:: The St. Charles Saloon ::
Skaneateles had taverns from its earliest days, places where travelers could stop on their journey to rest and eat. But its first saloon — an establishment focused on drinking alcoholic beverages — appears to have been the St. Charles Saloon & Brewster’s Ale Depot, which opened for business in 1858. The proprietor was Thomas H. Martin, and his saloon was located on the south side of Genesee Street. (Today, the site is immediately to the east of the Village offices, at 50 E. Genesee St., occupied by Vermont Green Mountain.) In an advertisement placed in the Skaneateles Democrat, Mr. Martin opined:
“The Largest and most elegant Saloon and Ale Depot ever opened in SKANEATELES is now in FULL BLAST, in the very centre of the business part of the village. All kinds of ALE by the barrel, half barrel, keg or glass, can be had on the shortest notice. Call at the ST. CHARLES SALOON. All orders for ALES will be received and promptly attended to at his office. Also, London Porter, Scotch and Philadelphia Ale, warranted Pure and Imported. Families supplied with ale for medicinal purposes on the most reasonable terms.”
I am curious about the name. Was our first saloon was named in tribute to Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) Archbishop of Milan, Papal Secretary of State under Pius IV, patron saint of learning and the arts? Or as a reminder of the Battle of Saint Charles, fought November 25, 1837, between Great Britain and Lower Canada rebels, in which the British troops were victorious? More likely is the explanation of B.B. Snow of the Cayuga County Historical Society who, in his 1884 speech “The Burning of the St. James with Some Account of the Early Taverns of Auburn and Vicinity,” noted:
“Hotel names are not exempt from the requirements of fashion… American hotels throughout the country were reputed as second class. European styles were coming into favor and St. Nicholas, St. Denis, St. Charles, St. James, and the like, in the absence of personal or proprietary names, were taking the lead.”
Whatever the explanation, our next saloon took the name of its owner.
:: Charles Krebs’ Saloon & Lake View House ::
Charles Krebs (father of Fred Krebs of Krebs’ fame) came from Bavaria in 1857 and during the 1860’s was running a barbershop on the first floor of 4 E. Genesee Street (on the site of today’s Imagine) with a “lager beer saloon” on the second floor. The barbershop was eventually replaced by a restaurant. Charles was a musician and a music lover, and in 1870 he added a piano upstairs, the first barroom piano in Skaneateles — and began serving oysters — sold by the pint, quart or gallon — along with cigars and deli items. He also had a quiet parlor for ladies, and a billiard room. By way of a dumb waiter, he could lower lager beer to patrons of the first floor restaurant. He also rented boats and fishing tackle.
On the same site, in 1874, he built the Lake View House (shown in the center of the photo above), which added rooms for travelers to his other enterprises. Because there were six (6) temperance organizations in Skaneateles at the time, his advertisements focused on the family nature of his establishment, but in May of 1878, the Skaneateles Free Press noted, “Liquor is sold over the bars at the Lake View House, as usual.”
In 1879, Krebs sold the Lake View House to a ‘Mr. Williams of Cortland’ and it apparently continued to thrive. In 1892, the Skaneateles Free Press noted that Lewis H. Thayer would be leaving the Lake View House as Joseph Crandon was expected home from England and would “again take possession.” Thayer, in turn, opened a saloon in the west end of the “Eckett block” – the buildings between the bridge and Jordan Street on the north side of Genesee Street (where Kabuki is today).
:: Hennessey’s Cafe ::
In 1902, Hennessey’s Cafe was a going concern in this spot. Michael F. Hennessey (1867-1921) was the proprietor. The bar was in the space now occupied by Gilda’s, with two dining rooms in the spaces to the east. In one of those sibling contrasts that make families interesting, Michael’s brother, William Hennessey, was the president of the St. Mary’s Temperance Society, of Skaneateles, which since its founding in 1869 had “continuously exerted a practical and useful influence along temperance lines.”
Shown above, Hennessey’s in 1906, with Ernie Hunt, Mike Hennessey, Bill Clark, Alfred Pugh, Lucky Baker and Albie Williams at the bar on a winter’s day.
The Temperance movement temporarily triumphed; Hennessey’s Cafe became a restaurant with the coming of Prohibition (January 16, 1920).
:: McLaren’s ::
In 1932, John F. and Idella McLaren bought what would become McLaren’s, in the Eckett block, from Florence Powell. John and Idella were from Marcellus, where John had been a high school athlete in baseball and football. He encouraged the Marcellus-Skaneateles rivalry whenever he could, and sponsored a bowling team that was a fixture in the Skaneateles Bowling League.
Repeal — the end of Prohibition’s 13-year drought — came on December 5, 1933. In October of 1937, John and Idella McLaren were granted a liquor license. They advertised their establishment as “McLaren’s. Near the Bridge.” Dinner specials in the 1930’s included a Sunday special: half a broiler or a steak for 65 cents, and lobster tail with fries for 50 cents. In 1940, a steak and broiler dinner could be had for 75 cents.
