Closing time in September at Mickey Rats nightclub in Angola-on-the-Lake once involved a funeral ceremony burying summer in a casket in the sand.
They stopped doing that about a decade ago, but those on hand for Saturday night’s closing party at the popular lakeside nightclub couldn’t help but wonder if they were attending another funeral.
For the nightclub itself.
“It’ll be the end of an era – I’ll tell you that,” said Bill Connors, a retired Buffalo firefighter and owner of the nearby Connors Hot Dog stand.
Whether Mickey Rats’ 1973 beginning ended for good Saturday, though, remains to be seen.
Its manager, Tom Alberts, said plans for next season are to reopen on April 7.
“As of now, we’re opening,” Alberts said.
But the uncertainty among the longtime faithful at the nightclub swirled faster than the howling wind outside.
That’s because reports last week confirmed Ellicott Development Co. was contracting with longtime owner Richard J. Alberts to buy the site. Speculation for months was that developers were eyeing the 4.26-acre site for condominiums.
Alberts told The News last week that while the contract with Ellicott expired, the beach club at 8934 Lakeshore Road is up for sale.
The club has been in Alberts’ family since the 1960s.
“It’s such a landmark, you know,” said Ken Franasiak of Wheatfield. “It’s part of Western New York.”
Part of Western New York, yes. And synonymous with Evans and Angola, said Karen Connors Erickson, a former town councilwoman and sister of Bill Connors.
“Evans and Mickey Rats are interchangeable,” Erickson said.
Kind of like Buffalo and the Bills?
She said the nightclub and the community have become intimately intertwined over the last 43 years – and even long before that, when the beach bar was known as Lerczak’s in a building that dated back to the 1920s – in the same way a neighborhood embraces a baseball field.
Sure there’s noise. And traffic. But it’s theirs, and it belongs.
“Mickey Rats is a community thing. People like it,” Erickson said. “I don’t think there’s anybody I’ve talked to who are ready for there to be no Mickey Rats.”
Some, like Connors, gazed over the sand and recalled stories of GIs freshly home from World War II who met and courted their future wives here.
“This was a meeting place,” Connors said. “A lot of marriages were first met out here.”
Others like Franasiak, who played semi-pro volleyball, remembered honing his skills on a sunny day at the beach.
“Where can you be less than an hour from Buffalo, and totally escape?” asked Clarence resident Anthony Vaarwerk, who rents out a nearby Angola property.
And though memories for younger residents, like Angola’s Justin Gallo, may not be as long, they’re just as vivid.
“This is everything for those that are from Angola,” Gallo said. “If you go and see a sunset with your girlfriend, you come here. It’s an escape. It’s nice.”
Patrons who packed the nightclub Saturday for 2016’s last hurrah aren’t yet ready to let go.
“It epitomizes summer,” Donna Franasiak said.