restaurant regularly for years until the owners asked, "Why don't you give us a hand?" In 1960, he took them up on their offer, and he's been working there since. Milewski, who turns 84 on Dec. 7, first assisted the tavern by making meatballs and sausage for the daily meal specials of grinders, shells and spaghetti. He's held other roles at the restaurant, helping owners George and Diane DePasquale expand their menu with brick-oven pizza when they bought First & Last in 1983. Several years ago, after decades in the kitchen and behind the bar, "I said, 'that's it, I quit,'" Milewski recalls. "[But] when I quit, I lost myself. I didn't know what to do with myself. And then the doctor said, 'You'd better go back to work'." Now he mans the bar during lunch hours Monday through Friday, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Q: What do people order most frequently during your shifts? A: At one time, all we had was beer and soda. Now we have the full bar. It's more work...specialty martinis are popular. Women, ladies, at the end of the day, they want to have a martini - espresso, cosmopolitan [First & Last's version is called a 'Metropolitan']; French martini, chocolate martini. The wine is the biggest seller. I recommend [Banfi Rosso] to everyone. I get nothing out of it, but I want people to enjoy it. That's what they're there for. Q: What kind of beer sells well? Do you have customers looking for local brew from Connecticut? A: We do have one local beer here [from Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford.] Years ago there was Ballantine Ale, with a hoppy taste - that's the beer we used to have. Bass Ale used to be the biggest seller here. ... A lot of people like Peroni, a lot of people like the Harpoon IPA. A lot of guys, they're overweight, they're looking for light beer. Light beer, if you drink enough, it does the same thing as regular beer. That doesn't help you lose weight. The original light beer [that] came out - Gablinger - it was the worst-tasting beer you'd ever drink. They went out of business. Q: Do you have any crazy stories that you'll remember forever? A: I've met thousands of people...We've never had any problems here. Once you get to know people, they like you. If they dislike you, they'll call you names and leave. Q: Have you ever invented your own cocktail? A: No. My drink would be a shot and beer!
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