Beacon's last old blue collar bar fades away
by Jack Sine
photos by John Fasulo
In the fifties and sixties when Beacon’s dye plants, hat factories, and rubber fabricators were booming, beer ran down Main Street from Fishkill Creek to the Newburgh/Beacon ferry slip like a frothy tributary of the mighty Hudson River.
Back in that day there were 37 bars in Beacon, 28 of them on or near the East Main Street/Main Street corridor that connected the base of the mountain (and most of the factories) to the ferry slip on the Hudson where two ferries, the Dutchess and the Orange, carried thousands of workers back and forth to their jobs. In those days, before government scolds decided they could tell us what we should and should not consume, there was no such thing as social drinking. If you drank, you drank – and almost everyone drank. After a hard day’s work in the factories, a cold one sure went down easy, but not as easy as the second and the third, and so on. Up and down Main Street the beer flowed like the waters of the Hudson accompanied by the clatter of bowling machines and the clicks of shuffleboard pucks.
But that was then and this is now. In the early 70s the factories began
closing down and today only the Dorel hat factory survives down by the
train station. In the bad days that followed, the bars closed, too.
Then came the shopping malls, and the storefront shops closed up. By
the end of the 70s, Main Street looked like a war torn village with
shop windows boarded up and once vital buildings collapsing in on
But through it all, one of the old Main Street bars trudged on. As bars and businesses closed down and jobs moved from Fishkill Creek to IBM, Mi-Ro’s somehow survived. It became a Beacon fixture, an oasis not only for the blue collar drinking crowd, but for their families as well.
And now early in January Mi-Ro’s closed its doors for the last time and an era came to an end.
The old timers look back fondly on the old place. Gordon Ticehurst remembers working in a factory across the tracks as a teenager in the thirties.
“I’d look out the window and the trains would uncouple right in front and the engineer and the fireman would walk across the street to eat and have a couple of beers while the engine cooled,” he said. “It was Zahner’s then and was a seafood house and bar.”
Zahner sold it to Mike Orsini in the fifties and Mike took his brother-in-law, Roy Owens on as a partner, hence the name Mi-Ro’s. The not-so-old timers also have good memories of that time.
“I remember every Friday night my mother used to take me and my brother and my sister there for fish and fries,” said Richie Flynn, recently retired from the Southern Dutchess Country Club. “And the pizza! Mike Orsini made the best pizza in the world. But that was as a kid. When I got older I worked third shift at Chemical Rubber on the creek and every Friday morning me and five or six other guys would get off work at six in the morning and go to Mi-Ro’s and cash our checks and hang around and shoot pool till one or two in the afternoon and then go home and go to bed. It was a place for everyone and every shift.”
Joe Neville of Neville’s carpentry has boyhood memories, too.
“In the late fifties when I was six or seven, my mom would take us
to Mi-Ro’s for pizza,” he said. “The room where the bar is now was two
rooms with the bar on one side and booths for families on the other. My
brother and I would look through the archway to the bar room and try to
talk my mom into letting us play the pinball machine, but she wouldn’t
let us. Neither would Mr. Orsini – no kids in the bar, ever. Then when
I was in high school, Mi-Ro’s was the place to go after ball games or
dances. We’d all go into the big back room and order Cokes and pizzas.
Mi-Ro’s was where you went when I was in high school in the sixties. It
was the place to go.”
Along came Vern
And then it was the seventies, the worst of times in Beacon with the factories almost gone and nothing on the horizon. Mike Orsini was ready to sell and Vern Way was ready to buy.
“I had just retired from the Beacon police department as a detective,” said Vern. “I had always wanted to own a bar/restaurant and I had told Mike that if he ever wanted to sell to let me know. He did and I bought it. That was 1975 and I’ve run Mi-Ro’s ever since.”
When Vern took over he quickly made a major change, not to the building or the clientele, but to the focus. Mi-Ro’s became home to the sporting community of Beacon.
“Mike had always sponsored a men’s softball team,” Vern said. “I just expanded it. I added women’s softball, bowling, and soccer.”
He also sponsored football bus trips down to Philadelphia for Giants/Eagles games.
Sports was always a focus of Mi-Ro’s under Vern’s regime. Beacon natives Digger Phelps of basketball fame and ex light heavyweight Melio Bettina were frequent customers. And Vern was the driving force that brought Pop Warner football to the kids of Beacon. Once it was established, Vern worked with the publicity departments of the Giants and the Jets to bring pro football stars to Beacon to help promote the new kids teams. Names like Jim Katcavich, Rosie Brown, Joe Morrison, and Roland Lakes all came to Beacon and, inevitably, ended up at Mi-Ro’s hobnobbing with the regulars. And Eddie Feigner of the King and His Court fast pitch softball fame also hoisted more than a couple of glasses with Vern and company.
Then in 1995 Vern held a reunion. As a young man he had played semi-pro football for the Beacon Bears. The team had scattered around the country, but when Vern put out the invitations, only four couldn’t make it. He arranged a gala reception at the Elks and afterward the old teammates toasted their glory days at MiRo’s.
Over the 30 years Vern Way has owned and operated Mi-Ro’s he has established himself as a force in Beacon. In addition to his work with Pop Warner, he served two four-year terms on the Beacon City Council and, after leaving the council, still made his gravely voice heard whenever something in city government displeased him. But it was the Vern behind the scenes that will be most remembered by those who knew him.
Those who first meet Vern usually feel intimidated by his gruff exterior, his short fuse, and his impressive command of four-letter words. Witnessing Vern snarl and snap at employees and customers alike was always an important feature of the Mi-Ro’s experience. But those who know him well know that that Vern is a creation of the real Vern. Inside that gruff exterior beats the proverbial heart of gold. The stories of his help to those down on their luck are legion. Whether financially or otherwise, Vern touched many lives in his years at Mi-Ro’s and those kindnesses will be deeply missed.
But Beacon has changed irrevocably. Like it or not, what was once factories and blue-collar bars is now antique shops and art galleries. And even the diehard old Beaconites who yearn for a return to the days of the 37 bars have to admit that antiques and art are preferable to boarded up windows.
That river of suds no longer runs down Main Street from the mountain to the river. It has been replaced by a trickle of Merlot and Pinot Grigio. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But Mi-Ro’s has closed and where once there was a link to those grand old days, only memories remain.