By Jim Shulman
In the ’60s, a rite of passage was having one’s first “legal” alcoholic beverage, and in Massachusetts that was at age 21.
However, a short car ride over Lebanon Mountain gave Berkshire County residents a three-year head start because New York’s legal age was 18.
The biggest concern in those days was the fear that an intoxicated, inexperienced drinker could not make the drive home over the mountain, and sadly, a few did not.
We had a few establishments to choose from over the mountain the Ruby Inn, the Show Boat, the Old Homestead and of course, the place most of the younger crowd frequented, the Ski Lodge.
By the time earliest baby boomers could drink legally, the Ruby Inn was closing down and the Show Boat was just transitioning to become a rock ‘n’ roll venue. Hence the Ski Lodge became a preferred destination by many.
Some patrons liked to drink, some to play pool, some to dance and some to dine on steamed clams and other tasty dishes.
My favorite memories were taking my younger sister’s friends to the Ski Lodge for their first legal drink on their 18th birthdays. I can’t recall how many times, a young adult took their first sip of beer, made a face and opted to dance or call it an early evening. Many times I chuckled at this big event and the reactions of those who never drank before.
The Ski Lodge building reportedly was built in 1830, and at one time was the home of the Kendall family, which manufactured the first thermometers in the U.S. After more than a century as a private residence, the home was purchased in 1947 by Arthur Iozzi, who opened it as the Ski Lodge to serve as an eatery.
It took him a year and three tries before he was approved to get a liquor license in April 1948. The New York State Liquor Authority had to be convinced that this home-like place was really a restaurant.
The New Lebanon churchgoers opposed it for fear the community was becoming a “den of iniquity.” They were already upset by a couple of the other establishments. The Ruby Inn had a seedy reputation and the Show Boat was known for risque dancers and the off-color humor of Doc Circe.
Iozzi’s plans were to build a ski area with rope tow behind the lodge. However, I don’t recall that as ever happening or at least as reason to come to the establishment. No one ever talked about going there for anything but food, drink, music and dancing.
In the mid-1950s, Iozzi also operated the adjacent 15-room Ski Lodge Motel. The restaurant/bar kept up with the times under the management of Vic and Anna Zeiter, who took over in the late 1950s. In 1965, they offered discotheque music and local rock bands like the Corvairs and of all things, the NY Go Go Girls.
The Ski Lodge went through numerous changes after Vic’s death in 1970. It became King Henry’s Steak Pub owned by Henry Rauch. But by the end of 1975 it reverted back to the Ski Lodge and again operated by Anna Zeiter. In 1976, the place had gotten into some trouble with authorities for operating a mobile home park without proper licenses.
By 1986, Anna, then 73, turned over the reins of the Ski Lodge to her son. I don’t recall when the Ski Lodge closed for good, but for years as I drove Route 20 and passed by it on visits to Pittsfield, it seemed to be a private residence. My last visit to the Ski Lodge was actually in 1968. And my sister’s girlfriend, whom I took then, absolutely forgot the experience — but she still won’t drink beer!
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of “Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield.” If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you’d like to share or read about, please write Jim at [email protected]
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