Surging Saugatuck gets another big boost this Wednesday.
The Blu Parrot flings open its doors. Westport’s newest restaurant — on the site of the old Jasmine, and the older Arrow — offers an inspired menu, and equally intriguing live music.
It’s a big space, and the owners have big plans.
But it’s also the perfect space: the corner of Charles Street and Saugatuck Avenue, easy to get to and near many other new (and old) cool places in that part of town.
The owners are hardly newbies. Adam Lubarsky and Steven Alward are Staples grads (Class of 1973) and old friends. In 1978 — age 23 — they opened the Georgetown Saloon. For 26 years they offered good food, honest prices, and music so kick-ass that Keith Richards was a regular.
Now — back in their home town — Adam says, “We want to elevate the bar.”
Steve’s menu features dishes like oyster po’boys, Bubbe’s brisket sandwich, Moroccan lamb kebabs, bool kogi, and shrimp & grits.
Proud owners Steve Alward (left) and Adam Lubarsky.
But it’s the stage that will make the Blu Parrot special. A “piano man” plays from 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday. From 9 p.m. on (Wednesdays through Saturdays) and 6:30-9:30 Sundays, there’s great music. Jazz, rock, country, Brazilian — it’s the Georgetown Saloon, with a Westport twist.
Sunday brunch features gospel. That’s a Saugatuck first.
Speaking of Saugatuck: For decades, the Arrow restaurant was an icon of that tight, close-knit community.
The Blu Parrot will — in its own way — help define the spirit of the new Saugatuck.
Somewhere up above, Lou and Frank Nistico are smiling.
Two years ago, someone started an “Arrow Restaurant” page on Facebook. It was a place for fans of the famed Saugatuck eatery to gather virtually, and share very real memories of the food and folks they loved so long and so well.
Lou Nistico, son of the founders of the Arrow.
Tom Nistico — grandson of the founders — still does not know who created the page. But he loves it.
He’s even more excited about an event it spawned.
On Saturday, August 18 (6 p.m.), there’s an Arrow reunion. It’s open to all former employees and customers — anyone, really. It promises to be one of the highlights of the year.
It’s at the Red Barn, naturally — the restaurant Tom and his family saved and restored in 1983. The Wilton Road location is gorgeous — but on August 11, all eyes will be a few miles south.
The original location. The restaurant got its name from the “arrow” shape of the Saugatuck Avenue/Franklin Street intersection.
The original Arrow — started in 1932 — was located on the corner of Saugatuck Avenue and Franklin Street (there’s a Chinese takeout place there now).
The 2nd site — remembered by most Westporters — was around the corner on Charles Street. When the Arrow closed in 1991, Jasmine took over the site. Soon it will reopen as the Blu Parrot, featuring live music.
That’s a welcome addition to the revitalized Saugatuck community. But the old Arrow was old school — just like the neighborhood it served. The rest of Westport came along for the ride.
The longtime location on Charles Street.
The Facebook page brings the old Arrow back to life. “It’s amazing to see what it still means to everyone,” Tom Nistico marvels.
“I wish I had a video of a weekend night, so I could see again all the families and customers pouring through the doors. If you lived in Fairfield County, you probably became part of the fabric of the Arrow.”
Tom reels off the names of families that were customers for generations: Gargiulo, Cantor, Nevas, Sawch, Kaelin, Romano, Santella, Palizzio, Buccieri, Pascarelli, Massiello, Strauss, Caiati, Carbone, Luczkowski, McMahon, Spinola, Backus.
Many will be back for the reunion. “People are coming from everywhere,” Tom says proudly. “Eddie Gargiulo from Atlanta, and his brother Steve from Florida. Eddie and Sara Fuchs from Dallas. Billy Murphy from Boston. Cal Neff delayed his return to Thailand to be there.”
Tom Nistico, back in the day.
Corrado Nebel — son of longtime employee Dino, and a recording singer and guitarist — will perform.
As the music plays, dinner is eaten and drinks downed, the stories will flow. Former cooks, waiters, busboys, dishwashers — and the many customers who loved them — will trade tales of the Nistico family’s legendary generosity to (it seemed) every kid in town.
They’ll talk about 4th of July parties, and recall the countless celebrities (including most of the New York Giants) and regular Westporters who enjoyed good times and great meals.
Like sausage and peppers. Chicken picatta, francaise and cacciatore. Lasagna with baked egg. “Tommy toss.” Pork chops with cherry peppers. Clams casino. Eggplant parm. Fried mozzarella. Meatballs…
(In typical Arrow fashion, the August 18 reunion is a steal for good food and good times. The $45 cost includes a full meal — appetizers, dinner, dessert, tax and tip. There’s also a cash bar. Call the Red Barn at 203-222-9549, or email Tom Nistico at email@example.com for a reservation.)
A lack of volunteers and sponsors doomed the 27-year-old institution — itself a revival of the long-running St. Anthony’s Feast.
But Westporters are intrepid. And though the carnival rides, fried dough and Johnny Maestro are gone, we can have our own Italian Fest this summer.
Or at least, we can celebrate the reason we had a festival in the first place: Saugatuck.
Rather than riding roller coasters, eating unhealthy food and listening to bands without most of their original members, let’s honor the place that meant so much to so many, for so long.
The Arrow Restaurant was always packed.
