That’s what it must have felt like Sunday, Dec. 23, for longtime patrons of the Windmill Bar and Grill who came out in droves for the newly dubbed Windmill Tavern’s Holiday Open House.
Previous owner Rudy Weiss, a fixture at the Windmill since the early 70s, was still behind the counter, manning the grill and serving up the Windmill’s famous chili dogs.
“Rudy is going to be with us for a good while,” said permittee Ray Foote, who along with partners John Vazzano, Larry LaConte Jr. and Matthew Reale will be running the new Windmill Tavern. “People here want to come in and see a familiar face.”
“We’re just glad to see it open again,” said Mary Soltis, who has lived in the Hollister Heights neighborhood for decades. “It’s good to see it so full of people and everybody having fun.”
The Windmill Tavern’s new owners took a page out of Weiss’s old holiday party playbook and decided to make the open house, which ran from 4 to 10 p.m., free and open to the public. Absolutely everything was on the house.
Cars were parked for blocks around as space near the Windmill was at a premium. Hundreds of people poured through the tavern, and lines for the hot dogs and beverages were 10 deep at times.
A large buffet was set in the back room, and some of the Windmill’s signature German-style dishes were laid out with the notable favorites being pierogies and bratwurst.
The mood was festive as old friends made new friends and longtime neighbors were reacquainted. Co-owner John Vazzano made the rounds greeting customers and taking photos for the Windmill’s Facebook page.
Vazzano, a Stratford native himself, said he was really satisfied with the turnout and promised to continue serving some of the Windmill’s signature dishes. “I’m planning on getting a lady from Holy Name Church,” he said to reassure customers.
As visions of stuffed cabbage and sauerbraten danced through the heads of the many who listened, Vazzano said he would like to introduce some new culinary traditions as well.
The Windmill will feature a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, Vazzano said, and pizza will be offered for the first time.
The Windmill’s Facebook page offered additional insight into what customers might see on the menu. “I’m thinking of putting poutine on the menu at the Windmill,” one post read. “Poutine is french fries covered in brown gravy and goat cheese.”
As customers ate heartily and quaffed beer after beer on Sunday, many commented on how the character of the neighborhood bar had been preserved.
“It looks pretty much the same,” said John Lisej, a longtime resident of the neighborhood and a one-time employee of the Windmill. “The only thing missing is the pool table and the ice machine.”
The Windmill Tavern’s new owners expect that preserving some of that history will keep many longtime patrons coming back, though according to Vazzano, they won’t shy away from trying some new things in the future.
Until then, the Windmill is open for business again, and as the French are fond of saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”