arteejee

A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Memories of Russell’s (of Bloomsburg)



One of my all-time favorite watering holes closed recently with a rather unceremonious Facebook posting on March 1. The restaurant’s management explained that Russell’s and Kristy’s Pub had been sold and was closed before going on to toast “strangers who became friends, and friends who became family.” I had not been back there in years, certainly not since it became partnered with Kristy’s Pub. Now I feel a need to stroll back there to — as Van Morrison sang in Astral Weeks — another time and another place…

I knew about it when it was still Ent’s Restaurant, run by a gentleman known as Fat Frank. It was an apt description for his girth. I don’t recall seeing him laugh the few times I saw him. I’ve heard second hand accounts about his manner behind the bar; order a draft and he might say, “Buzzard’s piss coming up!” I can’t vouch for this story’s accuracy, but it might explain one reason how a barkeep could drive his business into bankruptcy in a small college town. Not exactly Cheers

In 1981 Maria and Russell took over, and the place became a first-class bar and restaurant in line with the Public House at the Hotel Magee across the street. Other than these two establishments, Bloomsburg had, at that time, a pizza parlor on every other block, and perhaps a hoagie shop or two. That was it! No Chinese restaurant, let alone buffet, and no hamburger joints. It was either the Hotel Magee (great food, but the locals couldn’t afford it every day), Russell’s, or a slice of pepperoni, soda in a paper cup, and hold the anchovies.

I have many good Russell's memories. The new owners made everyone feel welcome in warm, cozy surroundings. Then there was the food!  Their broccoli cheese soup was to die for, complimented by a good domestic draft. It was the first place I remember seeing escargot on the menu. Their escargot, sautéed in butter and served in mushroom caps, was also good. Let me go on the record and say that escargot definitely does NOT taste like chicken. Truth be told, it’s a little rubbery, a little slimy, but hey, who can tell the difference when it’s drenched in sautéed butter?

The beer selection was for many years unsurpassed by any other establishment in the area. I forget the exact number of beers they offered from around the world: 101 sticks out in my mind, but my memory may be exaggerating that total. Keep in mind this was at a time when brewpubs offering home brews were unheard of.

More important than the food and drink, there were the friends with whom I spent time there. In his obit for Russell’s, Press-Enterprise editor Jim Sachetti mentioned a short list of Bohemian types that could be found there after hours. Journalists haunted it when their paper was still published in the building next door; ditto for the dee jays that worked two doors down at WHLM. Sachetti noted that members of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble wound down their evenings in the dining room after a night’s performance. So too did members of the Bloomsburg Players, the longer established college theater group which was graced by my presence for many years. It was a place where many of us could eat, drink, and laugh well past midnight.

A woman I consider my mentor, Mary Badami, spent many hours there after she retired. Once, she told me how she would settle into a corner table, whiling away the afternoon reading a book and drinking her favorite beer, Heineken. Anne Marie and I met her for dinner there on a night when we had tickets to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Bloomsburg Fair. Wouldn’t  you know it,  we had so much fun sitting with Mary at Russell’s that we didn’t get to the concert until it was time for the band to come out for an encore.

That’s how much fun Russell’s was!  (Grammar be damned!)

The last last call was heard early in March, but in many ways the party really ended years ago. Maria and Russell were forced to sell a few years ago, and shortly after that Maria succumbed to cancer. Both ends were premature; the party should still be going on at 117 West Main Street.

More recent press reports have detailed how another local brewpub is currently gutting my old haunt. So, someday soon, the party may start again.  This is a cliché, but it definitely will not be the same. My heart will always be with the dearly departed Russell’s, and those friends who have also passed on too soon.

I now raise my glass to you, Mary…

(Thank you for reading.)

4 Comments:

Anonymous Janey said...

Dear Todd,

I praise your vivid recollections, which have stirred so many memories in me. We had many good times at Russell's!

My last attempt to go there was unsuccessful: in August of 1997, Venus and I were driving to Minneapolis, where he was to begin his doctoral studies at the U. of Minnesota. We left my house in Skippack at midnight, but our heavily laden moving van could not get us to Russell's in time for last call. Oh, how we wanted a three-soup sampler (with broccoli cheese soup as one of the three, of course), and a cold beer or two. Alas, we arrived at 2:08 am. So we smoked a joint in the parking lot of my former grad school apt. on West Main St., the place you found for me years earlier, Todd, when I was leaving California to return to grad school.

How I'd love to see the old gang...

I join you in a toast to Mary Badami!

Love,
Janey

April 4, 2013 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Thanks, Janey! I figured you might be good for a memory or two.

April 4, 2013 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger Harper's Keeper said...

I can understand your your sense of loss. It's great that you have so many memories of the place.

April 6, 2013 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Thank you for the comment, I can only imagine that there'll be more incidents (closings, passings, etc)that will stir up my memories as I get older.

April 8, 2013 at 6:25 AM  

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