LINCOLN PARK — There once was an old-fashioned bartender — a true neighborhood fixture — manning the tap at a neighborhood joint in the heart of Lincoln Park on a diagonal street that over the years was a haunt of Prohibition-era gangsters, working-class Puerto Ricans, old folkies and, most recently, frat boys and the rich.
A few weeks ago, Bill Hemme shared a few stories of his 32-year drink-slinging run at Four Farthings and told me his future plans: "I'm not going anywhere."
Apparently, I quoted him too soon.
Two weeks later, Ol' Bill got the news that his Four Farthings career would be cut short.
Management, as they say, is restructuring.
Sunday was Ol' Bill's last shift.
Three decades of regulars, former waitresses, doormen and bartenders showed up to raise a glass, pay their respects and fill Bill's tip jar one last time.
Four Farthings has never been just a watering hole where Bill worked to pay the bills.
It's the place where met his wife, Teresa.
And when they had a daughter, Gillian, Farthings became the place for Hemme family functions — an extended living room of sorts.
"My connection to this place started nine months before my birth," Gillian said. "So many important moments in my life happened right here."
And, you could say it's where Bill showed his daughter, now a Farthings cocktail waitress, the true value of hard work, loyalty and the importance of being kind — even to drunkards and fools.
For regulars, the neighborhood tap at Lincoln and Dickens won't be the same.
"Right here, inside this bar, is where my son rode his first bike," said Tony Kirk. "I live in Oak Park now, and every time I take my son into the city he asks, "Are we going to Farthings?" … And it's not ever going to be the same."
And Bill, well, he's still getting used to the idea that his run behind the bar is over.
"A little sad, a little scared and a little angry. I feel all of it," Bill said. "It's always sad when you turn the page."
But that's just what he'll do.
"I haven't really thought it through, yet. But I've got to do something new," Bill said. "There's no retirement. The finances aren't there for that. So, we'll see."
At about 1:45 a.m. bar time, Bill turned down the music, turned up the lights and made his final "last call" at Four Farthings.
When the final drinkers headed home, Bill washed the glasses, restocked the liquor and wiped down the bar just like he had every other night for 32 years.
One last time.