Category Archives: Restaurants

Duck! It’s 25 Years Of Karaoke

In 1992, Leigh Henry tried to sell Pete Aitkin a karaoke jukebox.

The Black Duck owner said no.

But he asked Leigh — a 1968 Staples High School grad, with a long and varied music career — if he’d host a karaoke show instead.

Leigh said yes.

Which is why — a quarter century later — the Duck is celebrating 25 years as Westport’s go-to karaoke restaurant/bar.

Leigh is a storied figure in Fairfield County. While still a Staples student, his band — Mandrake Root — opened for the Doors, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Leigh spent 15 years organizing shows, then booked music for clubs and private events. For 3 decades his band Celebration has played weddings and parties. He’s the vocalist in another group — the Leigh Henry Band — and also DJs.

In the early ’90s Leigh was selling karaoke machines, like those in Asia where people pay to sing. But Aitkin thought that if the Duck sponsored karaoke, there should be a host.

Before the opening show, Leigh wondered if anyone would come. He still recalls the first person — a woman named Maureen. She sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

At that moment, Black Duck karaoke took off.

Black Duck karaoke, in the early days.

“Tuesday nights were wall to wall,” Leigh says. He added Mondays too, for 23 years.

Leigh’s karaoke fans like older music — classics. Not a lot of hip hop. The 3 all-time favorites, Leigh thinks, are “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Sweet Caroline.”

The Duck itself plays a huge role in Tuesday karaoke’s long success.

“The vibe is completely comfortable,” Leigh notes. “It’s a great equalizer. There are no pretensions. Bikers, tech guys, yuppies — everyone leaves their attitude at the door, and mucks in together.”

Just another Tuesday at the Duck.

The layout helps too. “There’s a bar where people sit safely. They can engage or not,” Leigh observes. “You can sit at tables. The place is small enough to be intimate, but large enough so there’s a lot of energy.”

Mike “Wolfie” Connors — the popular bartender from Day 1 to 2015 — also played a big role, Leigh says.

Five years ago, the Duck celebrated 20 years of karaoke with a party — and a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

Westport’s favorite karaoke spot.

For this 25th, Leigh upped the ante.

Tuesday, June 13 and 20 are “Applause for the Cause” nights. They’re like Relays for Life — except people sing to raise money, rather than walk.

The 1st night is “Only a Pay-Per-Tune”: donate $25 to sing a song.

The 2nd evening is a “Sing-a-thon.” Team leaders who raise $500 earn a 3-tune mini-set. They can perform themselves, or offer their slot to friends.

Leigh’s goal is $10,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Good times never seemed so good.

(To become a team leader, sign up for a song or make a contribution, click here. For more information, email lh@leighhenrymusic.com) 

Brett is one of many Black Duck karaoke stars.

“Night On The River” Is For The Birds

After 21 years, nearly everyone in town has a birdhouse.

For more than 2 decades, residents enjoyed a Birdhouse Auction. The idea was creative, fun — and totally Westport.

Local artists created amazing, unique and very cool birdhouses. They were showcased in Main Street store windows, kicked off by a springtime “stroll.” Then — as the highlight of a fun party — people bid to buy them.

All funds went to Project Return, the North Compo Road group home for girls and young women undergoing difficult times.

This special lenticular birdhouse was created by Miggs Burroughs.

But according to Jeff Wieser — CEO of Homes With Hope, the Westport housing organization that oversees Project Return — the effective shelf life of a fundraiser for most non-profits is 7 to 10 years.

The Birdhouse Auction took a tremendous amount of time and effort, by a dedicated core of volunteers. They asked a lot of very generous and talented and local artists.

And — as noted above — you can fit only so many birdhouses in your back yard.

Last year marked the final Birdhouse Auction. But Project Return needs as much support as ever.

Fortunately, a group of volunteers has created a new fundraising event. It’s a summer party with cocktails, dinner and dancing at the Saugatuck Rowing Club. Called “Night on the River,” it’s set for Saturday, June 3.

Vineyard Vines’ Main Street window — with white outfits specially for the “Summer Nights” gala.

Wieser is particularly pleased that a “great group of younger people” has taken over the planning.

“The next generation is getting involved in Westport volunteerism,” he says. “They’ve got a new canvas of creativity.”

But they’re keeping some of that old Main Street stroll flavor.

Because the dress code for “Night on the River” is “strictly summer white,” organizers are asking downtown merchants — most of whom own clothing stores — to feature white clothes in their windows.

In addition, Amis restaurant created a special “Summer Nights” cocktail. It drew raves at its recent debut.

“Hopefully this is the start of a whole new tradition,” Wieser says.

Hopefully too the birds won’t notice there are no new feeders this year.

(Click here for more information on — and tickets to — “Night on the River.”)

A Farmers’ Market Tale

Today, the Westport Farmers’ Market begins its 12th season.

Its growth — from tentative beginnings in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot, to a vibrant, beloved and very popular Imperial Avenue Thursday tradition — is remarkable.

A typical scene at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Every shopper, farmer and vendor has their own story about what the Market means to them.

But none is more remarkable than this.

Each week, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission selects men to pick up extra food. They bring the produce, bread and more back to the center, where chefs make meals. They also offer recipes to folks who pick up the food that’s not cooked.

The honor to be selected to gather the goods is reserved for men who are winning their battles against alcohol or drug addiction.

Two helpers from the Bridgeport Rescue Mission pick up produce at the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo courtesy of CTBites.com)

“These guys are great,” says WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall. “We get to know them well. They’re so supportive of our staff and the vendors. They stay, they help us break down the tents, they do so much for us.”

