Friday, June 26, 2009
Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar
Back in the 1960s, my parents used to load all of us up in the family wagon and drive about ten miles east to Schuylerville, New York. Schuylerville sits on the Hudson River and is well-known as the site of the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Our trips to Schuylerville weren’t motivated by becoming well-versed in local and national history (though we took trips to the battlefield, too). We were going for hot dogs and hamburgers.
The Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar is no more. The familiar building on Route 29, just entering the village, closed its doors years ago. The building subsequently went through a number of incarnations and is now home to a Chinese restaurant. In its day, the SFDB was hopping. Schuylerville High School was just across the street. It was very much like a 50s diner, with two hair-pin curved counters that ran the length of the dining room. I still remember feeling lucky when we walked in and there were nine empty stools all in a row. Sometimes other patrons moved down a stool or two to make room for our large family, and my parents were often asked, “Are they all yours?” to which they’d proudly respond affirmatively. The orders were always the same. Hot dogs or hamburgers with French fries and a chocolate shake. The just-blended milk shakes came in those tall, frosty metal canisters and the waitress would pour half into the glass, and there’d always be a little rivulet streaming down the side. She’d leave the rest of the shake in the canister, something that seemed so generous to me at the time! I seriously believe that my love of hot dogs originated then and there. An order of two hot dogs, French fries, and a chocolate shake is an abundant amount of food for any one, but feeding it to a young kid is like over-feeding your dog. The food is there and it tastes so good that they’ll eat it until it’s gone! I remember riding home in the car and my childhood belly feeling absolutely bursting with fullness. There’d be a chorus of seven kids groaning “I ate too much!” Whenever I drive by the old building, it still rings in my ears. Sometimes my father would call ahead and I’d hear him say something like this: “This is Mr. O’Farrell. We’re coming in for dinner. We’re going to be needing ten hotdogs, eight hamburgers, nine orders of French fries, and nine chocolate shakes. See you in twenty minutes.” Yikes!
I always find it interesting when restaurants place coin-operated scales to measure body weight right in a dining room. There was one at the SFDB, right next to the door. I wondered: did people use it before they came in and again when they were leaving, to see how much they got for their money? Thinking back, it seems quite ironic (a word I didn’t know at the time) that the very place that serves full-fat ice cream, milkshakes, hotdogs, and cheeseburgers would even employ a device to indicate just what gluttons we’d become!
Despite the overindulgence, we always had a great time. Those were the days when parents paid close attention to their kids in restaurants, and most were very well behaved. We knew it was a privilege to eat out. It didn’t happen often but when it did, we were so excited and appreciative for the experience, we wouldn’t dare act up! Today it’s not unusual to be seated at a booth in a restaurant and find yourself being whacked on the head by the toddler in the booth behind you, whose parent then looks at you as if to say “Isn’t she cute?” and obliviously continues a conversation with a dinner partner. I miss the days when behaving children and attentive parents were the rule, rather than the exception, in restaurants. My sister Patsy and I were in TGI Fridays last week. The toddler at the neighboring table disintegrated into a serious melt-down, and rather than ignore it or wait for it to pass, the parents (thank you!) asked to have their meals packed to go. I was impressed by their consideration of the other patrons.
Every now and then when we’re trying to decide on a place to eat, and there are so many chains to choose from, I miss the Schuyler Farms Dairy Bar. It was one of a kind.
Photo credit: http://dinertuesdays.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/shake_res.jpg