Southport Jr. Yacht Club sailors were scurrying from their clubhouse and joining their parents for a ride home on bright, sunny Friday afternoon. The scene appeared just as it had when Gus and Em Pratt owned E.W. Pratt General Merchandise or, as most called it, “Gus’s” or “The Alley.”
Of course things have changed a little at Cozy Harbor on Southport this summer, with Gus’s morphing into Oliver’s Cozy Harbor Wharf. There is definitely a new look and a new feel to the place.
I worked for Gus Pratt as a waitress at the Alley in 1987.There was no set uniform and my shift started at 3 p.m. Afternoon sailing students and instructors would come in for cold drinks from the old fashioned Bubbler Premix dispenser or for penny candy.
Though the noon hour was very busy, by the time my shift started things would have slowed down. Occasionally a child or an adult would come in for an ice cream cone or a milkshake. Most came for Em’s homemade pies.
On one of my first days on the job, a girl asked for an ice cream cone. After what seemed like an hour tutorial on how to scoop ice cream from Em, I decided to forge my way into serving my first customer. I carefully set a scoop of vanilla onto a cone while Em looked on. Gus came over and said that it didn’t look right and he started from the beginning and then finished the transaction.
After my botched ice cream fracas, when Em wasn’t around, Gus wouldn’t let me serve ice cream cones anymore. One afternoon when Em was there, a youngster came in for ice cream; I busied myself doing something else.
“Diane, make that child an ice cream cone!” Em said.
I told her Gus didn’t want me to.
Em looked at Gus. “For Heaven’s sake, Earl (his real name), she can scoop ice cream as well as anybody else,” she said.
“I don’t think so, Em, she’s left handed,” he said.
“Don’t be so foolish,” Em said. She herded me over to the ice cream freezer and gave me one final lesson on scooping ice cream; after that I was allowed to scoop.
Gus and Em were great fun. No one will ever forget them and no one could ever replace them.
A new era has come and how fortunate we are to have been able to keep Gus and Em’s building which has now been renovated into Oliver’s Cozy Harbor Wharf.
Oliver’s opened on May 25 and has been going strong since. I decided to check out Oliver’s on Friday. Things were just starting to get busy when I arrived.
There were vases of fresh Rubrum Lilies on one counter and pink roses on another. The brightly colored jukebox box was playing “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, and in front of the large doors facing Cozy Harbor was the second morning sailing class coming in under full sail as the older sailors were heading out for adventure in their 420 sailboats.
The beautiful scene was punctuated by teak planters filled with colorful annual flowers.
It's not Gus’s; it's bigger and brighter, with a more expansive view of the harbor. A refreshing breeze kept restaurant goers comfortable while waiting for their fare.
After I ordered, I sat down at the bar. I watched as waiter Nick Reed tapped his foot to “At the hop” as he waited for orders to come up and then off he’d go. Manager and Chef Catherine Day handled everything quickly and efficiently as more and more people came to order.
“I think it’s great,” Customer Rona Metcalf said. “I like the food, I like the atmosphere – I’m all for it.”
Another customer, Jim Singer, particularly liked the converted bowling lane tables. “I really enjoyed it, this is the second time that I have been here. It is really coming to life. They make good hamburgers. It's a good place to show guests the view, it's upscale but not ostentatious.”
There were cheeseburgers on the grill, hot dogs smothered in caramelized onions, grilled Portobello mushroom burgers and crab cakes.
When my order arrived, it was a feast for the eyes as well as taste buds: Mesclun salad greens with large blueberries and pieces of Gorgonzola with a house vinaigrette salad dressing topped with a peppery flavored orange nasturtium flower. Surrounding the salad were five half dollar-sized, lightly breaded, fried scallops. The combination was a visual pleasure and delicious. Bonus: it was a healthy choice, which made me feel great.
Before I finished my lunch, Proprietor Paul Coulombe and fiancée Giselaine Maltby came into the establishment. Greeting folks as he entered, he ordered from the counter and proceeded to the patio to visit with friends. After I finished my terrific lunch I spoke with him and Maltby. I asked Coulombe if the restaurant was everything that he had envisioned that it would be.
“It is everything and more. Steve Malcom renovated the building, which is just the right combination of older architecture and new with the accordion glass doors and screens, which allow the restaurant to be open in great weather and screened in, or closed during inclement weather.”
Coulombe said, “Oliver’s is modeled after my favorite fun spot called Sip Sips in the Bahamas; the idea is to have fun. Sip Sips' color theme is blue and iridescent lime green.
I love the color combination; here we added the red to those colors. The inside counter and table tops are made from (Gus’s old) bowling alley. The outside tables, benches and flower containers are made of teak and are from the same company that Sip Sips' patio furniture comes from.”
As we talked Chef Day brought Coulombe a haddock taco plate that looked fabulous.
“Catherine is a godsend, she makes everything fresh including the chowders and sauces,” he said.
Oliver's is open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Tuesdays.
One last note: I saw children getting Round Top ice cream from the counter, and Gus’s vintage drip coffee maker has been replaced by a Keurig.