Woog’s World: Tides of change on Westport’s waterfront
Updated 8:12 am, Sunday, June 7, 2015
“See you at the patio.”
It’s been a summertime ritual for years. On weekdays after work — particularly Fridays — folks of all ages (though skewed to 20s and 30s) have gotten together for drinks at “the patio.” No one had to ask which one. It was in the back of the Inn at Longshore.
The patio bar had plenty going for it. It was outdoors. It served alcohol. It was the perfect size: small enough to feel packed, big enough so you could always see someone new. And the view — the sloping lawn, tennis courts and water — made you feel like you were in some kind of F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. (It didn’t hurt that he once lived nearby, and probably romped with Zelda on that very spot.)
This summer, a lot of people must find a different spot to celebrate. Splash — the restaurant that operated the patio bar — evaporated last year. A new restaurant, called Pearl of Longshore, won’t be up and running until December.
This won’t be the first time a long-lived waterfront tradition ended. And it won’t be the last.
Compo Beach seems to be one of those places that never changes. In our mind’s eye it looks the same, summer after wonderful summer. But of course, that’s not true.
For example, Joey’s by the Shore seems like it’s been there forever. It sits solidly, all brick and mid-boardwalk, serving everything from burgers and dogs to lobster rolls and Compo sweatshirts, just as Joey’s has done for over 20 years.
But back in the day — the day when I had my first summer job — Joey’s was Chubby’s. And Chubby’s was the rundown, ramshackle but very funky concession stand — serving fantastic but basic burgers —right where the volleyball courts are now. With parking in front, so you didn’t need a beach sticker to stop by.
Working at Chubby’s gave me — a 16-year-old Staples sophomore — a window into Westport. This was years ago, when we were still allowed to cook hamburgers rare, but our customers included the same mix you’d see today: local contractors on lunch breaks, kids arguing with their mothers and getting their way, people standing in line for 10 minutes yet still clueless about what to order when they get to the cash register.
If I had worked at Chubby’s a few years earlier, I would have been part of a true marketing innovation: employees who strolled up and down the sand taking orders, calling them in via walkie-talkies, then tying colored balloons onto beach chairs marking where they’d be delivered. I don’t know why Chubby stopped doing that; maybe his teenage workers were doing too much socializing and not enough order-taking.
Some other beach traditions might have seemed unchanging too, until they changed. Once upon a time, three or four rafts anchored offshore. They were the kind you’d see at summer camps: big enough to hold a dozen or more sun-bathing, pawing-and-grabbing, pushing-each-other-into-the-water teenagers. It was a scene straight out of a Gidget movie, and probably also a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Around the same time — or so I am told by longtime residents on Soundview Drive — the beach in front of their homes was considered (by tradition) to be “private.” Supposedly, Westporters asked permission to park their blankets, coolers and whatnot on the section of sand between the Soundview parking lot and the jetty.
At the other end, South Beach was sort of a rocky, unappealing no-man’s land. “Grilling” was still called “cooking out;” it was confined to folks’ patios, not a public spot like Compo Beach.
Of course, the entire concept of beach-going was different then. You went for two reasons: to swim and get tan (using - what were we thinking? - as much coconut oil as possible). None of this walking/bicycling/skateboarding stuff. So if someone magically produced a video — er, 8mm movie —from the 1950s or ’60s, we would be surprised to see how truly different the yet-very-similar-looking Compo Beach would seem.
There’s another beach in Westport — one most people seldom think of (and many newcomers don’t even know). Burying Hill - located on Beachside Avenue in Green’s Farms — is today a shell of its former self. Natural erosion, and jetty work done at adjacent Sherwood Island State Park, have reduced it dramatically. Once upon a time though, it was a legit beach. As young teenagers at Long Lots Junior High School, my friends and I considered it “ours.” At the time, we thought that would never change.
Soon enough though, I was working at the “real” beach: Compo. I flipped burgers, picked up garbage, and made new friends. After work we headed to Longshore, to drink illicit beers. The Splash patio bar was way in the future.
And now it’s in the past.