by Evan Spring
Parish Road is a remote, gravel byway in West Worthington, but it wasn’t always so quiet and peaceful. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, Parish Road was the address of Frankie’s Place, a lively, after-work bar and hangout run by Frank Brooks, who lived next door with his family.
On August 18, 2019, locals gathered at the Worthington Historical Society building to reminisce about Frankie’s Place for the annals of town history. During the event, Frank’s daughter Ginger Donovan summed up the bar’s appeal. “I think one of the things that attracted people to Frankie’s Place was he really didn’t have any rules. You could go in there and you could let your hair down, and you could play your guitar and your fiddle, and you could drink. You had to do something pretty bad for him to shut you off. You’d just go in there, be yourself at the end of the working day, and just let it all out. And believe me, they all did. I don’t remember anybody having a bad time there. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves – and nobody getting hurt.”
The 2019 gathering was organized by Sheila Kinney, who lives on Parish Road, and WHS board member Kate Ewald, with the help of the Brooks family. In attendance were Frank’s three daughters Betty Parish, Deen Nugent, and Ginger Donovan, hereafter identified by their first names. (Frank had two other children from a previous marriage.) Also at the event were Ginger’s husband, Cork Donovan; two of Frank’s grandchildren, Patti Nugent Slysz and Kelly Nugent Wolf; two great-grandchildren, Allison and Stephanie Slysz; Rose Sherman, half-sister to the Brooks girls on their mother’s side; and Karen Lund, who moved into Frank’s house on Parish Road in 2003.
Sheila Kinney introduced the proceedings. “Every time I mentioned to people that I lived on Parish Road, certain people of a certain age would break out into a huge smile – a knowing smile – and say, ‘Ah, Frankie’s Bar.’ And they would start telling me stories that sounded more like myths. ‘He buried all his cash in the yard, and people would come with metal detectors to find the cash.’ There was a story about how somebody wanted his drink on the rocks one winter. He went out back, knocked an icicle off the eaves, broke it up and put it in the glass.”
Kinney opened the floor, and Frank’s daughter Deen Nugent spoke. “Frankie’s Place was not a place of fine dining, and Mr. Clean would not have been able to perform his white glove test there. Drinks were cheap, and the customers were for the most part local. I don’t know how people even found it on Parish Road. I’m sure he didn’t advertise. It was a no-frills establishment. We all have our own memories and stories, and we’re not here to make him out as a saint or a sinner. He was who he was and his place was what it was.”
Franklyn J. Brooks, born in Dalton, was one of seven children. After serving in the Navy, he worked as a painter at General Electric before opening Frankie’s Place around the mid-1950s. As Betty explained, Frankie’s Place might have started when Frank was evicted from another Worthington establishment. “I think probably my father opened the bar when he got shut off up at Liston’s at one point. I can remember something to the story, where he said, ‘That’s it, I’m gonna build my own place.'”
Most of Frankie’s customers were local, but the bar’s reputation could spread far and wide. Barb Pease recalled that her husband, Ken, wanted a job on the Mass Pike and went to Boston for an interview. “This man asked him, ‘Where are you from?’ and my husband said, ‘Worthington.’ He said, ‘Have you ever been to Frankie’s Bar?’ My husband was so surprised that someone in Boston knew Frankie’s Bar. He thought maybe it helped him get the job.”
Despite stories referring to a “dirt floor,” Frankie’s did have wood flooring, however trampled. Ned Jalbert recalled the down-home atmosphere. “Back in my youth I spent a lot of time at Frankie’s. It was probably the only bar that I ever knew of that you could track dirt out of, rather than track dirt into. And he was very, very proud of that.”
Sometimes people referred to Frankie’s, tongue in cheek, as a “nightclub.” As Betty recalled, “I used to have people say, ‘Ah, you’re from Worthington? Have you ever heard of the West Worthington Nightclub?'”
Ned Jalbert pictured the layout, with a walkway connecting the main area to the jukebox, some booths, and the restrooms in back. “In that walkway, for the longest time it would leak, and Frank said, ‘Put a pail in.’ So I happen to be there this one day, and somebody at the bar says, ‘Frank, for Christ’s sakes, will you fix your roof, it’s been leaking and leaking.’ Frank says, ‘Well, when it’s raining it’s too wet to get up there and fix it. And when it ain’t raining, it don’t leak.'”
