Friday Flashback #299

Recent Friday Flashbacks have featured long-lived and well-loved restaurants: Allen’s Clam House and the Clam Box.

Here’s one that was Italian — not seafood — and that closed more recently than those 2 favorites.

But there are enough newcomers in town who never knew it — and enough time (7 years) has (unfortunately) passed for those who did — for it to be the subject of a fond look back.

So, let’s honor …

Mario’s (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

For the uninitiate, Mario’s was the Railroad Place place. Commuters rolled off the train, and up to its bar. Families went there, to celebrate any occasion worth celebrating.

Servers, busboys, bartenders, cooks — all worked there for decades. And when they stopped working, they came back as customers.

If you never knew Mario’s: You missed a memorable slice of Westport life.

If you did now Mario’s: Click “Comments,” to share your memories.

Dinner was packed, before Mario’s closed.

FUN FACTLegend has it that the now-famous phrases “March Madness” and “The Road to …” were born at Mario’s.

The story is that CBS had just bought the rights to the NCAA basketball tournament. Announcer — and Weston resident — Brent Musburger and a couple of executives (and Westporters) were sitting at the restaurant, wondering how to market the event.

“This March is going to be madness!” one said. Bingo!

The “road” idea came soon — perhaps one or two drinks later.

The menu, in the front window.


32 responses to “Friday Flashback #299

  1. Bob Knoebel

    The idea for the “Compo Beach Point to Point Swim” was hatched at a table at Mario’s while Mike Laux and I were lunching there in 1977.

  2. Diane Silfen

    Mario always joined us at our table. Lots of stories and memories. He was a very interesting person . Miss that place

  3. Jack Backiel

    Wasn’t Mario a waiter at The Arrow in the 1950s or 1960s?

    • Dave Eason

      No. Mario came via Bridgeport Restaurants and Longshore after serving in the Navy in WW2. Frank “Tiger” DeMace worked at The Arrow before opening Mario’s with Mario.

  4. Jeff Bullwinkel

    Mario’s was an old favorite when I was a kid – and they even did takeout, I remember what a treat it was when dad brought home their famous fettucine alfredo.

  5. Jill Turner Odice

    Mario’s was a favorite place too go after coming home on the train from NYC, or for cocktails whenever 🙂 Always great food and well poured drinks! It was affordable too, you really got your money’s worth .

  6. Laura Bulakites Barton

    My Dad, Gene Bulakites who owned Bills Smoke Shop, Loved and I mean really loved the Prime Rib at Mario’s. Would always talk about it.

  7. Irene Mirkine

    Mario’s – my go to when I didn’t feel like cooking!

  8. Ann Chernow

    When my Swiss family- sister , brother-in-law and their 2 children visited from Zurich, I took them to Marios. thinking the 2 teenage boys would love spaghetti and meatballs, done Marios way. the waiter first brought out two HUGE platters -one of roast beef (for my brother in law) and one HUGE platter of spaghetti and meatballs , I thought to be shared by the rest of us. I asked the waiter to please divvy it up for the rest of us and he said “no, this is just ONE order for one of the boys. I have to carry the other orders out two at a time because they’re so big . ”

    My nephews had never seen so much food for each person in Switzerland , and still talk about Marios when they visit.

  9. Tom feeley

    We were regulars from the train and excellent tippers. On the weekends if we were walk-ins, Tommy the Maitre D would look at me, I’d flash him 4 or 6 fingers and nod that we were present… then he’d look at me and in a loud scolding voice say “DO YOU HAVE EVERYONE ⁉️can’t hold this table much longer.” We’d put our heads down and take sometimes our window seat. Prime Rib too big for the plate🥩
    Thanks Tommy👍🏼🇺🇸 RIP🙏

  10. David J. Loffredo

    Iconic Westport. Old School Italians, in the original Italian neighborhood, thanks to the immigrants who built the train line and never left.

    I still miss the Italian Festival. That was Saugatuck.

