The City I Love: Restaurant conversation served again
Readers rallied on my behalf this past week, collectively brushing away the cobwebs on my memory banks, while both educating and enlightening me on some of the history of not just Asian restaurants in our city, but eateries in general.
By standards that I’m used to, it was a rather large cascade of response that helped answer questions put forth a week ago. At the center of the storm were the China Clipper -- which I mistakenly located on North Street near the hospital, the current Lu-Au-Hale on Route 7, the now closed Debbie Wong’s on Dalton Avenue and the Tahiti Takeout on Wahconah Street.
The China Clipper, it turns out, was located for years next to the former Capitol Theater, which is now the Froio Senior Center. One reader was pretty sure that its origin dated back to 1935, and whose run ended there in the early 1970s. I thought it was much closer to Tyler Street, but maybe that was the Tahiti Takeout, which for a time was at the corner of Wahconah, where Reilly’s Variety once stood, before moving further down Wahconah Street.
The Lu-Au-Hale also created a torrent of response. It had been, many wrote, the Highway Diner (or Hii-Way Diner) and by all accounts was a five-star eatery.
"Best coconut cream pie in the Berkshires," exclaimed one reader.
From former youth court judge, Lenox school administrator and St. Joe basketball coach Paul Perachi, "The Bashara family owned it. It’s the same family that owned [still owns] the Tyler Restaurant [now Charley’s on Tyler Street]."
The diner was a "big and beautiful thing," Perachi said. "I was sorry to see it go."
Bill Katz, whose father, Jay, and uncle, Sammy, owned and ran S&J Variety on Tyler Street for decades, said that when the diner ceased to exist it first became a Hu-Ke-Lau before being sold and becoming the Lu-Au-Hale.
"I remember the hula shows and the twirling of flaming batons," said Katz, whose Uncle Harry -- Sammy and Jay’s older brother -- operated Katz Korner on North Street for a number of years.
Katz, who lives now in California, also recalled when Debbie Wong’s was the teen hangout, the Spaghetti Factory, and that prior to that it had been a tire store.
One reader suggested that the Lu-Au-Hale site might have held the Ida and John’s restaurant for a while. Anyone? That same reader said the China Clipper for years was the only restaurant open in Pittsfield on Christmas Day.
Yet another reader said that when the China Clipper vacated its North Street site, it went out on Route 20, just beyond where the outdoor movie drive-in used to be, for those who recall that iconic venue.
Michael Storch and his wife, Lois, checked in to say that they had worked at a summer camp during the 1950s in West Copake, N.Y., and used to hitchhike to Pittsfield to the China Clipper to satisfy their desire for Chinese food.
John Roche, meanwhile, was born in Lenox in 1946. Roche said that after attending Mass at St. Ann’s in Lenox, he and his father would have breakfast at the Highway Diner.
"I think it was around 1957 or ‘58 that it burned down," he said. "They rebuilt, but the atmosphere wasn’t the same."
Roche said that during those days there were plenty of restaurants on North Street, and around the corner on West Street, from which to choose. He mentioned North Streets stops such as The Hub, the Rosa Restaurant, Sugar Bowl, Jimmy Frank’s and Frankie Martin’s. On West Street, he added, were the Soda Chef (now on North Street), Johnny’s, which moved to Cheshire Road, the Busy Bee, which moved to Allendale Shopping Center and The Berkshire, which took over the Yellow Astor on South Street.
Still another reader thought the Lu-Au-Hale site may have been a place called Christo’s at one time, owned by Christo Maniatis, whose brother, Johnny, owned the previously mentioned Johnny’s.
Finally, my good friend and my go-to guy for high school baseball history, Joe Galli, said he remembered eating at the China Clipper as a youth on an evening out with his parents. Joe, a southpaw pitcher for Pittsfield High in the early to mid-1940s, moved his meticulously placed silverware from the right side of his plate to the left before the meal was served.
"I was a lefty," Joe recalled with a laugh.
The waiter, he said, fired a nasty look at him that he never forgot.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.