Few people if any are more Youngstown than The Royal Oaks’ JFK. He’s a Youngstown lifer, and he’s pissed off. Be warned. Ed. note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2010 Youngstown Pulse. By B.J. LISKO Youngstown Pulse Magazine JFK nearly got me killed. Or I nearly got him killed. The day was blurry to say the least. It was at a Cleveland Indians game. John and I made the trek to the ballpark in the wee hours of the morning. We were late to see batting practice and it had everything to do with the fact that we left from The Royal Oaks. Four PBRs later, we pissed, packed an enormous cooler and were on our way. It took ages to get to Cleveland. Mostly because of the urinating at every rest stop and exit there was on I-80. Needless to say, once we got there, it was straight to men’s room, then the centerfield bar at Jacobs Field. John wanted something stronger than the PBRs we had been drinking. I settled into a massive cup of Labatt Blue, the first of Lord knows how many. I can’t say who won the game. I know we heckled a lot of players that day. I know John nearly tackled me to protect the four beers he just bought when a foul ball came our way in the stands and skipped off the concrete no more than a foot from us and went into the upper deck. I know we made it into the clubhouse after the game. I know I fell over the guard rail and onto the field, gashing my knee something awful in the process while telling the guys from SportsTime Ohio “I don’t have time to bleed.” I know I drove home with John grabbing the wheel terrified at every turn because he thought I was going to pass out. It was that day I realized that JFK could drink me under the table in his sleep. John Kennedy and his brother Louie own The Royal Oaks. They took over some eight years ago and have kept Youngstown’s oldest bar one of its most popular, even if they aren’t making a ton of money while doing it. That’s not the point. For them, it’s their clubhouse. As John told me, “My brother and I have been thrown out of every bar it town, so we pretty much had to buy our own.” Thank God for Youngstown they did. A staunch Democrat, but still not afraid to call it like he sees it, JFK will give you the God’s honest truth every time, all the time. Our interview over some Pabst and Jaeger was no different. What are your thoughts currently on the Youngstown music and entertainment scene? JFK: Here’s my issue. I’m a little older. Here’s what’s sad. I don’t want to blame it on Youngstown, but if you look at the music scene in general, it’s bullshit. No offense. Everyone knows who the Stones are, everyone knows who The Who are, everyone knows who Jimi Hendrix was, now you can blame it on radio stations still playing that shit, but the fact of the matter is, in 20 years from now, who’s playing Creed or some dumb shit like that. There’s no staying power with modern rock. You look at the last 10 years who has any staying power? That’s sad. Speaking specifically of the Youngstown music scene, what are your thoughts on it right now? JFK: Honestly, I really think, I’m sad to say it’s dead. I come from the old glory days at Cedars and Penguin Pub and Pyatt St., there’s no venue that’s a real good rock ‘n’ roll venue like there was back then. And I’m including the Oaks. We’re Pats in the Flats, a corner bar where if you want to come play some rock ‘n’ roll, great. But we’re not the answer to a bad music scene until I put an expansion on. That’s phase 2. I’m not a rock ‘n’ roll venue. Cedars is, but it’s not what it was. Everything is cyclical, it all goes in cycles. I came up in a great period. The bands were more … I don’t know what’s going on now. Back then you had a handful of bands that would play once a month at a bar and pack the place. All of the sudden now, it’s like there’s really nobody with a great draw. Nobody has that because kids now don’t play enough to get that fan base. Do you think that it’s they don’t play enough or do you think that it’s because the new generation of kids growing up on music are spoiled by the internet or spoiled by the instant access where they don’t have to look for it, they don’t have to go find it, they don’t have to pay for it. JFK: When I was coming up, you didn’t have any of that shit. So where did you get your rock ‘n ‘roll? The club. Now a kid can turn on a computer and get it somewhere else. That’s a detriment to the rock ‘n’ roll scene. Kids now they can find music anywhere and it hurts the local scene. Back then if you wanted to see good rock, you went to the clubs. Now kids just want to plug in to YouTube or MySpace, tune out and drop out (of the live scene). It’s horse-shit. Getting more into the economic state of Youngstown, the Royal Oaks is certainly a democrat bar. What is your take on dems like Bob Hagan, Tim Ryan, Jay Williams. Do you think they’re really doing anything, or are they just cruising because Mahoning county is so pro-democrat? To me it seems like they’re really not doing anything. Politically, what’s your opinion of these guys? And what do