Craig and Denise Gregorka.
Story and Photos by Katie Drake
This is the second installment in my series about the history of the Renaissance in Little Falls. In the first story: A Phone Booth I talked about the interesting life of the phone booth before it was given to Craig and Denise Gregorka.
That phone booth was how they met.
One fine day a while back in Little Falls, a beautiful woman with long dark curly hair was sitting at the Renaissance enjoying a drink. The owner, Craig Gregorka, immediately noticed her and wanted to get her attention. To know Craig is to know what a fun person he is, so it was no surprise that he decided to make his first introduction to her a memorable one.
Craig went into the phone booth and shut the door, proceeded to act like he was stuck in there making a lot of noise and shaking the booth until she finally noticed. When he saw her watching him, he got the door “unstuck” and came tumbling out. He purposely feigned getting his leg caught in a bar stool and pretended to fall. He popped up right in front of the beautiful woman, now hysterically laughing at him, and introduced himself. She says it was love at first sight. Her name is Denise Gregorka and they have been happily married for many years.
When I sat down with Craig and Denise, they were excited to reminisce about the Renaissance. The twinkle in Craig’s eye was bright as he talked about the memories, the laughs, and the fun people. Denise said, “Craig was kind of like…” he interjected, “A drunk.” We all got a good laugh at his quick wit and she finished by saying, “…the father of the Renaissance.” Like the beautiful antique pillars, one of which they keep in the corner of their dining room, a tall memory of the beautiful place he created.
If you have ever stepped foot in (or fell into) the Renaissance over the years, you may have noticed small black penny tiles outlining the words Lewis in white. The Lewis building sits on Main Street and was owned by Craig’s grandfather, Frank Gregorka, and was home to the family business, Gregorka Camera Shop. Craig worked for his father and eventually took it on as Gregorka Camera & Stereo which was also a very popular and exclusive Technics brand franchise selling audio equipment. Business was booming. At that time there were bars on every corner.
Some years later, Technics opened up its franchise and diluted the market. Business at the camera and stereo shop slowed. Like most of the residents here, Craig frequented the many drinking establishments in Little Falls, but he never loved the atmosphere in any one of them.
And so, he decided he wanted to open his own place to create a place with a classy atmosphere. He started building a collection of fine pieces. Gorgeous mirrors, beautiful chandeliers, pillars from Carpanetti’s Barbershop, and then he built the bar himself with the help of his cousin. Craig secured a cigarette machine, jukebox, and a bowling machine from Mike Martin.
Surely, after hearing his phone booth story about meeting Denise, it would be fair to say Craig is a lucky man. He met a man who wanted to send his mom slides from a big trip he had taken but didn’t have any money, so he offered to trade some stained glass for the slides. (For any of you young whippersnappers reading this, slides were pictures that you viewed with a slide projector – long before cell phones were a thing). He picked out several beautiful stained-glass pieces for his new place.
In 1980, after much hard work, sweat equity, and thoughtful decorating he opened his new place, and the icon of Renaissance was born.
It was a beautiful place, with nice table cloths and fresh flowers on every table, 25 imported beers, always great music playing, and the characters that still make up Little Falls never stopped flowing in. There was never any fighting. It was, indeed, a fun and classy place – exactly what Craig had hoped to create. When they first opened, he served lunches. The older ladies from town would come in for his famous quiche or sandwiches. There were a group of chess players that were regulars. And so many more.
Craig attributes much of the success of Renaissance because he was fortunate to have good help, especially good bartenders who didn’t need a lot of instinct to be nice to each other and to the customers. People like Sue (Hughes) Regan and many others are remembered fondly. Craig would bartend on special nights, big parties, and holidays. He added, “I was a good bartender… when I wanted to be.”
Halloween was always a wild and fun time, with great memories. People would go all out with great costumes, and the Renaissance was always the place to be and became famous for their annual party. At Christmas time, fresh boughs were brought in.
When I asked Craig and Denise to share some of their favorite Renaissance stories, Craig smiled when he said, “It’s ironic, I haven’t been in a bar in so many years…” and added, “The best stories are the everyday stories.”
And that they are. Here are a few of the favorites that will help you either fondly remember, or glean a sneak peek into what it was like at the iconic Renaissance. If you know, you know.
