Bloody Marys And The Mill Pond

Terry Brannigan is a native Westporter.  He still lives here — and, with his wife, is raising a young family.  Last week he went to the library to see “The End of an Era” — Chuck Tannen’s film about our town in the before-Terry-was-born 1950s. Here’s his report:

When I got to the library I should have known I’d be in trouble.  Drivers circling the lot for parking spaces were as aggressive as the shoppers at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

When I got inside, the place was packed.  The movie was already under way, and a semi-angry mob waited in the lobby for a 2nd showing.   I distracted the bouncer at the door long enough to peer inside.

Since I already had a “hall pass” from my wife, I debated staying for the next show, going home or finding a Bloody Mary somewhere.  I settled on #3.

I pulled into the parking lot of the River House Tavern and met the same aggressive drivers looking for parking spaces, only this time we all shared the conviction of someone looking for Bloody Marys.  I found a spot and headed inside alone (a therapist would call this a cry for help).

As I approached the door I was flooded with my own Westport memories.  Owner Scott Rochlin and I went to Staples together, and I count him as a friend.

This is all that remains of Allen's Clam House. (Photo courtesy of

We both did our internships at Allen’s Clam House behind the broiler working for Wayne Uccellini, and now Scott owns his own place.  Back then I worked as hard as I ever have in my life, and I can’t tell you how proud I was to sport a chef’s jacket next to Wayne.

Back then everyone seemed to work.  Allen’s was as good a place to be on a Friday night as anywhere else, because Wayne employed half the football and soccer teams.  Being on the broiler (as opposed to the dish washing line) did more for my social status than being elected Homecoming King would have.

Walking up to Scott’s restaurant on a night when I had planned to revisit Westport memories at the library triggered all kinds of my own memories — 99% of them great.  My folks’ 1st house in Westport 50-plus years ago was on Old Mill Beach.  I take my 3 boys to the bridges at Old Mill all the time.  It is as familiar to me as it when I was 10.  However, now as a parent I cringe at the thought of them jumping off the bridge into the current and being swept under the “gates,” only to pop out the other side — as we did for fun and honor back then.

Generations of Westporters have jumped off the Sherwood Mill Pond bridge.

If I squint, the beautiful Newport shingle cottages behind the “No Trespassing” sign on the island look like the bungalows of my youth.  I wonder if I would be grandfathered visitation rights along the sidewalk if I told them my father donated to the state the spit of land out there he was willed by “Loretta” of Loretta Court fame, or if I would be turned away as a trespasser?

Just as importantly, Steve Gargiulo caught a bluefish with his bare hands in the shallows of Old Mill.  I was there to witness it.

I walked up to the River House feeling a bit weird because at 49, I’d never gone into a bar by myself.  But I recognized someone standing outside, and got a big smile.  Stepping inside, I felt a bit like Norm walking into Cheers.  Sometimes I lament that I’m so provincial and live in the same town I grew up in, but guess what?  That town is Westport, and there really is something to be said about growing old(er) in your own home.  I live 2 1/2 miles away from my parents, and my boys see them every week.

At the River House we covered all the topics Wednesday night:  friendships, funny stories, institutions (Allen’s, the Playhouse, my favorite — The Penguin — and more).  We talked about all the famous and infamous local characters and personalities.

In the end, even though I did not see the documentary — it did what it intended.  It made me think about growing up here.

I’m sure similar reminiscences took place all over town.  No matter how old we were — or are now — Westport has that effect.

19 responses to “Bloody Marys And The Mill Pond

  1. Good stuff Terry and great memories… Funny how when we grew up you worked in so many of the local haunts on Friday or Saturday night… Now it seems the kids earn nothing but their place in class or the field… Got to tip your cap to the places that are no more that gave kids a chance to make a buck and earn self worth

  2. Terry, absolutely fabulous! I saw the film, standing room only, pressed in back. It was great and worth a viewing but your night sounded very personally fulfilling! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  3. Terry! I love this! Thank you!

  4. Terry, you are so right! There is nothing like the words “Chubby Lanes and Pink Ice Cream Parlor” to bring the memories flooding back. There’s also nothing like the bond between people who really know what Westport was all about way back when. That’s why I think it’s important we all support our “old” friends like Scott at River House, Tim at Christies and Lee at Oscars.
    I’m sure it’s because I’m getting old and my daughter is graduating from Staples, just like I did; but I’m not sure our kids are that much better off than we were. I can only hope they appreciate Westport as much as we do.

