Mario’s: One More Time

Mario’s owner Lori Kosut confirmed this afternoon that the sale of the beloved restaurant will be finalized in “a couple of weeks.”

As reported yesterday, the 48-year-old Saugatuck landmark will eventually have a new look, menu and name: Harvest.

It won’t happen for a while. In the meantime — thanks to Westport native/superb photographer Lynn U. Miller — here’s one more look at the spot that long ago assumed a mythical place in Westport lore.

Mario's front - Lynn U Miller

The menu, in the front window.

The menu, in the front window.

Dinner was packed, earlier this week.

Dinner was packed, earlier this week.

Smiling host Paul Tolentino graduated from Staples in 1971.

Smiling host Paul Tolentino graduated from Staples in 1971.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Pedro Da Silva’s Legacy

Two years ago — as a Central High School sophomore — Pedro Da Silva heard an announcement about Open Choice.

“I think I was the only one who listened,” he says, referring to the lottery that brings Bridgeport students to Westport.

Though he was in Central’s magnet school program, Pedro wanted more. “It was a tough environment to learn in,” he explains.

He was accepted. Even before his 1st day as a Staples High School junior, he noticed a difference.

Staples sealWhile registering for classes, guidance counselor Deb Slocum  “ran over the entire building, looking for an AP US History textbook for me,” Pedro says. “She went to such a huge extent to help.”

When school began, he noticed a great academic difference. He had to drop a couple of AP and Honors classes. Even so, he struggled to keep up.

“In Contemporary World Issues they were talking about the Ottoman Empire,” Pedro recalls. “I had no idea what that was.”

He wrote down everything that was unfamiliar. At home each night, he researched what he did not know.

The first month was tough. Fortunately, Pedro found his new classmates very friendly. “I thought they might be snobby,” he says. “But everyone was so nice. I noticed the atmosphere immediately. It’s so warm and inviting. Mr. Dodig (the principal) has built such an accepting school.”

Joining Staples Players and Choir helped too. “At Staples you’re not judged for liking the arts,” he says with relief.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro acted in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and last year’s One-Act Festival. Next month, he’s directing a One-Act. In the winter he’s on the swim team. He’s vice president of the St. Jude’s Charity Club.

Now — as he prepares to graduate in June — Pedro wants to do one more thing.

He wants to leave a legacy.

Through a college application Facebook group, he met a boy in Kansas. “He lives in an area like Fairfield County, where some communities are much more affluent than others,” Pedro says. His friend created an inter-district student government. Each school sends 2 representatives. They meet monthly, sharing ideas about connecting their schools while breaking down barriers and social stereotypes.

Pedro would love to do the same thing with Westport, Fairfield and Bridgeport.

“Stereotypes are not real,” he notes. “There are really nice people everywhere.”

Central HSWhen Pedro announced he was leaving Central, his Bridgeport friends warned him that Westport kids could be snobs. Staples students have their own ideas about Bridgeport students.

“We’re all just teenagers going through the same issues,” Pedro says. “We should be able to advocate together, and learn from each other.”

Pedro has already made a start. He’s brought Central friends here, to see Players shows. Now, he’s talking to Dodig and the Student Assembly to move his idea forward.

Meanwhile, he’s waiting to hear back from colleges. And he’s gearing up for his senior internship, at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board in Norwalk.

Pedro will leave Staples with many good friends, wonderful memories, and an important lesson.

“No matter who you are, or what your background is, you can excel,” he says. “At Staples, I’ve been able to set my sights high, and learn how to accomplish as much as I can.”

Goodbye, Mario’s. Hello, Harvest

The rumors careening around town are true: Mario’s is being sold.

The legendary restaurant/bar — a Saugatuck mainstay since 1967 — will change hands soon. A new name, cuisine and interior will follow. The deal could be finalized tomorrow morning.

New owners Kleber, Nube and Vicente Siguenza own 5 restaurants in Fairfield and New Haven Counties (including 55 Degrees in Fairfield).

Mario's: A Westport legend.

Mario’s: A Westport legend.

Mario’s will remain as it is for the next year. It will then transform into Harvest Wine Bar — similar to the Siguenzas’ restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list. Harvest supports local, organic farms.

Mario’s — the official name was Mario’s Place, but no one called it that — was opened by Frank “Tiger” DeMace and Mario Sacco. Its across-from-the-train-station location was perfect for commuters looking for a drink and dinner. Wives picking up their husbands stopped in too.

Marios logoMario’s quickly became a beloved family restaurant. Its menu — featuring enormous steaks, popular Italian dishes and large salads — seldom changed. Neither did the comfortable, homey decor. That was part of its charm.

For nearly 50 years Mario’s has been Westport’s go-to place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and promotions — or commiserate over job losses and divorces.