Last year, one man came every Thursday. He was excited about graduating from the Rescue Mission. But he worried he might not find a job.

At the end of the market season last November, he still did not have one. Cochran contacted a few area restaurants.

One hired him. But she didn’t know it …

… until a couple of weeks ago, when she and her husband went out for dinner at a Barcelona group restaurant.

The man approached her. He told her he was working there.

He added that he goes to church every Sunday. He has his own apartment.

And he got married.

Joyfully, he showed her pictures of his new life.

As Cochran left, the restaurant manager pulled her aside.

“All he keeps saying,” the manager said, “is that the Farmers’ Market gave him hope things would work out.”

Youth Commission Creates A Market

Staples High School students take a heavy course load. Local graduation requirements are even more onerous than state ones.

Yet our teenagers also participate in clubs; play music and sports; act; volunteer in the community, and hold jobs.

Somehow, some of them even find time to create jewelry, clothing, artwork, greeting cards and more.

This Sunday (May 21, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saugatuck Rowing Club), the public gets a chance to see some of their most creative work.

And buy it.

A terrarium by Hillary O’Neill…

The Westport Youth Commission is sponsoring a 1st-ever Student Creation Faire.

Here’s some of what you’ll find:

  • Hillary O’Neill’s unique, hand-made terrariums
  • Leigha Dear and Kate McCrohan’s necklaces and tie-dyes
  • Grace Shi and Amanda Cohen’s “bath bombs”
  • Mia Krishnamurthy’s customized necklaces, chokers, bracelets and anklets
  • Matteo Broccolo and Sophia Livecchi’s original design t-shirts and hoodies
  • Ellie Shapiro’s hand-drawn greeting, birthday and thank-you cards
  • Aishah Avdiu’s curated kombucha
  • Brody Braunstein’s customized shoes
  • Elizabeth Rhoads’ custom tees
  • Sebastian Avila’s oil paintings
  • Abby Suppan’s macrame wall hangings
  • Bianca Bicalho’s handmade jewelry
  • Zoe Barnett and Kai Dasbach’s woven bracelets, beaded necklaces and rings
  • Julie Kaplan’s jewelry
  • Channing Smith’s unique, trendy college logowear
  • Marta Clanton’s custom crochet products

There’s entertainment too, plus catering by the Boathouse restaurant.

It’s a special event — this Sunday only.

Because on Monday, our teenagers go back to work.

… and crochet by Marta Clanton.

The ‘Port Sails In

For 2 months, Westporters have watched and waited as Vespa restaurant was transformed into The ‘Port.

At 5:30 p.m. today, the new restaurant — described by owner Sal Augeri as “approachable, authentic … a place to go after your kids’ practice or a quick bite with friends … a place with a definite local flavor” — opens its doors.

For the first week or so — while The ‘Port gets its sea legs — it will serve only dinner.

The ‘Port is located on the ground floor of National Hall, just across the river from downtown. It’s a great space, welcoming and warm.

National Hall, home of the new ‘Port restaurant.

And don’t forget the parking deck a few steps away, on the other side of Wilton Road.

 

Pic Of The Day #28

Old Town Hall on the Post Road — now Jesup Hall and Rothbard + Larder restaurants. (Photo copyright Katherine Bruan)

Photo Challenge #123

David Sampson, Joyce Barnhart, Sally Korsh and Jill Turner Odice all answered last week’s photo challenge with 2 words: “Onion Alley.”

Technically, Lynn U. Miller’s image (click here to see) actually showed the intriguing wrought-iron gate at the Main Street entrance to now-closed — and slated for demolition — Bobby Q’s.

Onion Alley was the restaurant a decade earlier. But that’s typical Westport: We often refer to places that live on in our memories.

James Weisz was the first reader to use the most recent name, Bobby Q’s.

Then there’s Jacques Voris. The Westport native — whose family’s roots here date back to the 1700s — called it both Bobby Q’s and Onion Alley. And, he noted, it was also the entrance to “African American church/housing.”

That’s right. Back in the 1940s, 2 dozen black men, women and children lived there. The address was “12 1/2 Main Street.” Set back a bit from the road was a warren of apartments, and a small church.

The complex burned to the ground in 1950. The cause of the blaze was never determined. But that’s another story entirely.

This week’s photo challenge is a bit different than most:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

It’s the Compo Beach cannons — duh.

But do you know where in Westport you’d find this image?

Click “Comments” below if you know where you see it. And most of us do see it, all the time.

Pop! Goes The Noodle Soup

Fleishers Craft Kitchen is gone.

But taking its place at Fleishers Craft Butchery is a pop-up soup kitchen.

North Shutsharawan and his wife Jillian run a bone broth and Thai noodle soup business — Nit Noi Provisions – based in Westport.

North Shutsharawan, in the kitchen.

All month long they’re selling those tasty soups — and a few lunch items — at Fleishers’ popular Saugatuck site.

The couple use pasture-raised animals (from Fleishers, of course) and organic vegetables sourced locally and sustainably.

You can eat in, or take out to braise your own meal.

But hurry! The pop-up shop is only open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

And only through May!

Noodles in vegetable broth.

Aux Delices Now Aux-pen

In one of the fastest turnarounds in coffee shop/baked goods/prepared foods history, Aux Delices opened today on Church Lane.

The small chain’s 2nd Westport location is the former site of Sono Baking Company. That store closed just 2 weeks ago.

Westporters always like checking out new places. There’s an extra incentive today: Free coffee until closing (4 p.m.).

Pic Of The Day #10

National Hall (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)