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‘Joe’s Hideaway’ sign sparks memories

Workers refurbishing The Corner Pub building uncovered a sign advertising one of the restaurant’s former identities, as “Joe’s Hideaway.” It’s had many proprietors, and names, the most enduring being “Perp’s,” after longtime owner John Pierpaoli. —Macklin Reid photo

Joe’s Hideaway, a saloon with a suggestive name, was briefly resurrected when construction work uncovered an old sign, triggering memories and talk of the long history of drinking establishments on the corner of Grove Street and Sunset Lane.

“All the oldtime locals used to go there,” recalled Al Dodson. “It didn’t matter how dingy you looked, you were always accepted. It was really a blue-collar bar.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who grew up on Prospect Street, a block away, remembered its being Pierpaoli’s tavern, Perp’s.

“I had a friend who would lure me out on a lot of Friday nights to play pool there,” said Mike Grace, who volunteers at the Ridgefield Historical Society. “And there was a legendary hustler named Willie Gump who would arrive around midnight, ready to take on the poor suckers who had been there drinking all night. Had a two-piece pool cue he carried in a case.”

A red and black “Joe’s Hideaway” sign was uncovered by workers on Friday, Sept. 21, and looked out at Grove Street from above the door, as in the early ’60s.

The building is being renovated by Bissell House proprietor Roy Reeves and a partner, Pat Lynch, a former Ridgefielder now of Easton.

The next version of what has been a series of taverns and restaurants over the years will be similar to its most recent tenant, The Corner Pub.

“I’m going to do the same thing. I’m not going to re-invent the wheel,” Mr. Reeves said. “We’re going to put a pub back.” He’s shooting for early November.

Among past incarnations, one name — “Perp’s” — seemed to stick, no matter the actual owner and official name. Casual research suggests that, working backward in time, the place was: The Corner Pub, Perp’s, The Village People Cafe, Perp’s, Joe’s Hideaway, The Lyon’s Den, and The Pierpaoli Cafe (often shortened to Perp’s).

Mr. Dodson had signed the Joe’s Hideaway sign in pencil along with a co-worker, years ago. It was dated: “Joe McManus 5/19/84, Al Dodson 5/19/84.”

The sign has been briefly exposed while he was doing work for Barbara McCarthy, who ran The Corner Pub.

“That was young Joe McManus,” Mr. Dodson said, distinguishing the son from his late father, who was often called JoJo McManus.

“That was in ’84. Wow, time flies.”

His strongest recollections were from decades before.

“I remember going in there as kid on Saturdays,” Mr. Dodson said.  “My father would go to the dump on Saturdays and all the oldtimers would meet in there. And John Pierpaoli would be there.

“John Pierpaoli, he lived on North Street. A very heavy set man, very rotund. If I remember, people used to say, ‘John, when’s the last time you could see your feet?’ Sometimes he’d work the bar sitting on a chair, with rollers on it, and he’d just wheel himself back and forth from one end to the other if he didn’t feel like standing up.”

“A very affable person, John Pierpaoli was, very friendly.”

Bunny Lancaster, born a Bedini, remembers the place as John Pierpaoli’s cider mill.

“It was in the late ’30s and ’40s when John had it,” she said. “He had the cider mill there. You bring your apples there and he would grind them into cider.

“They used to roast a pig every Saturday when John the father was there. A lot of the Italians used buy it,” she said.

“And then when he died his son, Joe, took it over and turned it into the tavern, and that became Joe’s Hideaway.

“I checked with Gilda Pambianchi,” Mrs. Lancaster said “and she agreed with me John owned cider mill and the his son Joe went on to own the bar, tavern.”

Mike Grace, like Ms. Lancaster spends a good bit of time attempting to organize records of the past at The Ridgefield Historical Society — just across Sunset Lane from the tavern in question.

“I’m not all that sure about the succession, but The Pub — let’s call it that — was supposedly a speakeasy at one time. Probably during the ‘cider mill’ days,” Mr. Grace said in an email.

“I remember it mostly as Perp’s tavern.”

He also recalls a Pop ’em at Perp’s bumper sticker that was around town.

“Some referred to it as ‘Perp’s bucket of blood,’ and the regulars supposedly had a pool as to when the police would arrive on a given eve.

“Bill and Helen Lyons ran the place (as Perp’s) in the 60’s,” Mr. Grace said. “That I know because I was working at the post office at the same time. The bar had a glass front on it and you could see the ‘frosted’ glasses waiting to be put to use. The frost was dust.  The place really was, for most of its existence, a dive.”

He recalled that “the place became notorious” under one of the earlier owners.

“She had topless dancers,” Mr. Grace said. “They were within the law, however that worked, but the neighbors sure didn’t like it. Or else they weren’t within the law, but the cops couldn’t catch them at it. And, as the story goes, the police — Tom Rotunda would have been chief at the time — had to issue an advisory to the officer compliment that it wasn’t all right for them to [visit] the place, whether they were off duty or not.”

The presence of topless dancers is mentioned in a story in The Ridgefield Press of Sept. 17, 1981, when Barbara McCarthy was seeking a cafe license from the state but had trouble getting then Zoning Enforcement Officer Wayne Skelly to sign off.

Mr. Grace recalled Bill and Helen Lyons running it under the Perp’s name, but it may also have been called    ‘The Lyon’s Den’

In 1978, Kevin and Albert Rowe acquired the place. The Rowe brothers grew up on Knollwood Drive and  operated there under the name The Village People Cafe.

Lately folks interested in local history have been discussing, as Mr. Grace put it “the building’s likely origin as the express office for the railroad.”

A 1978 Press story — built on various people’s recollections — asserts the building was “originally the Ridgefield headquarters for the Standard Oil Company of New York, which — in the days before service stations with fancy electric gas pumps — delivered Socony gas to the homes of those fortunate enough to own cars…

“Some,” the story continues, “remember that there used to be  a cider mill in the back of the building, and there is speculation that the mill may have been involved in the production of hard cider during the Prohibition years.”

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