Arts: The Alps Cafe

Here is some family history. The dates may not be precise but the sentiment surely is:

My grandparents on my mother’s side came from Sparta, Greece in the early 20th century, before 1910, I believe. They settled in Burlington, Vermont and… what else… they married and opened a restaurant.

They were very modern people. They didn’t languish in an immigrant backwater or survive on menial jobs. They learned English and immersed themselves in American success from the start.

In 1922, August (Gus) and Calliope Scutakes opened The Alps Café in the heart of Burlington. It was located in the center of the city, at the corner of Church and Main Streets.

That was the Roaring 20s and the restaurant was a hot spot. My grandfather joined the Masons and eventually rose to 32nd degree. Through the restaurant they became personally acquainted with the elites of Vermont – governors, congressmen, US senators and other movers and shakers. My grandfather served as the head of the Vermont chapter of the Greek organization AHEPA.

My mother always used to talk about “the restaurant”. And I never thought about it much until I dug up an old photo album after she died. And in it I found a treasure trove of photos from The Alps that truly brought the place alive.

Why was it called The Alps?

Because my grandfather, who died 6 years before I was born, saw the Green Mountains of Vermont and said that they reminded him of the Swiss Alps which he surely had never seen in person.

My grandparents ran the Alps for 25 years until Gus’ death in 1947. My grandmother then ran the restaurant until the 1950s when she sold it.

From the pictures, I finally have seen The Alps come to life. And for a pair of immigrants from Greece, it must have been a great American success story.

The pictures show a virtual night-club atmosphere at The Alps, a joint that was a beehive of activity for many decades.

My father, who was from Massachusetts and who was doing his medical residency at the University of Vermont, knew that The Alps was a center for Greek-Americans to meet and mingle. Anyone who was anybody in the Greek community in northern Vermont had been to The Alps.

And there he met my mother and they married in 1949. Check out the classic photos below if you want to see a snapshot of a successful immigrant life in America in the 1940s.

Oh, what I would give to be transported back in time….!!!

Captions top to bottom:

First group: That’s my parents’ wedding day, September 11, 1949. They are assembled in the apartment upstairs from The Alps. My grandmother Calliope is to the right of my father. The letter is from Vermont governor Ernest Gibson to my grandmother. It says in the last paragraph: “Will you please give her for me my congratulations and tell her that I wish her all the happiness in the world and tell her husband that  he is a darn lucky cuss.” The photo-postcard is of the main dining room and says, ‘The Alps Café, Burlington, Vt., Newest & Most Up-to-Date Café in the State’

Second group: That’s my grandfather second from left with the top political figures in Vermont including US senators Flanders and Aiken and governor Gibson. The picture in the lower left is my uncle Steve Anagnos in the lounge at The Alps with an unidentified man. Check those cigs! At lower right is my grandmother with “Mrs. Leigh White, wife of CBS correspondent.” Everyone came to The Alps when they visited northern Vermont.

Third group: These are some random shots at the Alps, probably from the 1940s.Clockwise from top: Gus and Calliope. Gus, Calliops and Uncle Ernest in front of The Alps. The front window of The Alps. The kitchen with Uncle Nick on the right. My grandmother with my Aunt Angeline. And my mother in the main dining room.

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