Tag Archives: Mario’s

Andrew Colabella Turns 30

Andrew Colabella is still the youngest RTM member in town.

But he’s no longer in his 20s.

The lifelong Westporter just celebrated his 30th birthday. As he reached that milestone, the 2007 Staples High School graduate reflected on 3 decades in his home town. He writes (and shares some favorite photos he’s taken):

For the last 15 years, I’ve spent my birthday on the bench of “Myrna Wexler” at Compo with my family. I reminisce about my years on earth, waiting for 9:35 a.m.

While I reflect on my personal experiences and stories, I can’t help but reflect on my memories with Westport too.

Growing up, this was not only my home but my play pen. From riding my bike and then my scooter to driving a car, I passed the same buildings, and drove on these roads a thousand times. It never got old for me.

Westport’s roads are very familiar. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

My first time meeting a police officer was when I was 3. I stubbed my toe outside of the Old Mill market. Dave Eason pulled over and gave me a Band-Aid.

I watched Sam Arciola, Foti Koskinas, Dale Call, Ryan Paulsson, Eric Woods, Craig Bergamo, Kevin Smith, Howard Simpson and the great Bobby Myer climb through the ranks, as they watched me grow up.

I remember standing on the train platform. Everyone spoke to each other with their newspapers clenched between their arm and chest. Now, we’re buried in our phones.

Restaurants like Mario’s, DeRosa’s, Mansion Clam House, Doc’s Cafe, Oscar’s, Onion Alley, Bogey’s, National Hall, Swanky Frank’s, Tacos or What? and many more are now distant memories. My taste buds tingle, wishing for them all to come back.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Going to Longshore on Fridays when Rec-ing Crew was in session during the summer, riding a GoPed to expose myself to hypothermia from the pool on hot days to be with my friends and meet kids from the rival Coleytown Middle School.

Going to Joey’s to hang out with Billy Hess and eat Toasted Almonds out of the old food trailer, then go home and watch Top 10 music videos on VH1 and MTV.

The last few years I’ve been to the movies once or twice. When I was younger, I went to the theaters in Westport to see “Free Willy,” “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Lion King.” Now they’re Restoration Hardware, and the former Pier 1 Imports.

Going to Arnie’s, playing games with my mom and sister, meeting Arnie who had a pool in his living room with a parrot on his shoulder and big Great Dane dogs. Arnie’s turned into Hay Day, where we would run into Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Martha Stewart, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Robards and Christopher Walken.

After the first warm day of the year, my family was at the beach every day by the cannons. What was once my recreational heaven became summer jobs. I worked with Parks & Recreation in high school and throughout college until I graduated from UConn.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Who would’ve thought that when I turned 16, free to drive the roads of Westport I once biked up and down a thousand times, that I would get stuck next to a Volvo station wagon at a traffic light with Ferrari emblems. All 4 tires spun, as Paul Newman pulled out. (Never underestimate custom work and a Volvo station wagon).

Speaking of cars, who remembers the man at Compo Beach who drove a Chrysler LeBaron with leopard seats? He wore a boat captain’s hat, with a scarf around his neck. I never knew his name.

I also never knew the name of the woman who would come to Compo at night in her sweatshirt and sweatpants in the dead of summer, and jam out to her Walkman, dancing in the sand as people strolled by.

Compo sunsets never get old. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

These recurring events and people I took for granted. I thought they would never stop and no matter where I was, they would play out naturally.

Now I think about the last 3 years. They say your late 20s are your most difficult and loneliest ever. Mine were definitely difficult. I lost friends to car accidents, suicide, drug overdose. I’ve watched friends move away, get married, have kids and land the job opportunities of a lifetime. Buying homes, living in high rises or just traveling the world not knowing what to expect the minute they woke up.

As much as I would love to leave, explore with no home address and be on the move, I would feel empty.

The Italian Festival brings back memories. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Yet going to work every day from 7 to 3:30, I also felt empty. I had all this time I could fill. I wanted to do more.

