Category Archives: Saugatuck

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And This Was BEFORE Going Into The Bar

Black Duck parking

Missing A Life-Changing Meeting At Mario’s

Teri Schure was 14 when she moved from Bridgeport to Westport. A 1971 graduate of Staples High School, she went on to Brevard College. In 1997 she founded Worldpress, an online site offering readers a first-hand look at international issues and debates that the American media often ignores.

Teri still owns Worldpress. She lives now in New York state, but the recent news about Mario’s closing awakened some important memories. After much soul-searching, Teri wrote an intensely personal story on her blog, The Teri Tome. She graciously agreed to share it with “06880” readers.

It’s long. But it could be the most remarkable story I have ever published. It deserves to be read all the way through.

My father was AWOL. He was absent from his post without, (or perhaps with), official permission (from my mother), but without intending to desert. This is how I choose to describe my elusive father.

Mario's (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mario’s (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On a side note, Mario’s Place, the legendary restaurant and bar in Westport Connecticut, and a mainstay since 1967, served its last meal on April 4. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about the last supper, until this past weekend. Another blown opportunity.

Mario’s was across the street from the train station, and the place to be, starting around 6 pm every Monday-Friday. Mario’s was frequented by the original Mad Men, their wives, their kids, and pretty much everyone who lived in Westport and beyond. The “beyond” is the story I want to share with you.

In my 20s, my favorite night was Wednesdays. I would jump off the train after a grueling day at the office, and treat myself to a Mario’s dirty martini with bleu cheese olives — considered by many to be the best martini in Connecticut. Several old high school friends had the same idea. We met there every hump day for martinis, laughs and some much needed sidekick therapy.

I know you’re asking yourself what Mario’s has to do with my father.

Because he was right there at Mario’s.  And I was so close to living out my father dream.

According to my not-so-long-ago-discovered 5 paternal half-siblings and 2 aunts, my elusive father followed me via private detectives my entire life.

At my first meeting they explained to me that “our” father, the man I assumed deserted me, had a “Teri suitcase” full of newspaper clippings, photos, investigative reports, and returned letters and cards he had sent to me over the years.

One of the investigative summaries was about Mario’s—and my Wednesday martini run.

According to my new-found family, I was an urban legend. And this is the story that my father often told to my half-siblings and aunts, in their words:

In December of 1978, Mike hired a detective to find Teri just after her 25thbirthday. “Bingo. Right around the corner two towns over,” the detective told him. “She gets off the train and goes to Mario’s across the street. She has a drink with her friends and eats dinner there every Wednesday. She usually gets there around 7, 7:30.”

Teri Gatti, in 1975.

Teri Schure, in 1975.

So Mike pains over the decision. Should he go to Mario’s? Introduce himself? “Hi, I’m Mike – your father. Nice to meet you,” he tells my siblings and aunts sadly. It had taken him 25 years to get to this point. Now he didn’t know what to do. 

It was close to 6 p.m. one random Wednesday. As he gazed at his little girl in her crib, his answer was clear. He held Georgette close, said, “Daddy needs to do something very important,” and drove to Mario’s. 

He got there at 6:50. The place was packed. He found a seat at the bar, took out his wallet, and ordered a shot of scotch. He needed it badly.

He asked the bartender to make it colder in the place. He felt hot and nervous. The bartender tried to make small talk but Mike was too distracted to engage. He had a couple more shots, and was feeling no pain.

Soon Mike heard the train whistle. His heart pounded out of his chest. 

When she walked in, tears welled in his eyes. “She was tall, thin, and simply beautiful,” he recalled to his family. As she walked by her scent left him weak.

She was practically standing right next to him, talking to her friends. It had to be her – she was the spitting image of him. It was unmistakably Teri, even though the last time he caught a glimpse of her, she was 6 years old.