Like one local man who most of us know, who is infamous for his famous trick. He would wait until later in the night for the perfect opportunity to perform his talent. He would do a handstand, but not just any ordinary handstand. A small crowd would gather to cheer him on. Friends would hold him by the legs and lower him to a full beer placed on the floor. He would pick it up with his teeth and drink the entire thing upside down. Everyone would cheer. I know this gentleman and believe he has retired this talent, as he has many. But who knows? Maybe with enough requests… Could we convince him to do this again?
Or the group of old-timers who were “early morning scotch drinkers” and would come in once a week. As the story goes, long before Renaissance, these four men would gather together weekly to drink and would all go in on a lottery ticket. One time they actually won… something to the tune of $1 million dollars, which was a lot of money then and now. Except, on that particular week, one of the friends wasn’t there. The other three, of course, gave him his cut, but never let him forget it.
On their weekly trips to Renaissance, the good friends could be heard breaking the balls of the third guy about the fact that they did him this big favor by giving him a cut, which that guy said he deserved. Everyone looked forward to the weekly laughs about the ongoing lotto “argument” from this crew.
Craig owned a cat named Dittle who would come down from Craig’s upstairs apartment and sit on a barstool near the hallway to the bathroom and would sometimes bite people for no apparent reason as they entered. Once a lady said to Craig, “I want you to know that cat bit me!” Craig replied, “He’s bitten me too” and left it at that. Craig said, “Dittle could be so nice and sweet sometimes and a nasty little thing the next.”
There was one local family that just loved Renaissance. The whole crew would gather together when everyone was home. They would be there all night, talking, laughing, and drinking. Once at closing time, Craig came up to them and said, “Geeze, I feel bad… I’ve never had to throw out a whole family before.” Every time he runs into them, they still laugh about that night.
Craig’s apartment was on the 3rd floor. The Penthouse he called it. And he had a hot tub up there. Occasionally, you had to let all the water out to clean it. Then you would have to fill it back up again. On several occasions, he would get busy and forget he was filling the hot tub, and he created a waterfall all the way down to the bar on the main floor.
The very first night they opened in 1980, a tradition was born as closing time. Every night for the entire ten years that Craig Gregorka owned the Renaissance he would put on the record of a song by The Bands, called The Last Waltz. Every night at closing time, he would call ‘last call’ and people would hear the familiar tune.
Over the years, people who were imbibing at other establishments would look at their watches and down their drinks and rush down to Renaissance for last call. Laughing and blurry-eyed, they would flood through the doors to end their night with The Last Waltz. People would dance, girls would twirl around the floor, or even sometimes on the bar, and everyone would join together to hum or la, la, la along in unison. It was a revered Little Falls tradition for a decade. When the dance was over, everyone would join Craig as he loudly declared with a smile and that famous twinkle in his eye, “You don’t have to go home… but you can’t stay here.”
To this day, whenever Craig and Denise listen to music at home before bed, they always play The Last Waltz. Only now, they ask Alexa to play it for them. They often reminisce about the wonderful people and times of the Renaissance. And the phone booth was there to see it all.
And that young bartender, Sue Hughes, well… she made Craig an offer to buy the place and he accepted. In the next installment of this series, we’ll hear from Sue Hughes, who came to be the second owner of the ionic Renaissance.
Katie Drake moved to Little Falls in 2003 and fell in love with this city. She says she isn’t really a writer, but a storyteller.
The opportunity to highlight the great people of Little Falls, share her personal perspectives and some humor from time to time piqued her interest and here we are.
Just ask her, and she’ll tell you that after growing up in Millers Mills, population 25+ (according to the sign), Little Falls was just the right size. Katie is the oldest of her two brothers and five sisters.
In 2020 Katie and her best friend Chris began their greatest adventure yet in 2020, with the birth of their sweet and sassy son Nolan who makes them laugh every day.
In her free time, Katie loves to snowmobile, golf, hike, and travel.
If you have feedback on one of her articles or an idea for a story, please feel free to reach out to Katie at KatherineDrakeLF@gmail.com, she would love to hear from you.
If this article leaves you wanting more, or you are just bored out of your mind, feel free to check out other articles she has contributed by visiting Katie Drake Archives – My Little Falls.