The former Fish Tale Diner of Salisbury, Mass. suffers fire damage

The restaurant currently known as The Deck, located at the Bridge Marina on Rings Island, hard by the bank of the Merrimack River in Salisbury, Massachusetts suffered a fire on August 22, 2015. Within sight of U.S. Rte. 1 where it crosses the river between Newburyport and Salisbury, the restaurant, formerly known as the Fish Tale Diner (until 2012) experienced heat, water and smoke damage from the fire that appears to have started outside the attached kitchen annex. At the time of this writing the fire was still of an undetermined origin.

Here is the text from an article written by Alexandra Koktsidis for the Boston Globe on August 22, 2016…

Salisbury restaurant damaged in fire
No injuries in early two-alarm blaze
By Alexandra Koktsidis

GLOBE CORRESPONDENT

Conrad Audette, who co-owns The Deck with his father, woke up abruptly at 7 a.m. Saturday when his fiancée ex­claimed that the restaurant was on fire. “I leapt out of bed and ran outside to see smoke down the street,” Audette, who lives near the family’s restaurant in Salisbury, said in an e-mail Saturday. An employee who had spot­ted the fire from the Newburyport Turnpike bridge went im­mediately to Audette’s home to tell him.

A two-alarm fire severely damaged the kitchen of The Deck, a popular and recently renovated seasonal waterfront restaurant in Salisbury, offi­cials said. Located at 179 Bridge Road, The Deck features out­door seating and picturesque views overlooking the Merri­mack River. Reports of the fire were called in at 7:11 a.m., said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Cook, who said no injuries were reported. The fire had been extin­guished by 9 a.m., but fire- • fighters and investigators re­mained on scene into the af­ternoon, he said. “The restaurant opens at 11 a.m., so this was before em­ployees arrive,” Audette said.

“The inspectors still don’t know the cause, but it appar­ently began outside.”Audette said the kitchen and inside seating area of the restaurant were badly dam­aged, but the two decks were intact. The restaurant had made renovations over the past winter, adding a prep room and second deck to dou­ble its capacity. It reopened May 15. “We are a scratch kitchen with a simple menu, but take great care in supporting local ingredients,” Audette said. The Deck offers fresh seafood, pub food, and salads. “We grind our own burgers, bake our own buns, make our dressings and sauces,” Audette said.

Audette said that he doesn’t know how long The Deck, which would have shut for the season in October, will stay closed. “We plan on starting our rebuild as soon as we can,” he said. Susan Turner of Topsfield has dined at The Deck several times with her husband and friends, and she said she en­joys the restaurant’s burgers, swordfish — and Rum Bucket drinks, served in a sand pail with Swedish Fish. “I leapt out of bed and ran outside to see smoke down the street”. Turner heard about the fire on Facebook. “I just thought, ‘Oh, that’s sad!’ It’s a place we love to go, and we feel so badly for the owners,” she said over the phone Saturday.

The Deck opened in July 2013. A restaurant called The Fish Tail had been there. “We saved everything we could for historical respect,” Audette said, including stained-glass windows and hand-crafted cabinets. “Much of the damage was to the origi­nal structure unfortunately,” Audette said. On Saturday, the restau­rant’s Facebook page posted a message about the fire and re­ceived overwhelming support. “Thankfully nobody was in­jured during the fire this morning,” the message said. “We’re grateful and apprecia­tive of all the support.” Christi Maglio, 39, of New­buryport said she had just started going to The Deck this summer with her husband. “It’s just a very down-to-earth place to go,” she said. The nights with live music brought a sense of community, she said, and the view: “It’s beautiful.” “It’s devastating, but I know they’ll reopen as soon as possible;’ she said. Alexandra Koktsidis can be reached at alexandra.koktsidis @globe.com.
Follow her on
Twitter @akoktsidis.

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Worcester Lunch Car No. 762 as the Fish Tale Diner.
March 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

The former diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 762 was built in 1940 and delivered to its first operating location in Ipswich, Massachusetts where it traded as the Agawam Diner from 1940 to 1947 when it was replaced by a larger streamlined diner also built by Worcester. After the diner left Ipswich it was briefly located in Brunswick, Maine (1947-1950, although I am not sure it actually operated there) before moving back to Rowley, Mass. to become one of two locations of the Agawam Diner operated by the Galanis family. It stayed in Rowley until it was again replaced by a newer diner in 1970. It was then sold and moved to Salisbury, eventually becoming the Fish Tale Diner.

When I first started going to the Fish Tale in the early 1980s, it was open very long hours and I seem to recall going there once in the middle of the night! I always enjoyed the location, possibly one of the most scenic spots I know for a diner. When the last proprietors were running it, I recall going there one summer morning and they had the doors open. They were in the habit of feeding a small group of local ducks who lived by the marina. Apparently this particular morning they were in a hurry to open the diner and neglected to feed the ducks in a timely manner. One actually came walking into the diner looking for his oyster crackers!!! I am happy to say that I actually managed to eat at the Fish Tale on the last day they were open and wrote about the diner closing in Diner Hotline – https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/fish-tale-diner-1970-2012/

After the Fish Tale closed, Mark and Conrad Audette – the owners of the marina where the diner was located demolished the old attached kitchen and replaced it with a new building that included a new kitchen as well as rest room facilities. They also did some renovations on the interior keeping the counter, stools and hood intact. They removed the original booths and tables and changed the backbar area. Keeping the attached deck for outdoor seating. the restaurant was renamed “The Deck and opened in July of 2013 and was by all accounts a huge success.

