By Robert Emro, Staff Writer

Herald Sunday, Sunday, August 8, 1999

[The following article is courtesy of the Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

Kitchen Manager Moustafa Aly and Sauteé Cook Jennifer Lazzaro clean brass railings for the bar at Lamie’s Tavern in preparation for its re-opening.
[Staff Photo by Robert Emro]

HAMPTON — Lamie’s Tavern is getting a new look — and a new name — but its new owner promised to remain true to the landmark nature of the property.

“It’s kind of like polishing up an old penny,” said Rick Perkal, who is completely renovating the tavern in preparation for opening his restaurant, which will be called “The Cat in the Custard Cup.”

“If I don’t do it right, I could destroy a very special place,” he said. Perkal, who is leasing the space from building owner Antonello Rizzi, said he searched for over 18 months for a place that would suit his restaurant. He wanted a location where he could show-case his and his wife’s collection of Americana as well as serve lunch and dinner seven days a week.

A resident of Andover, Mass., Perkal commutes to Lamie’s to oversee the renovations. The project has been underway for two weeks and when it’s completed, the tavern will have refinished walls and booths, new carpets, a new coat of paint, as well as new music and phone systems.

“We’ve done a very large scale remodeling here,” said Perkal. “and the difficulty with that is it’s a landmark property and you want to be really true to the restaurant and the architecture.”

Perkal said that historical records reveal the core of current structure, located on the corner of Lafayette and Exeter roads, is a house dating back to 1740. The building was just converted to an inn and tavern in 1928 by Albert and Madeline Lamie.

Acquired by the Dunfey family in 1954. the inn has hosted many campaigning presidential candidates, as well as President and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower, who spent two nights at Lamie’s while visiting grandson, David, at Phillips Exeter Academy.

“There’s a lot of history to this building,” said Bob Houle, marketing and advertising director for Hampton Beach. “In the 50s it was the traditional after-prom destination. It was the epitome of style.”

Houle sometimes works out of the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce office, which is located in the building, and said he can remember when Lamie’s was the only place in town where one could get an alcoholic beverage.

Though it was a “dry” town until the early 70s, Houle said Hampton allowed Lamie’s to serve alcohol because of a right to serve food and “grog” dating hack to the original land grant. But he said it only applied to travelers. and bartenders would sometimes ask people for identification to prove that they were from out of town.

The Cat in the Custard Cup takes its name from an up-scale restaurant in California called “Cat on the Custard Cup,” which got its name from a nursery rhyme, said Perkal. “We liked the name because it didn’t take itself too seriously,” he said. It also grabs people’s attention. “You either love it or you hate it.”

The new bar will house the Perkals collection of sports memorabilia, which he said includes one-of-a-kind items previously seen only at the baseball, basketball and football Hall of Fame buildings. The displays will feature game-used baseball hats; uniforms actually worn by legendary athletes; autographed, limited-edition lithographs; and large original black and white, autographed, one-of-a-kind photographs, Perkal said.

The first dining room of the new restaurant will retain its traditional Colonial style, including a slate floor and fireplace. The glassed-in area adjacent to this room will become a garden dining area adorned with old garden artifacts, signs and flowers. A third dining room will feature a period barber- shop, and 1800s apothecary motif, includin a barber pole, cases of straight edges and blades; and original cardboard signs from the era.

“It should feel like you’re being transported back in time,” said Perkal. The restaurant will also feature a special room for parties of eight or more, a VIP room for intimate dinner parties and a table in the kitchen, by reservation only.

Guests will receive a complimentary cup of custard with their meal, the new owner said. In the bottom of each cup will be a picture of either a cat or a mouse. Guests lucky enough to receive a mouse can take 15 percent off the cost of their meal.

Perkal said be has 30 years experience in the corporate restaurant business, most recently as the vice president for New England Au Bon Pain restaurants, but this is his first time launching an entrepreneurial venture.

“This is my absolute dream come true,” he said. “I just hope God’s not punishing me by giving me exactly what I asked for.”

How do you pronounce Lamie’s?

HAMPTON — Unless you want to be marked as an outsider, don’t pronounce Lamie’s by the way it looks.

The correct way to pronounce the name of the town’s landmark inn and tavern is “LA-may’s,” not “LAM-ee’s,” accordine to restaurateur Rick Perkal, owner of the soon-to-be-opened Cat in the Custard Cup.

I called it that at first, but Nello (building owner Antonello Rizzi) corrected me,” said Perkal.

“That’s how you distinguish a local,” said Bob Houle, marketing director for Hampton Beach. “It’s definitely an insider’s thing to know it’s LA- may’s.”

“That’s certainly not the way I pronounced it when I first saw it,” said Town Manager James Barrington, adding that he now uses the correct pronunciation, which he said was French.

Robert Emro