you think about the ever on-going debate on gambling here? I agree. I’ll give you a prime example. Bob Hagan. For me, he is basically a career politician. He was just padding his PRS. Well now, what I appreciate about Bob Hagan, is he has this issue, which I think it’s too late, but I give him credit for the gumption. Columbus’ arena district was trying to get gambling. Columbus said they didn’t want it there. Bob Hagan said if you’re going to vote on having it somewhere else, we want our pie in Youngstown. So I give him a little credit for that, because he was sticking up for Youngstown. But the whole gambling issue is kind of flogging a dead horse. Youngstown does not need gambling. It’s not gonna fly here. I’m in the bar business. To make gambling work you need disposable income. I got guys that aren’t drinking like they used to because the money’s not there. I’m struggling. I don’t want a gambling place downtown. It would probably close me, because the guys that would come in here, would go there and gamble it away. As far as politics, the one thing I’ve learned, and I’ve been in the politics game for a little while here. And Jay Williams better watch. They got rid of that residency rule. I still own a house in Youngstown. I’ll run against him. Grassroots. He ran unopposed. The day of election he was in Paris. Well, guess what, next time he runs if no one runs against him I will just to make him spend money and stay home. He alienated the cops. He took jobs that fiscally responsible mayors got rid of because the jobs are bullshit, he reinstated them to put his friends in. When push comes to shove and there’s no money, look who’s at fault. But what I do love about Mahoning County, in the state we are thug politicians, and the state looks at us like we’re f*cked, and that’s what I love. I was at a meeting, I’m on the executive committee of the Democratic Party, they said we want you to stand up or hold your hand up on who you’re voting for. Mahoning County has always been secret ballot, and it makes sense. Let’s say you’re a politician and you’ve got some incumbent, now all of the sudden, someone is gonna run against the incumbent. You’re an elected official, this person used to put all kinds of signs up for you and campaign for you. Now they’re running. But you’re voting for the other guy. Well, guess what happens. When you stand to be counted, they’re never gonna help you again. It’s a division of politics, and we don’t need that. What I love about Mahoning County, is I go to these Board of Elections conferences, and other places are afraid of Mahoning County. They’re like, you guys do things different. It’s a chip on my shoulder. I love it. We said we don’t need the state Democratic Party, you need us. I love the Mahoning County attitude. These guys all stood up, and said “go back to f*cking Columbus, and take this message. You need us, we don’t need you.” I came out of there proud. Jim Traficant just got out and he’s getting a little more into the public eye. You guys are known as a very pro-Traficant bar, what are your feelings on him? Do you think he will run for some kind of office, and if he does, do you think he’ll get the support he once had? JFK: I’ve had this discussion with some co-workers. They feel he won’t garnish the support he once had. I’m not so sure. My feelings on Jim are that we’ve never had a politician that did as much as he did for this area. I’ll go back to the Covelli Center, the 711 connector. Here’s a guy who fought openly against the IRS and he made them put the burden of proof on you. It used to be they could audit you, and you had to prove your innocence. He made it so they had to prove your guilt. And the irony is, we have an IRS building right downtown. He built it. He got three federal buildings downtown, the connector, the Covelli, no politician has ever done that much here. Now, can he win? I don’t know. But if there’s enough old people to remember the good that he did, and if he grassroots and gets the young kids that are so apathetic about politics into it, if he campaigns the right way, yes he can. They all talk shit about him being a criminal. If you look at Congress, last year, look at all the criminal charges against all of those guys. He didn’t do anything that any of those guys didn’t do. The only difference between Jim and most of Congress, is Jim did his time. I think he’ll run again. Because he’s Mahoning County. Congress threw him out, and I think he’s gonna get back into Congress just to say “f*ck you.” Getting back to the Oaks. The place is an institution. My parents came here, my relatives came here growing up. Looking forward, you’ve eluded to that you’re struggling a bit. What does the next year hold for the Oaks? Is there anything you’re trying to do to combat the situation? JFK: Unlike Jay Williams, I’m not gonna talk about 2010 and be full of shit. I’m gonna talk about 2010 and get things done. Jay Williams ran on a platform of “Youngstown 2010.” Well what’s that supposed to be, the year it starts? He hasn’t