Category Archives: Saugatuck

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)

 

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

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.

Eminent Domain: Coming To Saugatuck Soon?

This morning’s post on a recent Town Hall meeting with state representatives carried a brief mention of a proposed bill. It would create an entity — the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority — aimed at encouraging business development within a 1/2-mile radius of rail or bus transit stations.

State Representative Gail Lavielle responded quickly to “06880.” The bill, she says, would “make 8-30g” — Connecticut’s affordable housing mandate — “look like a picnic.”

Lavielle says the TCDA could “allow 11 state-level political appointees to do anything they wanted in the name of transit-oriented development (build affordable housing, expropriate people and businesses, build multi-story buildings, etc.)” — and do it within half a mile of the Saugatuck train station.

And, she notes, it could be done “without any approvals from Westporters or their elected officials at all.”

Uh oh.

Bridge Square is within half a mile of the Saugatuck railroad station. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

Bridge Square is within half a mile of the Saugatuck railroad station. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The bill has been flying under the radar, Lavielle says. She found out about it only because, as an Appropriations subcommittee member responsible for the Department of Transportation budget, she asked about a line item for it.

DOT knew nothing about it, she says. She had to get facts from the governor’s office.

Lavielle says that in Newington — site of a new busway — concerned citizens have started a Facebook page called “Our Town. Our Choice. No to HB 6851.”

train station parkingLavielle believes that the Metro-North/I-95 corridor is a prime target area for TDCA’s activities.

And, she adds, “unlike with 8-30g, there is no appeals process. Not even a bad one.”

Saugatuck has been buzzing lately about plans for Phase III of its redevelopment.

Suddenly, there’s a bit more to buzz about.

(To read the full House Bill 6851, click here. To read Lavielle’s piece about the proposal in the Norwalk Hour, click here.)

Breaking News — Westport Inn’s 200-Unit Housing Plan No Longer In Play

Westporters have a lot to worry about. But — as of today — the 5-story, 200-unit housing complex proposed for the site of the Westport Inn is not one of them.

The property has been sold. The new owners — an investment group — are presumed to want to continue operations as a hotel.

The sale did not simply fall from the sky. First Selectman Jim Marpe and Planning and Zoning Commission chair Chip Stephens have worked to find a buyer. They hoped to find someone local, who understood the need to maintain an inn — and not add massive new housing on a small-footprint, already-crowded part of the Post Road.

The Westport Inn will no longer be demolished, or replaced with 200 housing units.

The Westport Inn will no longer be demolished, or replaced with 200 housing units.

Part of the initial housing proposal — which was withdrawn, after P&Z commissioners raised concerns — included “affordable housing” units. Developers have cited a state statute — 8-30g — mandating that 10% of every community’s housing stock be “affordable.”

Officially, Westport is around the 3% level. But because of the way the regulation is worded — housing built before 1990 does not count, for example, toward points for a 4-year moratorium from the law — we actually do reach that threshold. may feel there is a sword hanging over us.

Other housing developments that involve 8-30g are in the works. One (temporarily withdrawn) is on Hiawatha Lane; another (flying under the radar so far) is on Post Road West, where several blighted buildings were recently torn down.

Those bear watching. But as of today, the Westport Inn no longer does.

Mersene Moves On To A New “Stage”

Mersene — like Pele or Madonna, she uses just 1 name — is the beloved owner of a funky, 1-of-a-kind shop across from the train station.

There, in 2 overflowing rooms, the incredibly ingenious, amazingly energetic and phenomenally generous Mississippi native whips up gorgeous gift boxes. (Can you tell I love this woman?)

Filled with ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine, the gifts look so lovely recipients hate opening them.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

But Railroad Place is a tough spot to draw in gift box customers. This is Mersene’s 2nd store; 2 years ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded her out of Bridge Square.

The 3rd time is the charm for this charming woman. Next month, Mersene moves on to the next stage in her creative career. Working out of her home and barn, she’ll focus on staging.

Parties, events, rooms, tablescapes — whatever you need to showcase warmth and love, Mersene will provide it.

And she’ll do it with her winning Southern smile and style.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or events, or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Mersene is idolized by her customers. Sitting in her overflowing store the other day, our conversation was interrupted by a stream of women singing her praises.

Jill Jaysen called her “a treasure.” Another said she is “a true artist.” A 3rd teared up after learning that Mersene is closing her store.

“I don’t want to lose anyone,” Mersene says. She wants to make sure her customers — “friends,” she corrects me — know that she’ll still help provide unique things for their own friends, relatives and clients.

She’ll still do gift baskets, of course, for individuals and corporations. But she’ll focus more on, say, staging birthday parties: putting together just the right mix of china, flowers, hors d’oeuvres, cake and entertainment.

Another example: Mersene will take a room you feel is “tired,” move some things around, bring in a couple of new pieces, and — voilà! — she’s injected tremendous new energy and life.

Mersene’s style combines elegance with simplicity. For a client’s baby shower, she recommended only some orchids, a cheese platter and a 3-tier tray with petits fours.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

She brings that same creative eye to every staging challenge. She pours the same love and attention into a table or living room as a big charity gala.

As she prepares to close her Indulge by Mersene store, her many fans are sad — but looking forward to her new focus.

“I’ll follow her anywhere,” one says.

Fortunately, Mersene is not going far.

(The 22 Railroad Place store closes at the end of February. For more information on her staging and gift boxes, click here; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)

 

Hiawatha Lane Proposal Withdrawn — For Now

First Selectman Jim Marpe announced today that Summit Saugatuck is withdrawing its application to the Water Pollution Control Authority for a sewer extension to Hiawatha Lane Extension.

