Ryan Duncan made his first visit to the Grog Shoppe on Wednesday.
The visitor from Champaign, Illinois loved the atmosphere and loved the $5.50 hamburger and fries lunch special.
It might be a short love affair. The longtime Erie Boulevard restaurant and tavern will close Friday night after about 40 years in business.
Owner John Matarazzo isn’t calling the closure a final chapter. In an e-mail note, he referred to the break as time off. A change in concept might be in the plans.
“We’re taking some time off while considering reopening with [a] new concept or leasing to [a] tenant whose business is compatible with [the] building and other tenants,” Matarazzo said in the note.
Matarazzo did not return several phone calls Wednesday.
The tavern is located inside the Wedgeway Professional Building, located on Erie at the intersection of State Street. Other businesses inside the Wedgeway include the Wedgeway Barber Shop, the State Street Tattoo Co. and The Photo Lab. The building also offers the marquee from the former State Theater as a spot for announcements and advertisements.
About 40 people were inside the restaurant shortly after noon on Wednesday, and most had heard the news about the imminent last call. Like Duncan, Joe Dolan of Kinderhook has always liked the Wednesday burger deal and the Grog’s ambience. He suspects the recent boom in Schenectady restaurants on both Erie Boulevard and State Street has hurt the restaurant, because people now have more options for lunch, dinner and drinks.
John DeBrita, 62, of Rotterdam, said he’s been a customer since 1979.
“Maybe ‘78,” he said, adding he used to bring his infant son Greg, tucked inside a baby basket, into the tavern.
“I’ll miss it. Great burger, nice people. Man, it never changed. They put this paneling up in like 1985, I think that’s the last thing they did.”
The Grog Shoppe has some timeless touches. Lighting comes from Tiffany-style lamps that hang from the ceiling. A bunch of stained glass wall lamps and several table lamps are other decorative statements. An old-fashioned weigh scale and fortune machine is prominently displayed on the wood floor near the front door; busts and miniature statues are on shelves and the large display window in the front of the tavern is always decorated for the holidays. Gourds and scarecrows are current autumnal choices.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Greg DeBrita, 37, of Glenville. “It’s always sad to see a business close. Good food is hard to find sometimes.”
Tim Ferrara of Glenville, having lunch with fellow probation officers, remembered Christmas parties inside the tavern. He wished the Grog could have stayed open to reap benefits from the nearby Rivers Casino & Resort, which is scheduled to open in early 2017.
“It’s comfortable, it’s cozy, we love the family that runs it,” Ferrara said of the Grog Shoppe. “They always made us feel welcome.”
“It’s sad,” added Beth Hathaway of Glenville. “It goes way back.”
The space’s history as a tavern dates to at least the end of the Erie Canal. Once the canal was filled in and named Erie Boulevard in 1925, several places opened. According to the tavern’s history on the Grog Shoppe web site, Richard’s Rendezvous was first. Then it became Petrolle’s Grill. Henry’s Tavern was next; once Henry was finished, it became the Grog Shoppe.
City Councilman Ed Kosiur was in the Grog on Wednesday, with several friends that included Schenectady County Attorney Christopher H. Gardner.
“Very sad, a lot of memories here, especially on Wednesdays,” Kosiur said. “This has been a tradition for us for the past seven or eight years. It’s a loss for the whole community, as well.”
Others also had stories about friendships celebrated at the Grog’s bar, tables or booths. Chris Paolucci of Rotterdam remembered when a friend from New Paltz used to take the train to Schenectady. The friends always hit the Grog Shoppe for the first toast.
“I’m pretty bummed,” Paolucci said. “I loved Wednesdays and just loved to come in and have some of those great beers on tap.”
Andrew Wolfgram of Amsterdam and friend Matt Kerner of Watervliet were both on lunch breaks from software work. They had seats at a crowded bar.
“It’s nice to have variety in the area,” Wolfgram said. “It’s always a disappointment when someplace closes, because you lose that variety.”
Kerner loves hamburgers, and hates to lose places where he can get a good one. Another favorite, The Brown Bag in Troy, closed on Sept. 13. “It’s breaking my heart,” he said.
Ryan Duncan, in town for training with the General Electric Co., hopes he has time for one more hamburger.
“I’m going to try to get here one more time before Friday,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.