Traditions Die Hard And Memories Endure
By William Legault
This past weekend was one that found many on the local food and music scene both celebrating the life, and mourning the passing of In A Pig’s Eye. To most it was just known as “The Pig.” The Pig was a long standing institution on Derby Street. After 40 or so years of business under multiple owners it has closed it’s doors.
The details for the closing are murky at best. The building is owned by one entity, the business had been purchased by a second entity, but the liquor license remained, and remains in the name of a third entity. We will not engage in any of the “he said, she said” rhetoric here.
The Pig was there when I was a teenager and I recall it then as a rough and tumble “shot and a beer” place that catered to a strictly blue collar clientele. One summer day a local fisherman parked his pick-up truck on the sidewalk right by the front door. In the bed of the truck was a Tiger Shark, lying belly up with his head hanging off of the tailgate. That was quite a scene all afternoon and into the evening.
There were issues there in the later 1970’s with drugs and the owner at the time may have been incarcerated as a result of that activity. Those problems did not continue with the owners who took over about thirty years ago.
Once, in days long past there was unofficial feat of endurance that acted as a rite of passage for many locals. It was known as the “Derby Street Shuffle,” and many a young Salemite attempted it with varying degrees of success. This shuffle consisted of stopping for a drink at all of the hospitality establishments that were in business whether on, or just off of Derby Street. At various times there were eight to ten of them, with most being in business in the same time frame.
The long standing gin joints were The Russian Aide Society, Tammany Hall, The St. Joseph Polish Society, The Derby Cafe which is now the Witch’s Brew Cafe, In A Pig’s Eye, The Polish Legion of American Veterans (PLAV), The No Name Pub (later called the Grand Turk Tavern), The Veterans of Foreign Wars (Witch City Post 1524), and the Falcon’s Club. Also on the list at one time or another was the old Kosciuzko Club. Along the route you could find Bunghole Liquors for a pick-me-up to help in the long walk between Herbert Street and Palfrey Court. At one time there was a also a pizza place on the corner of Blaney Street for those that craved solid nourishment. That place also made a great spinach pie.
I know of quite a few who were able to navigate this route successfully, but have never verified that anybody ever was able to do a full return loop.
Now the only private business on the shuffle that has survived is the Witch’s Brew. The PLAV and the VFW survive as the last two of the six social clubs still in operation.
Reminiscing is always nice, and now the Pig itself has moved into the realm of what once was. Many will remember it fondly, and miss it even as they move on to other venues for music, food, cold beer, and camaraderie. The Pig provided all of that and more for many over the years.
Today also brought official news of the closing of A Mano Italian Kitchen on Pickering Wharf. A Mano was a new concept by Tony Bettencourt who started 62 On Wharf some years back. That location has been a food venue ever since the beginnings of Pickering Wharf. Initially it was a food court with a variety of options and later was converted to a single full sit down restaurant called Bella Luna Cafe. Bella Luna had a good run as did Tony with his original concept.
No one could have predicted this boom of food businesses back in the days of the Derby Street Shuffle, but it happened and we are better for it.
This column is dedicated to The Pig and also to my all-time favorite Salem eatery, one that it could be argued started the Salem restaurant boom twenty years ago, The Love Noodle on Congress Street, which begat Red Raven’s Havana. They were the first to make a real splash with new concepts that brought people in to eat from all over New England. We should remember them also.