John Whelan: 50 Years Is A Long, Long Time

“Once upon a time there was a tavern

Where we used to raise a glass or two

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way”


Gene Raskin wrote “Those Were the Days” and Mary Hopkin sang it.

The song reached number two in 1968 on the Billboard Top 100, trailing only the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” It was a great song, and that “tavern” is still there and going strong on Chatham’s Main Street. The Chatham Squire is known anywhere you travel. So many people have had great times at the Squire, it is not surprising that when you are abroad, and say you come from Chatham, the first question is about the Squire. Fifty successful years is the reason.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the New York Restaurant, run by Charlie and Estelle Poulos from North Miami Beach, was a popular seasonal eating place. The New York Restaurant, or New Yorker, as many people called it, was definitely “old school.” They had no modern refrigeration, just large freezers, cooled by huge blocks of ice. Chatham fisherman, after returning to Aunt Lydia’s Cove, delivered fresh fish on their way home. Charlie Poulos was the chef and he filleted the fish himself. By 1968, Charlie and Estelle were getting older and running the restaurant was getting more and more difficult.

George Payne and Richard Costello had worked together in Boston at Mother’s and at a steak house named the Branding Iron. They had spoken a number of times about the possibility of opening a restaurant and bar sometime in the future. The New York Restaurant offered them a wonderful chance to fulfill their dream. George had worked at the New York Restaurant as a bartender and was familiar with the the restaurant and the clientele.

George and Richard bought the restaurant and opened for the season 50 years ago in 1968. The Squire was much smaller then since only the restaurant side existed with ladies clothing stores in the spaces next door. In the very beginning they leased the space. They bought the real estate in 1969 from Orleans lawyer Harry Barnes.

Fifty years is a long time and Chatham today is a very different town. Many stores on Main Street have turned over three or four times in that 50-year period. In 1968, Chatham virtually shut down on Labor Day afternoon. In 1968, the Squire had a seasonal liquor license. There was a distinct possibility of failure for two guys in their 20s with a new restaurant. They made some good decisions and some bad decisions, but George and Richard hung in there. There were lean years in the beginning, but little by little they were learning and the Squire gained in popularity.

Location was a certain advantage, but more to the point was their attitude. Richard and George wanted their customers to have a good time. And they insisted that their staff felt the same way. The staff was encouraged to try to ensure that the customer was treated well and enjoyed each visit. The staff at the Squire is a story in itself. Today, the staff numbers 135 in the summer and about 80 in the winter months. And as such, the Squire is an important employer in Chatham. And over the years, the staff has gone from just being cooks, dishwashers, waitresses and bartenders who happened to work at a restaurant to being a team. And a spirited team it is. Amy

Tagliaferri, who worked at the Squire for many years, claims credit for coining the term “Squire University.” So many young people learned as much working at the Squire as they did in a year or so of college.

I tried to pin down just how many employees have come and gone in the 50 years. Richard Sullivan, “the other Richard,” is the general manager, and he estimated that it could be as high as 5,000 to possibly 7,000 people. Some have stayed for most of their lives. Kevin Forgeron started at the Squire in 1981. That is 37 fun years. Greg Bennett has worked there since 1984. Andy Mathieson is now 43 and started when he was 19 and is now the bar manager. He’s been part of the Squire team more than half his life. And there are many others who have worked there for 20 years or more.

The Squire has many constituencies. The Main Street merchants, the Chatham fishermen, the year-round people of Chatham and the summer visitors, young and old, make up the regular patrons. But there are also folks who only visit once or twice a year. Some specific Squire event brings them in. It could be the legendary Halloween party. The creativity is terrific and the place is rockin’, so everyone has a good time. It could be the Squire Christmas party for the children of Chatham. It could be First Night and the Carnival Caper. Ever since the beginning of First Night, the Squire has sponsored the costume road race at 3 in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. It’s not much of a race, but, again, the costumes are terrific and everyone has a good time.

Some only come to hear the Total Strangers. Hunk Eldredge and his band packs the bar about once a month all winter. It’s always a chance to see Chatham natives you never see anywhere else. The world famous Frank twins do a little dancing on the crowded dance floor which is always a highlight.

Others show up only on Thursdays for trivia. Teams compete for first prize and everyone has a few laughs. Still others only come to hear Rose Clancy and her friends play Irish music on Sunday nights. So many events and reasons to form a wonderful memory of your time at the Squire.

Chatham has been good for the Squire and the Squire has been good for Chatham. In 1992, the Squire started “Pals for Life.” PFL has a golf tournament which raises money to help local people in need. There is a great deal of need here and PFL has been a major benefactor. And as individuals, Richard Costello and George Payne have also been most charitable through the years.

So that little “tavern” has been so much more in Chatham since 1968. It has been a solid anchor on the east end of Main Street. For many of us, it has always been there. The friendly spot that made you feel comfortable whenever you visited. It is a tribute to the employees and Richard Costello and George Payne that the more it changes, the more the Squire feels the same. Happy 50th to a good neighbor on Chatham’s Main Street.