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Tag Archives: Black Duck
After graduating from Staples High School in 1988, Chris Pardon headed to Marquette University.
“It was good to get out of the Northeast,” he says of the Milwaukee school. “I saw a part of the country and met people I wouldn’t have if I stayed in the area.”
But as a journalism and broadcast communications major, most work was on the coasts. His first job was as an NBC page — so he moved back home.
Then it was on to Turner Broadcasting, where he’s been ever since. He now works on the business side, with CNN.
Pardon’s career and personal lives followed a path familiar to many Staples grads. He lived on the Upper East Side, got married, had a kid, and landed in Brooklyn.
Though his son was in a “decent” public school, it was crowded. A year and a half ago Pardon and his wife Ria decided the time was right to move to the ‘burbs.
Her family is from Scarsdale. Pardon’s parents still live here, in the same house they raised him in. So he and Ria started looking in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.
They spent a lot of time searching for the right spot. But Westchester property taxes were “staggering.” And, Pardon says, “there are places like Chappaqua, with great schools. But there’s nothing to do there.”
In Connecticut, they did everything they could to avoid Westport — mainly because of the long commute.
But the homes they saw in Greenwich did not appeal to them. In Darien, everything affordable and likable was next to 95 or Metro-North. New Canaan — well, it’s not on the water.
It took some convincing for his wife to agree to look at the town where Pardon’s brother Doug had just bought a house, and where his parents live too.
A couple of open houses opened her eyes. And, Pardon says, “We were surprised how much further our money went in Westport.”
He knew about “great music and arts in the schools. Compo blows other Fairfield County beaches away.” But, he admits, “If I didn’t know what I was getting into, I wouldn’t want to be this far out.”
Two days before Christmas, they moved into the Old Hill neighborhood.
One surprise was the 4-year wait list for a train station parking permit. Fortunately, the shuttle bus travels along Pardon’s new street.
“The realtor told us, but I didn’t realize how important that is,” he says.
“I thought I’d just pay $5 a day for parking. But I take the bus every day. We didn’t have to buy a 2nd car. That’s the greatest thing ever.”
He uses the app to see where the bus is in the morning. In the afternoon, it drops him off in front of his house.
Some things have changed — there’s a “new” high school, and Bedford Square “is amazing” in place of the old Y — but Pardon settled quickly into his old/new home town.
His wife took their son to a Coleytown Middle School play. “They were blown away!” he says. She has gone to school breakfasts, and met other parents.
Pardon is also surprised by the number of people he recognizes. Far more than he realized have stayed around — or, like he, returned.
“I feel like a bit of a townie,” he says. “I know there are new restaurants, and I look forward to going. But so far we’ve only been to the Duck and Dunville’s — the towniest places around.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
First — over 2 years ago — came the Sunday Photo Challenge. Last year I introduced the Friday Flashback.
Tonight I’m unveiling the newest “06880” feature — and the first one I’ll be posting once a day.
Let’s give a hearty welcome to the latest member of our online community: the Pic of the Day.
Every night around 9 p.m., I’ll send out an image of Westport. The photos will be recognizable and relatable. Some will be artistic; others whimsical or surprising. One might have cool angles or shapes; the next might make you look at a familiar scene in a different way.
All will be cool. None will be more than a few days old.
There won’t be any text, beyond a caption and photo credit. The plan is to provide a quick snapshot of Westport for you, before bed (or first thing in the morning).
Any image anywhere in town is fair game. However, I’ll stay away from sunsets. That’s WestportNow’s specialty!
Lynn U. Miller — Westport native, longtime friend and very talented photographer — will provide many of the shots. (She also came up with the superbly punning “Pic of the Day” name.)
But I’ll also rely on a stable of other fine photographers, like John Videler, Amy Schneider and Katherine Bruan.
And you. If you’ve got a photo you think would work for this feature, send it along: email@example.com.
So here — without further ado — is “06880”‘s very first Pic of the Day. Enjoy!
Mike Connors — for 30 years one of Westport’s best-known bartenders, at the Black Duck, then at Bogey’s and most recently at Partner’s Cafe, both in Norwalk — died this morning.
Connors — universally called “Wolfie” — apparently suffered a heart attack.
It took a lot to take down Wolfie. He graduated from Staples High School in 1978, where he had a storied football career. He went on to play at Syracuse University, then returned home and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
Wolfie was the perfect bartender. He knew everyone, welcomed everyone, talked to everyone. Though he worked for the past couple of years one town over, and lived in Stratford, his big heart was always in Westport.
Details on services have not yet been announced.
