LEAD: THIS is not the saga of a longtime neighborhood pub forced out of business. Four generations of a family had not worked at the bar and there was no problem meeting the rent. Chase Landing had recessed lighting and terra cotta floors, pate and steak au poivre. The restaurant was open for only five years, and its recent sale to a real estate company netted the owners more $1.5 million in profit, one of the owners said.
THIS is not the saga of a longtime neighborhood pub forced out of business. Four generations of a family had not worked at the bar and there was no problem meeting the rent. Chase Landing had recessed lighting and terra cotta floors, pate and steak au poivre. The restaurant was open for only five years, and its recent sale to a real estate company netted the owners more $1.5 million in profit, one of the owners said.
Yet in many ways, Chase Landing on Chase Road here was as intimate as home to its clientele; the place may have been sophisticated but its patrons loved it with a familial sort of loyalty.
Last weekend, on Saturday night, 130 of them came to dine one more time and to bid the place adieu. They scrutinized the familiar menu – at least one diner tucked it into a purse as a souvenir – and worked their way through the final appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts. They lingered over extra cups of coffee (the kitchen ran out of cream around 10:30 P.M. and a waitress was dispatched to the local 7-Eleven for a short-term, emergency supply). Just about everyone said they were taking the closing hard.
”It’s like a death,” said Ruth Elliott, who lives in the Edgemont section of Scarsdale and teaches at the William E. Cottle Elementary School in Tuckahoe.
”We were joking that we should wear black arm bands and hang a black wreath on the restaurant door,” added her husband, the Rev. Dr. John E. Elliott, pastor at the Greenville Community Reformed Church in Scarsdale.
”Seriously, I think this restaurant has been very important,” said John Adams of Scarsdale, who is vice president of a paper-manufacturing company and a friend of Mr. Elliott. ”It was the only one of its kind in the village. It’s brought a lot of different types of people together, people who previously went to their clubs to eat out. It alleviated a lot of anonymity, and it will be interesting to see what will happen to the community when it is gone.”
Chase Landing was opened by Nick D’Agostino, who previously owned Dag’s, a quiche and hamburger eatery in White Plains, and Max Boser, a former partner in Brasserie Suisse in Ossining and former captain at Hunter’s Lodge, a White Plains institution no longer in existence. When the two took over this site, it was a nouvelle cuisine establishment named Frog Prince Proper.
Before Frog Prince Proper’s 11-month run, the Tudor-style building had been the Kesbec Exxon filling station. Walter Rooney, the architect who oversaw the transformation, was among those having one last dinner at Chase Landing. He gazed nostalgically at the walls covered in beige linen, the bent-wood chairs and the pastel prints as he recalled the difficulty of getting rid of the stench of motor oil.
”My wife was the test,” he said, gesturing to Patricia Rooney. ”We steam-cleaned the place over and over and I’d bring her in to sniff. The mechanic’s pit became the wine cellar.”
Initially, Mr. D’Agostino and Mr. Buser leased the building with an option to buy. The cash outlay, Mr. D’Agostino recalled, was $7,000 rent and security. Business was booming from the first lunch and dinner, and later the partners bought the property for $400,000. Mr. D’Agostino’s affable personality and sharp memory for patrons’ preferences was joined with Mr. Buser’s graciousness; the innovative menu offered American dishes with Swiss accents.
There were those who grumbled when Mr. D’Agostino sold to Julia B. Fee Realtors, a well-established Scarsdale concern that is expanding its offices in the village. During the restaurant’s final hours, there were mixed notes of hope, concern and annoyance – hope because, although Mr. Buser is retiring, Mr. D’Agostino plans to open another restaurant soon with his Chase Landing chef, Jose Rodriguez; concern because, as one customer put it, ”who knows when those plans will actually materialize and where does one eat in Scarsdale in the meantime?” and annoyance at the general turn of events: ”Exactly what we need in Scarsdale,” Joe Riemer, a lawyer and loyal patron, said sarcastically. ”Another real estate office.”
The Elliotts’s 23-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, now the manager of a lingerie shop, worked at Chase Landing as a hostess for two years while attending Pace University. In addition to the young professionals the restaurant might be expected to draw, she said, a lot of older people came in regularly.