Kath Whitcomb remembered entering Frankie’s and her eyes adjusting to the dim light. Along with the jukebox, there was a shuffleboard machine with pins. “There were no overhead lights,” explained Ginger. “If anything, he might have had one by the shuffleboard.” Betty remembered the stench of cigarette smoke, and Dave Whitcomb remembered a hanging blanket that separated the bar from the back room.
“Do you remember the Miss Rheingold competition years ago?” asked Ginger. “The beer company would come in, and Dad would always have these beautiful women displayed – all the ones that were competing for Miss Rheingold for the year. I remember that as a little girl, seeing all the pretty ladies up there. I think one of them was Angie Dickinson.”
Next to the jukebox was a small area for dancing. Pat Nugent recalled Ned Jalbert singing Liberty Valance by the jukebox. Others remembered the dancing talents of Phil and Winnie Arcouette.
On occasion Frankie’s had live musical entertainment. “There were some Saturday nights that people from Dalton would come over,” said Deen. “They’d play guitars and sing.” Ginger remembered a duo that sang Christmas Island and Blue Hawaii, while Betty remembered guitarists, fiddlers, and a performer named Donnie Oaks from Peru.
Ned Jalbert aspired to master the shuffleboard machine. “In the last two years, two pins didn’t work and we still played. I think the most you could get was 99, but that was big.” Dave Whitcomb remembered Sy Parish as the shuffleboard champ. “He would always win, until the Grangers came by. His favorite word was, ‘Never took a lesson.'” The company that serviced the jukebox and collected cash from the vending machines also supplied a lottery-type game. Tickets cost around a quarter, and were drawn from a large glass jar.
Frankie’s was never known as an eatery. “When he first opened up,” said Betty, “he served hamburgers and hot dogs, but that didn’t last too long.” Many people remembered the snack foods, however, including pickled eggs, pickled kielbasa, pickled hocks, pickled lamb tongues, and saltines and chips.
Ned Jalbert confessed to some vandalism with the pickled eggs. He and Ben Albert Jr. ordered beers and asked for eggs. Frank handed over the eggs and went out back for the beers. By the time he returned, Ned and Ben had thrown the pickled eggs into a fan with no shroud that sat on the refrigerator and blew down on the bar. “Nobody even paid attention,” said Ned. “We finished our beers. ‘Hey Frank, can we get a couple more of them pickled eggs?’ Frank said, ‘No, nope, shut off. Don’t come back ’til tomorrow.'”
Drinks were cheap. Betty remembered 16-ounce bottles of Schaeffer beer going for 25 cents. Ned Jalbert added, “Pabst at 16 ounces for 35 cents, a quarter for the 12-ounce Bud or Miller.” Ginger specified “no fancy drinks – just out of the bottle,” though Betty remembered rum and coke. “I never saw anything over there for a buck, ever,” said Pat Nugent. “A mixed drink was like 75 cents.” Kath Whitcomb informed the crowd, “My husband took me there for dates. We’re still married. He’s a big spender.”
Big spender Dave Whitcomb remembered drinking from the bottle for hygienic reasons. “You didn’t ask for the glass, because when you put the glass on the bar, he’d slosh it through water and put it back out there.”
The scruffy ambience served nicely for an elaborate prank. Pat Nugent told how her neighbor, Frank Shea, a traveling salesman, arranged to celebrate his wedding anniversary of many years with two other couples. He told the group to dress up for dinner at a high-class restaurant. A limousine picked up the three couples, and sure enough, the first stop was Frankie’s. “They went inside,” said Pat, “and they’re standing there in these long dresses. Oh, Mr. Shea was in the doghouse for a good long time. It was a fun place, everybody had a laugh. They did take the limo to the 1898 House or something.”
Pat also recalled that Frankie’s started as a male enclave. “It was a man’s bar when it first started. Not many women went until later in life. We burned our bras and decided we could go.” Eventually any local event could end up at Frankie’s. According to Ned Jalbert, local weddings or funerals would relocate to Frankie’s after the reception, with everyone still in formal wear.