To get back to the fire, it was reported very quickly by news media outlets and was on the internet fairly early. I know I probably shared something on Facebook about it and emailed Bob Higgins my intrepid friend who was more of a regular customer of the diner than I was (he’s retired and gets around more than I do). Bob did manage to get up there before I did and talked with the owner who is hoping to salvage the diner portion of the structure and eventually reopen. I made a quick trip on Labor Day to get some photos (of the exterior only), the following photos show the structure  with the fire damage.

The-Deck-1
The Deck Restaurant, Bridge Marina, Salisbury, Massachusetts showing
fire damage. September 7, 2015 photo by Larry Cultrera

The-Deck-2
The Deck Restaurant, Bridge Marina, Salisbury, Massachusetts showing
fire damage. September 7, 2015 photo by Larry Cultrera

The-Deck-3
The Deck Restaurant, Bridge Marina, Salisbury, Massachusetts showing
fire damage. September 7, 2015 photo by Larry Cultrera

The-Deck-4
The Deck Restaurant, Bridge Marina, Salisbury, Massachusetts showing
fire damage. September 7, 2015 photo by Larry Cultrera

The next few interior shots were courtesy of Bill Power who got up to the diner before I did and like Bob Higgins, got to go inside to inspect the damage…

interior-1_The-Deck
interior photo showing fire damage, Sept. 2015 photo by Bill Power

interior-2_The-Deck
interior photo showing fire damage, Sept. 2015 photo by Bill Power

interior-3_The-Deck
interior photo showing fire damage, Sept. 2015 photo by Bill Power

interior-4_The-Deck
interior photo showing fire damage, Sept. 2015 photo by Bill Power

I spoke briefly with Mark Audette when I was there on September 7th and he reiterated that they want to reopen the restaurant but it all depends on what the outcome is with the insurance investigation. Hopefully what is left of the diner is salvageable!

Fish Tale Diner, 1970 – 2012

Rumors have floated around for the last few years that the Fish Tale Diner of Salisbury, Mass. was eventually going to close. Unfortunately, that day has finally come. Michelle Merrill Freeman and her family have been leasing the diner for 19 years and it is with a heavy heart that they have decided not to renew the lease with their landlord, the Bridge Marina. Various reasons have been mentioned as to the closing (I will not go into that here), but the story is, the diner will probably never reopen at this location again.


Fish Tale Diner, last day of service. March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Fish Tale is Worcester Lunch Car No. 762 and was the original Agawam Diner that was bought brand-new by the Galanis family in 1940 and operated for over 6 years in Ipswich. The Galanis’ bought a larger Worcester Lunch Car in 1947 to replace the first. At that point in time, the first diner was sold to a family who operated it at Cook’s Corner in Brunswick, Maine until 1950, when that owner could not make a go of the business.


Fish Tale Diner, last day of service. March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

It then was bought back by the Galanis’ who had it refurbished by Worcester Lunch Car before having it installed at a new location on the corner of Route 133 and U.S. Route 1 in Rowley, Mass. where it operated until 1970 when it was replaced by the current Agawam Diner. This is when the first Agawam Diner was moved to Salisbury to become the Fish Tale Diner. The new location had to be one of the most scenic operating sites for any diner in Massachusetts. Located on the shore of the Merrimac River on Rings Island overlooking Newburyport, the view was always exquisite!


Fish Tale Diner, last day of service. March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

When I first started patronizing the Fish Tale Diner in the early 1980’s it was being run by “Fast Ed” and Dot Chooljian and their daughters, Debbie, Diane, and Patricia. It was open very long hours, in fact the diner was famous for its overnight hours. I am not sure when they left the business but I do know Michelle Merrill Freeman along with her sisters Jeannie Merrill, Rhonda Merrill Griffin, Mabel Merrill Lewis and Wendy Merrill, have been the heart and soul (as well as the beauty and brains) of this diner  for the past 19 years!


Denise Cultrera sitting at the counter at the Fish Tale Diner,
last day of service. March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the last couple of years, I have been getting semi-regular news updates from the stalwart Bob Higgins who has managed to frequent the diner once or twice a week for a number of years. He has been relating to me news such as the possible imminent closing of the diner due to various circumstances that might have been happening. But luckily, most of those have gone by the wayside until now. A couple of weeks ago, he told me that the diner was closing for sure, by the end of this month (if not sooner).


Fish Tale Diner, last day of service. March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

So I started making plans to have one last breakfast at the diner. I had been shooting for yesterday (Saturday the 10th of March) but the weather turned out to be a little iffy with snow squalls in that section of the North Shore. So I decided to stay close to home. That very same afternoon Bob informed me via email that the diner was closing today so that sealed the deal and Denise and I headed up to Salisbury this morning around 7:00 am. We walked thru the door and there was Bob Higgins along with his wife Jeanne. So we all had a nice last meal enjoying the service of waitress extraordinaire Mabel Lewis.


Jeanne & Bob Higgins along with Mabel Lewis at the Fish Tale Diner,
last day of service. March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

One thing I should mention, whenever I have had breakfast at the Fish Tale Diner in recent years, I have always ordered the “Apple Pancakes”! This diner is one of the few that carried that item on the menu and I could not bring myself to order anything else! I will certainly miss that!


close-up of the sign of the Fish Tale Diner, last day of service.
March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

I, along with other diner enthusiasts lament the closing and can only hope that the owners of the Bridge Marina my decide to sell the diner at a later date to someone who will move it and hopefully reopen it at a new location.


One last look at the Fish Tale Diner, last day of service. Goodbye old friend!
March 11, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera