On the corner of... Be our guest, be our guest

Sat, 07/22/2017 - 8:15am

There has long been a restaurant in the spot today occupied by Ballard's Inn, a place that has withstood — and/or been rebuilt after — several hurricanes and one all-consuming fire.

Before Ballard's existed, in any of its forms, there was Barber's, a “Shore Dinner House” located “First Building at the Left” at the ferry landing. It sat on the edge of the beach, and was a building long and low, with the simple profile one expects of a shore dinner hall.  

There were not many restaurants on Block Island in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Most visitors who stayed in hotels ate the food provided, in well-appointed hotel dining rooms. There were only four stand-alone eateries listed in a 1909 guidebook — two open until midnight — to feed excursionists and those who found the hotel serving hours not to their liking. Barber's at the landing and the American Restaurant on Fountain Square were in the Old Harbor; a Clam Bake Pavilion, at the “head of the wharf,” and Mott's Restaurant, which would soon become part of the Narragansett Inn, were listed for New Harbor. 

Today's hotel and restaurant menus offer wide selections, their menus can fill pages, whole narratives dazzling the diner with mouth-watering temptations. The advertised menu for Barber's, produced by Buker's Novelty Press in Providence, was simple. It consisted of: Clam Chowder, Broiled Fish, Lobster, Roast Beef and Vegetables, White and Brown Bread, Tea and Pie or Watermelon. 

It seems impossible that all those selections would have been available to a patron who would then have to choose between pie or watermelon!

That such a feast was available for “Only 50 Cents!” also seems impossible, even way back then, until one reads hotel rates printed in that old guide book.

The cost of an overnight stay started at $1.50 for a small room in the smaller establishments and upper prices ranged from $2.00 at the Atlantic, Pequot (today's Harborside) and Surf, to $3.50 at the Spring House, Manisses and New National. 

Suddenly, that 50 cents sounds like it certainly should include both pie and watermelon!