|More Tavern Tales
Around 1934, Harry Klisch ran the P.K. Hotel on Lake Street. The P.K. was a couple of doors just south of the Schuyler House, which was taken down in December, 2007.
On September 10, 1935, a runaway freight train started at the South Columbia milk plant and stopped when the train jumped the track in Richfield, crashing into the hotel. The most amazing thing about this accident was that before the train finally came to a stop it barely missed the Klisch’s infant daughter, Mabel, who was in a clothes basket in the kitchen. Not only did the train just miss her, but the shattered falling beams missed her as well. After the accident, Harry and his wife, Sara, left their rented hotel. The P.K. was later called The New Charles, and was last named Mielnicki’s. The business was closed in the early 1990s.
Tom Chadwicks, Herbie Welden, Jean Coones, Ralph Osterhoudt and Don Gravelding back in the old days, gathering at Harry’s. (Photo submitted by Don Urtz)
In 1939, the Klisch’s started a new restaurant called Harry’s. The place soon became a popular night spot. Harry was known to brag that he spilled more booze on his bar than most others served. Although the place was always the ‘hot spot,’ Harry was a no nonsense guy who was very careful not to serve underage teenagers. When Harry wanted a smoke, it didn’t matter if five patrons were waiting for a drink. He would take the time to pull out his pouch of Bull Durham tobacco and hand roll a smoke. Also, when a fight broke out, it was soon to be broken up when Sara came out of the kitchen and very impressively started to beat the combatants with her broom. Andy Klisch, who now runs The Millstone Restaurant, is Harry’s nephew.
In 1964, Frank Callahan took over the business and kept the name Harry’s until it’s closing in 1979. In my younger years I thought it would be great fun to be a bartender. I got my chance by working for Frank part time. Well, sometimes it was a lot of fun, it helped me get over the last of my long time shyness and I also got to meet many girls.
Although most of my customers were great, I got to see how alcohol could change some personalities. One irate patron ripped the shirt right off my back. He got upset that his six-pack-to-go could be bought downtown for ten cents cheaper. He blew his top when I told him he was ‘uptown’ now. It didn’t take long to learn the dark side of bartending, and what alcohol could do to some people.
Shortly after Frank first opened up, he made the mistake of holding a grand opening party on the same night that a carnival crew stayed in town. The carnival folks came in, drank the free punch, gorged themselves on the free buffet, and never spent a penny.
When I was about 20, I had a good friend named Judy. At that time, she was engaged to a sailor who was out to sea. Because we were only friends, and not romantically involved, she felt safe to go out together to have some fun. One night we went to Harry’s on a crowded Saturday, only to fine there was no place to sit. Across the room, sitting in a booth, were a couple we had never seen before. They waved us over and asked us to join them. The four of us spent a few hours enjoying each other’s company. When it came time to take Judy home, the lady we had just met said, “The next time we see you two, we hope you’re married.” Judy replied, “Oh, so do I, but not to each other.” I’ll never forget the looks on their faces.
New York State did not have sales tax until 1964, and then it started out at two percent. This posed a problem for the local tavern owners. Do they raise the price of beer two cents, or make it an even nickel to avoid dealing with pennies when making change? The area bar owners held a meeting to decide what to do. After much bickering, they decided to raise the price a nickel. That is, everyone except Andy Madaras of The Brass Lantern, in Schuyler Lake. Andy felt it would be unfair to his patrons to go up five cents when only two were required. About a year later, Andy went to the five cent raise when the beer wholesalers raised their prices.
I’ll bet most of you did not know, or remember, that Richfield once had a taxi service! Ralph Goodale was the owner and driver of “Ralph’s Taxi” in the 1950s. On hot summer days, Ralph would place his taxi in front of The Park Inn, and wait inside for anyone in need of a ride.
Ward Goodale, Sheila Osterhoudt, Connie Weston (and unknown patron) at Harry’s. (Photo by Don Urtz)
One regular patron of the Park Inn was an elderly gent who would sometimes say to Ralph, “Hey Ralph, it’s a nice day. Let’s go for a ride around the lake.” Sometimes this trip would be made up to three times a day. At that time, no one knew if the guy had a memory problem, an alcohol problem, or if he just liked riding with Ralph.
Up until the mid-70s, the laws on alcohol were very lax. DWI’s were usually only issued if the driver was involved in an accident or got nasty with the cop. Many people over 50 can remember having their keys taken away, or know of someone who had their keys taken away, by the police, or having the police escort them home.
One trooper told a passenger, “You look in better shape than the driver, you’d better take the wheel.”
A few bars back then would continue to serve an obviously drunk patron. The classic example was when a local businessman got off his bar stool to leave and he fell down. He got up again, and fell down again. He got up, grabbed the pool table for balance and headed for the door. One customer stated, “My god, is he driving?” Another answered, “I hope so, because he can’t walk.”
I’m firmly convinced that the moral attitude of our country has taken a nose dive in the last fifty years. The attitude on alcohol, however, has been less tolerant. We now understand the problems it can cause. It shows with the now very strict DWI laws and treatment programs. Even the beverage industry is educating their customers with national ad campaigns on drinking responsibly. Many folks should be able to drink to that!