February 3, 2023

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The Recorder – ‘Those were the days’

As an amateur historian, nostalgia is apt to set in during trying times. This brings to mind four dining and dancing establishments in our little town, Bernardston, three of which were available during my growing up years and beyond.

The Chase House (formerly known as Eck Inn) was located in North Bernardston. With live bands on weekends, along with excellent meals, it was the place to frequent for an evening out. Coming from a large family of dancers and musicians, the Barbers spent every New Year’s Eve at this glorious facility. Reservations were made a year in advance in order to have a large ringside table next to the dance floor. Our party consisted of anywhere from eight to ten couples every year. Tablecloths, fresh flowers, crystal glasses adorned the tables as we dined. The men wore suits, the women wore cocktail dresses. There wasn’t a dungaree or T-shirt in sight.

At the bewitching hour, champagne, on the house, was served. Much embracing ensued. Patrons then formed a conga line that wove in a circle through adjoining rooms, ending back on the dance floor. The evening wasn’t over yet. Our party then gathered at someone’s home for coffee and homemade desserts. We were not heavy drinkers. I don’t remember anyone in our group having any problems driving the short distance to our Bernardston homes. 

Babysitters were cheap back then. Teenagers seemed content receiving only $2 to $3 for a long evening. Many homes did not have television yet. What did these teen angels do for five long hours? Raiding the refrigerator was always an option.

The Bernardston Inn (at the end, Falls River Inn) was in the center of the village. Originally, the bar was in the basement with a separate entrance. Live music, sometimes with entertainment, enhanced the dancing. Waltzes, foxtrots and jitterbugging were then the fad. At one time, striptease artists were the draw until the town leaders shut it down. (The Inn did not have a stripping license.)

When I was a young mother, the bartender was murdered by a burglar. I was drawn to serve on the jury. Luckily, the perpetrator pleaded guilty so a trial was not necessary. In later years, the basement was closed and the bar area was south of the dining area. The Inn went through many owners. For a period of time, Ralph Streeter leased the restaurant, naming it The Quintessence. The menu was varied and unique. My graduating class of 1951 held our senior reception at the Inn.

Wedding guests from a distance were housed there during the festivities of one of my children’s nuptials. The following morning, Sunday brunch was served, which parents could also attend. The groom appeared from an upstairs room wearing the bride’s wedding gown. Sadly, the inn burned in February 2002. The lot remains empty, with only good memories remaining.

The Hollywood, also in North Bernardston, was a fun place for Country Western music and dancing. “Jeremiah Was a Bull Frog” was my favorite number for fast dancing. It wasn’t as fancy as the other establishments but the food and drinks were excellent. Singalongs were not unusual and again, live bands ensured. The Forbes family were longtime owners who welcomed patrons by name and visited each table for a chat. I went to school with their children. A nice family. There was a fire at one time but the Forbes were able to rebuild and revamp. Unfortunately, the building was demolished this year. But again, the memories linger.

The Phases Restaurant, on the top of Huckle Hill, opened in the early 1970s. It was a dream accomplished by David Berelson, the first owner. The dining experience and ambiance were top notch. Male waiters, dressed in plaid vests, bow ties, and black dress slacks, prepared your meal tableside from a rolled out tea table, with the ability to saute and prepare the food in your presence. (This soon gave way to a co-ed wait staff, with the orders being cooked in the kitchen.)

It went through many owners and names: Muchmores, back to Phases, then on to Andiamos (unsure of the spelling), finally known as Bella Notte. I worked there first as a cashier on a stool next to the kitchen. After that, I was the hostess who greeted guests as they entered. My job was to seat people. On a Saturday night, the place would be packed with patrons who had arrived early to have a drink in the bar before dining. To keep track of the reservations, I would write something next to their names to help me find them for seating. On one particular night, I advanced to a group, announcing, “White fringe, your table is waiting.” During a Sunday brunch, I led a group to their table. Instead of saying, “Welcome, so-and-so is your waiter. Enjoy your dinner,” I announced “Duane is your dinner. Enjoy your waiter.”

There was a potted ficus tree growing in the foyer in front of the bar. The leaves often grew so tall they would touch the ceiling. Pruning was supposed to be done prior to this happening, especially after ceiling fans were installed. One day, I informed the manager that “When the shoots hit the fan, all hell is going to break loose.” The tree was quickly pruned. A grand piano was also in the foyer. Hired pianists played classic music for the diners’ pleasure. One night, the music stopped and the pianist disappeared. He was found beneath the piano bench, having expired. Twice, older gentlemen died on the dance floor during wedding receptions. At one reception, the basket of cards, with money enclosed, disappeared. The police were called, the building was evacuated and a search ensued. To my knowledge, the basket was never recovered. The music was once supplied by Dr. Knowlton and Phyllis Stone. She played the piano while he played the cello.

It was a joy to work there during the changing of the seasons. From budding blossoms in the spring to brilliant foliage in the fall, to falling snowflakes beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows, it became a winter wonderland. The outside terrace made it possible to serve beverages when weather permitted. A dance floor and new bar were added later on the north side of the building, turning the former lounge area into additional dining space. Name vocal groups were sometimes hired, but disc jockeys were often the rule. I often attended Easter sunrise services in the parking lot. Alas, the building has remained empty for several years, falling into disrepair. The crumbling driveway and dilapidated interior speak volumes about the once-thriving entertainment center.

Only The Chase House remains intact, now as a private residence. Before and after 1900, picture a stagecoach pulling up with travelers who were there as overnight guests. Some of the single occupants were permanent boarders, rocking on the front porch on a summer’s evening. It was a world of grace and dignity. As the Bunkers would agree, “Those were the days.”

Submitted by Louella B. Atherton, Bernardston Historical President. She was born on June 23, 1934.