World War II brought rationing, and the Skaneateles Press reported a mishap in McLaren’s kitchen: In April of 1943, Mrs. O’Neill was preparing pork and beans on the stove when a grease fire consumed the entire batch. She said, “You heard that popping noise that sounded like the Fall of Bataan? That was them – the nicest pan of pork and beans I ever set to stew, all gone up in smoke and flame. And rationing and all – what a life.”
McLaren’s was a popular meeting place for all kinds of people, even pinochle players. In February of 1945, a wartime curfew was imposed on all places of public amusement, to which John McLaren responded, “Yes sir, every last pinochler will be out of this place by 12 o’clock midnight.” John McLaren died in 1948. His son, William, joined Idella in running McLaren’s for another five years.
:: Morris’s Grill ::
In March of 1954, William and Idella sold McLaren’s Grill to Morris Schwartz, who had formerly operated the Preble Hotel, in Preble, N.Y. A liquor license was granted to Morris’s Grill at 4-8 West Genesee St. on October 1, 1957.
In the mid-1960s, Morris suffered a stroke while tending bar and his son Philip took over running the operation. (Morris died in 1967, at home on Long Island.) For a short time, Phil’s wife Ginny worked in the kitchen. Three of Phil’s children — David, Vicki, and Steven – and his nephew Kevin Donohue worked as bartenders at Morris’s when they were college age. The bar, in fact, helped Philip put all of his children through college. Steven Schwartz writes:
“I remember that that the bar was a very difficult business for my father, made no easier by the endless efforts of the Village’s patriarchs and matriarchs to cleanse the Village of the sin that Morris’s promulgated. They were tireless in their efforts to get my father to remove the neon Morris’s sign, the last neon sign in the Village. It was only after my father retired that the sign came down.
“Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, Skaneateles was a much different kind of place. Yes, there were the wealthy lake people, but there was also a sizable blue collar and farming community. My father would tell me of brawls where someone would end up going through one of the windows out front. I remember seeing a farmer with a baby racoon sitting at the bar. In the 70s, there was still an interesting mixture of townies and lake people up from the city. The chemistry was fascinating.”
Philip operated Morris’s until about 1983, when he sold it to Darryl “Burt” Lipe and Tom Watson. Around 1990, Lipe bought Watson’s share of the business and became the sole owner. Burt was the proprietor of World Famous Morris’s Grill for more than 25 years. He was a much loved character and a generous man, a fund-raiser for SAVES, the local police department, the Sons of the American Legion, the high school, in fact, any organization that asked for his help. The son of Tippy and Pinky Lipe, Burt grew up in Skaneateles, loved boating and water-skiing, and helped to put in the community docks every spring. He was the originator of the Short Fat Man’s Race which grew and moved from Skaneateles to Syracuse; the proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Photo of Burt Lipe by Carol DiSalvo
Ralph Reid of Auburn, New York, recently wrote:
“I don’t suppose Burt ever really understood the impact of what he did for all of us who knew him. Burt somehow created a refuge of celebration in a stressed-out, wrapped-way-too-tight world. How could this little honky-tonk bar in the sticks of central New York become World Famous? Indeed, I was traveling in Boston, and when asked where I was from, my response brought a sly smile and another question: ‘Have you ever been in that Morris’s Grill?’ And then there was the time in Utila, Honduras, when two young divers learned that I was from Skaneateles, and started telling me of an afternoon at Morris’s. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the simple act of earning a living Burt created something that has touched many thousands of lives.”
Darryl “Burt” Lipe died on October 10, 2008; his family asked that donations be made to the Skaneateles Food Pantry. Lipe’s death came at an unfortunate time; the Eckett block was being renovated and redeveloped; the bar’s lease had just expired and no new agreement had been signed. The developer, Emanon Equities of Holtsville, N.Y., noted, “the building will be re-envisioned with high-end shopping and restaurants beneath beautifully appointed one- and two-bedroom condominiums featuring magnificent views over picturesque Lake Skaneateles.” It’s actually Skaneateles Lake, Morris’s Grill was not a high-end restaurant, and people feared that the line of hometown bars where everyone felt comfortable – from the St. Charles to Morris’s – was soon to be broken. Their fears were realized in the spring of 2009. While one can still get a drink in Skaneateles, for the moment, the Village, though furnished with an adequate number of bars, has no saloon.
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For information and quotes, I am indebted to Tyler Watson; the late, lamented Save Morris’s Grill blog; the Skaneateles Historical Society; an unpublished history of Skaneateles by Sedgwick Smith; and the guest book remembering Burt Lipe. And my thanks to Phil Sears for the photo of Burt, shown above.