Rahar’s was a home away from home for me and my pals. The watering hole served as Northampton, Massachusetts headquarters for visiting collegians pursuing female companionship at Smith College.
The dilapidated bar and restaurant occupied the ground floor of a post-Civil War Victorian mansion set on a spare hilltop a block off Main Street, just close enough to get your date back to her dorm in time for the midnight curfew. They weren’t very picky about underage drinkers, so Rahar’s was a popular place to hang out. Much of this insider stuff is culled from the “Wah, Hoo? Whisper” newsletter of the Dartmouth Class of 1956 that sparked remembrance of times past.
Chris Miller, Dartmouth ’62, co-scripted “Animal House” catching the zeitgeist of his fraternity Alpha Delta Phi. My beloved Chi Phi was next door to AD and we shared many of their maladroit social customs. Women were a rare commodity, except for special weekends such as Winter Carnival, Houseparties or Green Key, when they were imported in droves to an otherwise celibate campus. Weekends in Hanover were Weekends At Bernies. Road trips were the only escape from the Granite of New Hampshire. Otter, Boon, Flounder and Pinto solved the problem in “Animal House,” famously heading to a roadhouse with Otis Day and the Knights belting out “Shout.” Our guys hit the road to Rahar’s with Roger Williams tinkling “Autumn Leaves” on the jukebox.
The road trip to Smith was a sinuous three-hour trek on truck-choked Route 5. The halfway point was a piss stop at a diner in rechristened Fellow’s Balls, Vermont. It was common practice to load up the car with beer in Hanover. That we never got arrested or had an accident was a miracle.
Arriving at Rahar’s, we’d be greeted by the hardy bartender, an old Irishman by the name of Murph. If you were a regular and short of cash he would comp you till the next time you came in. Another classmate recalled how the place was always loaded with Smithies decked out in pearl necklaces, their boyfriend’s Shaggy Dog sweater draped over Brooks Brothers OCBDs, Peck And Peck gray flannel Bermuda shorts, and navy blue knee socks anchored in penny loafers. Rather what the young lady below is wearing (and that’s me on the left, in this photo taken at Rahar’s in 1958):
“We always had our pick of the pack,” the classmate recalls. “In the spring of my senior year I missed my ride back to Hanover. No problem. Murph put me up in what was originally a maid’s room on the third floor. I stayed there for a week helping the Smith girls with their homework and anything else they wanted. Two years later I got married in Longmeadow not far from Rahar’s. We invited Murph to the wedding and he had a fine old time.”
Another ‘56er described Rahar’s as the go-to place for invading Dartmouth men and wild Smith women. “We all got served and drank Black Russians and bought our dates Brandy Alexanders,” he remembers. “We thought we were very sophisticated. How charming and innocent we were compared to what was just around the corner.”
A renowned 1956 class comic dubbed “Zis” claimed he spent eight hours at Rahar’s telling jokes off the top of his head in competition with some guy from Princeton. “I won hands-down to much applause and acclamation. I never told the same joke twice. Came back the next day at noon and continued til 6PM and then went back to Hanover.”
The Big Green went co-ed in 1972, Alpha Delta Phi is verboten at Dartmouth, and the Hanover-Northampton trip is now a breezy glide on Interstate 91 and bypasses Bellows Falls.
Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi, and served as company president for many years. He currently resides on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and is co-author of “Rebel Without A Suit.”