The Tender Bar (2021) summary and ending explained

In ‘The Tender Bar’, a young man named J.R. Maguire recounts his life growing up on Long Island and aspiring to be a novelist. The film is based on the best-selling 2005 memoir of the same name by J. R. Moehringer.


J.R., 9, is named after his vanishing-act radio DJ father, and he and his financially stressed single mother, Dorothy, are forced to move in with her grumpy father and troubled mother in their Manhasset, Long Island, house. It’s a run-down place where everyone in the rowdy family appears to be in need at some point.

Dorothy is ashamed to be back in her childhood home, while J.R. is more upbeat and grateful to be back in the company of “people.” Charlie, Dorothy’s bar-owning, Caddie-driving brother, takes J.R. under his wing, imparting expertise in “the male sciences” and proving to be the uncle and father figure, any child would be fortunate to have.

He develops a stirring passion for writing and reading as he navigates life around relatives, his suburban grade school, and Charlie’s welcoming, working-class Bar called The Dickens. J.R.’s aspirational mother is also hellbent on her son one day graduating Harvard or Yale and that is how the seemingly impossible seed is sown.

Later, he wins a scholarship at Yale as a result of his hard work. He works hard on campus, befriends roommates Wesley and Jimmy, and falls in love with the enticingly unreachable Sidney.

J.R. goes to Sidney’s place for Christmas to only know that she is seeing someone else and is dumped in Connecticut. Next, he wants to be somebody Sidney would want back and he keeps going back to her. However, it is a disappointment every time .

He never leaves Long Island and the Dickens far behind, relying on Uncle Charlie’s particular brand of frank guidance, Dorothy’s devotion, and the downscale solace of their Manhasset home even when he graduates and seeks a staff job at the New York Times.

What follows in J.R.’s journey of self discovery?

The Tender Bar ending explained in detail:

Closer to a dream

J.R. achieves his mother’s dream of attending Yale, but quickly learns that he wants to be a novelist rather than a lawyer. However, he is still hesitant to fully commit since he believes he lacks the necessary skills.

He returns home after losing his job at the New York Times in the hopes of pursuing his passion. J.R. resolves to meet his father, whom he refers to as “The Voice,” after visiting with a sick Uncle Charlie.

Father issues

While The Voice professes to have changed since quitting drinking, J.R. believes that his father is still in denial. It isn’t until J.R.’s father assaults his girlfriend Kathy that he realizes he needs to stop the relationship for good and gets him arrested.

His father was always a mystery to him, the voice on the radio he was chasing.

J.R. finally departs and returns to Long Island, ready to dedicate himself to his passion. He learns his mother got a job of selling insurance. Uncle Charlie is mainly supportive of him, encouraging him to give him one final gift, the keys to the car.

Becoming a writer

The patrons of The Dickens pub egg him on because they have seen J.R. grow from a child to a man. He drives away, pondering what it means to be a writer, given that there is no such thing as a degree or diploma; once you decide to be a writer, you are.

After years of self-doubt, J.R. recognises that all he needs to do now is to prove himself as a writer, if only to himself. He even makes a joke about heading towards memoirs, bringing the film full circle.

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