Downtown Dayton’s longest-serving bartender dies. ‘He was a sweet man. He was a friend,’ patron says

“He remembered everybody’s name and he had a nickname for everybody.  He remembered every drink that you ever consumed.”

Credit: Dana Thompson

Credit: Dana Thompson

A downtown fixture and one of Dayton’s longest-serving bartenders has died.

Bruce Shafer, a bartender for 48 years, was 72.

"He was truly my friend," Dana Thompson, a 13-year bartender at the Right Corner Bar, 105 E. Third St., said. "I respected and loved him dearly."

Shafer, a cat lover, was found in his home Thursday during a welfare check. He lived alone.

The cause of death is pending, a Montgomery County Coroner’s Office official said.

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Shafer, an Army veteran, began working at the Stage Door Musical Bar, one of the Midwest’s oldest gay clubs, at age 24 after leaving a clerk’s position at Rike’s department store.

Credit: Dana Thompson

Credit: Dana Thompson

The former Dayton Towers resident and owner of a black 1988 Chevy truck remained at the bar, located at 44 N. Jefferson St., for 39 years. Thompson helped him get a job at Right Corner.

“He was a complicated man,” Thompson, a friend of decades, said. “He was a hard man with a lot of compassion. He remembered everybody’s name, and he had a nickname for everybody. He remembered every drink that you ever consumed.”

The second youngest child of the late Ernestine and Harold Shafer Sr.'s six children, Bruce Shafer was born and raised in Dayton until the family moved to Beavercreek when he was about 9 years old, according to Chuck Shafer and Judy Lawson, his brother and sister.

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“He made it a point to always show up to family functions,” Chuck Shafer recalled.

Lawson likened her brother to the the old tagline for a Wall Street stock brokerage.

"He always had a story," she said. "He was like E.F. Hutton. When he talked, you listened."

She said her brother was always his own person.

“He didn’t throw (any) punches,” she said. “If you liked him, that was OK, and if you didn’t like him, that was OK, too.”

Shafer loved his job, the siblings said.

Credit: Steve Fortener

Credit: Steve Fortener

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“He loved his cats. He loved his antiques,” Lawson said. “He was just a good all-around guy. He loved to do jokes. He loved to laugh and loved to eat.”

Shafer particularly loved sweets, favoring Snickers cake, they added.

“Pies and cakes,” Chuck Shafer said. “Lots of them.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the family will hold a small, private ceremony.

Shafer is to be buried at Woodland Cemetery.

Thompson said that the bar will hold a memorial service for Shafer when the state order closing bars due to the pandemic is lifted.

Steve Fortener, who worked with Shafer for 17 years and was one of his regular customers, joked that Shafer was joining Willie Litteral, a former Stage Door owner, at the cemetery, and he would put up a "welcome" sign.

Fortener said Shafer, a baseball cap-wearing cat lover with a gruff voice, much preferred to sit on the sidelines and watch during events like the Dayton Gay Pride Parade, rather than take center stage.

“He downplayed who he was to the community,” Fortener said. “He was a pillar.”

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A private man, Shafer came of age during a time — long before social media — when most gay men remained in the closet and used "Friends of Dorothy" as a secret code, Fortener said.

He scoffed at having his photo taken.

“Underneath this little scruff thing, he had to protect himself. He was a joy,” Fortener said. “He was a sweet man. He was a friend.”

Former Daytonians and out-of-town visitors would often stop at the Right Corner just to get a drink from Shafer, said Fortner, who now works at the Wellington Grille in Beavercreek.

Known for his ring collection, Shafer was protective of his customers, cutting people off when they had too much fun and making sure they got home at the end of the night, Fortener said.

Credit: Dana Thompson

Credit: Dana Thompson

And he liked to kid around.

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“If you took too long to pay in cash, he’d help you rearrange your purse,” Fortener said.

Rachel Anne Jensen, a representative for Republic National Distributing Co. and longtime Shafer friend and customer,  was one of the women he teased.

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“Oh my gosh, he was such a bully. He called me Trixie when he saw me, would look my outfit up and down and always said, ‘What corner are you working in that costume?’,” Jensen told this news organization in a text exchange.

“He never ever gave me enough ice. I think he purposely gave me less when I asked for more. And his drinks would knock me out of my chair.”

Jensen said she valued the friendship and always got Shafer new baseball hats.

“His career was bartending. He made a damn good living off of it. I was always so proud of him because of it,” she said.

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