Here's a toast to one of New London's best, the great Hughie Devlin
New London – OK. Hughie Devlin story:
“Business hadn’t been so hot at the restaurant,” Hughie’s forever friend, Tony D’Angelo, was saying the other day, alluding to the city landmark that was Hughie’s on Howard St. “So Hughie and Mickey (Vendetto) rent a limo and park it in front of the restaurant. Then they spread the rumor around town that Frank Sinatra is there. Half hour later, you should have seen the place. Packed. That was Hughie.”
That was Hughie.
And really, how else to honor him at the time of his passing than with a few laughs? That was Hughie.
Hughie Devlin, the cleanup hitter among New London legends, died earlier this week at 87. And while these words are typed with sadness, they’re being typed with one hand. The other raises a glass in his memory. All the happy memories. Because that’s what you associated with Hughie. Laughs. Happiness. The guy who gave New London its spirit.
Prominent New London attorney Tony Basilica: “My daughter Emily loved going to Hughie’s. Every Friday night. She even named our German Shepherd after him. Anyway, when the place was closing (Hughie’s closed in 2000) Emily wrote Hughie a note asking for one of the bar stools. She was sad she would never be old enough to sit on one in the restaurant.
“So next time Hughie sees me, he starts crying. (Hughie cried a lot). He says, ‘You tell Emily she can have whatever she wants!’ So she gets the bar stool and puts it in her room. The problem is our whole upstairs smelled like garlic.”
Hughie’s was famous for its garlic-ridden “Love Salad,” which, when paired with garlic bread on the side, could keep you sleeping on the couch for weeks.
Tony D’s bartender Steve Montanari: “Hughie’s drink was always Dewar’s 12 and water. One day he comes in and says, “Stevie, my stomach’s not feeling so hot. Dewar’s 12 with a splash of milk. He actually drank it.”
Hughie’s son-in-law, Barry Neistat: “Hughie and Mickey (Vendetto, a close friend) used to go to the bank every Friday to make their deposits. One day, Hughie asks Mickey for his bag just to make sure everything is counted right. So Hughie gives Mickey the bag back. Mickey gives it to the teller. The teller looks at Mickey and says, ‘Mr. Vendetto, did someone else have this bag? Because there’s a stickup note in it.’ Hughie wrote the stickup note and put it in Mickey’s bag. True story.”
My story: Hughie was one of the first people who welcomed me here now 26 years ago. Come in any time, kid. Whatever you need, kid. And, hey, he actually got me to eat salad. (Garlic is good for you, right?)
So the week the place was closing in 2000, I’m walking in as he’s walking out.
“Herb!” I yelled to him. (Tony D’Angelo always called him “Herb” so I did as well).
“Mikey! Come with me to Ocean State (Job Lot). They’re robbin’ me blind kid!”
I asked what he meant. Seems patrons wanted any mementos they could get. They took forks, knives, bowls, salt shakers, menus, whatever. He had to get through the week with enough utensils. So we took a ride to the Ocean State Job Lot in Gales Ferry. And I became, unwittingly, Dr. Phil, listening to this dear, sweet, wonderful man cry about all the memories and how he wasn’t sure he really wanted to close. We laughed, cried, and bought salt shakers. The perfect day.
I know we’re all supposed to be sad over Herb’s death. And we are. But Hughie forever sustains Dr. Seuss, who once said famously, “Don’t cry that it’s over. Smile because it happened.” That’s how we remember him. With a smile. His personality made us laugh. His restaurant provided comfort and comic relief. He once put a stickup note among his best friend’s cash. He always bought you the first drink. He made garlic into art. He made you feel better about yourself, your life and stuff in general.
Hughie was a gift to us all.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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