Alice’s Restaurant Returns to the Berkshires
Dream Away Lodge Honors Women Chefs
By: Charles Giuliano - Mar 27, 2014
The rambling song “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie is an icon of the 1960s. It spawned the film by Arthur Penn as well as “The Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook” which has gone through four printings. For the past 36 years Alice Brock has lived in Provincetown. She returns to Dream Away Lodge May 17 and 18 with evenings of her recipes prepared by Chef Amy Loveless. It is the second in a series created by Loveless to honor renowned women chefs of the Berkshires.
Charles Giuliano Tell me about your return to the Berkshires.
Alice Brock This is something that Amy Loveless the chef at Dream Away came up with. She wanted to honor the women chefs in the Berkshires. She’s had Ruth Bronz who was a chef in the ‘70s when I was there. She was there for awhile and went on. She had a shot at television and I don’t know what happened.
When I opened my restaurant Amy was a little girl. Her father worked across the street and used to bring her over for lunch. She decided that was what she wanted to do.
I had a number of restaurants. The first one was like a little luncheonette. It was down a little alley in Stockbridge next to what was then a grocery store. It was called The Back Room. I wanted people to think it wasn’t right on the street. I didn’t have that very long. Maybe a year and a half.
CG Can you give me a time when that was?
AB OK give me a moment I’m looking. If you live long enough you can’t remember everything. I have a cheat sheet somewhere.
CG I locked myself out of the car today after lunch in Adams. We had to wait an hour and a half for AAA to come. So we all have our senior moments.
AB (Laughs) Yeah. An hour and a half. Gosh. Let me see (perusing cheat sheet). I’m in the ‘60s here. Aaha, 1966. I didn’t have that place for very long because I was having problems with my personal life. My married life.
(In 1979, Ray Brock died of a heart attack in his native Virginia.)
I ran away. I closed the place. And took off for awhile.
CG Where did you go?
AB I think I went to your house.
CG (Laughs) Without getting too lurid I recall that we slept together the first night we met.
AB Well, that’s right. But I had been sleeping in that bed before you came back. (Laughing) I know you said that at my wedding “I slept with the bride.” Something like that.
CG To tell the truth I was living in New York and came back to Cambridge. I asked Jim Jacobs if I could crash at his place. He said sure but you’ll have to share the bed with my friend Alice. It was “Hi Alice. Good night.” For the record nothing happened.
AB No, nothing happened.
CG But it’s one of my fond memories.
AB I thought that was your room. One whole wall was a collage. It was risqué as I recall.
CG No it was Jim Jacobs’s apartment. That may have been Phil Bleeth’s room.
AB No. Because Phil was there.
CG If he slept with you it wouldn’t have been platonic. He’s living in Thailand now. (Father of Yasmine Bleeth formerly of the TV show Bay Watch.) So you ran away and then I guess you came back (to the Berkshires).
AB Yep. I came back, oh what does it say on this sheet here, oh yeah, that’s when Ray and I made up. There was the wedding. That was in ’67.
CG Benno (Friedman) was the minister. I guess I was there.
AB You were.
CG Benno took a photo of us in a vintage car. I was at Thanksgiving in the church (purchased for $2,000 and renovated by Ray and a crew of their former students) but not the famous one.
There was a rope hanging over the nave. Next to it was scaffolding. The guys were taking turns climbing up and swinging over the tables. When it was my turn I just grabbed the rope and plunged straight down crashing into a table and sending the food flying. I wasn’t much of a Tarzan. Lucky I didn’t crack my head.
That’s when they had the triangle motorcycle club.
AB Yes the Trinity.
CG I put them on the cover of Avatar. Also I wrote a story on the movie for the Sunday Magazine of the Boston Herald Traveler. That was before they hired me as the rock critic.
You were cooking in the Berkshires but then you left.
AB I wasn’t gone that long. I came back and Ray and I made peace and we had that wedding. But it didn’t hold. In ’68 I went to Boston. Then late ’68 was the movie.
CG You became famous.
CG And still are.
AB Yeah but I would have been famous anyway.
CG (Laughing) Why’s that?
AB I’m just that kind of person.
CG You then left the Berkshires and have been living in Provincetown.
AB Now almost 36 years.
CG Good heavens.
AB Isn’t that amazing.
CG Why did you leave the Berkshires?
AB We’re not done with the restaurants. I had two more restaurants. You haven’t done any of your homework have you?
