In this period of rapid transition from the old to the new, from the known to the scarcely- to-be-imagined, even the youngest of us is sharply aware of the difference between "the way things were" from "the way they used to be." Few things, be they buildings, people or purposes, remain the same as they were even a half a decade ago.
The Monopole of downtown Plattsburgh, New York, is at once an example and an exception in that, as a building, an enterprise and it has persevered and continues to a name, thrive throughout. and often in spite of the vicissitudes of changing time, people, economy values. It is unique in its area as an entity which has been able to successfully adapt itself to changing needs without losing its essential character.
The Monopole Tavern and Restaurant on Protection Alley, is the oldest continuing commercial establishment in downtown Plattsburgh, New York keeping the same name at the same location and offering the relative kind and quality of service for which it was originally established. It was opened in 1898 by Philip J. Blair and his wife, Lucy, who brought it to national fame as a purveyor of fine foods and beverages at a time when elegance of decor was expected, and excellence of service was implicit. This was the period of the luxury hotels of the North Country when the Champlain Hotel flourished on Bluff Point, when the Witherihill Hotel and the Cumberland House on Margaret Street dominated downtown, and when the fabulous Fouquet House on Bridge Street furnished the finest in food and lodging. All these are gone, with the exception of the Cumberland, which retains no semblance of its one-time opulence.
The Blairs choice of location was apt. In 1897, Protection Alley-barely two blocks long-was a center for gathering, eating and drinking. Bentley S. Morril operated a restaurant, Bernard St. Louis had a lunchroom, J.G. Burpee ran the Delmonico Hotel and Restaurant, and John Devlin was proprietor of the Central House. Most had disappeared before the onset of the second decade of the twentieth century.
Yet, the Monopole has continued; it has grown and prospered through almost eighty years of affluence and depression through prohibition through five wars and through changing times in the nation and their reflection in the city of Plattsburgh. Today, the Monopole is a half-million dollar enterprise operating an upstairs and a downstairs bar, a dining room and a wicker lounge. It has the latest in automatic beverage dispensing equipment, employs thirty-two people and donate $1500 in scholarship money yearly to the Plattsburgh State University College Fund.
Where the business catered to wealthy to tourists and professionals, today its major clientele is composed of university students. The Blue Plate Special of another era has given way to the businessman's lunch; the prize-winning pizza is now the specialty of the house. The visitor who stops in o the Monopole Bar, finds himself standing on a bridge spanning three generations. There is a subdued atmosphere of low lights and old stained mahogany supplemented by photos in antique frames, of grandparents before they were parents. There is the long, massive, waist-high bar backed by the decorated wood-work of a long time past.
Depending on the time of day (for the tempo of the Monopole waxes and wanes with the passing hours) the visitor may move back into the past while sipping a beer in the company of per-midday retirees imbibing their morning constitutionals and recounting other times and events which exist now only in their memories. At midday, he is likely to find himself in the midst of the attorneys, the shopkeepers, the insurance agents and the legislators talking of current events, or current transactions over a businessman's lunch. Then, in the evening, he will be immersed in the future, when the establishment fills with the young: with the students from the State University and with the young airmen from the "Base" who congregate for the beer, the pizza, the company and the music.
At this point, the pilgrim-if he has not done so before—becomes aware of a strange paradox: the softly blending background music has change to the unrestrained rhythms and overpowering tones of modern rock surging from the latest stereo equipment.
A dynamic mobile of change! In the ebb and flow of the years of nearly a century, downtown in Plattsburgh has grown, changed declined, faded. The Monopole remains. In the changing of the hour of the day, the Monopole atmosphere change in adaptation to the time and the people. The flow of movement alters its direction–now to the downstairs bar, to the pool room, to the dining room, upstairs to the P.B. Finnan's Tavern; and it is still the Monopole, partly old, partly new, and yet, the same.
Philip J. Blair was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in May 4, 1873. The only data available him from this date until he appears in Plattsburgh are that he was a fine athlete. that he was no mean boxer and that he toured New England as an acrobat. This last lends some credence to the popular anecdote that, when he first opened the Monopole, he would do handspring and cartwheel in the street to attract customers and then, would give a free drink to all who entered the establishment.
Phil and Lucy Blair had truck a gold mine and they made the most of it. But it took luck and pluck and work and, above all. vision. The Monopole grow as Plattburgh Village grew, and when Plattsburgh incorporated itself as a city, in 1902, in Monopole was solidly established as the place to go for tine food and liquor. It ha b en reported that Albert Sharron, the fir t Mayor of the City of Plattburgh, ran his electoral campaign from the Monopole Bar. It has been verified that Patrick Tierney , Plattsburgh's first Cit Judge and Dean of the Trial Lawyers was a regular patron.
