Amsterdamian’s still celebrate New Year’s Eve the same way they did back when I was a kid. You either attend a house party or you go out to a restaurant or club of some sort and celebrate in public. The difference between then and now was that thirty, forty and fifty years ago, Amsterdam offered a lot more options for your New Year’s Eve celebrating. It seemed as if every fraternal, religious, veterans, social and ethnicity-based organization in Amsterdam, hosted catered New Years Eve parties in their club rooms, complete with noisemakers, open bar, and live music. The phrase “From 10 PM to ?” was a common element in each of their newspaper ads, signaling that the evening of fun would only end when you decided to go home, usually at dawn the next day.
Augmenting these closed group celebrations were the New Years Eve parties hosted at many of Amsterdam’s restaurants and bars. Several of these establishments brought in live music for the night, offered special menus and provided plenty of party hats and noisemakers. Going back to the 1930’s, Amsterdam had major hotels, like the Warner, the Barnes, the Philip Schuler and the Conrad, offering Complete New Year’s Eve packages that included dinner, dancing and a room for the night. Decades later, the Holiday Inn would revive this total package concept at their new Market Street location.
As you might imagine, every band, combo and quartet both from in the city and from miles around would be working that night. For local musicians like Tony Brooks, Deanie Dale, Dusty Miller, Johnny Cole, Alex Amendola, Art Hoefs, Butch Robertshaw and every Polka Band on Reid Hill, New Years Eve was just another work day.
It was also the one night of the year that my Mom and Dad would actually dress up and go out on a real date. My two older brothers and I would end up doing what the rest of Amsterdam did to celebrate. Go to a house party.
New Years Eve celebrations at my grandmother’s house are one of my favorite childhood memories. Talk about tight quarters, she lived in one side of a two story duplex in Amsterdam’s West End. There would be eleven of us crammed into her 12 x 10 living room that seated five. Instead of Carson Dailey or Ryan Seacrest on a 55 inch flat screen with stereo sound system, we’d watch and listen to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians orchestra ring in the New Year on my gram’s 15″ black & white Philco. My Aunt Onnie would make fried dough with raisins (Italians called them azeepoolah) and dozens of sandwiches which she’d package in those tiny wax paper bags that were used before clear plastic wrap came along. Us kids would drink Shirley Temple’s out of the same bell-shaped green and black circled glasses she’d use for our Sunday night ice cream sodas in the summer. At midnight, she’d make us a genuine highball. Since I was only five or six year’s old, she’d only give me half a shot of Seagram’s 7 with my ginger ale! (I kid you not)
The dining room in my Gram’s apartment was the same exact 12 x 10 size as the living room and it also contained the dreaded gas stove that used to heat the place. They’d keep that sucker so hot they would actually roast chestnuts on it. The temperature in the room would get so high, the grownup men would take their shirts off (in January!) At exactly midnight, my crazy Uncle would grab his shotgun and go out in the middle of Leonard Street in his long john’s to fire a salute to the New Year. We celebrated New Years exactly the same way for the first ten to twelve years of my life. The only thing that changed was that when I turned ten, my aunt would make my highball with a full shot of Seagram’s instead of half. It’s one of those great memories you store away and never ever forget. May your next New Year’s eve celebration be the best yet and may it usher in a year filled with good health, much love and good fortune (and at least one azeepoolah!)