Man About Town / If the 'Shoe fits ...
It was an overcast Sunday afternoon New Year's weekend and the regular crowd had settled in at the Horseshoe Tavern & Café at 355 Pequot Ave. in Southport. It was a good spot to capture local color and the pints were accommodating.
Southport's oldest surviving neighborhood bar, "The Shoe" -- as it's more commonly known -- first sparked to life in 1916 when horse-shoer Edward Russell is reported to have established the original edifice. In 1933, the building became Russell's Horseshoe Tavern, then morphed into a restaurant in 1934. It was actually located on the west side of Pequot Avenue initially and moved to its present-day east side location during a road-widening project in 1948.
In 1957, James "Scotty" Fraser was out walking and contemplating buying a restaurant. He came across a horseshoe in the road and it influenced his decision to buy The Shoe. That original shoe hangs by the entry to the kitchen.
Gordon Fraser bought the biz from his father in 1974 and his son, Jim, runs it today. March 2011 will mark 54 years that the place has been in the family. There is a horseshoe affixed high up on the front wall for each year the Fraser family has owned the restaurant.
The Shoe is pretension-free and where regular guys and their sons come to gather. Today, several are in sports jerseys to support their teams. Five TV sets around the space are showing football games, including a Patriots-Dolphins match-up, Steelers-Browns and Jets-Bills contest. These elicit shouts, encouraging and not, from the dozen or so lads kicked back in red vinyl bar stools. The design matches a row of booths along one wall where patrons can sit down with food selections.
For those with a hankering, there are a variety of bar food appetizers like wings and nachos, soups and salads, and charbroiled burgers. House specialties include classics like a Philly Steak Grinder, BLT and Tuna Melt. New York-style thin-crust pizza and desserts round out the menu.
Game days bring special fare like the Bloody Breakfast Burrito -- an egg concoction with a dash of hot sauce served with a House Bloody -- or the Pig Sandwich, shredded pork butt with tangy Texas-style BBQ sauce.
Besides the games, there's no shortage of eye candy here, but not the type you'd expect. We're talking about collages of patron photos, game schedules, beer signs, and photos and paintings of old Southport and the restaurant.
Dark-haired Claire, a pleasant lass tending bar and serving suds fast and friendly, greeted patrons with a "Happy New Year" and inquired about their holidays. Everyone seemed to know her or one another and called across the bar.
One patron, among an especially tight group sitting in a section of seats nearest the kitchen called "Murderer's Row," referred to Claire as "Eclaire." That was B.C. Mike.
"Mike's on a demerit system," joked Claire. "Three and he's gone."
Besides Mike, the group included Johnny A., Jim Ewing, Brendan, Zach and Keith. "This is like Vegas," said Mike of the group and this special zone. "What happens here, stays here." While Mike's patronage of eight years is impressive, Ewing, 76, has been a regular since 1949.
"This is just a good, old local watering hole," said Johnny A., sporting a fishing hat and sipping a shot.
"We're just hard-working guys who come in for a cold beer. This is close to home. You'll see working Joes and affluents," said Mike, adjusting his Eagles cap.
"It's a little backwater, a treasure," said Johnny A. "Off the beaten path."
"Al's Place, the Driftwood, Purcell's. Those places are gone. This is the last of a dying breed," concluded Mike.
With another entry in the Man About Town chronology, I would leave the lads to their games and libations, looking forward to my next Fairfield venue drop-in.
Mike Lauterborn's "Man About Town" column appears every other week in the Fairfield Citizen.