Mario died in 2009.

Tiger died in 2012. His daughter Lori now co-owns Mario’s, with her brother Dominic DeMace.

“My father told us to keep it for a year, but not worry about having to sell it,” Lori said this afternoon. “The restaurant was his journey, not ours.”

Frank "Tiger" DeMace

Frank “Tiger” DeMace

It’s been 3 years since Tiger’s death. Lori and her husband Fletcher have a 6-year-old daughter.

“It’s time,” Lori said. “I love Mario’s — the customers, the staff — but times have changed. It was a long, hard decision. But my father didn’t make us feel we had to keep it.”

Rumors have swirled for years that all of Railroad Place — with Mario’s smack in the middle — will be torn down, as part of Saugatuck’s Phase III renewal.

Lori and Dominic own the Mario’s building. The Siguenzas will operate Harvest on a long-term lease.

The rest of Railroad Place is owned by a different landlord. What will actually happen across from the station is pure speculation.

Meanwhile — 3.5 miles north — other rumors have the Red Barn being sold to the Westport Family Y.

The Y did not comment.

Marios placemat

Minuteman Speaks Up For Autism Awareness

The Minuteman has been many things during his 100-plus years in town: Santa Claus. Easter bunny. Anti-war protester.

Today, however, may be the 1st time he’s an advocate for autism awareness.

Minuteman - Autism Awareness 2

Our town hero looks very sharp — and committed — with his Autism Speaks hat, sweatshirt, bag and water bottles.

(Hat tip: Stacey Henske)

 

40 Years, 40 Photos Of Sherwood Island

Larry Silver is well known for his iconic Longshore shots.

But the very talented Westport photographer has spent countless hours a couple of miles away at Sherwood Island too. That’s Westport’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind beach.

Tomorrow (Friday, March 27), the Westport Library introduces “Sherwood Island, 1975-2015″: more than 40 of Silver’s images, from the past 40 years.

"Woman With Boombox" -- Larry Silver, 1980.

“Woman With Boombox” — Larry Silver, 1980.

The photos show the changing styles of visitors to Connecticut’s 1st state park — and its timelessness. The shots — in black and white, and digital color; in every season, all over the park — are classics.

One of the library photos — “Sunset at Sherwood Island State Park” — is included in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s permanent collection.

"Man Barbecuing Next to Black and White Umbrella" -- Larry Silver, 2014.

“Man Barbecuing Next to Black and White Umbrella” — Larry Silver, 2014.

Every Westporter knows where the library is. Not everyone knows Sherwood Island — the overlooked gem right on our coast.

After Larry Silver’s exhibit, no one can forget it.

"Couple Photographing Children in Water" -- Larry Silver, 2014.

“Couple Photographing Children in Water” — Larry Silver, 2014.

Today’s The Day For A Library Shout-Out

How do you love the Westport Library?

Let the Institute of Museum and Library Services count the ways.

Our library is a finalist for the IMLS’ National Medal. It’s the highest honor for extraordinary public service, recognizing institutions that go waaay above and beyond as community anchors.

Each finalist gets 1 day for patrons to share stories on the IMLS Facebook page. Westport’s day is today: Thursday, March 26.

If you’ve got a Facebook account, click this link. “Like” the page, and post stories, fun facts, photos, videos — anything you’d like to share about the Westport Library. (Include the hashtag #NationalMedal too.)

Library museum page

Be creative. After all, this is Westport!

The IMLS says that the volume of posts doesn’t play into which finalist wins — but hey, you never know.

Technologically challenged? Don’t have a Facebook account? Head over to the Westport Library. Their staff will be happy to help you out!

New Taxes On Tap Via “County Government”?

Fairfield is a county in name only. Since 1960 — when the General Assembly abolished county governments — Connecticut’s 8 counties are about as useful as your appendix. The only reason they still exist, really, is to organize our judicial system.

Fairfield County is not the same as a proposed regional "Council of Government." But it would add another administrative layer to the state.

Fairfield County is not the same as a proposed regional “Council of Government.” But it would add another administrative layer to the state.

Except — according to State Representative Gail Lavielle — state legislators may introduce a new layer of taxing authority in the state. It may not officially be based on county governments (“regional Council of Governments” is the term) — but the effect would be the same.

Lavielle — who represents Westport, Wilton and Norwalk — says that if passed, SB 1 (“An Act Concerning Tax Fairness and Economic Development”) would establish a “regional property tax base revenue sharing system.”

She writes:

Each municipality would remit part of its local property taxes to its regional Council of Governments, which would in turn redistribute those funds among all of its member towns and cities, according to a formula that takes into account factors including each municipality’s population and property value.

Some towns would gain revenues; others would lose.

