By hungry emmet
I see that the former Black Pearl in Rockland has gone big time, run by semi-famous chef Michele Ragussis. “This year we are going crazy: Sunday brunch, live music, invite that bar crowd, sell food till midnight,” said Ragussis, a lively, spiky haired chef who appears regularly on the Food Network. Down East Magazine this month touts the new Pearl as adding to the allure of Rockland as a “top foodie destination.”
Now, it is called The Pearl, a desecration of the proud history of this waterfront bistro. Back in the day, it was the center of the universe, one of the only decent restaurants in a 50 mile radius. It was far from gourmet but served decent fish and lobster and a delicious ‘burger called the Cabin Boy, which I always thought was a pirate joke. In one room were the lawyers and doctors, fishermen and clam diggers, motorcycle gang members, tourists and newspaper reporters.
The place was run by Virginia Larsen, who also owned a mammoth lobster business which served the Boston restaurants. She loved playing Maitre’d’hotel and seating the customers, especially those from out of state. I heard her once say that the free appetizers “were not for the locals.” But she was good to us, the newspaper gang which considered the Pearl to be our clubhouse. When an expense check came in, it was usually cashed and spent at the Pearl. It was even better when the expense check was from Natalie and Chicky, the babes from the Courier. They always shared.
Of course the waiters and waitresses became best pals. These included the estimable Jon Bailey, who had been expelled from Vermont, but welcomed warmly to the midcoast community. The restaurant was on piers and rocked back and forth with the tide. Out of staters did not realize this right away. One flatlander asked Bailey, his waiter, if the building was moving. “No. Why do you ask?” he said with his traditional deadpan. Another time BDN circulation man Bob Hillgrove dined at the Pearl with his wife. When they finished, Bailey brought the bill which totaled $212. As Hillgrove choked on his haddock, Bailey gave him the “real” Bill for about $12.
Walter Griffin claims that the local motorcycle gang threw a guy off the Pearl roof one night, but I cannot remember that.
I have never had more fun in a single building. Local reporters Griffin and Michael McGuire were conned into singing at the Pearl. We threw so much money at them at the end of the song that they called themselves “Spare Change.” They may not have been the Everly Brothers, but we loved them and they got better and better as the summer nights wore on. It could have been the beer, but I don’t think so. We sang along at the top of our lungs to “Amy” and the other favorites. At least I did.
The party never stopped. One night it continued during a hurricane and the Coast Guard had to order an evacuation. Killjoys.
(No names please) worked there for decades. She was our favorite. One day at the end of the season around Columbus Day, she told Jefferson Phil and me that she had to leave. We were the only two left in the place. She was going to lock up after lunch, then reopen at 5 p.m. “But you can stay,” said the lovely (no names, please). That meant we had free access to the bar for hours and hours. Talk about great afternoons. It did not end until Virginia Larsen returned at 5 to open up and caught Jefferson Phil in mid-pour. That took some explaining. I think (no names, please) was fired for that transgression but came back after a few days because they could not get along without her. Never could.
All right, there will be fancy $30 gourmet meals served at the “new” Pearl along with $10 glasses of wine. But the patrons will never have as much fun as we did, back in the day.