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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    OPINION: The Mystic-ifying of Noank?

    The Mystic-ifying of Noank?

    I can’t think of a sage more familiar with the cultural treasures of Noank than Steve Jones, author, storyteller, seafarer, collector, boatyard owner, University of Connecticut professor emeritus, book publisher and chronicler of both the historical grandeur and minutiae of what is most certainly Connecticut’s most engaging and charming waterfront village.

    I recall many decades ago, as I first got acquainted with my new home turf in the Noank environs, attending a lecture by Jones on the quirkiness of his waterfront village, which, then and now, had evaded some of the gentrified polish of its fancier, peninsular cousin down east on Fishers Island Sound, Stonington Borough.

    Jones has more gray than even I do now, but he still tells Noank stories like he did so many years ago, when I first heard him at his lecture tell the ruse that Noankers would foist on unwanted tourists.

    I was reminded of it last month, as the newest Noank drama began to unfold, starting with the virtual eviction of the owners of the popular and much photographed and filmed (See “Mystic Pizza”) Ford’s Lobsters shack restaurant, pushed out, apparently, by a Mystic restaurateur with plans for a much bigger and liquor-licensed establishment.

    So in Jones’ telling of his story about Noank resistance to tourists, as I remember it, a big Cadillac with New York license plates finds its way into the village, and the driver pulls over, lowers his electric window, and demands from a villager weeding his garden directions to the Abbots lobster restaurant (a still-surviving predecessor of Ford’s, with the same casual, bring-your-own liquor, riverfront style.)

    Of course, the Noanker in Jones’ story, with Yankee brevity, waving a trowel, offers up some terse, incorrect directions, which led the Cadillac on a circuitous route back out of town.

    I haven’t run into Jones since the de-Fordification of Noank began, but I suspect he, too, might be reminded of his own humorous stories about early resistance to brash outsiders.

    Indeed, the alarm bells seem to be already ringing about the loss of Ford’s, and, given Noank’s maritime traditions, it sounds like a call to battle stations. Awooga. Awooga.

    Dan Meiser, of the successful circuit of newish, acclaimed restaurants in Mystic that include Oyster Club, Engine Room and Port of Call, announced a new lease for the property after the Ford’s owners said theirs was not renewed. He will run it like Ford’s for now, but says he plans to seek zoning permission to add another building, double the number of seats and obtain a liquor license.

    Ford’s’ owners, Kris and Kerrie Nyman, have politely not complained about the rug being pulled out from under them. They even wished the new lease holder good luck on social media, although they admitted that felt strange.

    I tried to find the Nymans at their other restaurant in Noank, Ford’s Black and Blue, but they weren’t there and didn’t respond to a message I left. I wanted to tell them I was sorry for their loss, a beloved institution that they grew organically from a modest Noank shack tradition.

    I sought out Thomas Halsey, who is listed as the representative for Nine Riverview Co. Inc., owners of the property. Turns out Halsey lives in a grand house across the street and up the hill from the old Ford’s.

    His wife, who politely answered the door and took a written message I left for her husband, suggested I seek out and look at the “junk” being written on Facebook about Ford’s closing. I never heard back from Thomas Halsey.

    It’s not what people on Facebook may say about Ford’s forced departure that should worry the landlords. It’s the public hearing that will be required before the Noank Zoning Commission on what will be Meiser’s Big Ask for zoning changes to accommodate his vision of a more elaborate restaurant.

    It is important to note that Ford’s was already turned down for much of what Meiser plans to ask the zoning commission for. The Noank board, which has already shut down short term rentals in the village, seems to listen to what voters in their district want.

    At the end of the day, what should happen at the Ford’s site is what people in Noank want, not what I want or what the region’s restaurant groupies want, never mind that the big new place they happily envision for Noank would be plopped in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

    I’ll bet none of those restaurant boosters would welcome one in their residential neighborhoods.

    I predict that all Meiser will be able to run there is a warmed-over replica of the real and original Ford’s. I’ll bet Noank will say it doesn’t want to become a new version of busy Mystic.

    Too bad the clock can’t be turned back for this one. I suspect a bad outcome.

    Maybe all it would take to go back is for some Noanker to lean into Meiser’s open window some day and give him directions that would take him out right on out of town.

    It could be a Steve Jones tale come to life.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    Editor’s note: This version corrects the spelling of Dan Meiser’s last name.

    d.collins@theday.com

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