done shit. My brother and I bought this bar eight years ago. Not one lending institution would give us a loan. A risky business they said. Well fuck you. Louie and I had to mortgage our houses to buy this place. Now, with that being said, has it been profitable? No, because I’ve gotta pay my debts. The workers here make more than me and my brother do. Now, me and Louie are alcoholics, we drink. It’s our clubhouse here. We got thrown out of every bar in town so we pretty much had to buy one. What’s great is that every fucking bank that wouldn’t give me a loan or a mortgage on my house — we’re done paying on this place. I robbed Peter to pay Paul, but I paid it all off. Me and Louie paid for the bar and paid our mortgages off. Now this year, I’m going after the city for an SBA loan and I got plans. It’s been a while since I applied. I got fucked every time. Every time I went I was always late with that shit. They would say “listen, we got a budget and it’s going to places like The Bean Counter, Imbibe, The Core.” Half those places that they gave their budget up to are out of business. This year, in 2010, I’m going for it. If I get the money, my vision is phase 2. Whatever they won’t lend me I’ll borrow. I’m gonna get the property next door put a pavilion bocce court with built-in cookers next to the freeway. I’m gonna tear out the upstairs, put another bar, pool tables. I’ll blow out that back wall, make it bigger, put a stage up for shows, and it’s gonna be silly. I’m going for it. They always said it’s a risky business. I’ve been here for eight years, I’ve never missed a payment, and I’ve paid my loan off. The bank wouldn’t give me one. At the time a bank loan was 3 percent interest. The bank said it was risky. I’m technically the third owner in 70 years and they said it was too risky of a business. So it ended up almost like a land-contract situation with the old owner at 11 percent interest. And you know what? My brother and I each paid off $60,000 in seven years. That’s a risky business, right? Fuck you. I was paying $1,000 a month. Had the bank gave me a loan for 30 years, that would’ve been $200 a month. These motherfuckers give money to everyone, but not me. Looking at Youngstown, The Oaks is the oldest bar, how do you not go crazy on the city the way they treat this place. It seems like all the money always goes downtown. How do you stay in check? How do you not go nuts? JFK: I’ll give you one better. You remember when the whole entertainment district started downtown. When they were giving liquor licenses to the entertainment district for $1,500 dollars? I’m in the same first ward, I paid $20,000 for mine. A year later they’re giving them away to The Bean Counter, the Old Precinct. Are you fucking kidding me? I wanted to kill them. With that being said, how are you not completely bitter towards the city? JFK: I’ll give you a prime example. You know what? All my life, as a Cleveland Browns fan, I love the underdog. You know what B.J., I went to every bank and they said they wouldn’t give me a loan. Well guess what? If you want JFK to do something, tell him he can’t do something. I have that old mentality. 300 years ago, this wasn’t a country. Do you realize where we come from? Both my grandparents came to this country in 1917. One was Italian, one was Greek. Didn’t even know the fucking language. But they moved here, made a life, sent back for the relatives, and brought them here. That being said, I come from tough stock. My mother and her sister got sent home from kindergarten because they couldn’t speak English. My mother sent them back and said, “we’re in America, you teach them how to speak English.” They couldn’t speak English. My mother and my aunt, they have no accent. They speak like we do. They were both valedictorians in high school. No one would give us a loan. They all said we couldn’t do it. That it’s a loser. Ain’t happening. This place has been here, and it will be here. I ain’t going nowhere. I proved them wrong. I paid it off at 11 percent interest when they wouldn’t give me three. I’m hoping they see the light of day, and let me fucking do my improvements. Jay Williams talks about 2010, the corridors of Youngstown. Well what are the corridors of Youngstown? They’re 422 and Market St. What businesses are on 422 and Market St. I am the fucking corridor to Youngstown. Just give me an opportunity. I want to make the place better, I want to make it grow. I’m in for the long haul. I suffer. My wife is making twice what I make. Half the money we made came back into this place. You know why? Because she said “you work your nuts off, you’re working at the bar, I’ve never seen you so happy.” So she funded me because she was happy to see me happy, which is a tribute to her. If the city doesn’t want to fund me this year, fuck them. I’ll come back next year. I’m going to make this place work. I’m gonna do it. There’s nobody more Youngstown than me. If my 2010 goes according to plan, I really will change the face of the music scene. Because then I can compete.