After 30 years, one of my personal heroes, Rick Jankee, has sold the mythic Sail Inn in Delray Beach. Yesterday was a private farewell party for Rick, and it felt like a farewell to decades of my life.
The Sail, which dates from 1953, was where my friend Lee Bennett hung out when I first moved here; I’d meet him there to have a few beers and catch up with him and Liz and Sue Keleher and Jim Hazelwood and other faces over the years who would drift in. A picture of all of us hung on a side wall there for close to 25 years.
The Sail was the last stop on black-tie nights, on the way home from Boca parties. It was where you went after the St. Paddy’s Day parade or after a funeral at St. Vincent’s across the street. You’d come out of there smelling like a pack of Camels but no one ever thought much about it back then.
A few years ago, Jankee did, though, and redid the bar—it became non-smoking and spiffy, but still had that old Delray neighborhood vibe, the ring toss game, the great jukebox, and God knows what hanging from the ceiling. And of course the Sail became more than a bar over the years; Rick hosted charity fishing tournaments, he raised money to buy a car for a longtime regular named Emmitt who could no longer ride his Harley. (Emmitt’s leather motorcycle vest was mounted on the wall after he died.)
And there’s more—but he’d never tell you about it. He plays in a “spunk rock” band, Wreckly J’s, and was at one time a great chef—and even won a Limoncello contest in Italy on a whim.
A couple of years ago, Jankee was diagnosed with throat cancer; he never smoked, but 30 years of a smoke-filled bar probably didn’t help. After a brutal round of devastating treatments and a long touch-and-go period, he beat it. He showed up. He was here again.
Yesterday as I sat on a bar stool I probably owned back in the day, it dawned on me how long it had been since I’d been at The Sail. The faces were all different, I was 20 years older, and I did not recognize anyone.
Except Rick Jankee.
And there he was, the most popular guy in the bar. Pouring drinks, hugging old friends, lighting up the room with his smile and that swagger he always has. He was the same old Rick and the Sail, for a moment, felt like the same catcher’s mitt kind of a place it has always been.
When he walks out of the Sail Inn one last time this Wednesday night he may close the door and hand over the key, but he will always be the guy who made the Sail the Sail—a place of community and connection, a Delray institution.
As the song says, thanks for the memories.