It wasn’t until I read an article on LinkedIn that I relaxed about my age and success, and stopped comparing myself to others. It said:

  • At age 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.
  • At 24, Stephen King worked as a janitor and lived in a trailer.
  • At 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.
  • At 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.
  • At 28, Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook.
  • At 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.
  • At 30, Martha Stewart was a stockbroker.
  • At 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.
  • Julia Child released her first cookbook at 39, and got her own cooking show at 51.
  • Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the editor-in-chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at 40.
  • Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.
  • Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career to pursue acting at 42.
  • Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first movie role until he was 46.
  • Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at 52.
  • Kathryn Bigelow only reached international success when she made The Hurt Locker at 57.
  • Grandma Moses didn’t begin her painting career until 76.
  • Louise Bourgeois didn’t become a famous artist until she was 78.

Now when I’m not working, I devote my time and energy to the RTM. I go to schools and educate students about town politics, single-use plastics and composting. I find myself most at ease in Board of Finance meetings listening to Gary Conrad and members talk about line items. I go to every meeting to keep myself up to speed, even committees I’m not on. It’s relaxing, and I want to learn everything about the town I grew up in.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

I’m sitting on this bench as I write down memories, and reminisce about how I got where I am today. I hope to do it next year. The year after. The decade after that. And continue it with my kids and grandkids.

Here’s to 30. Here’s to Westport. The town where everyone holds history and legendary stories that make this town our home. To the RTM (my family away from home), and my family: Frank, Jann, Sara and Roxie.

Andrew Colabella, in his traditional fireworks attire.

Late Harvest

Last April, Mario’s closed. In June, “0688o” reported that Harvest — the restaurant taking its place, with “custom cuisine from farm to fork” — would open in September.

Here was the scene Friday:

Harvest restaurant

Workers said it will open by the end of the month.

That’s a bit later than promised.

But loooong before the completion of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

 

Final Message From Mario’s: Final Day Is Saturday

Mario’s owner Lori Kosut writes:

Our last night will be this Saturday.

It’s bittersweet for our family, but it’s time to turn the page. We are so grateful to our loyal staff and customers, and of course “06880” readers. Thanks for your support!

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Goodbye, Mario’s. Hello, Harvest

The rumors careening around town are true: Mario’s is being sold.

The legendary restaurant/bar — a Saugatuck mainstay since 1967 — will change hands soon. A new name, cuisine and interior will follow. The deal could be finalized tomorrow morning.

New owners Kleber, Nube and Vicente Siguenza own 5 restaurants in Fairfield and New Haven Counties (including 55 Degrees in Fairfield).

Mario's: A Westport legend.

Mario’s: A Westport legend.

Mario’s will remain as it is for the next year. It will then transform into Harvest Wine Bar — similar to the Siguenzas’ restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list. Harvest supports local, organic farms.

Mario’s — the official name was Mario’s Place, but no one called it that — was opened by Frank “Tiger” DeMace and Mario Sacco. Its across-from-the-train-station location was perfect for commuters looking for a drink and dinner. Wives picking up their husbands stopped in too.

Marios logoMario’s quickly became a beloved family restaurant. Its menu — featuring enormous steaks, popular Italian dishes and large salads — seldom changed. Neither did the comfortable, homey decor. That was part of its charm.

For nearly 50 years Mario’s has been Westport’s go-to place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and promotions — or commiserate over job losses and divorces.

Mario died in 2009.

Tiger died in 2012. His daughter Lori now co-owns Mario’s, with her brother Dominic DeMace.

“My father told us to keep it for a year, but not worry about having to sell it,” Lori said this afternoon. “The restaurant was his journey, not ours.”

Frank "Tiger" DeMace

Frank “Tiger” DeMace

It’s been 3 years since Tiger’s death. Lori and her husband Fletcher have a 6-year-old daughter.

“It’s time,” Lori said. “I love Mario’s — the customers, the staff — but times have changed. It was a long, hard decision. But my father didn’t make us feel we had to keep it.”

Rumors have swirled for years that all of Railroad Place — with Mario’s smack in the middle — will be torn down, as part of Saugatuck’s Phase III renewal.