Mike watched her as she laughed with her friends. She walked to the bar and ordered a dirty martini, with extra bleu cheese olives. “A martini drinker,” he proudly told my siblings, “a real man’s drink.”

Mario's matchesShe opened her purse, took out a Marlboro, and asked the bartender if he had a light. Mike looked at her and said, “I have a lighter. Let me light it for you.” Mike said it a little too loudly, hoping to beat the bartender to the punch. As he fumbled in his pocket for his lighter, Teri turned to Mike. Her deep brown eyes met his.

They looked straight into each other’s eyes. “Dark Syrian eyes,” he told my siblings. “Just like mine.” She smiled at Mike and said “thank you” as she leaned close in for him to light her cigarette. Her scent drifted softly around him.

“Beautiful smile, beautiful teeth,” he told my siblings. After Mike lit her cigarette she looked in his eyes once more, thanked him again, and walked to the end of the bar to hang out with her friends. Just like that, she was gone.

He was devastated, he told my family. He was stunned–and intimidated. He felt like he had been punched in the gut. He ordered shot after shot, while trying to drum up the courage to introduce himself — and explain everything. He watched her for another hour. 

But he was a chicken—a coward. So he left Mario’s wondering if he would ever see her again. He also left behind his wallet, and never went back for it. He drove the rest of his life without a license. And he never saw Teri again. But he never forgot her face, their encounter, or her scent.

That was their story. He never saw me again. I had looked straight into my father’s eyes, and did not even know it was him. He lit my cigarette.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I sat at the table stunned. I thought about so many scenarios that could have happened. How I wish he would have put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Can I talk to you for a sec?” He told my siblings and aunts that I was a high class girl, and he was just a nobody.

He didn’t know me at all. I was just a poor girl from the streets of Bridgeport. Just a nobody in desperate need of a dad.

I thought that was all my new-found family had to say. Hadn’t they said enough? I fought back tears, and wanted to get the hell out of there.

But they weren’t done with their story. Or me.

Around September of 1991, Mike learned he had stage IV lung cancer. Doctors gave him 6 months to live.

According to my aunts, all he wanted was to fulfill his dream of meeting me before he died. He wrote and rewrote his letter to me numerous times. Finally, in late 1991, he mailed it to the last known address he had for  me. Then he waited, and waited, for my response.

After a couple of months he figured I either wasn’t going to respond, or I never got the letter. He hoped it was the latter.

And then one day, to his surprise, in early March of 1992, a letter arrived from me. He was unsettled and troubled. It took him 2 days to open it.

The contents of the letter devastated his already fragile state. “Don’t ever contact me again,” I wrote. “I have no interest in ever having a relationship with you.” It was simply signed, “Teri.”

He put the letter in the “Teri suitcase,” along with all the other data he had accumulated. And he never spoke of me again.     

“Why did you not want to meet your father?” my aunts asked. “His heart and spirit were broken.”

My father passed away on March 24, 1992.

Teri Gatti Schure

Teri Schure

I wrote no such letter. It is beyond my comprehension why anyone would be so callous as to write such cold-blooded words to my father in my name. But it had been done, and now he was dead.  Even worse, he died thinking I wanted nothing to do with him. He actually believed that I had so cruelly written to him in his hour of death.

Today, as I finally finish up this blog, I’m depressed, and weary.

So to push away the darkness, I’m taking stock of what I have. I’m feeling pretty grateful.

But I sure could use one last dirty martini at Mario’s in my father’s honor.

And the Teri suitcase?  Oh, that went missing years ago.

Mersene: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

For over 60 years, Silver’s was Westport’s best-known go-to store for gifts.

For the last 3 or 4 years, Indulge by Mersene was Saugatuck’s less-known, but equally beloved, spot for funky, 1-of-a-kind gifts.

This winter, Silver’s closed. Mersene planned to shut her doors too. Westporters had no idea where they could now find a friendly owner with the knack for suggesting the absolutely perfect present.

