Bill Montgomery remembers when the Huron Grill was standing room only.
“It was a very, very busy place,” he said of the neighborhood bar at the corner of Barrett and Huron streets in Schenectady’s Union College and Park Place neighborhoods. “At that time, Alco [American Locomotive Co.] was going full force and there was a lot of activity.
“Business was booming,” Montgomery said. “You couldn’t get a place at the bar. It was about four people deep every night, seven days a week.”
The Huron was busy once again Saturday afternoon. Family members threw a party to salute the 78-year-old Montgomery and his wife, Patricia, and celebrate 50 years in the tavern business.
People filled black, high-backed chairs in the bar or settled into small, two-chair tables on the wall across from the bar. Dozens of family members and bar regulars gathered in the back lot for loud country music and a picnic buffet that included sausage and peppers, cheeseburgers, baked beans, potato salad, french fries and fried perch.
Bill Montgomery and his brother Ed Montgomery bought the Huron during the summer of 1963, taking over from previous owners Earl and Dottie Cole. Bill Montgomery said he believes the bar opened during the early 1900s.
When the brothers ran the business, it was always a working man’s retreat. “It was just a friendly place,” Montgomery said. “People got to know one another and they’d meet here and drink together.”
There were other places to go, too.
Restaurants such as Luigi’s, Mother Ferro’s and Mama Bianchi’s were all nearby.
“There were a lot of Italian families and everybody knew everybody,” Patricia Montgomery said. “You knew their kids, you knew their grandmothers and grandfathers.”
Holidays were especially busy.
“On Thanksgiving, the men used to be here in the morning and used to party while the women used to cook the turkeys,” Patricia said.
Ed Montgomery passed away in 2002. And the business has been changing, slowing down. Bill Montgomery is unsure about the Huron’s future.
“It’s still up in the air. We’re not sure which way we’re going to go,” he said, adding he must soon decide whether or not to renew the business liquor license. “Business has changed drastically in the past five years. Most of our friends are getting older. Some of them are no longer with us.”
On Saturday, nobody was thinking much about a last call. Everyone seemed happy to talk about a place that still offers a worn linoleum floor, a pool table, pickled eggs and a couple television sets on the walls.
Jim Montgomery, one of Ed Montgomery’s nine children, rallied family members to rouse friends of the Huron. And thank Uncle Bill.
“They’ve been keeping this place open just for us to have a meeting place, the family,” said Jim, 63. “Otherwise, you know, you don’t see each other. There’s got to be a place. I said, you know, he deserves a party. I got my brothers and my friends and everybody just came together.”
Montgomery remembered sodas inside the place after his Pop Warner football games. And family members working the bar. And the old booths.
“They were old-time booths. Some people would get loaded and they’d sleep there until the next morning,” Montgomery said, smiling. “It was OK, too.”
He hates to see the end for neighborhood spots. “They’re a dinosaur, a thing of the past,” he said. “You’re not going to see them anymore.”
Judy Creasy, 64, grew up on Barrett Street. As a girl she was afraid to walk by the grill.
“It used to be a pretty rowdy bar at one time,” said Creasy, a regular since 1986. “There were always a lot of cars here, a lot of people.”
Sue Horn, 56, of Schenectady, tended bar at the Huron during the 1970s and 1980s. She said her parents’ wedding reception took place inside the tavern in 1955.
“Everybody came here after work to have a cold beer and good conversation,” Horn said. “Everybody was hardworking. It was just a good, family-run neighborhood bar.”
Denise Sinclair, 54, also of Schenectady, agreed. She said the Huron has always had the right formula for a gathering place.
“Everybody was friends and family who got along,” she said. “And the beer was ice cold.”