CG I do it all from the seat of my pants.
AB OK. Let’s see. It’s after the movie. I was living in Housatonic. It was a combination gas station and sandwich shop. A beer and wine place on the side of 183. It was for sale and I bought it. For takeout. It was called Takeout Alice. (Later expanded into the 50 seat Alice’s Restaurant.)
CG (Laughs) How did the movie and the record impact you? How was your life different after that?
AB Well, it wasn’t pleasant for quite awhile. I was getting attention, as far as I was concerned, for the wrong reason. People would say “I know you but you don’t know me.”
It doesn’t work like that. They saw something in the movie that they thought they understood. That wasn’t me. That was someone else’s idea of me. It just really impinged on your privacy. It’s just amazing how brazen people can be when you’re a supposed public figure.
CG There were stories about people stopping by the church. Knocking on the door. Looking in the windows.
AB Oh yeah. (Laughing) That was even before the movie. As well as after. We sold the church at that point. Arlo (Guthrie) bought it a few years ago. Quite a few years later. It was owned by other people for awhile.
(A not-for-profit interfaith foundation The Guthrie Center was established in the former church. At 2 Van Deusenville Rd, Great Barrington, MA 01230 (413) 528-1955. The 2014 Troubadour Series will be announced soon.)
CG Talk to me about your life in Provincetown. Have you been cooking all these years?
AB No. I did work in two different restaurants here in town. For, let me see, ten or twelve years. But I was doing prep in the middle of the night. It wasn’t my recipes I was following someone else’s recipes. Just making the soups and sauces and cutting the meat.
CG It seems you have been in food all of your adult life.
AB (Laughs) When I was a kid (in Brooklyn) I was a problem eater. My mother was very concerned because I wouldn’t eat. The doctors said, well then, don’t feed her. Sure enough, I started eating again. She just didn’t put any food in front of me. Until I was finally, hey.
CG I’m hungry. Did you teach yourself how to cook?
AB Yeah. I think so. Nobody else taught me. I ate out a lot when I was a kid. We went to restaurants and talked about food all the time.
CG What’s going to happen at the Dream Away? (1342 County Road, Becket, MA 01223 Reservations 413 623-8725)
AB Amy Loveless has this idea that she wants to celebrate the women chefs of the Berkshires. Of which there aren’t too many. I’m the second but I don’t know who else she has in mind. At first she was just going to make one of my recipes and put it on her menu. Then she decided to do an all Alice’s menu. A big menu with all kinds of appetizers, soups, entrees, and desserts. All from my recipes. It’s food that I used to serve in my restaurants. That’s really nice. It’s going to be two nights. The 17th and 18th of May. On the 17th there will also be a band.
CG I was fortunate to be in the “Alice’s Restaurant Cook Book.” (Photographs by Benno Friedman.)
AB With an apple in your mouth.
CG In the chapter on stuffing. (Both laugh) How appropriate. Me with an apple in my mouth like a stuffed pig.
AB Yes you were. (Laughs)
CG How would you describe your cuisine? What’s distinctive about it?
AB Heavy handed.
CG (Laughs) Heavy handed.
CG That’s hilarious.
AB It’s always a little too much butter. A little too much garlic. A little too much whatever it is a little too much. It’s not that it’s hot and spicy. It’s just rich. Very rich.
CG Is that still true of your cooking.
CG How is your cholesterol?
AB It’s amazing but my cholesterol is OK. And I live on butter and eggs and cheese and meat, bacon, sausage. (Laughs)
CG It sounds like classic American cuisine.
AB No. They were all foreign recipes. I would say it was eclectic. Basically it was heavy handed. We had Chinese, Greek, Russian, Italian, French; all these different things on the menu. Either I had tasted them and tried to figure out how to make them. I wanted to taste something like that. I would look at cook books but I never followed them.
CG I remember when you wanted to go to Blantyre’s (Prix Fixe for five courses $165.00 per person. Prix Fixe with Wine Tasting $300.00 per person) You wanted to experience that level of fine dining in the Berkshires. It was an amazing experience.
AB I had just made all that money from the movie. Peanuts really. ($12,000) To me it was a lot. I bought that white Mustang and we all went to Blantyre’s.
CG You like to dine out.
AB Oh yeah. I like to eat out so I don’t have to do the dishes. It’s the act of breaking bread. That’s where it all comes from. It’s a time of peace through the sharing of a meal. It’s a need that all humans have. There’s something attractive to me to be a nourisher.
