Taken from the menu celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Dodge Inn:
Fifty years doesn't seem like a long time as America celebrates its Bicentennial Year. But in fifty years the Dodge Inn has compiled a colorful history while delighting thousands of guests at its tables.During his years at the restaurant, my step-father has the great pleasure of having many celebrites dine among his regulars. Several of them came back again and again, whenever in the area. Among those famous people were Marlena Dietrich, Lee J. Cobb, Frankie Lane, Red Buttons, Pat Cooper, Milton Berle, Alan King, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Don Rickles, boxers Rocky Marciano, Rocky Graziano and Michael Spinks, Tony Bennett, Buddy Hackett and singer Billy Eckstein. In fact, one time when my parents were in a Las Vegas audience to see Don Rickles, he told the audience that our restaurant was one of the best in the "mountains" for a good steak. What better endorsement can you get than that of Don Rickles??
Originally a country road house, old Dodge Inn began its life as a summer boarding inn. For twenty-one dollars a week, guests were treated to an abundance of fresh air, home cooked meals and nightly entertainment wtih a Victrola record player.
During the late 1920's, a young Italian immigrant named Charlie Porpora, took his life savings and his Irish bride and bougth the Dodge Inn. In short time, "Uncle Charlie" and "Aunt Margie" traded the Dodge's reputation for good lodging and built a new one for great food.
Like many of America's early inns, the Dodge Inn was simple in its decor and the menu was basic. In face, for the first forty-seven years, no printed menu existed. Yet the Dodge Inn became the favorite dining spot for all celebrities who entertained the Catskill's visitors.
Uncle Charlie's basic menu of family style steak, giant potatoes, chef's salad, and luscious onions kept a whole regalia of nephews, nieces, and cousins busy on summer vacations...and it still does! In fact little changed over the years, until 1968 when a fire destroyed the original inn.
The new Dodge Inn promises its guests the same tradition and family style hospitality that has kept it alive and growing for three generations.
We know Uncle Charlie was very proud to be an American, in a land where opportunity and freedom still abound. And we think he would be just as proud of the Dodge Inn as we are, as we continue a fifty year family tradition.
In this picture you will see comedians Milton Berle on the left, Phil Silvers (in the glasses) and way in the back on the right, Red Buttons.
We had pictures of all of the people who came in,on the walls in the lobby of the restaurant, some of the pictures taken right at the table while they were enjoying dinner! My step-father even had a familiar name for Al Capone, another very famous person who frequented the restaurant; he used to call him “Uncle Al”.
Our restaurant was an old boarding house that used to be owned by an aging woman who drove a Dodge before it changed hands to my step-father's Aunt and Uncle as told above in the excerpt from the menu. They eventually passed it down to him. The restaurant was in the heart of Catskills, an area nicknamed The Borscht Belt and The Jewish Alps.
In this photo on the left is Jimmy Demaret, the first three time winner of the Masters Golf Tournament and on the right, comic actor and writer, Sid Caesar.
The Catskills were a haven for people to get away from the city and enjoy the summer with their families. People mostly from Brooklyn, many from the Bronx, and some from Queens would retreat to the bungalows or hotel rooms of the mountains. A New York Times article said that the hotels and bungalow colonies in this area became the summer world of over a million Jewish New Yorkers in the 1950's and 60's. Imagine that?
Of the many of the hotels these people stayed at, the following are some of the most well known.
The Concord was one of the big ones. At the time, it was owned by Ray Parker and family, but is sadly now closed and in a state of desperate repair. I was recently up there and driving around the place, seeing curtains waving through broken windows was a little eerie, almost ghost like. Plans to re-open the hotel have been in the works for years. At one time, Westin Hotels was looking at making it a golf resort but the plans for gaming in the area haven't been approved yet, so everyone is hesitant to sink the money in. My step-father was a personal friend of the Parker family and they would come into our restaurant quite often to eat. They were the ones who brought all the celebrities to the restaurant...the ones that used to play the showrooms.
Kutsher’s, which was owned by Milton and Helen Kutsher, was a fixture in the early years of the hotels in the area, just as Milt and Helen were fixtures in the hotel. I remember seeing at least one of them almost every day, strolling through the lobby or dining room areas, during the time I worked there.
I also remember going to The Raleigh, dancing with the young people up from the city. I had a friend who worked there and he would sneak us in the back door. I also once worked at The Pines in South Fallsburg, which seemed just as old twenty years ago when I worked there as it is today.
The Nevele was owned by the Slutsky family, who were also very close personal friends of my step-father. Not only were they personal friends, they were also good customers. They would come to the restaurant religiously (at least once a week) for a good steak. Back in that day, our steaks were unlimited and came with family style servings of salad, bread, potatoes and stewed onions. The Nevele, the word 'eleven' spelled backwards, has been rumored to have gotten its name because there were eleven original members of the family when the place was founded, but who knows if there is really any truth to that. What I do know, is that it is one of the originals, the most unique shaped resorts in the Ellenville area and operated for 106 years, before closing in 2009.
And then we have Brown's hotel in Loch Sheldrake, which was owned by Charles and Lillian Brown. Phil Brown, a member of the Brown's Hotel family and Professor of Sociology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has founded The Catskill Institute which, according to their website is "an organization promoting research and education on the significance of the Catskill Mountains in American Jewish life."
For those of you not familiar with the area, you have to only look to movies like Dirty Dancing, famous for its depiction of the Catskill Mountain area at that time. The story, written by Eleanor Bergstein, is based on her experience at Grossinger’s, the resort she used to spend summers at when she was a young girl.
Another movie that came out about six years ago named A Walk On The Moon, also set in the Catskills. Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen really gave life to a time where the women stayed at the bungalow colony for the week with the kids and the husband would come up during the weekends, showing what it was like spending the summers with the people they came to know as an extension of their families. I wasn't alive back then, but it made me feel as I felt over 20 years ago, just seeing the hotels and bungalow colonies that are still in existence in some areas and also the hotels that had not closed yet. As a side note, Viggo is totally hot in this movie.
I go back to New York quite often and when I do, I love to visit this area. My family still has ties there. My cousin owns a jewelry store in Monticello and a pizzaria in Rock Hill. Our summer home is in Masten Lake, just minutes from the hub of Monticello. I have friends from Ellenville, family living in the area and memories that flash before my eyes whenever I get close to that neck of the woods. Driving up the Wurtsboro mountain, stopping at The Canal Towne Emporium for some Atomic Fireballs, swinging by Masten Lake to see the sandy beach area that my family owned, where I used to swim and make friends with the camp kids, and driving by Fialkoff's bakery in Monticello make me feel like I'm 16 years old again.
Now they want to bring people back into that area by building resorts and casinos. I love the idea of people experiencing the Catskills once again, but it can never be the same as in the days when it was known at The Borscht Belt. I have felt such joy writing this post and I am going to make an effort to preserve whatever I know about my time there and dig some more stories out of my step-father. The history will always be there, we just have to uncover it.