The legend of Morro Bay’s Tack Snead

October 31, 2019

Dell Franklin behind the bar in the 90s

Editor’s Note: The following series of tales from behind the bar, “Happy Jacks Saloon: The Last Morro Bay Fisherman’s Dive,” to be posted bi-weekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. The following snippet from the past was written in the 90s, years before the politically correct atmosphere of today.


I’d been warned of Tack Snead about six months before I began bartending at Happy Jack’s while doing the same gig across the street at the old Circle Inn, which a few years later was completely remodeled and renamed today’s Legends. In those days, there were still T-shirts out emblazoned with “CIRCLE INN AND STAGGER OUT!”

That’s the kind of bar the Circle was—an old worn-out, fairly respectable dive with mostly a crew of older, worn-out alcoholics existing on their social security and minimal savings, and slurping it up at happy hour before staggering home.

Curt Burger, the day bartender at the Circle Inn at that time, a feisty, bantam-weight sized legendary scalawag in his mid-sixties, informed me that Snead was the most lethal, violent, scary, no-good, crazy motherfucker in the county. And the only way to deal with him, was the way he had, while drinking at Happy Jack’s after his shift ended, and Snead was terrorizing him and threatening to take out his entire family.

“I went straight home and got my fucking shotgun, and came back in and shoved that motherfucker right in his ear, and cocked it and told him to get the fuck out or I’d blow his goddamn brains out,” Burger explained. “That’s the only thing he understands. He threatened to come back and blow my brains out, and I told him, ‘Come on, by God, where I’m from back in Indiana, we hunt just about everything that walks or crawls. And I’ll gladly shoot your ass down like a wild pig or any goddamn varmint that pisses me off!’”

Snead didn’t come back. He was 86-d from every bar in the area, and, a couple months before I’d started work at the Circle, he’d come behind the bar and beaten up their big thuggish bartender, Arvis, to a bloody pulp for refusing to serve him.

“He’s a goddamn monster,” Curt explained. “Big and mean and nasty and strong as a fucking ox…watch out for him…call the cops if he comes in..and you’ll know who he is, cuz there’s nobody like him. He’s like the outlaw in black in all them cowboy movies. By God, he’s not fit to live in this world, I’m tellin’ yah. And I can’t say that about anybody else I know. I’ve come across some real lowdown scumbags living here and fishing and tendin’ bar, but there’s no worse beast than Tack Snead.”

Well, I’d forgotten about Snead after six months at the Circle, because he’d never come in, and when I went to work across the street at Happy Jack’s, I figured to have enough trouble with the notorious “Brew Crew” of young hooligan deck-hands and several other roughnecks who had pretty much treed that bar like cowboys coming off a cattle drive in the old west, and were determined to test me as the “new sheriff in town,” so to speak.

But then one night during the dead lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, about a week or two after I’d started, on a night so foggy I could barely make out the Circle Inn across the street, and the bar was empty, and I was thinking of closing at around midnight, Tack Snead came in.

I knew it was him immediately by Curt Burger’s description—massive, in black cowboy hat and a trench coat, face inflamed, eyes black and glinting with a terrible, persecuted rage.

He stood glowering at me and growled: “Gimme a fuckin’ double JD on the rocks, boy, and I mean pronto!”

I stood silent and still, and looked directly at him as I toyed with the notion of grabbing a bottle of Galliano to defend myself. But I doubt that would have done me any good. He was NFL linebacker size, and fulminating with adrenaline.

“You hear me, asshole? You know who the fuck I am? Tack Snead! I wanna drink. I don’t get one, I’m coming back there and beat you to death. Like I did that dog dick across the street. Don’t give a fuck if I go back to jail. Got me? Now pour, punk!” He pounded the bar. “Now!”

I waited a few seconds and moved closer to the bar and said, “Mr. Snead, what have I done to you to deserve such violent threats to my person? I don’t know you, you don’t know me, I’m just a bartender trying to make a living.”

“A living? Hah! Ain’t a soul in here. Only a mousy piss-ant’d try and make a living in this shithole. Now gimme a drink!”

I walked slowly out from behind the bar and around Tack Snead, and sat down beside where he stood. “Mr. Snead,” I said, “for you to make the kind of threats against a person you don’t even know, leads me to believe you are in a state of torment. What you really need is somebody to talk to, not beat up. Why don’t you pull up a stool and we can talk.”

He looked me over from top to bottom. “Who the fuck are you?” he asked.

I introduced myself. Offered my hand. He looked at my hand and ignored it. He continued studying me. Tossed a twenty on the bar. “Okay. Just pour me a JD.”

I shook my head. “I’ll pour you a coke, but that’s it. No JD.”

“I want a fucking JD.”

“Mr. Snead, you don’t need a JD, and I’m not giving you one.”

He continued to study me. “Alright, a coke then.”

I went behind the bar and poured him a coke and myself a coffee, and walked back out and sat down. He sat down beside me and I peered into his seamed, scarred, bloated face clenched into a pained grimace. His was a face that seemed on the verge of literally exploding. He sipped his coke and stared straight ahead.

And he began talking, and he didn’t stop for over an hour. Twice, people came to the door, spotted him, and instantly walked out.

He talked about his college football career at a major university that was cut short with a knee injury, because “once they couldn’t use you they had no use for you, you were fucking garbage, nothing but a piece of meat, they took away your scholarship. And all the fucking rah rah shit about how you were part of a family was lies and bullshit!”

He told me about his two tours as a grunt in Vietnam, where he started in with heavy drugs. He told me about his drug dealing after his discharge, his smuggling, his acquisition of an estate/ranch inland from his huge profits, his wars with those who provided him with supply; and at least three times he paused to ask me for a JD on the rocks.

I refused and instead refilled his coke and my coffee. And he kept on talking, about his ruined life, his wife leaving him, his girl friend leaving him, one of his sons getting hooked on drugs and blowing his brains out on his ranch, his own drug addiction that had turned him into a crazy person. And how everybody had deserted him, his family members and old friends. He was all alone on his ranch with no body to talk to, hadn’t had a real friend he could talk to and trust since he got out of the army twenty years ago.

Twice, near tears, he placed a big hand on my shoulder and thanked me for listening to him. Not once as he talked had I told him anything about myself or expressed an opinion or offered advice; it was Tack Snead’s forum. I assured him that part of a bartender’s job was to listen to people who needed to be heard, and that it was never about the bartender, but always about the customer. And once that relationship was established, in essence, it became about the bartender.

Eventually, after often repeating himself, he was talked out. He stood and drained his coke. He left his twenty dollar bill on the bar as I walked him to the door, where we shook hands and he said, “Any time you need a friend, need somebody to have your back, you call me. You call Tack Snead.”

I watched him walk off. A couple months later I heard he was dead—his heart exploded out on his ranch.

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