If the walls in Augustine's Club 17 could tell stories, there would be no shortage of yarns thanks to the landmark's 60 years in business in Old Forge.
When Leo and Tillie Augustine opened the Main Avenue business in 1952 (the name, Club 17, was a nod to the previous owner's brood of 17 children), it was mainly a bar that packed hundreds onto its dance floor to hear bands from New York each weekend. Folks would make reservations for drinks alongside the bandstand and enjoy steamers for 20 cents a dozen (25 cents on Saturdays).
Whiskey was 50 cents and wine was 40 cents a glass back then, and the men and women had to arrive and depart through separate entrances.
Much has changed over the years.
Around 1972, Augustine's opened a takeout kitchen, and about six years later, a major remodel eliminated the bandstand to create a more restaurant-like atmosphere that promoted the food and eat-in dining. Augustine's had made a name for itself catering weddings, graduations and the like, but it soon became a destination for dates, too.
Maria Augustine-Emily, daughter of the original owners, took over the business in 1986, and kept the classic sandwiches and pizza her parents made so popular, while adding more entrees to the menu.
These days, Augustine's boasts 17 specialty pizzas and a variety of homemade Italian dishes, with pastas made by Mrs. Augustine-Emily and her aunt. Other standouts include the gnocchis made in house, such as the potato, ricotta and sweet potato.
Additionally, a cousin makes hot, sweet, turkey and Chicken Florentine flavors of sausage. Mrs. Augustine-Emily said she has built a successful side business out of selling her pizzas (the Red, White and Tomato Garlic varieties) in regional grocery stores. At one time, Augustine's pizza was available in about 25 stores from Hazleton to Tunkhannock to Bloomsburg. And for the most devoted fans, Mrs. Augustine-Emily has been known to ship entire trays across the country upon request.
To get the truly distinctive feel of the history of Augustine's, however, customers need to stop in to see it for themselves. The decor was chosen by Mrs. Augustine-Emily's parents to resemble a New Orleans show boat, as the bright red and white balusters in the dining room suggest. Together with the oval-shaped bar, which keeps the cold beer and tasty cocktails flowing, the restaurant can accommodate about 100.
There are also healthy options for the more diet-conscious diners, from the seasonal salads, like the Strawberry Spinach, to the whole-wheat pizza crusts.
Selling pizza in Old Forge may seem like a competitive business, but Mrs. Augustine-Emily insists she enjoys being part of the hometown culture.
"Every pizza place in Old Forge ... we're all friends ... none of us are actually competition," she said. "We bail each other out of trouble."
Having a shorter work week also enables Mrs. Augustine-Emily to ensure the quality of her product does not diminish, and using a workforce of mostly family members means she never has to worry about her staff not putting their hearts into the business.
"I have all my family around me and it keeps us close-knit," she said. "Without them, I wouldn't have been able to stay in business."
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Winner of the 2016 The Triboro Banner Reader's Choice Award - Best Lunch & Best CheeseSteak!
open mon -saturday 3 pm
Augustine's Club 17
518 N Main St
Old Forge, PA