Morris’s Grill History

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A Short History of Morris’s Grill January 31, 2009 by Kihm Winship

In 1906, Hennessey’s Cafe was a going concern in the “Eckett block” – the buildings between the bridge and Jordan Street on the north side of Genesee Street in Skaneateles, New York. Michael F. Hennessey (1867-1921) was the proprietor. (His bar was in the space now occupied by Kabuki, with two dining rooms in the spaces now occupied by Morris’s Grill.) Hennessey also had an interest in the White House United Bakeries and owned the former George H. Gregory farm just to the west of the Village.

In one of those sibling contrasts that make families interesting, Michael’s brother, William Hennessey, was the president of the St. Mary’s Temperance Society, of Skaneateles, which since its founding in 1869 had “continuously exerted a practical and useful influence along temperance lines.” The Temperance movement eventually triumphed; Hennessey’s Cafe became a restaurant with the coming of Prohibition (January 16, 1920). Mike Hennessey died in his apartment upstairs in 1921.

In 1932, John F. and Idella McLaren bought what would become McLaren’s, in the Eckett block, from Florence Powell. John and Idella were from Marcellus, where John had been a high school athlete in baseball and football. He encouraged the Marcellus-Skaneateles rivalry whenever he could, and sponsored a bowling team that was a fixture in the Skaneateles Bowling League.

Repeal — the end of Prohibition’s 13-year drought — came on December 5, 1933. In October of 1937, John P. McLaren and Idella E. McLaren were granted a liquor license to sell at 4-8 Genesee Street.

The McLaren’s advertised their establishment as “McLaren’s. Near the Bridge.” Dinner specials in the 1930’s included a Sunday special: half a broiler or a steak for 65 cents, and lobster tail with fries for 50 cents. In 1940, a steak and broiler dinner could be had for 75 cents. World War II brought rationing, and the Skaneateles Press reported a mishap in McLaren’s kitchen: In April of 1943, Mrs. O’Neill was preparing pork and beans on the stove when a grease fire consumed the entire batch. She said, “You heard that popping noise that sounded like the Fall of Bataan? That was them – the nicest pan of pork and beans I ever set to stew, all gone up in smoke and flame. And rationing and all – what a life.”

McLaren’s was a popular meeting place for all kinds of people, even pinochle players. In February of 1945, a wartime curfew was imposed on all places of public amusement, to which John McLaren responded, “Yes sir, every last pinochler will be out of this place by 12 o’clock midnight.”

John McLaren died suddenly on June 28, 1948. His son, William, joined Idella in running the McLaren’s Grill for another five years.

In March of 1954, William and Idella sold McLaren’s Grill to Morris Schwartz, who had formerly operated the Preble Hotel, in Preble, N.Y. Liquor license No. 26RL2308 was granted to Schwartz for Morris’s Grill at 4-8 West Genesee St., Skaneateles, on October 1, 1957.

In the mid-1960s, Morris suffered a stroke while tending bar and his son Philip took over running the operation. (Morris died in 1967, at home on Long Island.) For a short time, Phil’s wife Ginny worked in the kitchen. Three of Phil’s children — David, Vicki, and Steven – and his nephew Kevin Donohue worked as bartenders at Morris’s when they were college age. The bar, in fact, helped Philip put all of his children through college.

Steven Schwartz writes, “I remember that the bar was a very difficult business for my father, made no easier by the endless efforts of the Village’s patriarchs and matriarchs to cleanse the Village of the sin that Morris’s promulgated. They were tireless in their efforts to get my father to remove the neon Morris’s sign, the last neon sign in the Village. It was only after my father retired that the sign came down.”

“Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, Skaneateles was a much different kind of place. Yes, there were the wealthy lake people, but there was also a sizable blue collar and farming community. My father would tell me of brawls where someone would end up going through one of the windows out front. I remember seeing a farmer with a baby racoon sitting at the bar. In the 70s, there was still an interesting mixture of townies and lake people up from the city. The chemistry was fascinating.”

Philip operated Morris’s until about 1983, when he sold it to Darryl “Burt” Lipe and Tom Watson. Around 1990, Lipe bought Watson’s share of the business and became the sole owner.

Burt was the proprietor of World Famous Morris’s Grill for over 25 years. He was a much loved character and a generous man, a fund-raiser for SAVES, the local police department, the Sons of the American Legion, the high school, in fact, any organization that asked for his help. The son of Tippy and Pinky Lipe, Burt grew up in Skaneateles, loved boating and water-skiing, and helped to put in the community docks every spring. He was the originator of the Short Fat Man’s Race which grew and moved from Skaneateles to Syracuse; the proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Ralph Reid of Auburn, New York, recently wrote, “I don’t suppose Burt ever really understood the impact of what he did for all of us who knew him. Burt somehow created a refuge of celebration in a stressed-out, wrapped-way-too-tight world. How could this little honky-tonk bar in the sticks of central New York become World Famous? Indeed, I was traveling in Boston, and when asked where I was from, my response brought a sly smile and another question: “Have you ever been in that Morris’s Grill?” And then there was the time in Utila, Honduras, when two young divers learned that I was from Skaneateles, and started telling me of an afternoon at Morris’s. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the simple act of earning a living Burt created something that has touched many thousands of lives.”

Darryl “Burt” Lipe died on October 10, 2008; his family asked that donations be made to the Skaneateles Food Pantry. Lipe’s death came at an unfortunate time; the Eckett block was being renovated and redeveloped; the bar’s lease had just expired and no new agreement had been signed.

On its website, the developer, Emanon Equities of Holtsville, N.Y., notes, “the building will be re-envisioned with high-end shopping and restaurants beneath beautifully appointed one- and two-bedroom condominiums featuring magnificent views over picturesque Lake Skaneateles.”

It’s actually Skaneateles Lake, Morris’s Grill is not a high-end restaurant, and therein lies sadness. People fear that the line of hometown bars where everyone felt comfortable – from Hennessey’s to McLaren’s to Morris’s – is soon to be broken.

6 West Genesee St. Skaneateles, NY 13152
Open: Mon-Sat 8am-2am & Sundays 12pm-2am
Phone: (315) 685-7761

Copyright © ‘2008’ & beyond “” All Rights Reserved

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