  5. A safety tip for the young’ins out there… the Mill Pond is not for skating as it is salt water & tidal-Right Terry?

  6. Carl A. Swanson

    Thanks for the memories, Terry. By chance, I rented “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit” last night and while the glimpses of old Westport were infrequent, it was still fun. I worked at Ed Mitchell’s my senior year (’66) at Staples and now see Billy Mitchell nearly every day at the YMCA. You caught that nostalgic sense of coming full cycle and being “home.” Nice writing.

  7. Loretta Hallock

    What a nice story Terry. I always wondered who Loretta Court was named after.

    I bet you don’t remember the wooden bathhouses at Compo.

  8. Paula Leonard

    Hello Terry: Thanks for the memories. I was in the library today and saw that the film you missed is being shown again next Tues, April 20 at 2 pm and 3 pm – in case you can make that. Thought you’d like to know.

  9. wow

    Dan, thanks for posting! (And cleaning up my spelling!). There are names that always make me smille. So glad to see so many here. As for John shea’s comment ( john’s is one of those names) he and I may be the only people who swam in the mill pond in summer and winter. The summer was by choice the winter splash was curtsey of the thin ice out by the house on the island! Ps: as graduates of staples we should know they use salt to MELT ice. Not to make it good for hocky! From my. Bb sorry for typos

  10. Great story Terry. What were you going to say about the Penguin?

  11. Terry,
    We are not natives (moved here in 1996) but can certainly relate. We miss many things about the Westport of the ’90s that were the reasons why we moved here!

  12. Scott Rochlin

    Terry, someone told me about the story and when i read this it brought back many memories . Thanks and may we have many more. Scott Rochlin

  13. Right on, Terry. Many of us did work as teens- a quaint memory now in Westport. I feel like I tell this new generation the equivalent of Depression stories when we remind them that we worked as kids…And when I saw the word ‘Penguin’ in print… a vague shudder of exhilaration, mystery and terror passes through!

  14. Terry, wow, nice writing. I’m glad you still have such a good memory of these things; believe it or not, we used to watch you guys through the window at Allen’s, radio blasting, water from the dishwasher splashing out the window, flames flying up & down from the frying pans, smoke coming off the broiler and more – which to our small crowd was truly spectacular & an excellent use of our Friday nights. It was seriously crazy in there!

  15. Terry, great memories and well told. Growing up in Westport has changed, and there are still a lot of great kids here. This town was all about kids when we grew up here. but there were a lot more of us, and no SoNO, Westport was The Place back then. Kids feel very entitled to drive at 16 today. If we had a 10 speed, we ruled the roads. Thanks for the memories.

  16. Deej

    How come no one has pulished an article on the Penguine? Yore comments are perfect! Mystry and terror says it all! By the time it was raised for soul-less condos it was a low rent apartment house of questionable character (I delivered papers there…1). But back in its day it had a veranda wrapped around it and a speak easy in the lower level. My friend Darin Smith’s grand mother owned it for a time and we used to break into the basement snd explore with flashlights. Behind the considerable clutter it was still a bar. It had a boat pulpit for a stage and faux port holes on the walla and a scalled riverboat piloy house with a captain watching over the sceen (really detailed).The bar was still in tack as well. By this time the place was really creepy but had a circular driveway perfect for riding our minibikes! Someone told me the wooden Penguins are now the peoperty of the Wspt Historical society. The Penguine had a first cousin behind Playhouse square that suffered the same fate and finally yeilded to Condos. Wasn’t there a dude who lived in his van out in front for years? At least that was the rumor circulating around the booths at Friendly’s between the less brave! I recall it also had a nickname? (More typos from my bb..sorry!)

    • Rumor had it that the Penguin was 1) the first air-conditioned nightclub between New York and Boston, and quite the place in the Jazz Age, and 2) a “house of ill repute” in its final days.

      Scary is right. My friends and I were petrified of the place — but intrigued by it nonetheless. There was no other place like it in Westport.

  17. Sue Sweetnam Asetta

    Terry and Dan…thanks for sharing…Great thoughts! I too remember working at Allen’s but I was a pantry girl ..many laughs for sure. You take for granted growing up in Westport, or at least I should say I did…what a great time! I feel fortunate my parents are still there that I can come and visit…See you around!

  18. robert maccloy

    hi.i worked at a small store near my home called westbank.530am.was only 12.and wash dishes at marios and the labibliotech and the ymca.i walked or ran or biked every inch of westport as a kid.i delt with the greasers by west lake ran in to fur fin and feather for safety once then came the minnie busses my house was the last stop so id just run the 3milles home no time 4 bs.i bumperd schit from grubes 2 shipwreck once w/terry.i asked my wife 2 marry me at allens clam house.may 8th 1988 she said yes.wish it was still here