    I feel like people who move to Westport expect it to be this way – old established restaurants, seaside village, historic homes.

    Instead, the developers and landlords who serve them scrape the earth, put up big generic homes, and raise the roof on the rents until everything here looks like everywhere else.

  11. Cristina Negrin

    Dan, a classmate of ours ,Paul T worked there for years right up until it closed. Loved to see him there whenever we went!

  12. linde gibb

    absolutely the best fettuccini alfredo ever!!!

  13. Henry Bromberger

    So, our daughter was born in July 1973. By August we were back for our regular Sunday night outing to Mario’s. Tommy kept an eye on her in the vestibule so we could enjoy our dinner with our 4 year old son. As gruff as he appeared on the outside, he always had M&Ms to make the kids happy. We had over 2,000 meals there over the years, making it by far the most frequented restaurant we visited.

  14. Dave Eason

    Mario’s Place..aka “The Club with no dues”..Incredible business serving great food and drinks..Most folks will have no idea how generous and kind Frank DeMace and Mario Sacco were. I was lucky enough to patronize it for almost 40 years. My kids were practically weaned there. Not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t mention how much they miss the place. I always got a kick out of the bar where a Fortune 100 CEO could be drinking with landscapers, masons and any other working stiff, myself included. I don’t think that there will ever be another place like it. Thanks “Tiger” and “Murph” for all the memories..RIP.

  15. Rick Rosencrans

    My dad, who had an office in town at Bridge Square, Riverside Ave. and 315 Post Road West over a 25 year period, had lunch at Mario’s about 2x a week.
    That’s about 300 chopped steak dinners with salad and spaghetti. Must of had dinner there another 75 times there with my Mom and their friends. Always opened with a Dewars and water.

  16. Adam Starr

    thanks for refreshing the great memories. a welcoming, unpretentious place with friendly service, great food, and generous portions. sure beats trendy and precious joints that keep coming and going. makes me want the special chicken with sausage and pepper tonight.

  17. Noel Castiglia

    Mario was a real gentleman. From the time he first Bar tendered at longshore when I met him, he was always first class.

  18. Kevin McCaul

    I remember Harpo. Rain or shine, he’s alway there. I think his real name was Joe Pizzola (or Nuzzo?).

  19. Elisabeth Keane

    Oh Mario’s. What a wonderful place. Fabulous food, always welcoming and great fun. We always took visitors there and when they visited again they requested two places: Mario’s and Allen’s. We were delighted to oblige. Anybody who has read John R. Maxim’s Bannerman books will know that Westport, and especially Mario’s (along with a couple of dentists who no doubt recognized their descriptions) figured prominently in those books. If you would like to read the books I recommend you read them in order so that you will understand the characters and subsequent references to prior events although each book stands on its own. The Bannerman character had a “special” table there and when we took visitors who had read the books they often asked for Bannerman’s table. John and Christine lived on South Compo. Two houses shared the long driveway. Each house had a sign. One was Tranquility. The other was Aggravation. John and Christine’s house was Aggravation. Aggravation was so well known that it was part of the directions for fire trucks and police cars (“…half mile south of
    Aggravation….” ). The Aggravation sign is long gone but I still “see” it, and laugh, every time I pass by.

  20. Andrew Amill

    Marios was The place off the train….the front window was always manned by a well know media executive from 5:30 – 6:30 martini in hand…always bemoaning the latest Reds Soxs loss to The Yankees. The bar was the best..martini shaker left by your glass with “seconds”…even at 2014 menu prices, the sirloin and spgs dinner was legend. Every important family celebration…great and simple food, awesome staff…and Mario in the back by the bar….miss its simplicity all the time.

  21. Sally Palmer

    Although I still live here, you are all making me homesick! For years after Mario’s closed, we’d say where shall we go for dinner and answer Mario’s! You couldn’t go there and not know half the customers. It was the go-to place for everyday and special occasions. Great staff, great food, fun customers. We still miss it!