You can drive to Saugatuck, and ride along its still-familiar streets. You can walk around, and — though the smells and sounds of the 1930s, ’50s, even the ’70s are gone — still see the remnants of what was once Westport’s most vibrant neighborhood.
Or just sit back, close your eyes, and think back to the days of the Arrow restaurant, Lou Santella’s barber shop, and small grocery stores and other shops everywhere.
Construction of I-95 sliced the Saugatuck community in half.
Think of the grape arbors, plum trees and beautiful gardens of years gone by. Some survived construction of I-95, when it sliced through the heart of this tight-knit community. Many did not.
Recall Dr. Gillette Circle. It’s a strange name — but it memorializes the family doctor who served Saugatuck so well.
Think about the old Sons of Italy hall on Riverside Avenue. Next to it — once upon a time — was a cable grip factory. Nearby were farms, a shirt factory, homes that housed multiple generations and houses with multiple families.
Not far away is the train station. The 2nd set of tracks was built by Italian immigrants. It’s an important part of the community that’s still there.
Carole and Robert DeMaria in Saugatuck (now Luciano) Park. In the background is Esposito's Gulf station (soon to be Mario Batali's Tarry Lodge). On the corner is Arcudi's grocery story (now the 21 Charles Street office building.) (Photo courtesy of Terry Santella Anzalone)
So is Luciano Park. Both the park, and the station parking lot, were apt sites for the Italian Festival when it thrived.
The thousands of fair-goers may not have realized they were standing on a patch of history — that’s tough to do when you’re playing whack-a-mole, scarfing down pizza frites and dancing to do-wop — but it’s the way the world turns.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to think back — particularly this 2nd weekend in July, the traditional date for Festival Italiano — to what it was, and why it was there.
So spend a few minutes remembering the Italian Fest, and its the entire Saugatuck community.
You can travel back there in real life, or go there in your mind’s eye.
Later this week, Saugatuck hosts the Italian Festival. The location — across the street from the Nistico family’s old Arrow restaurant — is as Saugatuck (and Italian) as it gets.
But Lou Nistico was a man for all of Westport — not just Saugatuck — so it’s appropriate that this week he’s also being celebrated on North Avenue.
Thirty years ago, the athletic complex at his beloved Staples High School was named for Lou. But the letters honoring the restaurateur/philanthropist/paisano fell into disrepair, and for a while now the signage almost disrespected the man.
Now — thanks to a fundraising effort spearheaded by John Lupton and the Class of 1966 — bold new lettering graces the newly painted north and south entrances. Fittingly, the color is Staples blue.
Earlier last month, the same fundraising drive paid for lights to illuminate the stone “Staples High School” sign at the main entrance on North Avenue. That sign is actually the lintel from the original building on Riverside Avenue — just down the street from the Arrow, and the Nistico home.
Athletic fields around Westport bear the names of men and women who contributed greatly to the youth of this town: Albie Loeffler. Jinny Parker. Doc Doubleday.
Without knowing it, every time we mention those sites, we honor an important part of Westport’s past.
So why have we forgotten the “Lou Nistico” part of Lou Nistico Athletic Complex?
The reflection of lights, and an exercise machine placed in front, don't detract from this portrait of Lou Nistico near the fieldhouse.
Staples’ enormous fieldhouse — where people of all ages run, pole vault, long jump, wrestle, play basketball, hit baseballs, kick soccer balls, toss lacrosse balls (sometimes all simultaneously), and swelter during graduation ceremonies each June — is named for a man as gargantuan as the indoor space itself.
Lou Nistico was a co-owner of the Arrow Restaurant. It was a family place that defined Saugatuck — all of Westport, really — for generations. But calling him a restaurateur is like saying da Vinci “liked to draw.”
Lou loved this town — particularly its young people. He would do anything for them — and often did. He gave them jobs. He invited teams to drop by after games, and fed them for free. He bought clothes so athletes and musicians could look good at banquets and concerts. He paid for college educations.
And he did it all quietly, unobtrusively — no mean feat for a man who tipped the scales at 400 pounds. (He was weighed once at Gault — true story.)
Lou Nistico did many other things for Westport. He was the kind of guy who — through force of personality and physical presence — cut through crap red tape, and got highway departments and police officers to do what was good for the town, back in the days when such things were possible (or at least not likely to be videotaped or blogged about).
Though Italian through and through, Lou would’ve been proud to be called a mensch.
When the Staples fieldhouse was built 30 years ago, it was named for Lou Nistico. A larger-than-life portrait by Ralph Ruta was hung in the hallway, by the pool. “Lou Nistico Athletic Complex” was written in large letters above the outside entrance. Almost immediately, everyone forgot.
In 3 decades, I have never heard the fieldhouse called by its proper name. Newspapers, Channel 12, Staples broadcasters — all refer to it simply as “the fieldhouse.”
It’s hard to overlook a man as big — or as big-hearted — as Lou Nistico. But Westport has managed to do just that.
(Thanks to Red Izzo and Paul Lane for suggesting this post. They note that the Wilton High School fieldhouse — named for longtime Westporter and former Wilton athletic director/coach Nick Zeoli — has suffered a similar fate. But that’s a story for an “06897” blog.)
The sign at the entrance to the Lou Nistico Fieldhouse shows its age.
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