Golden Years: Road Trip To Rahar’s


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):


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“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.

FullSizeRenderOh, and I remain married to the same beautiful Smith graduate I met 54 years ago in New York. Fortunately we missed each other at Rahar’s. — RICHARD PRESS

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.”

18 Comments on "Golden Years: Road Trip To Rahar’s"

  1. G. Bruce Boyer | June 30, 2015 at 11:18 am |

    Another completely wonderful piece from Mr. Press. His ability to combine sly humor, warmth, sagacity, and the well-turned phrase into his essays is testament to his skills as a writer. A born storyteller.

  2. A wonderful reminiscence, Mr. Press. The last paragraph wraps the ribbon around a sentimental story of warmth and grace!

  3. Richard Meyer | June 30, 2015 at 4:02 pm |

    I was Chi Phi at Wisconsin

  4. That last picture is hard to look at.

    I take umbrage at the insouciance with which you’ve handled ecru. I guess I truly am a part of the 1%. A yellow OCBD is meretricious. I have one and it’s yet to come out of the closet; pretty to look at but it has never quite found its place. I suppose ecru’s paucity is the reason I find it so attractive as well as how prepossessing it is when paired with tweed or browns.

  5. Above was misplaced and meant for a previous article

  6. That’s quite the promiscuous vocabulary. No wonder you chose a moniker named for the sesquipedalian WFB.

  7. Bags' Groove | July 1, 2015 at 3:25 am |

    I think I prefer my sesquipedalians when they’re tatterdemalions, but not those storming the gates of the Yale Club.

  8. Turrentino | July 1, 2015 at 5:06 am |

    A feature of the ‘Golden Years’ was its casual sexism, and regretfully Mr Press has failed to succumb to the progressive direction of the last half century. I’m talking about phrases like ‘Women were a rare commodity’ and ‘they were imported in droves’. Truly the authentic voice of the Ivy dinosaur!

  9. Napolitano | July 1, 2015 at 5:28 am |

    Paradoxical as it may seem, I can only say “Long Live Dinosaurs!”

  10. Anonymous | July 1, 2015 at 8:48 am |

    For Turrentino – I think an intelligent reader would realize that Mr. Press was giving an accurate portrayal of the day, with the clearly intended message of how things have changed. I assume you are one of the people who want all of history to be re-written to fit sensitivities. That is a slippery slope.

    The fact is, in the golden era of Ivy clothing, I am sure that many young ladies sought out Yale and Ivy League men such as Mr. Press. Now, they make up greater than half the class.

  11. “progressive direction of the last half century”, back to Puritanism and treating college students like children.

  12. I enjoyed the article, Mr. Press. I visited Smith and Dartmouth last summer for the first time while working in Hartford. I found the ride very scenic..Also, Last winter we had a guy from the Cornell MBA men’s hockey team left at Dartmouth during the Tuck tourney due to staying out too late with a woman in their class.

  13. Well done Mr. Press.
    Let’s crank up the volume! 1956.

  14. I am a Pinto who lives in Longmeadow, so this post was doubly enjoyable for me.

  15. My years aren’t quite as golden as Richard Press’, but I recall when Rahar’s was resurrected in 1976 as a restaurant and bar. That incarnation didn’t survive until my tenth reunion. Coincidentally, I was a Chi Phi at Amherst. Our chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, while hardly holding a Bic Flick to Dartmouth’s, occupies a warm place in my heart. I still have a pack of rolling papers with “AD” on one side and “Ceaseless Decadence” on the reverse. Of course, a few years after Amherst began admitting women, Amherst’s fraternities were abolished, and the houses were converted into regular college housing. A few renegade frats started up off-campus, but recently the trustees voted to make membership in one of the off-campus organizations an offense deserving of expulsion from the college.

  16. Good job with your virtue signalling, Turrentino. Now we all know you are a modern progressive and not sexist. Thanks for clearing that up.

  17. I was a Psi U at one of the northeastern colleges. While in college, I visited the Psi U chapters at Dartmouth and also the one at Amherst, right before it was converted to regular college housing. That Gamma chapter house at Amherst was one of the most beautiful fraternity houses I ever saw. The house president that year (the fraternity was co-ed by then) took me on a tour of the place, telling me how the college was going to divide one beautiful big room into four singles, etc. Sic transit. The Psi U house at Dartmouth was also an interesting place, but that’s another story.

  18. David Pritchard | January 31, 2017 at 9:08 am |

    Grasshoppers were also effective, as was a good dose of Southern Comfort. D ’62

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