A story, odd bits and music

Between 1958 and 1966 I prowled the streets of New Britain CT. I was different. There were stores that sold clothes, shoes and stuff. People window shopped (anyone under 50 who doesn’t know this term Google it). They dressed up for a Saturday afternoon of strolling and gazing into store windows mentally making up shopping lists that might or might not be made real if the raise came through. For kids, this was torture, maybe not if you were female, but boys loathed it. The ray of sunshine in this being shlepped around by your mother was that there were four movie theaters in town. The Strand was the top of the line, it played first run Disney movies for fifty cents. The Embassy was mostly adult films, not porn, but movies aimed at people who didn’t want to sit through fifteen minutes of cartoons before the feature. The Arch Street Theater showed “art” films (read foriegn porn). The Palace was the kids favorite. It ran an afternoon of cartoons and kid friendly movies. The rest of the time it ran first run features. One of the benefits of the Palace was its proximity to Capitol Lunch. It was a given that if a male child made a big enough pest of himself on the Saturday stroll his parents would free up maybe seventy five cents and aim him at the Palace. The theory being that a pest handed off to paid strangers (ushers) was preferable to dragging sixty or so pounds of dead weight around while looking for the right hat. (Yes, American women wore hats, it wasn’t for Brits only) Husbands dragooned into the tour could look forward to a stop at the local watering hole or a cold one at home. Kids didn’t think that far ahead. It was noon and the kids show started at one.

So it was with grat sorrow that mothers forked over the money and pointed their precious kinder toward the Palace. The herd of kids headed to the theater. But to get there they had to pass an unsurmountable obstacle, Capitol Lunch. Capitol Lunch was the sole distribution point, outside of bars, of chili dogs. It was run by two industrious Greek immigrants who perfected the sauce and guarded the recipe jealously. They were delicious. The hot dogs spent time on a flat top grill until they were perfectly cooked. The buns were kept in a steamer box. Mustard and onions put in ten hours in stainless steel containers. The sauce, oh the sauce, was simmering in a steam table. It smelled terrific. The restaurent itself was about ten feet wall to wall with a counter extending back. Not many chose the stools, take out was the bread and butter. The capper was, back then, a hot dog with the works cost fifteen cents. It was a must as a stop before the movies. Oh yeah, one thing, the sauce had a distinct aroma that was identified with Capitol Lunch. It was loud, if an aroma can be loud, and it clung to soft surfaces like clothes.

A kid with basic math skills knew that he could pick up two dogs and have enough for admission and a soda. The hot dogs were put in pockets or in a shirt. The aroma persisted. Waiting in line for a ticket cooled them. The ushers could sniff one out and confiscate it, but usually didn’t. As long as you bought a soda, you were good. From one until four the Palace smelled of chili dogs and was rocked by a full house of kids set free screaming at whatever was on-screen. At four they poured out back into the arms of their parents or a walk home. Left behind was the litter and the ambience of Capitol Lunch, much to the dismay of teen couples seeking first or second base. Some had loftier objectives. The kids who spent an afternoon watching toons would graduate into the world of stand alone theaters or if you were lucky and had a car; drive-ins.

The theaters are gone as is most of downtown. Some businesses hang on but it doesn’t look good. But I’ve been hearing that for years. The theaters died at the the hands of drive-ins, television and later in-home movies. The Palace morphed. It gave up the kids matinees and played adult (see above) movies. That didn’t work. The owner sold it and the new owners featured porn. They had a following. That died, not at the hands of religious leaders or moralists, just lack of interest.

My history with the Palace can be paraphrased: I went to kid’s matinees, saw the New Britain premiere of Help! and Deep Throat. It’s an Army-Navy store now. If you’re inclined you can hear some interesting stories about the Palace if uou’re willing to pay for a round at one of the local bars. They’re all good and a time trip.

Some music. The first one I caught on Austin City Limits, the second on Cool TV

See you on Wednesday.