Mersene's special style is here to stay, on Railroad Place.

Mersene’s special style is here to stay, on Railroad Place.

To the delight of her rabid — and quickly growing — fans, Mersene is still open. The  incredibly ingenious, phenomenally generous Mississippi native has downsized, moving from 2 overflowing rooms to 1. But she’s still across from the railroad station. She’s still as energetic and creative as ever.

Now, as spring brings Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduations — to go along with timeless events like weddings, bridal and baby showers, and Sweet 16s  — she is excited to fill Westport’s niche as the destination for how-did-you-ever-think-of-that?! gifts. (And — her specialty — gift baskets.)

She’s still on Railroad Place, because her customers could not stand the thought of her closing. They helped her figure out how to stay. And they’ve helped her add another wonderful niche: corporate gifts.

The other day, Mersene was busy filling baskets for a major Stamford corporation’s Administrative Professionals Day celebration. She was also preparing a Kentucky Derby-themed event for another big company.

As she selected wrapped items together with an ease Martha Stewart could only dream of, she mentioned other projects. For Mother’s Day, she’s designed special trays. They’ll include flowers, the Sunday paper, breakfast from Commuter Coffee Company — everything a mom could love.

A typical day: a customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

A typical day: a customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

(Here’s something else a mom — or anyone else — could love: pillows that say “06880.” Or “Westport.” Or monogrammed and/or custom-colored with anything else you can think of, from “Nantucket” to your alma mater.)

“It’s all about the packaging,” Mersene says, of her talent for pairing the exact right gifts with the perfect basket.

Anyone who steps into her shop for the first time recognizes that talent. She is the Lionel Messi of gifts — with even more grace than the famed soccer star. What other store owner happily delivers — and makes house calls?

Mersene’s renaissance has been aided by loyal customers, who help her manage the business side. She’s still not expensive — “I price things to sell,” she says — and she’ll still tell someone, “No, don’t buy that. I’m getting a better item next week.”

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Which is why the “reinvention” of Indulge by Mersene is such good news.

Many people already know her. When a Los Angeles architect visited his sister here, he asked her for “the coolest place in Westport.” She took him to the little shop near the railroad station. He stayed for over an hour, fascinated.

And he still hadn’t seen half of Mersene’s presents, or how beautifully she presents them.

(Mersene ships her gifts — and delivers in the area. She also stages homes and galas. To learn more, click here; like “Indulge by Mersene” on Facebook; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)

 

Searching For St. Anthony

It’s one thing to lose a fountain.

It’s another thing entirely to lose a saint.

St. Anthony — the symbol of Saugatuck and, ironically, the patron saint of finding things or lost people — is gone.

For decades St. Anthony’s Hall was the social heart of that strong Italian neighborhood. Located at 37 Franklin Street — the once-vibrant one-way road connecting Charles Street with Saugatuck Avenue, now overshadowed by I-95 high above — the meeting place of the St. Anthony’s Society was the go-to place for weddings, anniversaries, and all kinds of other gatherings.

The former St. Anthony Hall on Franklin Street. (Photos/Google Maps)

The former St. Anthony Hall on Franklin Street. (Photos/Google Maps)

And for decades, a statue of St. Anthony watched over Saugatuck, from an honored alcove above the front door.

St. Anthony, in the alcove.

St. Anthony, in the alcove.

The photos above are from last August.

But now, St. Anthony is gone.

Robert Mitchell noticed the missing saint the other day. He leads walking tours of Saugatuck for the Westport Historical Society (the next one is Saturday, April 18).

He was surprised to see it gone. So were many other Westporters.

Thanks to Cathy Romano, who works at Assumption Church — more on that later — I learned that Chris Anderson bought the former St. Anthony’s Hall building last July, for $1.2 million.

Chris has lived in Westport for 14 years. His wife is Italian. As he began renovating 37 Franklin Street for his business — In-Store Experience, a design and advertising firm — he planned to save the statue.

37 Franklin Street, after renovations.

37 Franklin Street, after renovations.

But when the contractor went to remove it, Chris said, “it disintegrated.” It was too old, and had just sat there — in the alcove — since God knows when.

The contractor knew what the statue meant to Chris. He gave him a replica of it.

And Chris knows what the statue — and all of St. Anthony’s Hall — meant to Saugatuck.

He plans to display a plaque honoring the site in his lobby. He’d like photos too. But he doesn’t know how to get them.

That’s where “06880” comes in. If you’ve got pictures — or any other memorabilia — from St. Anthony’s Hall, or the annual Feast, email canderson@instoreexperience.com.

I can’t speak for Chris. But it can’t hurt to send anything from the entire area, right?

This photo of Franklin Street might be good for the new lobby. It shows the original Arrow restaurant. The restaurant got its name from the "arrow" shape of the Saugatuck Avenue/Franklin Street intersection.

This photo of the original Arrow Restaurant might work in the new lobby. The name came from the “arrow” shape of the Franklin Street/Saugatuck Avenue intersection.

PS: About Assumption.

One of the great traditions of St. Anthony’s Hall was an annual feast. Before it died out in the 1950s — around the time the highway came through — there were games, food, and a parade during which a statue of St. Anthony was carried down the street.*

You can still see that statue. It was donated to Assumption Church. Today it sits proudly inside the church.

(Hat tip: Loretta Hallock)

*In 1984, the Feast of St. Anthony was resurrected as Festival Italiano. It thrived for 27 years, until 2011.

St. Anthony's statue, just inside the back entrance of Assumption Church.

St. Anthony’s statue, just inside the back entrance of Assumption Church.

And So It Goes

The post-Mario’s era begins:

(Photo/Gene Borio)

(Photo/Gene Borio)

Final Message From Mario’s: Final Day Is Saturday

Mario’s owner Lori Kosut writes:

Our last night will be this Saturday.

It’s bittersweet for our family, but it’s time to turn the page. We are so grateful to our loyal staff and customers, and of course “06880” readers. Thanks for your support!

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

You Can Still Get Your Steaks At Mario’s

With all the hubbub over the closing of Mario’s, owner-for-at-least-a-little-while-longer Lori Kosut wants her thousands of loyal customers to know: The popular Saugatuck restaurant is definitely still open for business. Not one item on the menu has changed.

When there is a solid date of transfer, “06880” will have all the details.

So, mangia!

Except for Easter. They’re closed this Sunday.

The sun is setting on Mario's. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

The sun is setting on Mario’s. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

More Winners Ahead In Railroad Parking Game

Last week, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a change to the railroad parking permit process. From now on, anyone added to the wait list will pay a $35 fee (one time — not annually, as reported in the Westport News).

Of that fee, $15 is kept by the town. The other $20 goes to the company managing the online system.

Alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman wondered why the vendor gets more than we do.

Foti Koskinas — the deputy police chief who also serves as director of railroad operations — was happy to explain.

The town’s portion will go toward capital repairs needed at Westport’s 2 stations. Each is projected at more than $1 million — for infrastructure, drainage and the like.

The $20 collected by the online provider goes to programming, maintaining and updating the database.

train station parkingKoskinas stressed that the fee will be assessed only to newcomers joining the wait list. The 1650 folks already on it — now maintained on an Excel spreadsheet — will not be charged. They’ll be processed at no cost.

Koskinas says Westport will be the only town in the area where residents can access the list, see exactly where they stand, and add or remove names. Those on the wait list will also receive 2 or 3 email notifications each year, showing how far they’ve moved up.

Yes, “each year.” The current wait is close to half a decade.

But the process will be much smoother now, Koskinas says — and quicker. Now, when notices are sent out that a permit is ready, the response rate is low.

That will end soon. It’s your — or someone’s — $35 at work.

 

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