Risingdale Cafe closes, leaving a hole in the heart of Housatonic

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GREAT BARRINGTON — It was a neighborhood pub that tended a devout flock over decades that spanned sometime before World War II and onward until it closed on Dec. 22, 2019.

The family-run Risingdale Cafe on Route 183/Park St., also known to the devoted simply as "Rising," was famous for a mean spaghetti and a loving camaraderie.

Over the years, there were hand-wrestling, pool and dart tournaments here, across the street from the former Rising Paper Co., now the Hazen Paper Co.

In the 1940s and '50s, there was dancing and pizza every Friday. In 1948, the cafe served, "Steaks, Chops, Seafood and Italian Specialties."

In 1943, a Searles High School graduate was given a farewell supper there before he was shipped off to Fort Levenworth to prepare for war.

There was the occasional brawl and noise complaint. And the owners kept close watch on patrons' liquor intake. They'd give them a lift home, if need be, though many could simply amble home on foot from this neighborhood bar.

"Every night I worried about a car accident," said GJ Hadsell, who, with her husband, John Keresey, co-owned the cafe her parents bought in 1970. "We always took care of each other. I used to drive people home that I didn't even know."

Hadsell and Keresey sold the cafe to Spectrum Health Systems, a nonprofit that specializes in substance abuse treatment. Hadsell said that while she heard the company was installing offices at the location, she wasn't sure exactly what Spectrum planned to do. A Spectrum spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.

The loss of the cafe is a heartbreaker for a neighborhood that found much solace there.

"We were like one happy family," Hadsell said. "It was always the place to go to when you needed to cry or laugh or do something to help somebody out. You go in as a stranger and hopefully you go out as a friend."

A chimney fire gutted the cafe in 1994 and legions lined up to help rebuild. At the time, The Eagle reported that Hadsell and her mother had been preparing for a dart tournament, unaware that the second floor had gone up in flames. A firefighter burst in and told the women to get out.

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"Hank, what's your hurry?" Hadsell had told a reporter.

But it was those embers that lit everyone up with the realization that the Rising meant so much to the neighborhood. The place got a good makeover with new knotty pine walls, an oak bar rail, a new pool table and a CD jukebox.

For the Kenyon and Hadsell families, it all started with a love of cooking.

Hadsell, 66, said that her mother, Gloria Kenyon, had learned how to cook from her father, who worked at General Electric Co. Her husband, Nathan "Bucky" Kenyon, was a Korean War veteran who worked for Schweitzer Paper Mills in Lee. Hadsell said that her mother was a sharp and multitalented proprietor, and a generous matriarch who loved kitchen work and people.

"Everybody called my mother `Mom,'" Hadsell said. "She was a cook, a bartender, a psychiatrist — she did it all. People just loved her."

When Bucky Kenyon got sick in 1988, his wife dropped everything.

"She needed to take care of him and they needed to spend time together," Hadsell said. "But she was the boss until the day she died. I never did anything without getting her permission."

Hadsell said business took a downturn around 2008, during the recession, and the year after the Rising Paper Co. closed. In the decade to come, other Housatonic factories would also shut down. And liquor liability insurance and property tax increases didn't help.

"It's crazy," she said. "It's a hard business, having a bar these days."

She said she also feels the loss of closing this community heart.

"I know everybody is so sad about it," she said. "Where do we go?"

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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