Lori and Dominic own the Mario’s building. The Siguenzas will operate Harvest on a long-term lease.

The rest of Railroad Place is owned by a different landlord. What will actually happen across from the station is pure speculation.

Meanwhile — 3.5 miles north — other rumors have the Red Barn being sold to the Westport Family Y.

The Y did not comment.

Marios placemat

Bannerman

Denise McLaughlin’s husband likes to grab a book from the library rack at the train station.

The other day he picked up The Bannerman Solution, by John R. Maxim.

Published in 1989, the novel’s hero is Paul Bannerman, a covert agent. Suddenly, according to Maxim’s website,

death is running in Westport, Connecticut — one in a nationwide network of secret “halfway towns” where the country’s most dangerous former agents have been “retired.”

At war with powerful elements within his own government — a war not of his making — Bannerman has been lured to this place of yard sales, minivans, commuter trains and murder. The plan is for Bannerman and those he ran to die here, quietly. But Bannerman has other plans.

Denise says much of the action takes place at Mario’s — hey, covert agents like steaks and martinis too. The book also highlights “the town librarian.”

Maxim’s next book — The Bannerman Effect — is also set in Westport.

Hidden behind a Maginot Line of safe houses and front operations in quiet Westport, Connecticut, are Paul Bannerman and his elite group of contract agents. They don’t look any different from their neighbors. They run restaurants, a medical clinic, a travel agency — until something big brings them out of retirement.

Two more novels — Bannerman’s Law and Bannerman’s Promise — don’t mention Westport (at least, Maxim’s website doesn’t). But then — a decade later — came Bannerman’s Ghosts.

Paul Bannerman was back — and back in Westport.

They’re called Bannerman’s People, and they could be the bartender, the gardener, or the librarian–but, in fact, they’re former operatives who’ve “retired,” en masse, to the sleepy, affluent community of Westport, CT. It’s the peaceful life they crave–and they’ll go to any lengths to protect it and one another.

Now a Machiavellian entrepreneur sets his sights on one of their former associates — a “ghost” named Elizabeth Stride, long rumored to be dead — Paul Bannerman and his neighbors must mobilize. Very quickly they discover that their mission is about much more than fealty and friendship, as they find themselves in the midst of a terrorist’s deadly game.

According to his bio, Maxim was an advertising executive who lived in Westport.

John R. Maxim

One night, sitting in the bar car on his commute home, he decided to quit and try writing. (Presumably he stopped at Mario’s too, to fortify his decision.)

His first novel, Platforms, sold within 6 months — without an agent. Bannerman soon followed. (And Maxim moved to Hilton Head.)

Denise McLaughlin — whose husband picked up The Bannerman Solution at the train station (across from Mario’s) — wondered if I knew anything about the series. I don’t. In fact, I’ve never heard of it.

Ask me about The Swimmer. Or Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! Or The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — all stories set in Westport (and all later made into movies).

They were written decades before the Bannerman series. But somehow Maxim’s novels never seeped into the Westport oeuvre, the way those other tales did.

Then again, what happens at Mario’s, stays at Mario’s.



How’s Business?

Bill Brown and his cronies were trying to guess the oldest surviving business in town.

Bill guessed Beacon Electronics — but then realized it closed last year after a 60-year run.

Someone suggested Carvel — definitely a cool choice.

Boccanfuso has been around since 1957, though not at the same Post Road East location (near, coincidentally, Carvel).

Bill — who worked at the Westport Food Center on Main Street in the 1960s, which most definitely is not still in business — asked “06880” to name the oldest surviving business in town.

We punted.

What does “oldest surviving business in town” mean?

Is it the place that’s been in one spot the longest?  If so, the answer is probably a gas station.

Is it the place that’s been in one spot the longest — with the same owner?  That might be Westport Pizzeria or Mario’s?

What about Oscar’s, which is almost where it started in the 1950s — just a few doors down?

While Mitchells is in its 3rd location, it’s still on the Post Road.  And it’s on its 3rd generation of owners — that counts for something, right?

