Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving – Hastings Style

Cover of Hastings House Restaurant's Thanksgiving menu, ca. 1974

With money as tight as it is these days, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to step into a time machine that would take you back to an era when you could have a full Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant for $6.25? Well, that’s what you would have gotten at the Hastings House Restaurant in the mid 1970s. Not so long ago, was it?

Hastings House, a true Hastings institution, spent many prosperous years patronized by employees of the waterfront industries who would come in for a quick drink after work. When Anaconda Wire & Cable Company was still in operation, the bar opened at 8AM to accommodate the workers coming off the third shift. Anaconda left in the mid 1970s, but though at least one Hastings resident likened the patrons at the bar to waxworks, Hastings House remained a local favorite until it closed in September of 2006.

The building on the corner of Spring Street and Warburton Avenue has a long and interesting history. It was commissioned in 1915 by two brothers, Samuel and Morris Kaufman. Thanks to Morris’s son, we know something of their early history. As young men, Samuel and Morris had travelled up from Yonkers to work at their uncle’s saloon on Spring Street. (This building became Dunn’s Bar in the 1920s.) The boys’ parents spoke Hungarian, Yiddish, and Polish, and they got along well with the Eastern European workers at Zinsser Chemical and the National Wire & Cable Company. The brothers eventually bought out their uncle, and then decided to build themselves a larger building, which they referred to as a hotel.

Postcard printed ca. 1920, showing the Farragut Inn on the left

The building was designed by Hastings architect Foster L. Hastings (who also designed the Hastings movie theater building that now houses the Moviehouse Mews), and the construction was supervised by William Schmidt, a builder who lived on Farragut Avenue. The “Kaufman Bros. Farragut Inn,” named after Admiral Farragut, one of the most famous of Hastings’ residents, opened for business in 1916 or 1917.

As with many local “hotels,” the Farragut Inn also served food and drink. One source in our files includes it in a list of the most popular speakeasys in Westchester during prohibition, and Morris Kaufman himself was jailed after a raid where a large amount of liquor was discovered on his premises. Morris’ son remembers meeting many famous actors and politicians at the Farragut Inn, as well as Babe Ruth, who was a regular customer. When the Babe visited, the news passed quickly around the neighborhood. By the time he had finished his steak, young fans would be lined up around the block, waiting to get a glimpse and an autograph of the famous man. The Farragut Inn's banquet room on the second floor was a popular place for all sorts of celebrations – testimonial dinners for local VIPs, like Fire Chief Melville Haines and Col. Frederick G. Zinsser, and banquets for the fire department and the Southside Social & Athletic Club.

The banquet room, from a photocopy in our files of a ca. 1920 postcard. Does anyone have one of these postcards that we could borrow to make a better copy?

Fashionable as the “speaks” may have been, prohibition was hard on places like the Farragut Inn and, to make matters worse, Sam Kaufman died in 1932. Around 1935, the business passed into the hands of Joe Falcaro, who changed the name to Falcaro’s Restaurant. Joe described himself in a 1937 advertisement as an “undefeated match game bowler,” and it may have been Joe who installed the “new up-to-date bowling alleys” in the basement.

Farragut Inn returned under new management in the early 1940s and did not close until 1960. (Can anyone help us fill in the ownership during this period? Historical Society Sleuth Bob Russell thinks it might have belonged to the Leith family for a time in the late 1950s.) Bernie Hoffman reopened the business two years later as the Hastings House Restaurant. Hastings House continued the tradition of hosting large groups, including class reunions and wedding receptions, and also served special Easter and Thanksgiving dinners, like this one. If you aren’t hungry yet, just read through the menu.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Hastings Historical Society!

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