POTTERSVILLE - Since before Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, the Black Bear Restaurant has been a welcoming landmark along the major North-South thoroughfare in the Adirondacks - for decades State Route 9, then the I-87 Northway since it was completed in 1968.
This next week, the restaurant and tavern - one of the few North Country enterprises owned by the same family for more than a half-century - is observing a dual anniversary.
The Black Bear Restaurant & Bar in Pottersville is celebrating its 60th year in business since it was founded in 1950 by Bill and Delva Stetson, and honoring its 40 years under the ownership of Butch Stetson, their son, who is now 71.
The Black Bear is located just west of Exit 26 of I-87 Northway on State Route 9.
Whether it's travelers, tourists, truckers or area residents, everyone knows it offers good times and good food, seven days a week, all year long. They've all stopped in under the familiar Black Bear sign - which depicts a group of bears belly-up to the bar - for a hearty meal and socializing in the restaurant, and for beverages, entertainment and stimulating conversation in the bar.
To memorialize the Black Bear's longevity, the enterprise is hosting a week-long celebration, culminating in Pig Roast & Anniversary Party Saturday, Aug. 14. The festivities start at 11:30 a.m. with games, music and giveaways. The party ends well past midnight.
Music will be provided beginning at noon by Totally Tuned deejay. The pig roast begins mid-afternoon, and the Tom Healy Band is to start playing live music beginning at 4 p.m.
Free taxi rides home to local bar customers are offered from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. as a joint venture of the Black Bear and Brant Lake Taxi. All are welcome at no entry charge. Tickets for the pig roast are available for $10 from the Black Bear, which can be reached at 494-9972.
On Sunday, Aug. 8, the week-long celebration kicks off with an Elvis tribute artist show and prime rib dinner, an event which is sold out.
On Wednesday, Aug. 11, a free performance of Bernie's Bluegrass Boys, begins at 4 p.m. in the Black Bear's back room, and it's open to all at no cover charge.
Friday evening, Aug. 13, the weekly "Adirondack Idol" karaoke competition takes to the stage. In addition to the local vocal wannabes, talented aspiring professional singers from the Seagle Colony and a local Shakespeare fest often compete, not singing opera or the classics, but contemporary rock and popular tunes. As in years past, the winner of the 2010 contest is to receive $1,000 and a golden microphone.
All week long during the anniversary celebration, retro-priced specials will be available for breakfast and lunch in the restaurant - selections taken directly off historic Black Bear menus.
Customer favorites on the current menu include the ever-popular roast turkey - whether its a cold or hot sandwich, or a dinner plate with all the fixings - and chicken wings which Patti Stetson calls "the best in the North Country."
The restaurant is open from 6:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with home cooking and daily specials. Soups, pies and fixin's are all homemade. The tavern closes at midnight or later on weekdays, and somewhere between 2 to 4 a.m. on weekends.
Black Bear grew through the years
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Black Bear was merely an ice cream and hot dog stand with gas pumps.
Then in 1950, Bill and Delva Stetson acquired it, turning it into a restaurant, while operating it as a major bus stop on the Greyhound route through the Adirondacks. In the mid-1950s, the bar was added.
In 1970, Butch Stetson took over, continuing to expand the building and the business. During the 1970s, the back room and stage were added, and live bands were featured weekends up through the early 1990s or so. Since then deejays have ruled. Now, Phil Downey of Pottersville, known as Totally Tuned deejay, provides entertainment.
Being recognized as a regional landmark has unexpected consequences, said Patti Stetson, Butch's wife of 25 years. Customers have reported they've spotted folks all over the U.S. wearing Black Bear T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts and hats, she said.
Customers have become involved with the Black Bear's notoriety, collecting mementoes bearing the restaurant's name, whether it's the Black Bear Casino in Minnesota, the Black Bear Saloon in Stamford Conn., or the Black Bear Inn on Lake Tahoe, Ca. All the items have been set up in a display case built by a Black Bear customer.
Patti Stetson credited the staff for the enterprise's longstanding success, noting their employees have an average tenure of 10 years, and one has logged 26 years. Up until recently, one employee had worked there four decades or so. Sources in Pottersville say Black Bear is the largest local employer. Patti Stetson said the enterprise has a staff of 16 in the winter, and about 25 in the summer.
Patti Stetson said her 25 years of service in the restaurant and tavern have been eventful. She works there nearly every day.
"Our customers change with the seasons - I enjoy welcoming some back in the summer, and sending them off when they leave for the winter.," she said. "It's a lot of fun - every day is different."