NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Although the legendary Charlie O’s Tavern will soon disappear under the waves of time, longtime patrons say they will remember forever how this restaurant glued together friends, food and fun.
This local landmark — more important to loyal customers than the National Trust for Historic Preservation — is scheduled for demolition sometime in April. The nearly 80-year-old building will be replaced with a new, sleeker, high-end pub.
That change, though, won’t erase Meghan Murray’s memories. She wrote on social media to friend Conrad Ferla, “I haven’t had a Bud Lite pitcher since like 2006. It feels like that semi-warm beer was just yesterday.”
“I’m going to have to take a picture before it’s torn down. I don’t think many of my out-of-state college friends even got back in there since we graduated,” she added.
Destruction of the closed restaurant is symbol of time sweeping into eternity bygone days in Narragansett’s early history that will never come again. The property was recently sold for just under $1 million after shutting down nearly two years ago.
Fate did not hold a winning card for Charlie O’s to continue occupying the corner of Sand Hill Cove and Point Judith roads where it has been for almost eight decades.
In that time, the building has seen hurricanes, thousands of customers and several incarnations under names like White’s, Markey’s, Barnaby’s Landing, The Point and lastly, Charlie O’s.
“I just couldn’t hold on to it any longer. It was time to let go,” said Christopher Simon, former owner who bought the business from Charlie Samaras, who is now a business consultant at George’s in Galilee, just down the road.
For his part, Samaras said, “My wife, Debbie, and I are thrilled and honored to have shared our beloved Charlie O’s with the community for 16 years.”
The name Charlie O’s appeared in 1990, when Samaras bought, renovated and renamed this old fishermen’s bar then called The Point because of its location at the tip of Point Judith.
It became a popular restaurant that drew visitors and vacationers from all corners of New England. It also was a regular spot for decades for University of Rhode Island students living nearby in Narragansett and South Kingstown.
In 2006, Samaras sold the business to Simon, a longtime employee, who started working at Charlie O’s in 1993 as a waiter. Simon also later bought the property. He declared bankruptcy in 2019 and closed the restaurant, which has never reopened.
Perhaps more than under any of its previous identities, Charlie O’s attracted a broad base of followers and customers.
They included sports fans who watched games on wide-screen TVs, rowdy college students, families on a night out and tourists coming for a bite to eat after swimming at nearby Scarborough or Roger W. Wheeler beaches or getting off the Block Island Ferry.
In a somewhat spontaneous virtual reunion this week on Facebook, devotees of Charlie O’s shared recollections of good times, wonderful food and even some underage drinking.
“They had this huge snowboarding game that was ridiculous, a shuffleboard, pool table, and other games. Almost like a Twin Willows for that side of ‘Gansett,” posted Nick Tabachini, referring to another arcade-offering restaurant at the time in Narragansett’s north end of town.
“Parents could give kids a few bucks and they’d be occupied until dinner,” he said.
Mark Casey wrote, “Didn’t The Point in the 80s have custom beer mugs with one’s name on them?”
He is among scores making Charlie O’s their version of the famed Boston “Cheers” bar. The Bull & Finch Pub, now Cheers Beacon Street, inspired that old TV series about drinking or working at a bar where everybody knows your name.
Jan Maroney Kaseta replied, “I had a custom mug when it was Barnaby’s Landing. Big white mug with BL and your name on it. Used for Monday Night Football get togethers in the late 70’s. Chappy behind the bar.”
Kari Reilly added, “My favorite surfer guy bartender…”
On the other hand, fun there could sometimes bring connections with the most unlikely of people, Paul Holder remembered about one night.
“Hot damn. I have a story to tell. This was in the early 2000’s when I was in my 20’s. I used to go to Charlie O’s regularly, and knew about their upstairs game room. I went there one night, and went to the downstairs bar first, and had a couple of beers,” he said.
He then ordered another beer and went upstairs to a second level where there was a different bar.
“I went into the upstairs bar, and saw a lot of large guys with police department and fire department t-shirts on. And saw one guy walking around with a fake shackle around his ankle,” he wrote.
“I sat at the bar, and ordered another drink, and the bartender was like ‘How did you get in here?’ And I told him, well I just walked in the door. And he was like ‘This is a private bachelor party, and these guys are all cops and firefighters.’”
Nonetheless, he was invited to stay, Holder said.
Other memories are more sentimental. Elizabeth Burke Gould wrote, “Not only did I work at Charlie O’s in the 90s but my grandparents owned it in the 70s. So the memories I have are endless.”
She continued, “Priceless memories of spending time with my grandparents in the summertime as a little girl as well as working for Charlie as a young woman.”
Bill Bertherman said that he prized mudslides at The Point. Angela Paraskevakos, meanwhile, said that she’ll remember “being allowed to drink underage and play pool at The Point....as long as we behaved.”
Catherine Anne Galliot wrote that each year she and her young daughter, Kelsey, would go to Narragansett for the day to look around and select a vacation summer rental.
“The first question she would ask was ‘Can we please go to Charlie O’s for chicken nuggets?,’” Galliot said. “He (Samaras) always was so personable and welcoming. The food was always so delicious.”
“It was a great family place where many of the Galliot families memories were made,” she added.
That is also a memory that T.J. Martucci, who spent his formative years in Narragansett, has and wants to re-create again.
He is the new owner of the property and his firm, The Martucci Group, plans to build a new restaurant on the property in the coming months.
The group owns and operates in East Greenwich the Safehouse Modern Neighborhood Eatery, Besos Kitchen & Cocktails, The Trap Brew Pub & Grill, and Kai Bar & Restaurant.
In an interview this week with The Independent, Martucci said that he wants to model the new business on The Trap.
He said described the planned new restaurant as a high-end pub, a good place to watch a game without being in a sports bar and having a split-level design with a ground-floor entertainment section, table-service area and bar.
The second floor, he said, would include mezzanine-level seating that will look over the entertainment area. It also will have space for a private-party gathering. Building designs and plans are currently before Narragansett town officials for review.
“I want to take Charlie O’s and what Chris Simon did and take it to the next level,’ Martucci said about making a more modern and contemporary restaurant for that area of Narragansett.
He said that he expects the old Charlie O’s restaurant to be demolished sometime in April. Construction could go well into December, he said, with a potential early 2022 opening.
The current Trap menu, if brought to the new Narragansett location, has the potential to soothe former Charlie O’s patron, Debbie Zahornacky. She said that the former restaurant had the “best boneless Buffalo wings.”
She may find that The Trap could give her a full pound of “our award-winning jumbo wings or five boneless chicken tenderloins with fresh celery sticks and your choice of one of our famous sauces.”
It just can’t give her back Charlie O’s.