This must be the place: Ode to The Weathercock, ode to the fine folks of Chazy
I caught first word of The Weathercock burning to the ground mid-afternoon on Saturday. Scrolling the Facebook news feed, I came across a photo of a familiar old building engulfed in flames, a huge plume of smoke radiating into the skies high above the small North Country town of Chazy, New York.
It was a community forum group page for my hometown, Rouses Point, just up the road from Chazy on the Canadian Border. An Arctic cold front from above the border rolled into the Champlain Valley last weekend. Temperatures hovering around 20 degrees below zero. Efforts by the local fire departments to put out the blaze were hampered by water freezing upon release from the hoses.
When all was said and done, The Weathercock, what was once a beloved community watering hole, was now a pile of charred wood, ice and smoke. Reactions from the locals poured across social media. Old photos appearing with captions of friends and family gatherings going back several decades. Wild times at The Weathercock, never to be equaled again. In essence, if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t understand.
Peeling through my files, I also came numerous images of blurry, whirlwind nights spent over many moons at the mercy of The Weathercock and its larger-than-life inhabitants. Cold Canadian lager in hand. Shots of well whiskey and tequila. Cash only. Pickled eggs and sausages behind the counter, too. The kind of place legendary dive bars are made of. My kind of place, you dig?
Sure, on the outside, others may say, “Who cares? It’s just an old bar.” Well, for myself and the fine folks of Chazy, The Weathercock was the absolute social hub of a small town with not much left to celebrate these days, a once thriving community now mostly abandoned, in terms of small businesses and the brain-drain that’s occurred — in Chazy, in Rouses Point, in many rural communities along the border. Not much opportunity anymore. Not much left to do but crack open a cold one.
The Weathercock was much more than a hole-in-the-wall dive where your hard-earned money and your well-mannered reputation could both easily disappear after a few rounds of drinks with any and all who sauntered in on an otherwise quiet Friday afternoon.
It was where friendships began for many inside those creaky wooden walls (which was originally a barn), as well as budding romances and eventual marriage proposals. Just as many wedding receptions happened in there as there were classic rock tribute bands setup in the back corner, Fender and Marshall amps cranked to volume 11.
And the same could be said about breakups, divorces, bar brawls, and arguments in the midnight hour of haste and heartache, too. Truth-be-told, that space represented the entire spectrum of the human condition — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and all of us were loyal customers. Economically, socially, but more so spiritually.
For reference, the families of Chazy and Rouses Point overlap, and do so happily. Same last names. Same family trees. Same celebratory gatherings on the weekends. Chazy was, and remains, a small high school, with Northeastern Clinton (my school) in nearby Champlain the larger regional spot. Big soccer and basketball towns, with Chazy routinely winning the New York State Championship.
As a middle school kid back in the 1990s, my cronies and I started being dropped off by our parents in Chazy, whether it was to attend the “Winter Formal” in the tiny cafeteria or to be in the bleachers at a soccer match, all in an effort to maybe get the home phone number of that cute girl who was part of the same friend group your buddies were also in pursuit of.
And it was ‘round that time where I was initially exposed to the annual Happy Pike gathering, which, sadly, is no more in recent years. Taking place in Chazy on the Sunday during Memorial Day Weekend, it was a decades-long booze-fueled rollickin’ town wide good time disguised as a fishing derby on Lake Champlain. Dozens of diehards hit the lake all weekend, only to haul their catch to the community rec park for a fish fry and tailgate celebration.
Each Happy Pike ends with everyone leaving the rec park and heading for The Weathercock to boogie down to the sounds of Mr. Charlie & Blues for Breakfast. Wall-to-wall faces. A sardine can of humanity. The floor sticky from spilled drinks. Intricate covers of Grateful Dead tunes echoing from the stage and out the open doors into the unknown Clinton County night.
Like clockwork, I’d always roll to up to The Weathercock post-Happy Pike with a truck bed full of living-room furniture. My riff-raff friends and I would pop down the tailgate and unload the musty couch, ratty recliner, coffee table, and standup 1940s ashtray, setting up the pieces in the parking lot for all to enjoy and immerse in. That setup still gets mentioned in passing whenever I’m back home for the holidays.
To note, my resourceful father always liked it when I came home the next morning from Happy Pike, the truck bed filled with empty beer cans and bottles for him to recycle and redeem for five cents apiece to buy his daily newspaper and a hearty breakfast meal at the Hungry Bear diner in Plattsburgh.
The last time I stepped into The Weathercock was June 2022 with my mother. We were heading from a visit with friends in Rouses Point back to our family farmhouse in Plattsburgh. Instead of jumping onto the faster Interstate 87, I motored down Route 9B to Route 9, onward to The Weathercock for a couple games of pool, some icy Labatt Blues, and as many Tragically Hip songs on the jukebox as $5 could buy.
An hour later, we popped out the backdoor into the parking lot. Smiles on our faces following another great happenstance at The Weathercock. Cranking up the truck, I turned to my mother and said, “God, I love this place.” “Me too,” she replied. Putting the truck into drive and merging back onto Route 9, I could see The Weathercock now in the rearview mirror.