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Gunthers and Historical Society Celebrate 50 Years

Looking back on five decades at a joint "birthday party" Sunday.

and the will celebrate their joint 50th anniversary at Gunther's on Sunday with live music from the Steve Edwards Band, delicious food including barbequed ribs, hot dogs and hamburgers, and a cash bar.

The celebration is part of a series of events celebrating the Society's anniversary.

"Gunther's was opened the same year that the Northport Historical Society was founded, and this being their 50th birthday and our 50th birthday we thought it'd be a fun thing to have a joint birthday celebration," said Northport Historical Society Director Heather Johnson. "They're both institutions of different kinds in the village."

Gunther's is most well known as the local watering hole of choice for famous resident Jack Kerouac, "King of the Beatnicks," who frequented the bar in the mid sixties.

According to owner and founder Pete Gunther, Jack was a two-fisted kind of drinker, who would often sneak into the bathroom with his own libations and throw Pete for a loop. "I couldn't figure out how he was getting so drunk," laughed Pete, who described Kerouac as a uniting figure who could still get a bit "whacky."

"The rough and tumble clam diggers and fishermen liked him," said Pete, "yet he also had a following of people like the architect Larry Smith and a couple doctors."

At one point, Kerouac gave Pete a signed manuscript of "Visions of Gerard" as a tip. "In those days Jack was just a regular ordinary guy. Myself I couldn't get past the first chapter of any of his books to begin with," said Pete, and ended up giving it away.

Pete opened the bar in a twist of fate at the age of 28. After years making a living as a truck driver and spending months at a time away from his wife and three kids, Pete had saved up enough money to buy a deli he had been eyeing for some time. The deli had been sold, but the place on Main Street where his mother worked since 1946 was up for sale.

"Commercial Restaurant" became Gunther's Tap Room in 1962. Pete continued to serve lunch for a while then decided it wasn't working out and converted it to a full bar facing plenty of competition from Park View, Skipper's, Murphy's, Hart's, The Galley, and Peter's Inn. He had absolutely no experience in the bar business.

"The first day somebody came in and asked me for a Cuba Libre," Pete laughed, "and I said to him, 'I don't have that brand.'" The man didn't give him much gruff for that one, thankfully.

Over the years, Gunther's has changed at a slower pace than the surrounding village, keeping a bit of the old spirit from the days when Northport was largely a working class fishing and clamming community.

"Northport was a different town in those days," Pete explained. "You had about 100 clam diggers out there, 20 fishermen, and 80 people working down at Steers Gravel, you had the powerhouse that had 40 or 50 lighting company men, the telephone company guys were all in the back, they kept their trucks there. Plus, years ago, it didn't make much difference if a guy stopped and had a couple of drinks at lunch time. If you had a crew of ten lighting company guys come in, you knew you were going to have a pretty busy lunch. No more."

Those past 50 years whizzed by in a blur, said Pete, and Gunther's has managed to sustain itself on a solid stable of regulars and good business sense. As for the next 50? Peter said he hopes they're as good as the last.

"I've done better than I ever thought I'd do," he said.

Giacomo Ripatatore August 17, 2012 at 07:01 PM
I remember Mrs Gunther tending bar in the day shift and Joe Murray at night. In those years you never paid for your 4th round or the last drink from a bottle.
lori August 18, 2012 at 09:12 PM
There were two Mrs. Gunthers. The Mrs. Gunther GR(above) is referring to was my grandmother. She tended bar regularly and loved to cook for all the patrons. Her name was Gretchen Merken-Gunther and she trained to be a cook over in Germany before she came to the US. I especially remember her clam chowder. Yum!
Jason Molinet August 18, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Thanks for the insight.

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