By Nancy Rineman
Atlantic News, Thursday, January 30, 2003
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News.]
Looking back over the past 20 years since the opening of the Widow Fletcher's Tavern, owner Parker Ryan recalls some of the highlights of what has become a Seacoast tradition.
It was New Year's Eve, 1983, and Ryan was just hours from opening his first restaurant, a 17th century building on Lafayette Road in downtown Hampton that was converted from a small home.
"I was very excited," Ryan relates. "I had invited 70 people or so to a grand opening for 8:00 that night." At 6:00, Ryan says, some friends stopped by to help, and found Ryan and a number of carpenters still at work, with table says still set up.
"No beer or liquor had been set up," Ryan recalls. Ryan said he told his friends to go home, get changed, and be back by 8:00. When they returned, Ryan says, everything had been finished.
Thus was born the downtown Hampton landmark so popular today. A number of expansions have taken place over the years - three, to be exact - resulting in the 125-seat restaurant that attracts locals and travelers alike. Political visitors have included Congressman Dick Gephardt, (D-Missouri), Congressman Patrick Kennedy, (D-Rhode Island), and former Vice President and Presidential hopeful Al Gore. All were introduced to the existence of Widow Fletcher's Royal Society Bridge Club, a much-touted association that includes a number of notable Hampton faces at its pub gatherings and inductions.
Last year, the Widow Fletcher's Tavern appeared in the book, "The Book of Great American Watering Holes: An Enjoyable Look at Over 100 Brew Pubs, Saloons, Inns, Taverns and Pubs." Author Michael Caldwell describes Widow Fletcher's as being "renowned within the community and beyond for the terrific food, drink and atmosphere." Caldwell also speaks of the "wonderful feeling of antiquity throughout the place with old wood floors, five distinct cozy rooms, and upper walls adorned with trinkets of old."
Add to that the Widow Fletcher's outstanding menu, including its famous "Bangers and Mashed," an assortment of delicious grilled English Link Sausages baked with fresh mashed potatoes and served with gravy, and first time diners quickly become frequent patrons, no matter what the season.
Ryan says the Widow Fletcher's already terrific menu has gotten even better with the addition of some brand new items on the restaurant's 20th anniversary. Now, Widow Fletcher's offers not only the best menu with the best variety, but "the best prepared food we've ever had," says Ryan.
Several of the Widow Fletcher's staff, especially Len Willis and Leslie Dollerman, have been with the restaurant most of the 20 years, Ryan acknowledges. Ryan's current chef, Rob Miller, has added a great deal to what was already a good menu, he adds.
"Ultimately, the success of Widow Fletcher's in the last 20 years has been the quality of the staff," Ryan notes. "It's because of those people that a quality group of customers has continued to patronize us."
"It's been a great 20 years, and a wonderful relationship with customers," Ryan says. And the suggestion that the next 20 years might just match up with what Widow Fletcher's has experienced so far seemed to appeal to owner Parker Ryan, and more than likely to his many patrons as well.
The Widow Fletcher's Tavern is located at 401 Lafayette Road in Hampton, and may be reached by calling 926-8800.