CG Talk to me about the Thanksgiving gatherings because that’s certainly part of the spirit.
AB (Laughs) Oh God. The first Thanksgiving was in a loft down by the Fulton Fish Market where Ray lived. I cooked the turkey in a coal stove. It took about eight or nine hours. That first big (Berkshire) Thanksgiving was a great meal. It was a tradition and I wanted to do it. We had just recently moved into the church. We wanted all our friends to come and check it out.
CG Then there was a problem with getting rid of the garbage.
AB (Laughs) Yup.
CG Officer Obie. Amazing that it became an iconic moment of that era.
AB A lot of it was timing. The song (Arlo’s “Alice’s Restaurant”) was very timely and everyone was just ready for it.
CG I heard it on Bob Fass’s show on WBAI. He was one of the first to play such a very long song on the radio. Then the Thanksgivings became a tradition.
AB That Benno (and Stephanie) are still carrying on. I went to the last one. I hadn’t even been to the Berkshires in a few years.
CG What’s it like to be back in the Berkshires like this upcoming gathering at Dream Away?
AB It’s great to see everybody. I consider them all my close friends. I’m kind of a hermit here in Provincetown.
CG We dropped in on you a couple of years ago.
AB Yeah. I didn’t recognize you.
CG (Laughs) Oh well. Time.
AB Not that you didn’t look good.
CG I said to Astrid let’s go visit a friend of mine. Alice. We rang the doorbell and you seemed surprised to see us.
AB I was. I always prefer people to call. I don’t like that kind of a surprise. I might be busy daydreaming.
CG You make things. We visited your gallery or studio. (Images may be viewed at AliceBrock.com)
AB I paint. You should check out the Wall Street Journal piece on me. They got it right which is rare in journalism. They have all the dates.
CG Who cares about dates I want to know how do you feel? How you doing?
AB I’m looking out at the water here. It’s stopped snowing.
CG Can you believe it? How much snow do you have?
AB It’s hard to tell it blew so much. The wind was really horrendous.
CG We’re talking about March 26 and it’s snowing on the Cape.
AB When I ran Avaloch the last place I owned, we had a snow storm in May.
(Alice's at Avaloch included a swimming pool and a disco. In 1976 she borrowed money and moved her former Alice’s Restaurant to the 22-acre resort in Lenox. It closed in 1979. She published "My Life as a Restaurant" in 1975. “The Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook” was published in 1969 and has gone through four printings.)
The apple trees were already blooming when we had a fantastic blizzard.
CG Do you go out dining in Provincetown and where do you like to go?
AB Yes I do go out but not as often as I used to. There’s quite a few places. Ciro and Sal’s is a classic. (4 Kiley Ct, Provincetown, MA 02657 (508) 487-6444) In the summer I like to go to Bubalas. (183 Commercial Street 508 487-0773)
CG Do you hangout and have some drinks that kind of thing?
AB No. Maybe I did when I first moved here. But not really. I’ve really become a recluse in a lot of ways. I still drink but I don’t go out to drink. I couldn’t afford to. A drink is like $12.
CG Can you believe it. When we go out Astrid doesn’t drink. I drink wine at home but not in restaurants because it’s too expensive. Instead we share an appetizer. It’s crazy and the house wine is never as good as what I enjoy at home. I don’t know how young people do it. Today I couldn’t afford to be dating. Any more Provincetown restaurants? There are always so many.
AB I like Dalla Cucina. (404 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA 02657-2317 508-487-5404) There’s a place just outside Provincetown on Route 6, Montanos. (481 U.S. 6, Truro, MA 61301 (508) 487-2026)
CG We went there and liked it.
AB I really like the food there.
CG Can you give us a hint of what you’re going to serve at Dream Away.
AB Remember. It’s not me. It’s Amy Loveless.
CG It will be your recipes. Right? Is she going to go heavy handed on the butter?
AB I hope so.
CG (Laughs) Can you give us a hint on something that will be served?
AB Beef Stroganoff. In a new exciting way. And Alice’s Special Shrimp.
CG You’re coming?
AB Yep. I’ll be there. Linda Lamole lives in California. She’s coming here mid May and will drive me to the Berkshires as well as back. We’re going to hang out here.
CG It sounds like great fun and we will enjoy seeing you again in the Berkshires at the fabulous Dream Away.
Coverage of Alice's at Dream Away Lodge.