Lavielle says that in 2013 — when the General Assembly imposed the COG structure on all regional planning organizations — there was much discussion about its implications. The bill’s proponents assured Lavielle and others that COGs would not be responsible for property taxation issues on a regional basis, or any other level, she says.

But, she adds: “That assurance is not upheld in SB 1.”

(Hat tip: Bart Shuldman)

This Old House #4

Last week’s house — the most recent in a series seeking readers’ help identifying homes photographed for a 1930s WPA project — remains a mystery.

Though the caption on the back said “Coleytown,” readers thought it might have been located as far away as Edge Hill Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten is still trying to track down the answer. (Click here for that story, and comments.)

This week’s house seems to be easy. The back carries clear identification — “Allen (Bailin). Riverside Avenue.” But no one at the WHS — including Bob Gault, whose company has been on Riverside since 1863 — can pin it down.

This Old House - March 25, 2015

It’s pretty clear that this house was torn down. But where exactly did it stand? What took its place?

If you think you know, click “Comments” below. Information is needed for an upcoming Historical Society exhibit on preservation in Westport.

Chabad Grows Into Its New Home

Three years ago, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport bought the old, abandoned Three Bears Restaurant. An “06880” story — including neighbors’ complaints of renovation work done prior to the permitting process — drew a record 217 comments.

Three years later, Chabad is preparing a moderate expansion plan. All is going smoothly — so well, in fact, that neighbors are ready to toast “L’chaim!”

Chabad Lubavitch's home -- formerly the Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Chabad Lubavitch’s home — the old Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Though it’s called “Chabad of Westport,” the local branch of the international group serves Weston, Wilton and Norwalk too. The old Three Bears property — at the intersection of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike — is centrally located for all 4 towns.

It was Chabad’s 1st true local home. The organization — whose aim is to enhance Jewish life through programs, social services and worship — had rented a variety of sites for 18 years, including Ketchum Street, the Westport Woman’s Club and Camp Mahackeno.

Chabad has flourished. It runs a religious school, teen and adult programs, and a summer camp (at Coleytown Elementary School). Recently, they hosted a festive Purim party.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

The new addition will enhance Chabad’s services — and the neighborhood — say Rabbi Yehudah Leib Kantor and Peter Greenberg (a Chabad member and partner in Able Construction, who is doing the project at cost). The architect is Robert Storm.

The historic nature of the building — including, importantly, its street-facing facade — will be protected. New construction will be in “the New England vernacular” — fieldstone and shingles — blending in with what’s already there.

The additions and renovations — enlarging the current 9,000 square feet by 4,000 more — will take place in the back. A new 300-person sanctuary will double as a function hall for holiday events, and bar and bat mitzvahs (right now, Chabad rents the Westport Woman’s Club.) The religious school will be housed in the lower level.

A rendering of the addition.

A rendering of the addition, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Also planned: a new lobby, kitchen and elevator. The interior of the existing building will be “freshened up,” Greenberg says.

The 100-car parking lot entrance closest to Wilton Road has been closed. That should ease traffic by the light.

The back of the parking lot, meanwhile, will be raised slightly, to protect nearby wetlands.

Another rendering -- parking lot view.

Another rendering — parking lot view.

Chabad has already presented plans to Westport’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. Ahead are more panels, including Conservation, and Planning & Zoning.

A variance for coverage will be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is routine, Greenberg says, for nearly every church, synagogue, school and commercial property.

“This is a community project,” the rabbi notes. Funding comes entirely from area residents. Feedback from neighbors has been very positive, he and Greenberg say.

Chabad hopes for approvals within 3 to 4 months, with construction completed by next spring.

From their lips to you-know-who’s ears.

Baron’s South Fate Could Hinge On RTM

The Planning and Zoning Commission has spoken. By a 4-1 vote (1 abstention) last week, they approved an amendment to rezone all of the 22-acre Baron’s South property as open space.

Now there’s at least 1 petition circulating — probably more — asking the RTM to overturn that decision. Petitioners want to reopen the decades-long discussion of using the town-owned property for senior housing.

The official P&Z notice of the decision will be published Friday. Petitions must be submitted within 7 days of that notice.

RTMThe RTM would then have 30 days to act. The decision can be overturned by a 2/3 affirmative vote. That means 24 of the 36 members — no matter how many attend, it’s still 24.

This is one of the biggest RTM decisions in years. A vote to uphold the P&Z decision means that 22 acres of land — hilly and heavily forested — just steps from downtown will remain open forever (perhaps enhanced by an arboretum).

A vote to overturn the P&Z keeps the door open for other uses. The most recent 165-unit senior housing proposal involved 3.3 acres.

If you’d like your voice heard in this debate, contact your RTM members. Click here to find their emails. (Don’t know your district? Click here!)