Longtime local bartender now checking compressor in the sky.
When asked what longtime partner Billy Mayer’s favorite place on Earth was, Linda Dawber scarcely hesitated. “Behind a bar. At a bar. He loved being around it. He loved drinking. He loved being around people who drink. He loved the atmosphere.”
Mayer passed away last month. He was 62.
There had been rumors, rumors Billy chose not to dispel, that he had a connection to Louis B. Mayer (Metro Goldwyn Mayer), but research showed that Louis B. Mayer had one sister, and two daughters, who had taken their husbands names.Louis had also died a few years before Billy was born.
It didn’t appear plausible.
When I asked Linda about it, she said, “He never mentioned the MGM thing to me … Billy liked to tell tales. That was part of his charm.”
Mike Coco, who owns Thai’d Up, got to know Billy pretty well when he owned Country Liquor across the street from the restaurant.
As Coco said, he was fond of Billy’s “back in the day” stories from the ‘70s, like the time he closed down Rafters so he could party with members of Steely Dan.
“Kid Charlemagne,” said Coco. “That’s the song I associate with Billy.”
The Kid bartended all over town. It was back in the era when bartenders were generally expected to drink with their customers, and if anything, Billy got better and faster behind the bar as the night wore on. “Once he got into his seventh drink, he was right there,” laughed Dawber.
“The ‘70s were a kooky, crazy time,” she added. “There wasn’t such a fixation about what people were putting into their bodies. There was a looseness to it.”
Local attorney Jim Reed fondly recalls showing up at Shogun one night right around closing, and there were two women there—they had apparently fallen for each other and had gone back to the booths to, well … Rather than kick them out, Billy decided it was only appropriate that he host … and watch.
Reed said that whenever he and Billy drove down to Bishop to play golf, Billy would demand they stop at McMurry’s for a couple of shots before they reached the course. He’d continue drinking at the clubhouse, on the first tee, and so on … “Billy was a way better golfer than I was,” recalled Reed. “But I’d be beating him through the first six holes. However, by the 7th hole or so, when he’d finally had the right amount to drink, he was ‘masterful.’ Billy was a great athlete.”
As Robbie Tani said, whenever he and Billy went out to play golf, they’d bring a 12-pack. How many beers did Tani have out of the 12-pack? “One.”
“Nobody can say he didn’t have a good time,” said Dawber.
Nevado’s owner Tim Dawson said at the time Billy worked for him, he was a bourbon drinker. “I’d look at the tickets every morning. He never, ever sold Jim Beam, and yet, I seemed to go through a case of it every 12 to 15 days.”
As a bartender, his signature line to departing customers was, “Drive home as fast as you can with the lights off.”
Sierra Star golf pro (and former Nevado’s bar manager) Dave Schacht recalls that whenever someone would order a screwdriver, Billy would fill a glass with ice and vodka and then dribble the orange juice onto the bar and say “good luck.”
As Judy Bornfeld said, “He had a twinkle in his eye, and it wasn’t a flirty twinkle. It was just part of his essence. If you didn’t know Billy, you didn’t know how yummy he was.”
Yummy … and respectful … and kind.
“No matter what kind of day he was having, he’d always be more concerned about you and how you were doing,” said Coco.
Eisert recalled a time when Billy’s condo had a fire and Eisert gave him some clothes to tide him over.
Billy mentioned this to Eisert each time he saw him for the rest of his life. “He never forgot a kindness,” said Eisert.
While Linda first met Billy in the late ‘70s and was his romantic partner for the past quarter century or so, she said she never met any of his siblings (he said he had nine). In town, he did have a brother-in-law (Grant Reynolds) who had been married to his sister Liz, and a niece (Jennifer).
According to Linda he also apparently has a son who lives back on the east coast. She said he had his son when he was just out of the service. It is unclear what, if any, relationship they had. The two were estranged at the time of Billy’s death.
In 2002, Billy switched gears and purchased Country Liquor. it proved somewhat difficult to make a go of a place where you were drinking up your own product versus someone else’s.
When I started The Sheet, I got to know Billy as Country Liquor became part of my delivery route, and then, the last stop on my delivery route.
When I arrived, Billy would ask me if I could come “check the compressor” with him—code for sharing a nip of Jagermeister.
On occasion he would complain about the Mammoth Lakes Police Dept. The police station was located across Old Mammoth Road and Billy was convinced they were out to get him.
One night, he stewed on this a bit and without much warning, said, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Perhaps a minute later, I heard several loud explosions. Gunshots?
Then I heard the front door bang shut, and the lights went off, and then there was a shadow in the doorway to the back storage room where I was sitting.
“Shhh,” warned Billy. Sure enough, the cops were outside the shop thirty seconds later shining their flashlights into the store.
Billy had shot off some fireworks just to mess with them.
When I told Linda the story, she just shook her head. “Billy was a big kid.”
Jon Eisert told the story of a Vegas trip the two took to a Senior PGA event. They were staying in some cheap motel. In the shower, there was a small window which looked out upon an old school steakhouse with a neon sign. It was called The Flame.
Of course, Billy had noticed the same thing. Great minds think alike. They headed over for dinner.
It was one of those places where they bring a tray by your table with all the cuts of meat displayed under clear wrap. When the waitress brought out their drinks. Billy took a sip of his and said, “Now that’s a cocktail like I pour.”
Billy appreciated the good works of others.
Robbie Tani worked with Mayer during Shogun’s popular karaoke nights. The two would always close with a duet of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. It’s only fitting we close this story with the song’s last lyric:
when he looks down
on every green field
and every town
All of his children
and every nation
There’ll be peace and good brotherhood
Crystal Blue Persuasion