Woog’s World: Westport’s remaning watering holes
Published 10:01 am, Thursday, March 9, 2017
The death last month of Mike “Wolfie” Connors stunned Westport. He was just 58 years old. But in his 30 years as a Black Duck bartender, he made a major mark. Seemingly forever — before leaving for Bogey’s, and then Partners Café — he was the face of that funky, timeless barge/restaurant.
The Duck is the closest thing we have to a “Cheers” in town — the place where everybody knows your name. Wolfie was the closest we had to Sam Malone (though for sure they were very different characters).
The Duck earned fame a few years ago when it was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” (In the latter category, of course.) A few Westporters thought it reflected poorly on our town. Most were thrilled. That’s because the Duck is so diverse. Whether you live in your grandparents’ Saugatuck home or just moved into a 12,000-square foot mansion, you’ve got a spot at the Duck. Most likely sitting next to each other.
There are too few casual places like that in town anymore. (I don’t count pizza places, of which there are a bajillion, or casual-with-a-bar-but-still-not-really-hangout spots like Spotted Horse and Little Barn.)
In Saugatuck, Dunville’s has a long and well-deserved reputation as a local spot with a lively bar and noted bartender (here’s looking at you, Carpi). Around the other corner from the Duck is the VFW. It would be even more popular if more people knew that you don’t have to be a veteran — of a foreign war, or any other kind — to hang out there.
A while ago — when there were only a few 12,000-square foot mansions — Westport was awash in Black Duck-type places. Some were more restaurant than bar; some, more bar than restaurant. But when you walked in, everyone knew your name. You knew the bartender’s, too.
One of the most beloved was Ye Olde Bridge Grille. Called simply “The Bridge” —and just over the Post Road bridge before Wilton Road — this was the quintessential sports bar. Owner Dave Reynolds was a golfer, but — thanks to the influence of manager/head bartender/icon Dennis Murphy — Dave got into soccer in a big way.
The Bridge sponsored the most legendary teams the state has ever seen. Future pros from the tri-state region flocked to Doubleday Field to play, then headed to the nearby bar to recount their goals. The Bridge was my bar of choice when I was a lad. I still remember the wooden booths, table shuffleboard in the back, and the jukebox that only played Van Morrison’s “Domino.”
On the other side of the river, Ship’s Lantern was a similar small, narrow place filled with regulars. No, not the Ships restaurant that sprawled all over what is now Tiffany (!). This was its predecessor: a real, legit bar, smack in the middle of downtown.
Further east on the Post Road — on the way to Fairfield, and another legendary bar called Pursell’s — things were wilder. I am told (this is before my time) that the Red Galleon was a “biker bar.” Long-retired cops tell of regularly breaking up brawls, and (barely) living to tell the tales.
Near the Red Galleon were a pair of couldn’t-be-further-from-each-other bars. First came the Brook: A gay bar back when such places were not even spoken of publicly. But there it sat, kitty-corner from a state police barracks. When it closed a few years ago — after finally opening up to lesbians, then attracting straight folks who loved the dance floor — it was said to be the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country.
Directly across Cedar Road from the Brook was Krazy Vin’s. It was a strip club, attracting — well, quite a different clientele. Yet the two bars co-existed peacefully, for years.
Today, Patio.com occupies the Brook site. The now-vacant Starbucks is where Krazy Vin’s was. Walgreen’s is the old state police barracks. If that doesn’t tell you something about how Westport has changed, you need a good stiff drink.
Many Westporters — past and present — recall their own favorites. Masters was a mammoth sports bar in the Home Goods shopping center near Southport. The Tin Whistle was a smaller bar where Mumbai Times is today. It flourished when the drinking age in Connecticut was 18, meaning the age for fake IDs started at around 15.
Glynn’s, Bunyan’s and Oliver’s — all near downtown — were restaurants first. But both bar scenes to beat the band.
I’ve saved one final now-gone bar for last. It hung around long enough for nearly every Westporter to remember it: Mario’s.
But if you’re too new to town to remember it, know this: It was across from the train station. Just around the corner from Wolffie, and the Duck.