Rahar’s was the 1950s home away from home for me and my pals. The watering hole served as the 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.
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, House parties or Green Key, when they were imported in droves to an otherwise celibate campus. Weekends in Hanover were like “Weekends at Bernie’s”, road trips 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 records sedately tinkling “Autumn Leaves” on the 1940s jukebox.
The road trip to Smith was a sinuous three-hour trek on truck-choked Route 5. The halfway point was a sloppy men’s room at a truck stop diner in the Vermont town Bellows Falls that we rechristened Fellow’s Balls. 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. The place was always loaded with Smithies decked out in pearl necklaces, their boyfriend’s J. Press Shaggy Dog sweater draped over a men’s 14”-32” OCBD, Peck & Peck gray flannel Bermuda shorts, and navy blue knee socks anchored in penny loafers. Rather what the young lady is wearing in the accompanying archival photo. That’s me on the left reviewing the Rahar’s scene in 1958.
The Big Green went co-ed in 1972, Alpha Delta Phi is ancient history at Dartmouth, and the Hanover-Northampton trip is now a breezy glide on Interstate 91, bypassing the infamous Bellows Falls.
Oh, and I remain married to the same beautiful Smith graduate I met 60 years ago in New York. Fortunately we missed each other at Rahar’s.