Category Archives: Restaurants

Lights Float Across Main Street

iFloat is a downtown oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation.

iFloat logoLast year, owner David Conneely thought of putting up decorations to brighten the drab Main Street scene. But he was too busy —  that’s what happens when you run a business that helps people slow down — so it never happened.

This year, he lit some candles. He wasn’t satisfied, but it was a start.

Yesterday, he read an “06880” post about another dismal, decorations-less downtown holiday season.

This morning — as in, 2 a.m. — David was hard at work adding color to the iFloat windows above Oscar’s.

iFloat lights 1

He’s proud of his work. And, he notes, he bought the lights locally. So he looks forward to bringing his receipt to the Spotted Horse, for a free dessert.

The view from inside.

The view from inside, looking toward Tavern on Main.


 

Bagels And Nails

The transformation from International House of Pancakes to Westport Pancake House was easy.

But pancake sales flattened. Westport’s most famous triangle-roofed building stayed vacant for 3 years.

Westport IHOP

A new tenant arrives soon. Thaeroa Nails and Spa will fill a crying need for one more nail salon in town.

It may be Westport’s biggest. It will definitely be the most difficult to pronounce.

Meanwhile, 20 yards away, Bagel Maven is set to reopen early this coming week. It’s not official — a note on the door (underneath a fan letter) says to check the Facebook page “Friends of Bagel Maven Alex” — but a reliable source advises all those friends that the long renovation is almost over.

Bagel Maven returns

Alex will be happy to slice your bagel. No reason to hurt those nails.

It Was Ever Thus

Alert “06880” reader Ann Sheffer sent this along, from the “Exit 18″ Facebook page. Lise Krieger wrote it for the Westport News. It could have been written in 2014. But the dateline was more than 20 years ago: March of 1994.

With the imminent closing of The Remarkable Book Shop, downtown Westport, as many of us knew it, is taking its final, dying breath. What used to be a unique town, filled with mom and pop stores, unusual gift and clothing shops, and family restaurants, has succumbed to the latest American disease: “malling.”

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (Photo/Westporters.com)

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop. It was on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.  (Photo/Westporters.com)

Newcomers and younger folks love the new Westport – and why wouldn’t they? It has every chic clothing store chain that dress-alikes love to patronize. It has coffee bistros. It is expensive. Its parking lots are packed with Volvos, Jeeps, and Range Rovers. Westport is the place to shop and be seen. The mall transformation will be complete when a roof is erected over the entire area.

For comfort, I want to blame this affliction on somebody. Is it the fault of the chain store operators for wanting to increase their bottom line? Is it the fault of the consumers who desperately need to conform fashionably? Is it the fault of town government which allows the transformation? Or is it the fault of store owners who sell out?

I guess no one is to blame, really. Main Street towns all over America are dying because they can’t compete with the shopping malls sprouting like chicken pox throughout their areas. Westport is simply staying in the race.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

I grew up in Weston and spent much of my childhood on Main Street. I hardly go there anymore unless I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding bitter, I hate the crowds, I hate the stores, I hate the entire atmosphere. Yes, nostalgia can be a powerful emotional force. I don’t want to accept Westport the way it is today; I want to remember it the way it used to be.

When my brothers and I were young, my mother shopped for our clothing basics at Greenberg’s Department Store. My brothers got their formal clothes up the Post Road at Paul Zabin’s, and I was outfitted for my party duds at Trudy Gary’s….

Often my father took me to town on Saturdays to keep him company while doing errands. I loved to visit my neighbor, Mr. Messex, who worked at Hartman’s Hardware Store. The worn wooden floor was always neatly swept, and the tools, hardware and garden equipment were always in place. The store smelled faintly of fertilizers and insect repellents. If Hartman’s was out of something we needed, my dad would visit its competitor, Welch’s, up the street.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

My father bought his office supplies at Klein’s and was a regular patron of the record section before Sally moved to her own place. We often perused the bookshelves that sat atop crooked, wooden floors at Remarkable, and Dorain’s Drug Store, recently gone from Main Street, was the only place we knew for our pharmacy needs. My father knew the names of all of the people who worked in these stores, giving the Saturday trips to town a social air, as well.

Before fueling up at the gas station where The Limited now stands, dad would take me to Bill’s Smoke Shop for a treat. We sat at the counter and ate ice cream sundaes, and then I looked at the comic book racks while my father read the paper.

One of our regular dinner stops was Westlake, a dimly lit Chinese restaurant. If we were lucky, we were seated next to a window overlooking Needle Park. That was the name given to the hangout for hippies, and it was therefore assumed, drug-users. It was Westport’s answer to the ’60s counter-culture, and always made for interesting people watching….

