Category Archives: Saugatuck

Hey, Guest Bartender!

If restaurants can have a guest chef, I guess bars can have a guest bartender.

Today (Thursday, November 13, 8 p.m.) Steve Schneider slips into that role at Dunville’s.

It’s a way of celebrating the renovations the popular Saugatuck spot has made. Co-owner Stephen Carpentieri calls it “Dunville’s 2.o.”

“Carpi” and Schneider are no strangers to each other. They co-starred in “Hey Bartender,” the award-winning documentary directed by Doug Tirola and produced by Susan Bedusa. Both are longtime Westporters.

Steve Schneider

Steve Schneider

The film examines the 2 Steves — Schneider and Carpentieri — as they try to achieve their dreams through bartending. It’s available on Showtime, Netflix and iTunes.

Since the theatrical release, Schneider has flown to London, Berlin, Russia, Asia and Australia. He’s guest-bartended at the top spots in the world.

Tonight he adds Dunville’s to the list.

 

A Developing Story

Ever since the Wright Street and Gorham Island buildings were erected in the 1970s — and those were quite some erections — Westport has been consumed by construction.

Even so, 2014 stands out as a landmark year.

Here are some of the developments — as in, real estate developments — that have occurred in the past few months. Or are occurring right now.

  • The Y moved into its new home. The Kemper-Gunn House is being moved across Elm Street to the parking lot, and Bedford Square will soon rise downtown.
  • The Levitt Pavilion finally completed its renovation. Nearby, plans for Jesup Green — with possibly reconfigured parking, a new Westport Arts Center and a renovated library — are in the works. And, of course, committees and commissions have been talking all year about new ideas for all of downtown.
  • Across the river, Save the Children has skedaddled. That fantastic waterfront property will be redeveloped, such as the adjacent Bartaco/National Hall buildings have been reimagined recently.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River includes the old National Hall and the relatively new Wright Street building. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

  • Compo Acres Shopping Center is being renovated. The Fresh Market shopping center — and the one across the Post Road, with Dunkin’ Donuts — will get a facelift (and new tenants) soon.
  • Applications have been made for housing on the site of the Westport Inn. Across town, there are rumors of new housing on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
  • Senior housing has been shot down on Baron’s South. But it won’t remain undisturbed forever.
  • Phase II of Saugatuck Center has been completed. Phase III — on  Railroad Place — is coming down the tracks.

That’s a lot — as in, lots of building lots.

And nearly 2 months still remain in this year.

P.S. Oh, yeah. The beach too.

 

Goodbye, Cocoa Michelle. Hello, Bonjo!

Cocoa Michelle — the long-lived, very popular coffee-croissants-and-chocolates spot across from the train station — is closing today.

They’ve been bought out by their coffee roaster. On Monday, they reopen as Bonjo.

The current staff is staying. And Bonjo will feature an expanded selection of food.

For the rest of the week, there’s still Commuter Coffee. And — on the other side of the tracks — Steam.

(Hat tip to John Hartwell.)

The cozy interior of Cocoa Michelle.

The cozy interior of Cocoa Michelle.

A Sneak Peek At What’s Coming Down The Pike…

…or, more accurately, next to the Turnpike.

And on the Post Road.

A Westporter with political connections gives some background:

Connecticut legislation known as 8-30g mandates that new development projects include 30% “affordable” residential units. Developers around the state have made humongous proposals that include large amounts of affordable housing — then “offer” a “compromise” of scaling back, in order to get what they really originally wanted.

Last week, a developer came to Town Hall with an application to demolish the Westport Inn. In its place would come 2 levels of underground parking. On top would be 2 stories of housing — with 50 units per floor. It would be the largest new building on the Post Road in decades — rivaling the Wright Street office complex across town.

The Westport Inn has stood on the Post Road East since 1960 (it started as a motel). It may not stay there forever.

The Westport Inn has stood on the Post Road East since 1960 (it started as a motel). It may not stay there forever.

Also across town from the Westport Inn, a developer is eyeing Hiawatha Lane. That’s the limited access neighborhood adjacent to the I-95 Exit 17 on/off ramp, which already includes some of the most affordable houses in Westport. The developer would like to build 100 — maybe even 200 — units of housing there.