Does the Red Barn count?  It’s served diners on Wilton Road for over 50 years — but didn’t it close briefly before the Nisticos took over?

Feel free to nominate your own “oldest surviving business in town.”  Clink the “Comments” link at the top or bottom of this post — and include your definition of the term.

The Red Barn seems to have been around since before there were cameras. (Drawing by Sascha Maurer/Courtesy of CardCow.com)

Confessions Of A MadMan

Mad Men” is a great way to experience the ad world — and, thanks in part to that world, the changing America — of the 1960s.

 Miller Pope doesn’t have to watch a TV show about long-ago Madison Avenue.  He was there. 

Miller Pope

A partner in a New York ad agency — and the youngest member elected to the Society of Illustrators — Pope was one of the many “Mad Men” who moved to Westport in the 1950s and ’60s.  Their friendships — on the train, in New York and here in town — along with their hard drinking, sometimes scandalous social lives and civic contributions — gave Westport a unique reputation that remained for years, long after Madison Avenue lost its luster.

Pope has self-published a memoir:  “Confessions of a MadMan:  From Madison Avenue to Island Sands.”  Although in desperate need of a copy editor — he writes of “dinning rooms” and “pool partys” — Pope has produced an insightful look back at a time and town that, for better or worse, is long gone.

Though many illustrators already lived here when Pope and his wife Helen went house-hunting, he was warned about “the Italians.”  The Italians he knew were people like Michelangelo and da Vinci, and the ones he met in Westport turned out to among his best friends. 

The Westport Library’s superb picture reference section; an art supply store “that rivaled the best in New York”; a “first class camera store”  and Westport Country Playhouse all nurtured Pope’s creativity. 

The Westport Artists club was “almost on a par” with the Society of Illustrators and the Art Directors Club in New York.  And “famous illustrators, novelists, TV personalities, movie actors, playwrights, industrial designers and ad men practically crawled out of the woodwork.”

Local folks served as models for Pope’s drawings. His postman, he wrote, “probably appeared in more magazines than many movie stars.”

Pope forgets little from those days.

There was a bar car on one of the late afternoon trains from NY.  I tried to make it whenever I could because it was a rolling cocktail party.  Usually I had so much fun it was a disappointment when I reached my destination. 

Often the contents of this mobile party spilled out of the merry capsule into Marrio’s [sic], a restaurant and bar which had the good fortune to be located just across the narrow street from the little Saugatuck Railroad station.  Marrio must have been a happy man because his bar had eager customers fighting to get up to his bar and thrust cash into his paws.

It is a wonder that those of us from those heady days of the past survived.  It seems that the consumption of alcohol was truly oceanic.  It was not unusual for the ad people I frequently entertained to consume 2 or 3 martinis at lunch and then go back to work. 

Of course, Mario’s (correct spelling) was not the only place Pope and his wife drank.

Helen and I had a lot of parties, and it was not too unusual for some of our guests to still be there when the sun came up.  We worked hard and played hard.

A Miller Pope illustration -- probably using Westport models.

Pope helped create Publisher’s Graphics, a business that centralized paste-up, photostats, typesetting, transparency-stripping and other mechanical work under one roof.  It soon moved from an old icehouse to a converted factory on Riverside Avenue. 

The location was perfect.  Clients rolled off the train (and past Mario’s) to the book-producing factory.  “And if that was not good enough,” Pope writes, “there were several excellent restaurants and bars right next door.”

As with any problem he’d faced in advertising, creativity was key.  One project involved photographs of kids playing.  He used local boys and girls, but the client did not want white children only.  “I sent a couple of my guys over to Norwalk to hire a few minority kids,” Pope says.

In 1975, the Popes left Westport for North Carolina.  They established beach and golf resort communities.  He became a major force in publicizing the area — and remains active today — using, no doubt, the professional (and social) skills he honed back when “Mad Men” ruled the world.

Or at least Westport.

(For information on this and other books by Pope, click here.)

A typical ad from the 1960s envisioned the future.