  22. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    The Burgers 🙂

    Great Staff, great place.

    The large figurines ( Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong,etc).alongside the liquor bottles near the bar cashier. 🙂

  23. Gloria Gouveia

    Thanks for the memories. Mario, Tiger, Tommy, Harpo, Pauly. It was always entertaining to sit at the mostly male populated bar. To a one each man was the kind of gentleman who would immediately give up his seat if I needed one. Martinis or Manhattans, a prime rib so big the kitchen would slice it longways—-a meal for two with leftovers. I loved both the scungilli and calamari salads so much, I would order them half and half.
    There was an occasional Special I ordered whenever it was on the menu. A giant threat to my cholesterol levels that made dining partners grimace — a platter of of sauteed chicken livers and gizzards.
    After 40 years as a member of Mario’s Bar, I will miss the place forever.

  24. Jack Harder

    The prime rib almost took 2 waiters to carry it out.

  25. Elisabeth Keane

    After my husband became blind it was quite difficult for him to go to restaurants. For our anniversary, I wanted to surprise him with his favorite Mario’s celebration meal, prime rib. I called Mario’s, explained the situation, and asked what time I could pick up the meal and take it home. They estimated the time and said, “We’ll call you.” After awhile, the doorbell rang. Two of Mario’s team were at the door, They greeted my husband and then presented us with a wonderful prime rib dinner, cake for dessert, and conveyed good wishes from Mario’s. My husband was delighted. Me too. I am certain that over the years, many other similar acts of kindness occurred.

  26. Bobbie Herman

    The best lamb chops I have ever had!

  27. Deb Rosenfield

    Wow, just thinking about Mario’s makes me misty for those years. As a commuter, some of us would roll off the 5:18 bar car right into Mario’s to be greeted by Tommy and usually Mario and/or Tiger. Then, when I had a little gift shop called Madison’s, right there on Railroad Place, Mario’s became even dearer, as my kitchen away from home. Between the owners, the bartenders, the waiters, the clientele, and mounds of food for this starving shopkeeper, it truly was the place where “you’ve got a friend” rang true at almost any hour of the day or night. Oh, and in later years, they had a generator, so when you couldn’t get something to eat during a power outage, you could count on Mario’s. There will never be another place like it.

  28. Our first meal in Westport was at Mario’s.

    Having accepted a job transfer from the city to Westchester, sight unseen, I picked Westport as our first house hunting trip on a beautiful Sunday in September of 1973. My wife,Cathe and I packed our 5 month old Kara in the back of our VW Beetle leaving her 2 year old sister, Angela, to spend the day with her Grandmother. We met up with our realtor, a really charming woman, Althea Taylor, and took off for a tour of the town and to scope out the available houses within our rather limited price range. We were hooked!

    The overall beauty of the town that day really sparkled…the Tudor Y, Longshore, the beaches….you name it. No need to look elsewhere and a few weeks later bought our first house, the second one we looked at that day at Three Gorham Ave.

    After that busy afternoon we had worked up a hunger and Althea suggested we go to Mario’s. As it was turning dark outside, the place was buzzing and we ended up sitting at a table by the front window (this was before they took over the storefront next door) which was perfect since we were able to prop up Kara on the deep ledge in the window where she drew smiles from people getting off the train. Excited by the prospects of our potential new home town, Mario’s seemed to capture the vibe of Westport of that time.

    With two, and soon a third little girl at home we did not dine out all that much in those days, but would often do pick up from Mario’s where while waiting you could watch Mario rule over the busboys with an iron hand.

  29. Diane Becker

    We had the same table 9 on Tuesday nights for decades I did not order because Michael or Teresa knew what to bring. The Manhattan awaited and the pork chops appeared soon after
    It was definitely a local club.
    When Mario told me of his plans to open his own restaurant he was still at
    Longshore. What a wonderful world he created.

  30. Jack Backiel

    Mario’s, the Clam Box, The Arrow… The Peppermill..The Westport I remember so well.