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The Long Island Newbridge Inn
The Newbridge Inn was located near the corner of Jerusalum Avenue and Newbridge Road in North Bellmore, New York. Though it was a fixture in the community for more than 100 years, I've been unable to find any record of it online. A nondescript office building now occupies the space where this interesting piece of Long Island history once stood. I wish I had the foresight to take pictures of the old place that played such a prominent role in my youth.
A Neighborhood Fixture
The two-story wooden building, constructed some time in the 1800's, stood just off the corner, between the Junior High school and a gas station. There were entrances to the pot-holed, dirt parking lot from both roads. Standing near the rear entrance was a World War II era airplane.
Walking in from the front, you entered the tavern. A jukebox and cigarette machine were on the left and a long mahogany bar was on the right. A wooden airplane propeller was mounted on the wall over the cash register. Straight ahead and to the right was the rear exit. Just ahead and to the left was the dining room. The place was dark and smelled like history and beer. The dining room floor was uneven and flexed as you walked.
According to local legend, the place had been an inn since the 1800's, serving food and drink to weary travelers.
A Youthful Discovery
My first encounter with the Newbridge Inn was when I was five years old. My friend Tommy Brody and I used to go wandering every day in the summer. Back then children had a lot more freedom than they do now. We were about a mile from home one day when we spotted an airplane in someone's backyard. We were pretty adventurous and decided to check it out. As we walked around the aircraft, a man came out of the house. We expected to be told to leave, but instead he said that we could go inside the plane if we wanted.
We climbed into it from a hatch behind the left wing. Tommy took the captain's seat and I sat in the second seat,. The glass canopy was over our heads. We practiced jumping out of the hatch as if we were paratroopers. We took turns "flying" the plane and gunning down Messerschmitts.
At home, our parents were a bit skeptical about our story, so we showed them where it was. I don't have memories of other childhood visits to the plane, but I'm sure we must have gone back many times.
Long Island Pizza - The Early Years
In the late '50s and early '60s, you usually had to go to a restaurant or bar to get pizza. Pizza parlors weren't in every strip mall as they are now. A place would either sell round (Neopolitan) pizza, or square (Sicilian) pizza. Your only choices were "regular" or "large".
Lombardi's on Merrick Avenue in North Merrick, was an Italian restaurant with white linen tablecloths, and a popular place for families to go after school concerts and events. A regular pie was $1.00 and a large pie was $1.15. My friends and I would occasionally go there for lunch if we could come up with the money. We would splurge and get a large pie with extra cheese for $1.25. We were big spenders.
There was Spertino's on Jerusalem Avenue across from Carvel, which was sort of an old man's bar. It had a separate entrance on the right to a very small area where you could pick up pizza to go. The pizza was unique. It was square like Sicilian-style, but the crust was thinner. It had only a hint of sauce, a lot of oregano, and was kind of oily. I remember it being very good. You would see old man Spertino making the the pizza in the hot kitchen, sweating profusely. We used to joke that it was the sweat that made the pizza so good.
And then there was the Newbridge Inn. They had the round kind, and though it wasn't as good as Lombardi's, it was open late. If you wanted a pizza after eight o'clock on a weekday, this was your only choice. I remember going to pick up a pie we had ordered. I was probably eleven or twelve and my mother waited in the car while I entered the bar to get the pie. It was a completely alien environment to me. The dark room was lit only by the glow of neon signs. Men on bar stools hovered over their drinks and cigar smoke wafted through the air. I remember feeling that I couldn't wait to get out of there.
Years later when I was in high school, we discovered that the Newbridge Inn considered alcohol regulations to be more like suggestions rather than laws. A bunch of us, mostly under-age, would sit in the dining room and order pizza and pitchers of beer. The airplane had long since been stripped clean by vandals, but the frame was still proudly guarding the rear entrance.
The Newbridge Inn became our go-to spot for spur of the moment or late night food and beer. It was where we frequently ended up, though it was not usually in our plans. After the movies, after sneaking into Roosevelt Raceway (a story for another time), after school events, or just hanging out, it was where we always seemed to wind up.
One night during my senior year of high school (and still under-age), two classmates and I were at the bar late at night. I think we told our parents we were doing a school project and decided to stay over Greg's house because it was late. Greg's parents were out of town.
Mike, Greg, and I were the last patrons in the bar. We asked the bartender/owner, Austin, about the plane that was sitting in the rear parking lot. He told us that he had been a pilot in World War II and purchased the plane from the Navy after the war. He flew it home and landed it in his backyard. There were aerial photos hanging behind the bar that showed the Newbridge Inn surrounded by nothing but open farmland. As the plane stood still, the suburbs grew up around it.
In addition to being the bartender/owner, Austin was also his best customer. He began telling us about some flying adventures and I think the stories got mixed up in his head. Though each story started out differently, they all ended with the pilot flying into a "thunderhead" and breaking his leg. After the fourth or fifth such story, Austin's brother, who lived upstairs, went behind the bar and punched Austin in the face. We were shocked to say the least. Austin told us not to worry because his brother loved him and it was just a love tap. We decided to call it a night.
Never Say Never
Another interesting event came several years later when my friend and his wife were visiting from Pennsylvania. Wayne grew up in the New York area, but his wife Judy came from very small town in Pennsylvania. Wayne, Ricky and I decided to go to the Newbridge Inn to have a beer. Judy had never been to a bar and was reluctant to do so because her father, who was a former police officer in their rural town, had warned her that bars always had fights. We assured her that in the many years that we'd been going there, there had never been a single fight (I didn't think the brother/brother clash counted).
The four of us sat at the bar. There were only a few other patrons in the place. Within a minute or two, we heard voices raised between the bartender and a customer. I didn't hear what they were saying, but it was loud enough that we turned to look. The customer reached across the bar and grabbed the bartender by his necktie. The bartender picked up a lit outdoor candle, the type in the red glass containers with white plastic mesh, and smashed it on the customer's head. After a delay of about a three seconds, the customer said "Ouch". Really, he said "Ouch", clearly and distinctly. As they were scuffling, they made there way down the bar and disappeared where the wall bent around to an area that had a large glass refrigerated display case. One of the other patrons picked up a heavy metal bar stool, raised it above his head and headed into the fracas. He disappeared behind the wall and I expected to hear the crash of shattering glass, but the guy reappeared, backing up into the bar area. That's when I saw five or six Nassau County cops enter the room from the rear entrance, guns drawn. Needless to say, Judy was a bit freaked out, and probably never went to a bar again.
I may have returned to the Newbridge Inn a few more times after that, but I don't remember anything specific. At some point it closed for business and was demolished to make way for an office building, taking with it a little bit of Long Island history.