On Friday evening, traffic was probably heavy on I-95.
Folks at the Black Duck probably did not care.
Alert “06880” photographer Andrew Colabella captured this unique shot of both.
John Francis Sullivan is a Westport native, Staples grad, and Los Angeles filmmaker. His next project is “Taste of Life” — a romantic comedy about a single dad who meets online dates at the same comedy club/cabaret/restaurant.
On Thursday, he needs a few extras for a scene he’s shooting.
Okay — full disclosure: The scene is part of his crowd-sourcing fundraising on Indiegogo.
Still, it’s a chance to kinda/sorta be in a movie. Plus, it’s at the Black Duck — and Sullivan is offering a free drink or two.
If you’re interested, head to the Duck this Thursday (July 9) at 6 p.m. Look for the cameras. Sullivan will take it from there.
You can count on a lot of things at the Black Duck: Great wings. A down-home vibe. Sports on TV.
Almost always, that means men’s sports.
But tonight the TVs were tuned to the Women’s World Cup semifinal.
When Carli Lloyd stepped up to take a penalty kick late in the scoreless match, everyone — including the bartenders and wait staff — stopped to watch.
She nailed it. The US added an insurance goal, to beat Germany 2-0.
We play England or Japan on Sunday.
You know at least one place to watch the championship game.
Do you know about Black Dog Syndrome?
It’s when black dogs are passed over for adoption, in favor of lighter ones. Black dogs are said to be put down more often in the South, a combination of superstition and residual racism.
I’d never heard of it. Nor had Amy Scarella. But after the 1994 Staples graduate began an animal rescue effort a few years ago, she did.
“Pretty twisted,” she calls it. So she made black dogs her “pet” project.
Little Black Dog Rescue is an outgrowth of her “Bark Camp” doggie play group, which morphed into a dog-walking business, which became a full-time gig.
Working with Westport Animal Shelter Advocates and the Animal Center in Newtown, Amy learned about unwanted dogs brought north for adoption. Then she saw other dogs on Facebook. One — with 150 flea bites — had been abandoned.
She arranged to transport it here. It would cost $600 to fix its leg, so she started her own rescue organization.
Soon, she was working with 1 or 2 black dogs at a time. One had a litter of 9 puppies, which she placed in Westport, Fairfield and Norwalk homes.
Little Black Dog Rescue was privately funded. Recently, it received 501(c)(3) status. Now Amy can apply for grants, and donors earn tax deductions.
She’s also planning her 1st real fundraiser. It’s at the Black Duck next Thursday (February 5, 6-8 pm). There’s an open bar, appetizers, silent auction, live music, and a slide show of doggy success stories.
Two days later (Saturday, February 7), 8 dogs will be featured at the Natural Pet Outlet in Black Rock. They’re available for pre-approval.
“I don’t do same-day adoptions,” Amy says. “I pride myself on matching dogs and families very well.”
She is passionate about her work. “All of these are ‘last-chance’ dogs,” she says. “If you can take a dog just for a day, you’ll see how great they are. They’re not wild; they’re sweet. And every black dog we save opens up space for another one.”
Amy also lauds her youth volunteers. Some are as young as 8 years.
Over the past 18 months, Amy has placed more than 70 dogs. One went to a family with 3 autistic sons. The animal was very energetic, but had not played well with other dogs.
It turned out to be a perfect fit. The 11-year-old son wrote Amy, thanking her for saving the dog and bringing him “my best friend.”
Another dog — in a shelter for 6 months — was adopted by a Weston priest at St. Francis of Assisi. (“He’s the patron saint of animals,” Amy notes with wonder.) That dog is beloved by all the pre-school children there.
Rescuing animals is not all that Amy does. She still has her dog walking business (for all colors), and she works for a clothing line.
But Little Black Dog Rescue is her labor of love. Next Thursday, we all can share her love for dogs.
At the Duck.
(Tickets for the fundraiser are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Order by PayPal, using this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you know the Black Duck — and who doesn’t? — you know the popular riverfront barge/bar/restaurant/hangout shares a name with the Black Duck racing boat.
Owner Pete Aitkin just received his latest toy: a custom-built 30-foot twin 300-horse Merc speedboat.
Last night, the Duck docked at the Duck.
This morning, Pete pulled it out of the water at Compo. He’ll store it till next year.
The Black Duck — food version — put Westport on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” map.
The maritime Black Duck did the same for offshore boat racing.
Tutti’s, Tarantino’s, Tarry Lodge: Top that!
(Hat tip: Randy Chiristophersen)