For the Love of Beer and His Buddies

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” tells the story of Chickie Donohue’s unlikely but true adventure bringing suds from New York to his military pals in 1967 Vietnam.

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By Corey Kilgannon

Chickie Donohue, 81, has been telling saloon stories since his teens, but there’s one he no longer has to tell.

It is about his preposterously unlikely trip to Vietnam in 1967 to bring his soldier friends a beer and a hug of support from their home neighborhood of Inwood in Upper Manhattan.

The soldiers, all stationed with different units, were gobsmacked to see their neighborhood buddy in well-worn dungarees and a checked shirt suddenly show up in foxholes and tent barracks and hand them a warm one from his duffel bag.

Over decades, it became a widely known, and widely disbelieved, tale in Inwood saloons and among Donohue’s fellow sandhogs, the urban miners who dig train and water tunnels deep in the city’s bedrock.

But now, Donohue is as amazed as anyone to see his story go from New York’s gritty bars and muddy tunnels to the big screen.

It has turned into “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” an adventure-comedy directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Zac Efron as Donohue. It opened in theaters on Sept. 23 and will reach Apple TV+ on Sept. 30.

During his four months in Vietnam, Donohue visited four friends. All survived harrowing combat tours to return home. They are all still alive and meet for dinner regularly in New York.

When the film premiered this month at the Toronto International Film Festival, the producers flew them up, all expenses paid. It was a far cry from rations in muddy foxholes. There were luxury hotel rooms, $250 daily food stipends, a red carpet and a screening where the boys earned a standing ovation.

On a recent weekday, a day after flying home, Donohue slapped a $100 bill on the bar at the Tubby Hook Tavern in Inwood, his buddy Rick Duggan, 74, sitting beside him.

The owner, Niall Henry, clapped Donohue on the shoulder and said, “I mean, you’re a good-looking guy, Chickie, but come on — Zac Efron? Give me a break.”

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