Pat and Molly Audley sit in a booth at the Artichoke, the sandwich bar Pat has owned since 1984, sipping beers and joking about the 10 years they spent as co-workers at the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch.
"She was there to protect me," said Pat, a teacher at the school for juvenile offenders.
"He never needed me," said Molly, a former corrections officer. He does now, as he'd be the first to admit. It's Molly who keeps in her head the medical details of Pat's 16-month-long battle with cancer.
More surprising, Pat, an ex-Marine, is finally willing to take a little help from the many friends he's made during his careers as a teacher and bar owner.
Prominent among the latter are many of the city's musicians. The 'Choke, as it's known, is the city's longest-running venue for traditional acoustic music. Audley gave many musicians their first chance to perform in public.
From noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, musicians and supporters will stage a benefit for Audley at the Artichoke, 811 N. Broadway. The only snag so far is a surplus of volunteer performers.
"It was not possible to get everyone who wants to play or should play" a spot, said Nikki Moddelmog, one of the organizers.
Audley, 57, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January of last year. During surgery, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. Audley underwent seven draining weeks of radiation treatment. For a time, his cancer seemed to be in check, but recently there are indications the cancer is spreading again.
Audley's doctors have told him there is little that traditional medicine can do. With their encouragement, he is looking for a clinical trial to participate in and trying alternative forms of treatment, including daily doses of a "root concoction" and possibly a trip to a California spa that emphasizes a mental approach to healing. He's on a strict vegan diet —"Talk about a labor of love," Molly said — and enjoying a pint of Guinness is a rare treat these days.
"I miss coming down here every Friday and Saturday night," Pat Audley, appearing tired but upbeat, said. "I did it for 25 years. But I enjoyed it. It wasn't really work."
How he got started
Audley didn't set out to run a music venue, or even a bar. He'd been teaching for a decade when a friend approached him about opening one in the old Elbow Room, a biker bar on North Broadway. Audley wasn't interested until the friend said they could also sell food. Audley had grown up in his parents' restaurant in Iola.
Audley admits he swiped most of the Artichoke's original sandwich menu from another restaurant that was then popular. The bar's lunch business — with best-sellers like the "Twisted Seester" and "Nancy's No. 8" — pays the bills.
Not long after the opening, a couple of musicians asked Audley if they could play there. Audley agreed, thinking it might be the only thing that would convince people to visit after dark.
"I've always been on North Broadway, and it's always been crazy," he said.
Back then, there weren't many venues for acoustic musicians, even as traditional music — fueled in part by the annual Walnut Valley bluegrass festival in Winfield — grew increasingly popular.
The 'Choke became the outlet for that music, even though it doesn't have a real stage. Musicians set up at one end of the narrow front room, stepping out of the way as waitresses and customers pass.
'Irished up the place'
Audley, in tribute to his Irish heritage, "Irished up the place" with Guinness signs, Celtic paraphernalia and a "Blarney stone" out front. On weekends, he could usually be found at the bar, buying pints and spinning stories about noodling, his favored sport of catching fish with his bare hands. By day, he taught school. He's been at it 33 years now, the last 15 of them at he boys ranch, where he has helped a couple of hundred youngsters get their GEDs.
Moddelmog is one of those musicians whose first real gig came at the 'Choke. Audley offered it to her after hearing her during the bar's monthly singer-songwriter circle.
"It's not that's he not picky about who plays there, but he gives everyone a chance," said Moddelmog. "It's one of the best venues in my opinion. You're not just a gig there, you're his friend."
Despite his prognosis, and the toll the cancer has already taken, both Audleys profess optimism.
Pat and Molly married at the Keeper of the Plains statue at 7:07 p.m. on July 7, 2007. "It's lucky, and we're Irish," Pat said. The youngest in their blended family of seven children just finished high school.
Molly says of Pat: "He's not traditional. He teaches kids who are incarcerated. He catches fish with his hands. He started this place and kept it going for 26 years. So I think he's going to beat this and he's going to do it through some alternative treatment."
Saturday, Pat will get a look at one legacy of that nontraditional life — a thriving acoustic music scene he helped nourish.
"I think I created something here," he said. "I was real fortunate."