If both — or even one — of those proposals passes the many approval hurdles, it would affect every aspect of life in Westport. Education, traffic, emergency services, you name it — all would be impacted, in a variety of ways.

Neither proposal is on the Planning & Zoning calendar yet, where such developments usually begin.

But people on the street — Post Road East, Saugatuck Avenue, and points in between — are already talking about them.

What’s Up With This Mansion?

Word on the street — Riverside Avenue — was that Mansion Clam House may have closed.

It was shut Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. There’s no activity today. The sign in front of the building is gone, and the exterior lights have been on for a few days. It looks deserted.

But folks in the know say Mansion will try to open on Friday.

Let’s hope it’s just a bump in the road — Riverside Avenue — for this long-lived, much-loved Westport institution.

Mansion Clam House

Mansion Clam House (file photo).

 

Hark! Shakespeare Didst Nearly Come To Stony Point

In many communities, no one wants to live next to the railroad station.

Westport is not “many communities.” Here, Stony Point is one of the most desirable spots in town.

Ann Sheffer — a longtime resident of that winding, riverfront peninsula whose entrance is directly off the train station parking lot — sent along a Westport News clipping that tells the fascinating back story of Stony Point.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Stony Point today (left of the river). The train station and tracks are at top.

Written in 1977 by Shirley Land — who knew everything about everything — it describes a New York banker, his wife and 2 daughters. They lived in a handsome Victorian mansion with “turrets and filigree curlicues.” The grounds included an enormous carriage house, gardener’s cottage, barn and hothouse.

It was the Cockeroft family’s country home, built around 1890. They traveled there by steam launch from New York City, tying up at a Stony Point boathouse.

The Cockerofts’ was one of “the 3 great showplaces” in Westport. The other 2 were the Hockanum mansion on Cross Highway, and the Meads’ estate on Hillspoint.

After the daughters inherited the home, the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad inquired about purchasing some of the land for a new train station. (The original one was on the other side of the river.)

The sisters agreed, but only if the railroad built a solid brick wall, 1675 feet long, to provide privacy and quiet.

The Stony Point wall today. It separates the peninsula from the train station.

The Stony Point wall today. It separates the peninsula from the train station.

When the 2nd daughter died, she bequeathed the estate to the Hospital for the  Crippled and Ruptured (whose name was later changed, mercifully, to the New York Hospital for Special Surgery).

But the property fell into disuse. Eventually the hospital sold Stony Point to Birmingham and Asti, real estate developers.

Around 1950, Lawrence Langner of the Theatre Guild, Lincoln Kirstein of Lincoln Center and arts patron Joseph Verner Reed tried to build an American Shakespeare Theatre and Academy there. Proximity to the train station was a major piece of the plan.

The price for all 21 acres: $200,000.

But, Land wrote, “the hand of fate and the town fathers combined to defeat the efforts of the theatre people.” Many residents objected. There were also concerns that it would draw audiences away from the Westport Country Playhouse. (Others argued that a Shakespeare Theatre would enhance the town’s reputation as an arts community.)

The theater was never built in Westport. It opened in the aptly named town of Stratford, Connecticut in 1955, and was moderately successful until ceasing operations 30 years later.

In Westport, the Cockeroft estate remained empty.

The entrance to Stony Point.

The entrance to Stony Point.

In 1956 Westporters Leo Nevas and Nat Greenberg, along with Hartford’s Louis Fox, bought the property for residential development. Before they could start, however, vandals attacked the main house. They ripped out bathtubs, hacked up fireplaces, and smashed mirrors and statues. The developers asked the fire department to burn what remained to the ground.

All that remains of the original estate, Land wrote, is “the charming gate house, an immaculate gray and white Victorian structure just inside the gate; a pair of antique marble urns on the site of the old mansion where a newer home now stands; and the fine carriage house-garage, remodeled to be sure, but bearing the visible imprint of bygone grandeur.”

Oh, and a few small doors set into the long brick wall. Once upon a time, they must have provided an amazing view.

Slice Is Nice!

Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.

They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.

But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.

The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.

And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.

It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?

Tutti's was 1 of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

What's a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto's parking lot.

What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery's carnivorous samples.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

 

Slice On Sunday

Westport’s newest tradition – Slice of Saugatuck – returns Sunday afternoon.

That’s right: Sunday. The first 2 Slices were held on Saturdays. But this one’s set for 1-4 p.m., this Sunday (September 14).

Slice of SaugatuckFor a mere $10 (just $5 for kids 6-12), you can wander up and down Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue. More restaurants than you ever knew were down there will offer food. Other businesses will hand out coupons, gifts and anything else they dream up.

There are bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since Saugatuck’s previous tradition, Festival Italiano.

See you at the Slice. On Sunday.

Mario’s Adds Something New To Menu

Much about Mario’s is timeless. For 47 years it’s served the same great steaks and prime ribs, in the same place, to — in many cases — the same customers.

But on Sunday, September 14, something changes. For the 1st time in nearly half a century, Mario’s will serve brunch.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario's.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario’s.

For years, owner Lori Kosut says, customers have asked for the meal. She herself loves it. But, she says, “it just wasn’t something my father wanted to do.”

Lori’s father was Frank “Tiger” DeMace. A Westport legend, he opened Mario’s in 1967. And he owned and operated it until the day he died, in 2012.

“I am very proud of what my father built,” Laurie says. “I am proud that 3 generations of my family work here. Mario’s has always been a family restaurant.

“But as a mother, I don’t want to be home making breakfast for my family on a Sunday. That’s one of the changes I’m most excited about. I’ll be here for brunch just as often as my customers.”

Marios logoAs noted though, some things about Mario’s never change. To honor her family, her restaurant and her Saugatuck location’s heritage, the brunch menu will include Italian specialties.

Italian “French” toast, prosciutto di Parma omelets, eggs Benedict and Italian pastries lead the offerings. Non-Italian items include steak and eggs, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s — all for $19.95.

“My father always insisted on keeping Mario’s affordable for families,” Laurie notes. “That will not change. Sundays are a day for family — whether it be a family of friends, or a family with children.”

That’s our Mario’s!

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River: The Sequel

A recent “06880″ post on the Saugatuck River sand and silt buildup drew many comments. Longtime Westporter Dick Fincher reached deep in his memory bank, and added these thoughts:

The river channel, from the bay to the Post Road bridge, was last dredged by the Corps of Engineers in 1969. That is a firm date, because we had just moved here. We were living in a rented house at 165 Riverside Avenue, right on the river.

In theory the Corps is supposed to keep the channel dredged on a regular basis. But in fact it has not, since the river is not considered an essential waterway for commerce and/or extensive pleasure boat traffic.

I believe the Saugatuck dredging had 2 forks, about 300 yards south of the Post Road bridge. One went straight up the channel. The other bore over to the quay more or less in front of the library, then alongside it to the bridge.

This no doubt was because in the old, old days the commercial channel actually went right up to the backs of the buildings on the east side of Parker Harding, before it became a parking lot.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river's currents substantially.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river’s currents substantially.

Despite not being dredged, for many years — probably into the early 1990s or thereabouts – the lower portion had a good channel (almost to the Bridge Street bridge) because Gault got regular barge deliveries to their dock. Barges with 8-foot draft scraped the channel clean every time they came in or went out.

I would venture that the shallowness your contributor saw in the upper river (unless he just happened to see it at extremely low tide) is exacerbated by the fact that the lower river is also silting. There are spots even in the lower channel that at low tide are barely passable in the middle of the channel, right by Stony Point.

I know the folks at Earthplace take regular readings on the river’s health. Perhaps they can shed some light on this.

Dick’s insights reminded me of a romanticized version of the Saugatuck River’s traffic. A number of years ago, when commercial brokers were trying to market the gruesome glass building on Gorham Island, they ran a big ad in the real estate section of the Sunday New York Times. It featured a drawing of the building — and right next to it, way upriver of the Post Road bridge, was an enormous schooner. As if.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

The Saugatuck River at low tide. (Photo/Scott Smith)