cover image The Last Fine Time

The Last Fine Time

Verlyn Klinkenborg / Author Knopf Publishing Group $19.95 (209

From its deft first sentence (``Snow begins as a rumor in Buffalo, New York''), this detailed, wistfully affectionate re-creation of the immigrant experience clarifies the human cost of the disappearance of once-distinctive ethnic neighborhoods. Klinkenborg ( Making Hay ) tells the story of a tavern in Polish-American East Buffalo that his father-in-law, Eddie Wenzek, inherited in 1947 at age 27. Originally purchased by his father in 1922 during Prohibition, the workingman's bar was transformed by Eddie into a fashionable late-night spot. The flowing narrative evokes a time and place where streetcars clattered, where advertising had not yet molded a consumerist culture in a postwar America ``beating its swords into appliances.'' The Wenzels sold the tavern in 1970 and moved to the suburbs. Klinkenborg links the bar's fortunes to the gradual erosion of Buffalo's sense of destiny, ``a sad tale of unknotting.'' (Jan.)