Parish Road is hardly noticeable at the turnoff from Route 143, and Frankie’s had no sign there. Business hours were informal. “He really didn’t have an opening time,” said Betty. “If he sat up at the house he could see down to the bar, and when somebody showed up then he’d go down.”
On weekdays, according to Dave Whitcomb, “if there were ten people it was crowded.” Weekends were busier. “Friday night it was standing room only,” said Ned Jalbert. “Friday night everybody’d go there first, kind of get warmed up, then go home and take a nap and then go out for the evening.”
Closing time was “when the last person left” according to Ginger, but Betty recalled patrons arriving long afterwards. “Sunday mornings, eight o’clock, there was always somebody knocking on the door that needed a drink, and my father would go down and get a drink for him. Sunday blue laws – well if there was, he didn’t pay attention to them.”
Deen said her father was a “man of few words.” According to Dave Whitcomb, “If you complimented Frankie or you asked him a question, and if the answer was ‘yes,’ he’d go, ‘yuh, yuh, yuh, yuh.'” As for drinking on the job, Betty noted, “Sometimes he was his own best customer.”
Pat Nugent was a waitress at the Drummers Club in South Worthington and remembered heading to Frankie’s after the 2am closing time. “If there were twenty people after two, it was crowded,” she said. “He had a round table – I think it was at the end of the bar. We would sit there, and we’d order a drink. Ernie Smith was the bartender, and he would order a drink. Frankie would come out, and he’d give each of us girls a drink, and he’d say, ‘Ernie, yours is at the bar.’ He was always polite, and he was always nice to the women.”
Frank wasn’t a stickler for checking IDs, but he was particular about keeping his daughters away from the bar. As Betty confirmed, “It’s true, he didn’t want us girls in that bar at all. Every once in a while we’d stop in, my husband and I. We had been to a party out in Pittsfield, and we were going to go in and have a drink. My father wouldn’t serve us. He said, ‘Nope, you’re not getting any drinks here.’ So we went out and fixed a drink out in the car. Then we went back in and visited with the people.”
Bert Nugent, whose brother Ernie married Deen, recalled visiting Frankie’s with Ernie one night. “We ordered two beers. My beer was paid for. Ernie had to pay for his. Frank never forgot he married Deen.”
Deen recalled Bobby Dodge trying to buy cigarettes when he was about fourteen. “My father wouldn’t sell them to him, and Bobby said, ‘My mother has given me permission to smoke.’ And he says, ‘Well, you tell your mother I want to talk to her first.'”
Frankie’s belonged to a circuit of Hilltown bars, few of which survive today. Pat Nugent grew up in the Littleville section of Huntington and recalled that her parents took Sunday drives with pitstops at Frankie’s, Liston’s, and Hill-top Rest, a retreat run by John and Anna Sipos on Route 112 in South Worthington. “My mother was driving. I was never allowed out of the car. At Liston’s, Mr. Liston would come out and give us an ice cream cone. And at Frankie’s we would just sit by the door and they’d go in, and my dad would get a beer.”
“Back then you’d go on a tour,” said Dave Whitcomb. “There are very few roadside bars left. Liston’s is the last one. You would start in Hinsdale at The Home Club, then head towards Frankie’s, and then Liston’s, and then down to Russell. Then after that you didn’t know where you were.” Pat Nugent mentioned some additional bars in the circuit, from Russell and Huntington all the way up to Windsor.
Across Parish Road from Frankie’s was the middle branch of the Westfield River, in its upper reaches. “There used to be a bunch that would come up from Hinsdale or Dalton on motorcycles,” Betty remembered. “Across from the bar, the brook was right there, and they would ride those motorcycles down the bank to the brook and challenge each other who could climb back up out of there on the motorcycle.” Ned Jalbert admitted to participating in this competition along with Mickey Donovan, Henry Thomas, and Dave Mathers. Others recalled groups of snowmobilers arriving from a trail that connected Frankie’s to Windsor.
Dave Whitcomb remembered a bullfighting scene at Frankie’s one evening. “Some local lady and some guy – I think it was a guy, but it might have been another lady – was holding out a blanket, and she was being a bull.”