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

Main Street 1976. West Lake (left) had just closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

There was a musical instrument store around the corner from Main, and when Baskin-Robbins went in across the street, a night at the movies took on new meaning. While my mother usually shopped for groceries at the less costly Stop and Shop, Westport Food Center and Gristede’s were there for forgotten items.

At night the greatest place to go for a bottle of wine and some live folk music was Grass Roots, which shared a wall with its rowdier counterpart, Ye Olde Bridge Grille. My parents often ate at Chez Pierre, while my friends and I stopped at competing pizza parlors, the Westport Pizzeria and S & M—both of which are still there, thank God….

One of the saddest deaths in Westport was the closing of the Ice Cream Parlor. The big pink palace was special for my brothers and me, a place where we bought bags full of penny candy from the turn of the century candy shop, ate hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the ornately decorated parlor, and watched old 5-cent movies on the machines that hovered in the corner of the room.

The Ice Cream Parlor was a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of establishment that gave Westport its character. But it’s gone and soon its pink sister, The Remarkable Book Store, will be gone too. While the new Westport generation will have its Gap, J. Crew, and Banana Republic memories, mine will be of two pink ladies and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops.

Ice Cream Parlor

The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road not far from Main Street.

 

Remembering Kevin Brawley

Kevin Brawley — the easygoing owner of a number of popular Westport restaurants — died this past weekend. He was 59 years old.

2178700 (1)Kevin was a wrestler at Bedford Junior High and Staples High School (Class of 1973). Later, he and Danny Horelick opened Dunville’s, on Saugatuck Avenue. It quickly became one of Westport’s favorite gathering spots.

Kevin’s next venture was Tavern on Main. Decades later, little has changed from his original vision.

He later opened the River House on Riverside Avenue.

Tavern on MainKevin worked — and enjoyed — long hours at his businesses. He mentored dozens of employees, who themselves went on to own many local restaurants.

Friend, classmate and former wrestling teammate Chip Stephens says:

Kevin will be remembered for his gravelly voice and infectious laugh, his smile and being a host with the most, his huge circle of friends, and his ability to create and run dining and drinking establishments. Two of them still exist after decades — something very rare today.

 

Nisticos Say: “Red Barn Will Be Here Another 30 Years”

The Red Barn parking lot was full at lunch today.

It often is. The restaurant — so beautiful, so rustic, so easy to reach for anyone coming from anywhere on the Merritt — has been a Westport landmark since perhaps before there was a parkway.

The Nistico family — owners of the beloved Arrow restaurant, a couple of miles south in Saugatuck — took over the Red Barn in 1983. They lovingly restored it, and have made their mark there over the past 3 decades. No time is more special than the holidays.

But rumors swirling through Westport had the restaurant on a death watch. Published reports indicated a foreclosure auction was set for Saturday.

“That was just a speed bump,” co-owner Richard Nistico said this afternoon. “We took care of everything. Can you please let everyone know we’ll be here another 30 years?”

Done.

Red Barn restaurant

 

 

 

(New) Notable Trees: The Sequel

For years, Westporters wondered what’s up with the very unsightly sawed-off telephone polls planted in concrete on the Jesup Green median across from Matsu Sushi:

(Photo/Google Street View)

(Photo/Google Street View)

Turns out, about 30 years ago a public works director got angry about garbage trucks backing over the median strip to get to the restaurant and business dumpsters.

He planted poles. We’ve been stuck with the eyesore ever since.

Our long Jesup Road nightmare is over.

As part of Westport’s beautification process, Public Works is sprucing up the median. They’re adding soil, and planting trees. Tree warden Bruce Lindsay is supervising the tree work.

Jesup Green median

Sure, there are lots of plans for re-imagining Jesup Green.

But change comes slowly to Westport. By the time we’re ready to reconfigure the area, there may be an outcry to save the median trees.

Because, of course, they’ll have “always” been there.

Fred Cantor’s Timeless Westport

As an alert “06880” reader, Fred Cantor has seen comments on every side of every debate about the changing nature of Westport.

As someone who came to Westport in 1963, Fred has seen many of those changes himself.

An accomplished attorney, film and play producer and writer, Fred has spent years taking photos around town. Recently, he asked Staples grad Casey Denton to help create a video of those shots.

Fred’s goal was simple. He wanted to document his belief that the essence of Westport’s beauty and small-town New England character — which his family discovered upon moving here over 5 decades ago — remains alive and well.

The video opens with long-ago Westport scenes. There are photos of mom-and-pop stores, the kind that filled Main Street back in the day. Obviously, that’s changed.

But most of the photos are from the recent past — many taken within the past year. And, Fred notes, they are “timeless Westport scenes.” Churches, barns, the Saugatuck bridge, the Minuteman and Doughboy statues, the Mill Pond and cannons — we are surrounded by wonderful history and spectacular beauty.

