ENCINITAS — Longtime bartender Tab Baumann was set to retire from Daley Double Saloon on March 16 with a nice send-off from family, friends and customers, but the bar closed down the day before due to closures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation — and the world.
“This coronavirus is way bigger than my retirement,” Baumann, 65, said in a phone interview March 17. “I’ll catch up with everybody at another time when this all calms down. The wife and I were talking about throwing a party later on this summer so we’ll invite all those people, it’ll be fine.”
Baumann’s first day at the historic Saloon bar was on July 1, 1991, which was also his 36th birthday. It was his first time ever tending bar and the only place he would ever bartend. Before that, he had worked many years as a kitchen manager/cook at an Italian restaurant in Del Mar but said many of his mature co-workers moved on and he found himself surrounded by youngsters with spotty work ethic. He said every night after he’d close up the restaurant he would stop by Saloon before heading home, since he lived right around the corner in a little apartment.
“I became good friends with the bartender at the time, Dennis, and one night I just said, ‘You know, I wouldn’t mind changing things up, I wouldn’t mind working here’,” Baumann said. “I just threw it out there and (Dennis) says, ‘Well, there might be something opening up.’ And I think it was the next day I got a phone call (saying) ‘Can you come up and talk to Nancy (Daley, the then-owner) right now?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
Daley told him what the job would entail, what his pay would be and what hours he would work and asked him to start that Monday, which happened to be his birthday.
“It actually ended up being a good day because I’d never bartended before and at the time we opened up at 10 so all the old regulars were in there so I kind of learned drinks on the way,” he said. “I remember that day how they just were like, ‘This kid doesn’t know what he’s doing, but it is his birthday’ and so they gave me slack and it’s been OK ever since.”
Over the next 29 years Baumann would become one of Saloon’s most popular bartenders, with people coming in from all over to see him.
“Best bartender in town. Ask for Tab, he makes the place,” wrote one Google reviewer Jeff Gorman.
Another Google reviewer, Christopher P Wood, wrote: “Love it and Tab is always awesome to come see and chat with! We have been coming here for so many years and every time it’s refreshing to have a place that feels local, that personal touch!”
Pete T, a Yelp reviewer, chimed in with: “Tab our bartender was one cool cat. Funny dude too! Oh, and don’t waste your time with any ‘bar tab’ jokes with Tab. Trust me, he’s heard them all.”
Of the tab jokes, Baumann, said, “You can imagine all the things I’ve heard all these years. My full name is Thomas Aldeo Baumann, but my parents called me Tab, which are my initials. I’ve never been called Tom or Thomas, and believe me I did not plan on being a bartender and having that name.”
Baumann, who grew up in Cardiff and graduated from San Dieguito High School in 1972, said it was great working in a place where he knew so many people. He said working as a bartender allowed him to create many friendships and he learned patience and how to listen.
“The first customer the other day, he ordered a vodka tonic, and I could tell something was bothering him,” he said. “I was always good about ‘Hey, what’s going on? What are you doing? What’s up?’ and he was like, ‘My dog died this morning.’ So, I learned how to lend an ear.”
He added, “I tried not to talk politics too much!”
Baumann needed a moment to compose himself when asked what he wanted to say to all the customers who will miss him.
“Just give me a second,” he said.
“He’s getting emotional,” his wife Cathy said in the background.
Tab continued, “I was just blessed to be there that long, I was blessed to meet all those people, I was blessed that they were so kind and treated me so well. It wasn’t always perfect but I’m very grateful for the 29 years I was there.”
He said now that he’s retired he plans on spending more time with Cathy and their five grandchildren, and he plans on walking his dog, surfing and riding his bike more.
“I think I’m going to be busier retired than I am now,” he said.
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.