(Host) Burlington marked the end an era on Monday, when the historic Nectar’s Restaurant changed hands. Over the years, the eatery has been known as a political gathering place. It’s also been known for its fries and for Phish, the band that got its start there.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) (Sound of fries sizzling.) There’s really only one way to savor the french fries at Nectar’s. As a main dish or piled next to roast turkey, the fries have to be smothered in gravy.
Nectar Rorris has served up the food here for 28 years. He sold the place last week and plans to take a break from the long hours behind the cafeteria counter. New owner Damon Brink says some things won’t change:
(Brink) “I want to assure people the gravy fries are staying, the name is staying, the spinning sign is going to be out front. The live music is going to be here.”
(Dillon) Brink spoke as Nectar’s old friends and customers gathered to honor the longtime restaurateur. Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle invited people to tell their own Nectar stories. Then he told a few of his own:
(Clavelle) “My friendship with Nectar goes way, way back. I’ve known Nectar, I figured it out today, Nectar, for 40 years. And 40 years ago I was working for Nectar. And Nectar didn’t know about a livable wage. I was working for 85 cents an hour. But I got the better end of the deal because in addition to the salary you got all the double cheeseburgers you could eat. And I had a few, and I’m still carrying them with me.”
(Dillon): Clavelle worked for Rorris at his first restaurant on Williston Road. In 1975, the Greek immigrant bought the place on Main Street across from the court house. It drew an eclectic crowd: college students, blue collar workers, lawyers and judges. And politicians.
In the 1970s, Democratic Mayor Gordon Paquette used to hold court. In Republicans and Progressives also gathered under Nectar’s big tent. Burlington Democratic Representative John Tracy tended bar and managed the restaurant for years:
(Tracy) “So many people, all walks of life, would come through Nectar’s. The young, old. It was absolutely wonderful. It’s just always been a hub for Burlington and political activity. And then you look at bands like Phish that actually started here and made their growth here. It’s just been a piece of history for Burlington.”
(Dillon) Phish honored their birthplace a few years back by naming one of their albums a Picture of Nectar.
The music and the food have defined the place. But those who spoke at the ceremony Monday also mentioned Nectar’s generous spirit. One man recalled that Nectar came up with $50 to save his car from getting towed. Patrick Fitzsimons remembered that Nectar used to feed the hungry:
(Ftizsimons) “There used to be a street person, Georgie Boudet, he wasn’t allowed in here. Nectar saw him sitting across the way. Nectar waved him over to his window and gave him a plate full of food. Never asked for any money.”
(Dillon) When it was his turn to speak, Rorris wiped away a tear as he thanked his customers and his staff. He also warned the new owners of the hard work ahead:
(Rorris) “The truth is this: I do not have a key to give them. So that means they have to be here around the clock.” (Laughter.) “Sorry guys.”
(Dillon) New owners Sally and Damon Brink says they’ll make some physical improvements to the restaurant. But they don’t plan to change the fundamental feel of the place.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.