The Monopole, in this period, called the Monopole Lunch and Sea Grill, continued through the boom years of the twenties, survived prohibition, and went on through the depression years of the thirties. Phil Blair, a dog breeder since before the turn of the century, had his Monopole Kennels and raised award winning Boston Terriers and English Bulldogs. He traveled from dog show to dog show as judge. He joined the racing game and is said to have kept a small stable. He judged at the regular military boxing matches held at the "Post.'' Attorney Kenneth H. Holcombe relates that he and his brother would frequently attend these matches with their father, Blair's close friend, on passes which Blair provided.
The Blairs continued to offer the best in food, the best and widest variety of beverages and the finest in service. They had established a loyal following of customers who formed the basis for a unity of patronage which extends down to the present day.
Names of other earlier habitants of the Monopole include U.S. Congressman Wallace A. Pierce; Surrogate Judge Victor Boire; real estate developer Harry A. Thomas; and restaurateur John Hanlon.
It is rumored that Theodore Roosevelt was a diner at the Monopole during his Presidential Campaign of 1904, during which he is said to have marched down Margaret Street both in full Rough Rider regalia and in white ducks and panama hat. It is surmised that the sons of the' Big Stick, President visited the establishment while cadets at the training post. General Leonard Wood, Commander of the American Forces in the Spanish American War, and the genius behind the Plattsburgh Infantry installation, is reported to have been a Monopole customer.
By 1911, business had grown to the point where more space was mandatory, so the Monopole address became 7-9 Protection. The name became the "Monopole Cafe and Restaurant." The latest in steam tables was purchased . The kitchen was installed on the second floor and managed by the finest cooks the Blair’s could employ. The food was delivered downstairs t the waiters by dumbwaiter, in 1911 the last word in service.
A year later, in 1912, the security of the business was so well established that Phil Blair left the management of the Monopole in the hands of another fine restaurateur, Napoleon A. Pinsonnault, and removed himself to Boston. Pinsonnault, playing on his own nickname and the business name had decanters made and inscribed in gold with the word "Poly." He also provided the clientele with inscribed metal match boxes and Monopole tokens. This was the period which Plattsburgh began to advertise its touristic advantages under the leadership of the Hon. William H. Goff, sometimes called Plattsburgh's greatest mayor. Napoleon Pinsonnault managed the Monopole for four years, until Phil Blair's return in 1916.
In 1920, the Monopole expanded once more to include, now, 7-9-11 Protection. the whole of the present building which was standing as early as 1877. The western dining room was outfitted with the high-backed booths and tables with telephone jacks, offering the diner portable telephone service to avoid meal interruption. In 1921 , a new dining room, upstairs, was inaugurated.
As the century moved n through the twenties, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid grew as centers for the wealthy and the famous and visitors to these sports and vacation resorts came to Plattsburgh to eat and drink at the Monopole. Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion, was a frequent visitor, accompanied by an actress known only as “Blondie.” A story is told of a nameless lady of great wealth who had herself driven weekly from Saranac Lake to Plattsburgh just to eat salt pork, boiled potatoes with milk gravy and lemon pie. She always left a dollar tip.
In October 1949, just before Blair’s death, the Monopole was leased by Thomas J. Finnan. Finnan was born in Amsterdam, New York on November 2, 1902, and came to Plattsburgh via Lake Placid. He was, according to his daughter, Mary Margaret, "a happy-go-lucky Irishman." He was also a driving force and an avid entrepreneur. His first venture was the purchase of the Little Meridian in Cadyville, which he renamed "Finnan’s Fun Farm.” This bar with its name still exists and thrives. From this he founded the luxurious original Holiday Inn on Route 9, South of Plattsburgh. This burned in a catastrophic New Year's Day fire and Finnan cast about t re-establish himself. In 1949, he leased the Monopole.
Thomas J. Finnan stayed at the Monopole only six year, but long enough to leave a permanent image impressed upon the old establishment. After Finnan left, a series of managers ran the now “Monopole Grill.” Not the least of these was Donald Arlt, presently Assistant Supervisor of the New York State Governor’s Mansion in Albany.
By the 1960’s, there was a change in atmosphere, there were changes in attitude and values. Emphasis shifted from the professional and business people to the protesting young. The club structure was becoming an anachronism. Still, the Monopole limped along under the guidance of Mrs. Anna Rock “who has spent all her life in the bar business.”
During these year, from 1956 to 1972, the Monopole “was run basically as a semi-private type club for attorneys and closed at about 8:30 at night.” Then came Brett Heiss.
He bought the Monopole and began operations on January 1, 1973. His interest was “…its historical importance and the potential of a run-down establishment being brought back to its former elegance.”
Over the next four and a half years, Monopole-generated capital has been reinvested in the business in the amount of $100,000. A major innovation has been the refurbishing of the upstairs area appropriately named P.B. Final’s after Phil Blair and Tom Finnan.
(History as of 1978)