Monday, March 19, 2007

So long and thanks for all the fish

When the doors to downtown’s Professor Moriarity’s close after last-call tonight, so will more than two decades worth of the business. Owner Dale Easter will sign the business over on Tuesday morning, closing the book on a storied history at the well-known Sherlock Holmes-themed beer-and-burger joint at the mouth of Caroline Street.

Although there’s no word yet on the new owners –and for superstitious reasons Easter is being fairly quiet about the deal –they’re apparently planning to open a Mexican restaurant at the location, returning Latino fare to the Spa City's downtown for the first time since Margarita’s closed down the street more than four years ago.

For Easter, the wiry 10-gallon-hat-wearing man readily identified by his handlebar mustache, the end is bittersweet. Just a few years away from collecting social security, the soon-to-be-former restaurateur is faced with starting a new career, which is likely an indication that the prospective owners purchased his joint for little more than a song and dance.

Easter is among the few remaining heavyweights from a by-gone era in the Spa City, when the worries were about how to kick-start the stalling business on Broadway before the wrecking ball started taking down the centuries old buildings they inhabited. Though his business hasn’t had success in many years, he’s been a veritable fixture at the cherry-wood bar, often staying there from the crack of dawn until the close of business in the evening.

Easter teamed with fellow bar owner Tom Malone and migrated out of the cavernous Tin N’ Lint, grabbing the former location of Lillian’s Restaurant on Broadway to establish Moriarity’s in the early 1980s. With a central location –perhaps the best in the city –and with a robust drug trade at the bar, the early years were quite good for the team. Often times, on a bustling Friday night, it wasn’t uncommon to see the bar packed beyond capacity, or as the lingo goes in the business, “stacked four deep.”

Easter ended up buying Malone’s share of the restaurant in the early 1990s and became the sole proprietor. No one knew for certain why Malone disappeared from the scene, only that he had a great propensity for hard-living and that Easter, while having the same predilections, had made the decision to at least jettison the ebb and flow of cocaine through the restaurant. Needless to say, business continued to boom at Moriarity’s, which plodded forth into the new millennium totalling more than $1 million in annual sales at one point.

But from there, the descent was swift and bitter. After launching the business with a fairly static staff of dedicated workers, Moriarity’s began to have a high-turnover of its workers. Many pointed to the uncommonly low wages being offered there, often hovering close to or at the minimum wage level. As the revolving door of cooks, bartenders and waitresses began to spin at a furious pace, so did the revolving door of disgruntled customers.

By last spring, the restaurant was in dire need of a makeover and Easter was self-admittedly in dire need of a new line of work. Frustrated with the tolls of the business –thieving bartenders, drunken cooks and inconsistent food purveyors –he put the restaurant on the market, asking roughly $500,000 for the location and everything in it.

The building, however, belonged to Bill Walbridge, the owner of the aged and eponymous structure. So after Easter finally found a buyer in Laura LaPoint, the estranged wife of former Yankees’ southpaw Dave LaPoint, Walbridge wanted a stipulation placed in the lease that she’d essentially move out after about a decade, so that he could turn the location into something other than a restaurant. Not surprisingly, the stipulation in essence quashed the deal.

Moriarty’s then limped through what most restaurant owners considered a dismal summer season, as the vultures circled overhead. At times, Easter’s business looked and even was rumored to be closing for good, making a sale even less probably. Most restaurant proprietors with any business acumen will tell you, it’s a lot cheaper to just wait for a failing eatery to fold than to bother with a sale; in the high-stakes game of restaurants, it only takes a spate of bad luck to shutter the windows. And for Easter, the spate was long and pronounced.

Sometime after sundown today, Broadway’s last cowboy will grab his hat and head into the horizon. There’s a chance he might be back, Easter candidly admits; who knows, maybe the new owners will need an afternoon barkeep. But for the business that served him more as home for than his Victorian on the west side of the city, the last chapter has been sealed and sent to the publisher. Happy trails, cowboy and keep on riding toward that sunset. There's a cold beer with your name on it somewhere out there.

Editor’s note: Here’s a bit of irony for you. Rumor on the street is that another long-time restaurant owner is similarly backing out of the business. Sources say Bobby Mitchell, the longtime owner of The Wheatfields Restaurant and the short-time owner of Doc’s Steakhouse, is also backing out of the business. Apparently, Doc’s has been or is in the process of being sold. The sale was apparently prompted by personal problems Mitchell was having. As many who frequented either Wheatfields or Moriarity’s, Bobby and Dale were very close friends.

Prior to becoming Doc’s under Mitchell’s ownership, Putnam Street restaurant was owned by Patrick Graham, who basically gambled and snorted his way out of business. When Graham’s finally closed its doors, the employees didn’t bother to clean up anything except the top-shelf liquor behind the bar. One prospective chef-owner who inspected the place four months later said there was still food left in the fry baskets.

6 Comments:

Blogger Les Clutter said...

Another great post as usual.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dale,

Can't tell you how many great memmories were had at your crazy and often times fun restaurant. The closing of your doors feels like the closing of a signifcant chapter in Saratoga history. Booze and drugs yes, but also great revelry and excitement. You provided the first jobs for many teens. You also ran your restaurant where you gave many of your staff the freedom to be creative both in the kitchen and in the front of the house. You are loved more than you realize. Best of luck Dale! What a wild ride.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Milhouse said...

Um, Leon's? Mexican Connection? Even El Mariachi? There's plenty of "Latino fare" around here, albeit overpriced. I wouldn't expect a Broadway eatery to address the overpriced piece though.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Milhouse,

Very true. However what I meant –and what I didn’t end up writing –was that there are no Mexican joints on the city’s main drag or any of the adjacent capillary streets. It's since been corrected. Here’s a bit of irony for you though: about 10 years ago, there were a pair of long-time bartenders working at Moriarity’s who were dating. At one point, they were being quite vocal about plans to open an authentic cantina in the city, claiming that the one existing place –I believe it was the Mexican Connection –was about as authentic as Carl R’s off the Northway. Given their tone and attitude at the time, I once speculated they would actually try to buy out Dale; obviously, it never happened.

And to anonymous, truer words were n’er spoken. Despite the many business failings, Dale and his restaurant created a self-contained world on Broadway where many young service workers got their first taste of the meat-grinder that is restaurant work. While I’ve met many a bitter former employee, many of the issue they had revolved more around their own shortcomings than Dale’s restaurant. Moriarty’s was also one of the few places in the city where the crowd of patrons was truly a cross section of folks from all walks of life –from judges to steel workers to drunks.

Not to mention, he had perhaps the best people-watching patio in the city. For a fellow like myself, obsessed with making commentary on life, that fact alone holds a lot of weight.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio,

Interestingly enough, LaPoint has purchased Doc's:

Published on 2/2/2007
Local News
THE POST-STAR

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Proprietorship of Doc's Steakhouse on Putnam Street was transferred to Queensbury resident Laura LaPoint on Thursday.

Local entrepreneur Bobby Mitchell sold the business to LaPoint's Agirl LLC for an undisclosed sum. Mitchell opened the steakhouse in 2003.

And ...

Mitchell sold Wheatfields to Tom and Colleen Holmes in 2004.

Ricky

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Doc’s Steakhouse files for bankruptcy
http://albany.bizjournals.com/albany/stories/2009/08/24/daily51.html?ed=2009-08-27&ana=e_du_pub

12:32 PM  

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