However, the attorney for the developer — who had hoped to build 186 housing units on the property abutting I-95 exit 17 — said that this does not mean Summit is abandoning its development plans. A new application will be filed soon.

Marpe said, “I was pleased to receive this letter. The report the town commissioned from Weston & Sampson engineers clearly showed the limits to the pump station serving this area. I hope that Summit will take this opportunity to reconsider the scope of its proposal.”

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It's below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Sewer Wars Set Stage for Saugatuck Battle

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single sewer application.

Last night marked the first step on a lengthy path toward approval or denial of a proposed 186-unit housing development that could irrevocably alter the look, feel and life of the entire Saugatuck neighborhood.

The battle began with a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on Summit Saugatuck’s proposal to extend the sewer line from Davenport Avenue 1600 feet west, to a 5.3-acre parcel on Hiawatha Lane Extension. That’s where the developers — led by Westporter Felix Charney, a former P&Z member — hope to build their project.

The P&Z will send a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen — acting as the Water Pollution Control Authority — to either approve or reject the extension.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It's accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp. (Photo/Google Street View)

Opposition to the sewer extension was vehement.

Gloria Gouveia of Land Use Consultants and area resident Carolanne Curry — who founded Save Old Saugatuck to fight the development — delivered a 1-2 punch. They discussed defects in Summit’s application, inaccuracies in its presentation, and the egregious effects on the portion of town west of the Saugatuck River if the extension is approved.

The 3-hour hearing also included testimony from Department of Public Works director Steve Edwards, and representatives of Westport’s engineering consultants Weston & Simpson. They noted that the impact of the proposal would usurp all future development west of the river, the planned sewer connection of hundreds of homes — and overburden Pump Station #2, which directs all sewage from the west side of town to the treatment plant.

The P&Z took no action in a work session following public input. But members concurred on a sense of the meeting resolution to issue a negative finding to the selectmen.

Betsy P. Kahn’s Beautiful Westport

Betsy P. Kahn finds beauty everywhere in Westport. She sees it in places all of us love.

And in spots most of us overlook.

Yesterday, the talented photographer took this fantastic shot of a cottage on Sherwood Mill Pond, near the bridge heading to Compo Cove.

Old Mill cottage - Betsy P Kahn

For years it’s enchanted everyone who knows that secret path. But it won’t be there much longer. Damaged in Hurricane Sandy, it and an even smaller cottage next door will soon be demolished.

The train station isn’t going anywhere. No one thinks it’s particularly attractive, but Betsy makes it look stunning too.

Train station - Betsy P Kahn

(For an even better view, click on each image to enlarge.)

 

Coming In 2015: Outdoor Fitness Parks In Westport?

Four years ago in Tel Aviv, Vadim Mejerson looked out his hotel window. He saw what looked like a child’s playground — but it was filled with adults. They were all exercising, on equipment you’d find in a gym but adapted for outdoors.

You or I might think, “Hmmm … interesting.” Meyerson — a longtime Weston resident with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, who helped Exxon and many other companies develop fitness centers for executives — thought: “Wow … opportunity!”

He and his son Adam — who’d seen the same sight, independently, on that trip to Israel — did some research. They learned the parks were open 24/7. Some were roofed. Some were linked by bike trails.

A fitlot park by the sea in Israel...

A Fitlot park by the sea in Israel…

Vadim and Adam found that outdoor fitness parks were exploding in popularity around the world. England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada — everywhere, it seemed, governments and private sources were developing 1,000-square-foot areas where people could work out, get fit and socialize.

Everywhere — except the U.S.

Believing that every individual should enjoy the health benefits of parks like these, they formed a 501(c)(3) organization called FitLot. Partnering with neighborhood associations, and with funding from corporations, foundations and governments, it’s developing outdoor fitness parks throughout New Orleans.

That’s a perfect place for them. The city is burdened with obesity, diabetes and other health-related problems — but it’s also rebuilding itself, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

...and one in Europe.

…and one in Europe.

Now Mejerson wants to build facilities closer to home.

The other day he and 2 fellow enthusiasts — Steven Lewine and Rick Jaffe — talked about their vision for Westport.

“It’s free. It’s easy to access. It’s not an intimidating ‘gym environment,’ so it appeals to everyone,” Lewine said.

They ticked off potential spots for outdoor fitness parks: Compo Beach. Luciano Park, near the train station. The Y. The library. The Senior Center. Winslow Park. Baron’s South. The front lawn of Town Hall. Mini-parks, like Grace Salmon on Imperial Avenue.

They also like Sherwood Island. Connected by bike trails, they say, the fitness parks would be a way of tying the town together with the state park in our midst.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

They know there are obstacles. Compo Beach is in the early stages of a renovation project. Winslow Park has been deemed “open space.” Bike paths are tough to build and maintain.

Still, the 3 men have had preliminary discussions with town officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Stuart McCarthy, and Parks and Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh. The talks were “constructive and productive,” Lewine says.

The cost of an outdoor fitness center is no more than $100,000 — 10% of the cost of an indoor facility, Jaffe says.

“It’s inexpensive, it’s public, it’s a beautiful concept,” notes Mejerson. “There’s no downside.”

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

“We think the community would welcome this gift with open arms,” Lewine adds. (It would be a “gift” thanks to corporate or private sponsorship.) “Westport is an enlightened town that considers physical fitness to be an important value.”

The big problem, the outdoor parks advocates know, is finding the right space(s), then gaining public support.

In Israel, Mejerson says, outdoor fitness parks are everywhere: hospitals, schools, prisons, gas stations, eldercare facilities.

Will one or more rise in Westport? If so, where? Click “Comments” to weigh in.