”There was this French lady and we had to call her Madame,” Ms. Elliott recalled. ”We had to give her a kiss hello or she’d yell. One day, we heard she’d had a stroke. I went to visit her in the hospital.
”A lot of the older people could walk from the nearby apartments,” she continued. ”Even during a snowstorm we were full. Sunday nights were family nights. Saturdays, you got a lot of different people. But the regular customers – they were always interested in what was going on in your life.”
Her father surely got to know someone well at Chase Landing: this fall, the minister will officiate at the wedding of Bill Petersen, bartender since the place opened. ”I used to pick up Elizabeth from work,” Dr. Elliott said, a twinkle in the eye. ”While I was waiting for her I’d go to the bar – for warm milk and cookies, of course.”
Kathryn Johnson called the closing a ”tragedy.” ”I don’t think Julia would have done this,” she said, referring to the late Julia B. Fee herself, and the sales transaction. Mrs. Johnson is 91, and has lived in Scarsdale since 1937. She was at the restaurant with her daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Warner Kent, who live in Pleasantville, and friends, Wallace and Marie McLean.
Mr. McLean, a retired electrical engineer, and Mr. Kent, a retired builder, spent their childhood in Scarsdale and now they reminisced about when the village was ”a rural little hamlet” and the Bronx River Parkway was intended for leisurely Sunday motoring. They recalled the time when the Scarsdale Inn still existed, offering rooms as well as food.
As the dinner crowd was peaking, Elizabeth Arey, photography editor for The Scarsdale Inquirer, and Linda Leavitt, the newspaper’s associate editor, showed up to document the goings on. ”Our office used to be across the street, in the Harwood Building,” Ms. Leavitt said. ”But they were renovating the top floor and we assumed the rents would be raised. Now we’re on Central Avenue, in Edgemont, with a Scarsdale address.”
The 60-seat restaurant stayed packed until midnight. People clogged the vestibule, saying goodbye to Mr. D’Agostino and Mr. Buser: ”Thank you for everything.” ”Please open another place soon.” ”We’ll see you at your new restaurant, right?”
At the tiny bar, patrons raised glasses in farewell toasts. Dr. George Ginsberg, a psychiatrist who lives in Scarsdale and practices in Manhattan, asked Mr. Petersen what he would do next. The bartender gave a half-smile and replied, ”I have to find another job next week.”
By 1 A.M., the only people left were the staff and Mr. D’Agostino’s wife, Pat, who sat with friends from Scarsdale, William J. Foster 4th and his wife, Diane. There was also one party of nine, singing sentimental old tunes. Over their voices, Mr. Buser explained that he and Mr. D’Agostino would do the final cleanup the next day, dividing between them what liquor was left and distributing the food to the staff and to a church program for the needy.
A quick tour of the kitchen showed its contents reduced to what one might find in any home: a few pieces of chicken, one uncooked lamb brochette, two cans of tuna fish, a hunk of cheddar cheese, a half-empty carton of orange sherbet. The restaurant’s equipment and furniture, Mr. Buser said, were to be donated by Julia B. Fee to Children’s Village, the youth rehabilitation institution in Dobbs Ferry.
At 2 A.M. Mr. D’Agostino flicked the lights on and off and the party of nine rose reluctantly. But before they left, they glanced one last time at the tablecloth: On it, Rita Sadowski, who lives in Scarsdale and owns a travel agency, had scribbled the real words to an old favorite, ”Auf Wiedersehen.” Near the other end of the table, her husband, Joe, who is in the housewares business, had scrawled the words to a new version, which the gang now sang in rousing unison: Auf wiedersehen, auf wiedersehen, dear Nick and Max, so long. You added cheer and wine and beer, we’ll miss you when you’re gone. Auf wiedersehen, auf wiedersehen, we’ll follow you along And stay true blue, and think of you. Auf wiedersehen, you two.
Photo of Nick D’Agostino, one of the owners of Chase Landing; Chase Landing; original gas station converted to restaurant (NYT/Alan Zale)