Fred knows that family businesses are very much with us. From long-time establishments (Oscar’s, Mario’s) to relative newcomers (Elvira’s, Saugatuck Sweets), there are more here than we realize.

Finally, Fred wanted to show that institutions like the Library, Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion have been significantly upgraded over the years. The entire community benefits, Fred says, from “the strong commitment to the arts that existed when my parents brought us here over 50 years ago.”

Fred knows this is the perspective of just one near-native. But, he says — as health problems limit how far he can go from home — he is glad he can notice and appreciate more than ever what is right around all of us.

 

Just Desserts

It may not be enough to entice you away from the Trumbull Mall, Stamford Mall or Amazon Mall.

But between now and New Year’s Eve, the Spotted Horse is offering a free dessert (1 per table) to anyone showing a receipt from a Westport store.

“Shop local. Eat local. Spend local. Enjoy local,” the campaign says.

Pack on those local calories, too.

Spotted Horse logo

How To Succeed In Westport — With Really Trying

Kibberia is one of my favorite restaurants.

The Middle Eastern food is fantastic: fresh, healthful and flavorful. The prices are great. And Nick Iskandar is one of the nicest, happiest and most generally helpful restaurant owners I’ve ever met.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Kibberia recently marked its 1-year anniversary on the Westport-Norwalk town line (it’s on the site of the old John’s Best). That seemed like a good time to ask Nick what it takes to survive in this area’s cutthroat restaurant environment.

“The first few months were definitely not easy,” he says. The brutal winter weather kept many people home. The small plaza is not well lit; town regulations limit signage. Middle Eastern cuisine is unfamiliar to many diners.

Yet those were just bumps on the road to building a new business.

“When people taste it, they like it,” Nick says of his menu. He’s seen a steady increase in takeout orders. Nearly every day, he caters lunch for at least one office nearby. And — parents say — their kids love his hummus and falafels.

That’s one surprise. So is his wholesale sideline.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Unprompted, a customer suggested that Nick sell his products through stores like Mrs. Green’s.

It took a while, but he started in 4 locations. Now he’s in 15 — including items not in his restaurant.

He was surprised too when Patricia Brooks called last spring. She’d enjoyed her meal there, and planned to review it for the New York Times.

She gave it a “good” rating — in Times-speak, just a step below “phenomenal” — and that drove customers. So did a nice writeup in the Hearst papers.

Always, Nick is experimenting with what works. He began opening on Sundays. It’s his slowest day, but loyal customers want it.

He added live music on Saturdays, but BMI — the music rights firm — is coming after small businesses like his for licensing fees. So he’s cut back considerably.

KibberiaThis has been an enjoyable year for Nick. He’s learned a lot. The Westport Kibberia is different from his 1st location in Danbury: different customers, different rhythms, different expectations. Yet he’s adapted well — and is looking for a 3rd location, possibly in Mt. Kisco.

It’s not easy for any new business — particularly a restaurant — to survive here.

But — as his ever-growing customer base attests — the rewards can hit the spot.

Scores Of Santas Stumble Through Saugatuck

Saugatuck, Santa Claus and alcohol. It doesn’t get better than that.

The trifecta is our 2nd annual “Santa Cause.” The creation of Westporters Kelley and Drew Schutte, it’s an absurdly fun (and adult) afternoon. And it’s a fundraiser for a wonderful beneficiary: Adam’s Camp New England, which helps special needs children realize their full potential.

Did I mention there are drinks?

Drew and Kelley Schutte — aka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Here’s the deal. This Saturday (November 29), attendees must dress up in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits. (Full costumes, please!)

Everyone gathers at the Whelk, at 3 p.m. sharp. Every 45 minutes they drink/crawl their way from one fine Saugatuck establishment to the next. (Saugatuck Sweets provides free coffee, because man does not live by bread beer alone.)

At the last stop — the Rowing Club — awards will be presented (don’t ask). Then come (surprise!) drinks, bites, and dancing your bells off to Fry Daddy’s.

Here’s the holiday catch: The cost is a minimum of $125 per person Santa.

Of course — this being the holiday, and there’s alcohol involved — you can give more. $2,700 covers a full camp experience for one child.

Christmas drinkThis being litigious Westport, there are guidelines. Each party’s drop-off and pick-up rides must be arranged in advance (unless there’s a designated sleigh or car driver).

Cash is requested for drinks and tips. No credit cards — bartenders have enough trouble without trying to figure out which Santa bought which Christmas ale.

Ho ho ho!

(Pre-registration is requested; send a check made out to “Adam’s Camp,” with a list of the number attending and your email address, to the Schuttes, 12 Sunnyside La., Westport, CT 06880. Include the name of all your Santas, and your email address. For more info, call 917-297-1324.)