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A Thursday night — the last Thursday night — at Northfield's Rustic Restaurant

A photo showing artifacts hanging on a wood-paneled wall in a bar.
Anna Van Dine
The wood-paneled walls of the Rustic (if only they could talk) are covered with artifacts from days gone by. The Northfield Falls restaurant served food and drink for 65 years before closing this October.

The Rustic is a sports bar, a restaurant, and where everyone in Northfield goes. It’s pretty much the only place in town.

There are booths, a bar, and three pool tables. In one spot, four empty cans of Budweiser hang from the ceiling. The walls are wood-paneled and the floor is linoleum.

Walking in on a Thursday night feels like walking into a room of people you know, and have always known. Even if you’ve never been there before, and even if you don’t know anyone.

A regular might turn around on his barstool, away from his bottle of beer and plate of spaghetti. The waitress might ask if you want some water as she breezes by with drinks for a family at one of the big tables.

You’d probably find Terri and Barry Bell in their usual spot at the corner of the bar.

"[F]or this place to leave, it’s gonna hurt. Because everyone’s gonna have to go out of town now. This place was always here."
Barry Bell

"This is our real estate we call it, the prime real estate on the corner," Terri said.

"Four seats, at the corner of the bar," Barry said. "That — we’ve always considered that the prime spot to sit. So we started calling it our real estate! Because it’s where we always were. That’s the prime real estate."

"So they even reserve it for us now, you know," Terri said.

"Northfield don’t have a lot of dine-in restaurants. So for this place to leave, it’s going to hurt," Barry said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit 19 months ago, restaurants around the state have pivoted, changed hands, or shut down entirely.

In August, Marshfield’s beloved Rainbow Sweets announced it was shutting its doors. So did Soup n' Greens in Barre. And earlier this fall, the Rustic Restaurant announced that it would close after 65 years.

In small town, the loss of places like these can acutely impact the community.

A photo of a person in a dim bar with pool tables in the background.
Anna Van Dine
The aforementioned four cans of Budweiser hanging from the ceiling are pictured here, center top. VPR was unable to determine their provenance.

The owner of the Rustic, Mark Ruel, said COVID played a part in the decision to close. And running a restaurant for more than 30 years is no joke; he’s tired. He didn’t want to talk for this story, but he did say I could come by and capture the sounds of the place before it was gone.

NOTE: The following is a transcript. We recommend listening to this story.

John and Carol Jenkinson invited me to sit down with them at their booth.

Carol: "We used to call it Ace’s."

John: "Right. Because that was his name, the old man, was Ace. And it was always the Rustic Restaurant, but the nickname was, 'We’re going to go to Ace’s.'

"I’m John Jenkinson, I live just a couple miles up Cox Brook Road... [this is] my wife Carol.

"Been coming here for over 50 years. Yeah. And if you count my fake IDs from the early 70s, a little bit longer! The owner, Mark Ruel, I can remember when he was about 6 years old, been coming here that long. And his father is in that picture, over across. You’ve got to duck to see it. Apparently this got bought by him in 1953, or '56, somewhere in there. There used to be a horseshoe bar, and in the middle were glass refrigerators with pie, for instance. And maybe even different bottles of beer you could choose from.

"But then as time went on the parents went down to North Carolina, and one of Mark Ruel’s older brothers ran it for maybe 20 years. And then they started to, I guess, have more business, disco came in the late 70s, they wanted to take advantage of that. They used to have groups come in. So we’ve seen it all. You know, from the founding fathers, up till now, and it is sad to think it’s going to be over. That’s part of the reason we’ve been in here twice in one week."

"I don’t know how we’re going to run into each other anymore."
Erin, bartender and server

Erin: "My name’s Erin, and I’m a bartender and server, and I’ve been here for about five years. The college kids who come down love to drink pitchers of beer. And they buy the pitcher and drink it right out of the pitcher, they don’t do the pitchers and glasses and pour it into glasses, they just want to drink it straight out of the pitcher. So it’s like an extra large beer.

"But all the regulars, they have their drinks, and we know what they’re drinking so when we see them coming in from the parking lot we start making their drinks before they even sit down. So that’s kind of a unique thing about this place.

"I mean you’ve seen, like, people come in and they stop at the bar to talk to people, and they stop everywhere to say hi to people at tables, you know everyone knows everyone, and this is a great spot to meet up. So I think it’s going to be a big loss, and I don't know where everyone’s going to see each other. Like I don’t know how we’re going to run into each other anymore."

A white sign for 'Ace's Rustic Restaurant Sports Bar' on a paved road at dusk.
Anna Van Dine
The Rustic served food and drink on Route 12 in Northfield Falls for 65 years before closing this October.

Doug: "I’m Doug Pike. My first time here I came on a Husky snowmobile back when I was about 15, 16 years old. That would have been back in the late 60s. And that was quite a trip, we came from Montpelier on a snowmachine, over the mountain, down here. That was the easy trip. Going back up over the mountain it took- we had to play leapfrog, because we had three Huskies, those are old snowmachines with like a tractor up front that pulls a sleigh behind. Boy oh boy. Those days are gone by now."

Percy: "My dad used to come down here, and his friends, and they’re all gone now. I remember them down here, hanging out and stuff. I mean everything— it’s always a good night.

"I’m Percy Kelley. I eat a lot of different things here, everything here is good. They have chicken wraps, they have turkey clubs, they have ... you name it, they probably have it. Alfredo— well they don’t have a lot of stuff right now, but you can pretty much get whatever you want here. But they do have a lot of beer, yeah. I’m kind of a Heineken man, but I can drink others.

"Someone asked me, they go, 'What are you gonna do once the Rustic closes?' And I’m like, 'Well, I guess I’ll have to get to know my family again. Just kidding!'"

"Someone asked me, and they go, 'What are you gonna do once the Rustic closes?' And I’m like, 'Well, I guess I’ll have to get to know my family again. Just kidding!'"
Percy Kelley

Bonnie: "Everybody’s coming to say — oh my God, we’re so sad, and we can’t believe it. But hey, enough’s enough I guess, you know.

"I’m Bonnie Chouinard and this is my new husband, Jim McDonough.

"I mean I just can’t believe it's— I guess, what would be the words I would want— the end of an era. It’s crushing to us, because it’s the only restaurant in town. So here goes Northfield."

A window into a restaurant at night.

Eventually, I leave the regulars to themselves and slip out. But a woman stops me on my way out the door. It’s Helen, the owner’s wife. I think maybe she wants to talk, but she shakes her head when I ask.

Instead, she looks at my microphone, and asks if I could send her some of what I recorded, so that after it’s all gone, they can listen back and remember how it used to be.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a messageor get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine@annasvandine.

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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