If a telephone booth could talk, the one inside a midtown tavern would tell a tale of life and death.
Years ago, a patron there died in midsentence while chatting on the phone with his lady friend. Some say his spirit lives on at the Bambi Bar, an unassuming watering hole at 5050 E. Speedway.
"He just stopped talking in the middle of the conversation," recalled Bambi co-owner Dodie Warner, who was there the night it happened in October 1986.
Time has dulled some details, but much still is remembered about the patron who went by the nickname Hoss, a reference to a hulking rancher in the 1960s television hit "Bonanza."
The Bambi Bar's Hoss was 60-ish, "a big, burly, barrel-chested guy," Warner said. He worked for a locksmith, drank Miller Lite draft and stopped in for a beer a few times a week.
"He was a nice guy, very polite," said Ilse Insana, who has tended bar at the Bambi for decades.
The night Hoss died, the bar was crowded for a Wednesday, Warner remembers thinking.
He was in the phone booth, pint perched on a tiny shelf beneath a pay phone with square buttons. At the time, it was the bar's only telephone.
"All of a sudden someone from the Circle K across the street came bursting through the door and said, 'Someone in your phone booth is having a heart attack!' " Warner said.
Hoss' lady friend had called the nearby corner store for help after he dropped the phone, leaving it off the hook.
Paramedics were summoned. Fellow patrons pried Hoss from the booth. Warner performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while a customer did chest compressions.
"I was cussing, saying: 'Damn you, Hoss. You'd do anything to get me to kiss you.' But he was already gone," Warner said.
A few weeks later, the bar held a wake. Toasting deceased regulars is a tradition at the Bambi, where white-collar professionals mingle with roofers, retirees and the odd off-duty dancer from a nearby strip club.
Nowadays, Bambi's phone booth is minus its phone. It was taken out a few months ago due to lack of use in the cellphone age.
Patrons have decorated the booth with the bust of a skeleton, and a poster of what looks like a James Bond girl.
Bartender Cindy Westberg, who has worked at the Bambi for seven years, is convinced the spirits of departed patrons like Hoss still visit from time to time.
"Sometimes things move. Glasses move, or pictures on the wall," Westberg said. "The spirits are mischievous."
Bartender Insana said it doesn't surprise her that Bambi regulars would want to drop by in the afterlife.
"For a lot of people, this place was like their second home. I think a lot of them probably are still hanging around."
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at email@example.com or at 573-4138.
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