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BALLSTON SPA: Last call

Like the Cheers tavern in the long-running sitcom of the same name, Monaco's Village Inn has been a mainstay in the small-town flavor of Front Street in downtown Ballston Spa for decades. It was a gathering place for friends, the local watering hole, a place that kids who took their first legal drinks later visited in their retirement years.

Last Saturday, owner and Village Mayor John Romano closed the establishment, signaling the end of an era. "I have mixed feelings about it," said Romano. "I'll miss my friends and all the people I've come to know so well over the years. But I won't miss the work."

Nicknamed "Crow" for his dark hair and eyes, Romano purchased the bar from his former partner Donald "Ducky" Monaco in 1970. To signify this changing of the guard, the duck cartoon on the sign hanging outside was crossed out with black tape, and a crow was painted on. Saturday, before a large crowd of friends and patrons, Romano climbed a ladder and, using the original roll of tape, X'd out the crow cartoon. There was a smattering of applause from people whose faces registered more than a bit of nostalgia.

The way it was

Monaco's clientele has included local business owners, school-teachers, politicians, and lifetime residents. Even the crew from "The Way We Were," filmed in part on Front Street in the 1970s, bellied up to the bar on the leather stools at Monaco's. Former town of Milton Supervisor Wilbur Trieble said his town residents frequently made the drive to the bar to meet up with friends and neighbors.

"We had birthday parties and town parties there," said Trieble. "The board of supervisors ate lunch there all the time. It's a landmark that will be missed by many."

Monaco's was the site of high school reunions, NASCAR parties, pool and dart tournaments and the infamous mid-winter beach party, complete with real sand sprinkled on the wood floors. At one time, a full menu was served at the bar, which saw a drop in business following the no-smoking laws and the opening of new restaurants and sports bars at sites in and around the village.

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