Betty recounted another wild incident from her girlhood in the house next door. “The windows were all open, and we could hear this woman screaming up the road, up towards the Parish Farm. I don’t know if he’s beating her or what. And we went, ‘Dad, what should we do?’ So finally I yelled out the window, ‘If you don’t stop beating her, I’m gonna call the cops!’ And she yells back, ‘You mind your own business!’ I thought I was being a good Samaritan.”
Nobody recalled any fights breaking out. On the contrary, Pat Nugent remembered Frankie’s as a place where arguments were resolved. “There were a lot of politics solved between Frankie’s place and Liston’s place and the Drummers Club. I don’t think they do that now, but years ago they were.”
Frank would often cash checks for customers, including payroll checks. “He was a local bank,” said Deen. Dave Whitcomb recalled, “When I got paid on Thursday, I’d head to Frankie’s. I never could understand how much money he had or where he got it from, because everybody came in that night, or soon thereafter, and cashed their check. Frankie was always good for cash, and of course you spent all your money there anyway.”
For a while Rose Sherman helped Frank with paperwork. “He just wanted his bills totaled for a week, but he never had you count any cash, never. Just the bills.”
A frequent rumor, confirmed by Betty, was that Frank kept his cash in the trunk of his car. According to Dave Whitcomb, “Somebody said that there was so much money in the trunk that it was down in the back.” Betty remembered her father carrying cash up to the house in a brown paper bag.
All this cash on hand made Frankie’s a target for thieves, and he was robbed several times. Eventually Frank got some guard dogs. “He could have kept his cash on the kitchen table with them wild beasts he had out in the front,” said Pat Nugent. However, as Betty recalled, “the beasts met their Waterloo” when they were shot by robbers.
Frankie’s Place burned down around 1973 or 1974, and Frank chose not to rebuild. According to Betty, the fire was started by the kerosene stove that supplied all the heating. The bar was empty at the time. Afterwards, fortune-seekers came around looking for coins. “After the place burned,” said Betty, “you wouldn’t believe the people that were over there with metal detectors.”
By this time Frank had moved in with his brother Phil in Dalton. “After it burned,” said Dave Whitcomb, “I went to his house in Dalton and begged him to rebuild. And his brother came out, showed me his – probably a thirty-thirty. A lot of people were after that gun. I wasn’t interested in the thirty-thirty. I just wanted to have that bar rebuilt. He was just done.”
Frank Brooks died in 1976 at the age of 74. The family sold the house on Parish Road to Frank’s grandaughter Patti Nugent Slysz and her husband, David Slysz, who worked on improvements. The remaining property was sold to Patti’s sister, Kelly Nugent Wolf, and her husband, Devon Wolf.
When Karen Lund bought Frank’s house in 2003, she discovered an interesting relic. “I was walking down by the old apple tree, and I saw this mass of mud. So I picked it up, brought it to the house, put it in a bath of water, and started peeling away. It turned out to be Frankie Brooks’ bank book. I’ve always heard that he didn’t deal with banks, but I have the bank book from 1971 to 1973, September. It also has checks. I had a high time getting them in one piece, but they’re as good as I could get them.” Karen has donated the bank book to the Worthington Historical Society for posterity.
A garage, pictured below, now stands at the former site of Frankie’s Place. A commemorative sign was hung on the outside wall by Karen Lund, with the word “Frankie’s” carved in wood.
As Sheila Kinney noted in her opening remarks, the only printed accounts of Frankie’s Place are a few newspaper clippings about robberies. The WHS publication Papers on the History of Worthington, in its passages about West Worthington, tells of schools, stores, churches, a post office that lasted until 1933, drownings, and tanneries that left workers smelling awful. Frankie’s Place isn’t mentioned. Our personal memories – and now the recording of this 2019 story-sharing event – are what keep Frankie’s alive.
Near the end of the event, Kinney asked what Frank would think if he could see this gathering. Betty answered, “He’d say, ‘Where’s the music? Where’s the bar? He’d sit there and smile.”
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Evan Spring, a jazz historian and freelance editor, moved to Worthington in 1998 and currently serves as WHS president.
Posted October 20, 2020.