A Night At Harry’s - Relivin’ the Memories
It’s hard to believe when passing by Frank Callahan’s insurance office on Route 28 that it was once the sight of the hottest nightspot in town. In its heyday, after the war and through the late 50s and early 60s, Harry’s was owned and operated by Harry and Sera Kliche. The couple had previously operated the New Charles Hotel on Lake Street opposite the feed store but in September of 1935 a runaway freight car loaded with coal rolled down the tracks from the Dairy Lea Creamery in South Columbia and wound up in the cellar of the New Charles. It did so much damage that it drove the Kliches out of business.
Before becoming an innkeeper, Harry, who originated from Pennsylvania, worked as a blacksmith in the stone quarry in Jordanville. He met Sera back in the old country on a visit to Brunary in the Carpathian Mountains of Poland. They later married in New York City and eventually came to live in Richfield Springs.
Four years after the train wreck, they bought and expanded the house that became Harry’s Restaurant. The place evolved and with the addition of a dance floor, subdued lighting and Naugahyde upholstered booths, it resembled a nightclub where people eventually pushed to get in. Sera was a small, energetic woman who was a big help to her husband with good cooking and all the chores that went into operating the establishment. Harry was kind of volatile, ready to squelch any misbehavior in his place. He reminded me of Louie from The East Side Kids who owned a candy store with a soda fountain. In almost every movie, when the gang misbehaved, he got around to shouting, “Get out and don’t come back!”
In the early fifties Harry was the first in the area to have a television. People would flock to his place on Friday nights to watch boxing on The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. Sometimes they would get to see live fights when young bucks like Bob Bernhardt and Dick Trout would duke it out to the tune of broken jaws and knocked out teeth. There was no stopping them once they got started and Harry would have to resort to calling the state troopers to have them removed. He would ban them from the club but eventually they’d work their way back in and the same thing would happen all over again. One night, a guy we now see on television--I’ll call him The Stormy Weather Guy--came into Harry’s with too high a profile. It was like he was saying, “Hi girls, I’m here!” This wouldn’t do for Kenny McPhail, another local battler who asked Billy (the boxer) Donnelly to hold the front door open while he tossed Stormy Weather out by the seat of his leather pants. Another time an unwelcome guest was pushed out of the men’s room window.
But, at Harry’s, fighting wasn’t really the main event. It was dancing to live bands and meeting new girls who had come up from The Valley to frequent the club that was jumping more than any other. On Fridays and Saturdays the place was so crowded you’d have to force your way in. One night, I made it to the dance floor and then to a large booth where I found George Horrigan sitting amidst all this activity, looking depressed. “What’s the matter, George?” I asked above the blasting music.
“I had her in the palm of my hand,” he said referring to a new beauty that was out on the dance floor. “I said all the right things, made all the right moves,” George continued as he held his bald head in his hands with his elbows resting on the table. “But I blew it when I went to light her cigarette.” It seemed George wore dentures and the upper plate had broken in half making them very loose. When he, in cavalier fashion, lit a cigarette for the girl and went to blow it out, his dentures flew onto the table making the girl shriek and shrink into the backrest of the booth. “I had her in the palm of my hand,” George kept saying as the girl circled the floor--with another guy.
Everybody went to Harry’s. I met a soldier on his way to Camp Drum who stopped off for a drink. Before I knew it, we had exchanged clothes and I was in uniform and the soldier was near the jukebox jitterbugging in my sweater. I met Linda Shirer dancing fresh from Seattle with some really good moves. Phil Courtier who drank only coke showed up with his date Bea Oppel. Don Czarnecki, the best dancer in Richfield, was out on the floor boogying to the music of The Contour’s “Do you Love Me.” It was wild!
Come the weekend, Harry’s was where to be, but occasionally you’d stray and then you’d find yourself on the road racing from another place to gain an hour by crossing the county line to have one final drink at Harry’s. If you missed the last call, there was always Morgan’s Fireside where you’d order spaghetti and wait forever to be served. Those were the days, sweet memories scratched into your gray matter, a lot of mischief, a lot of dancing. How was the fiddler paid?
In a way, Harry picked up the bill. What a rough business to have been in. I picture him, exhausted and sleeping next to his eternal wife Sera. Then, all at once he wakes up in a cold sweat, stands straight up in the bed, tears at his hair and yells, “Sera, call the troopers! Bob Bernhardt is back!”