ANGOLA — Tommy Alberts was standing at the edge of his beach bar’s patio, sweat beading on his cheeks and forehead and soaking in splotches around the neck of his red Mickey Rats T-shirt.
It was a luminous, hot Sunday afternoon, the type they call “Sunday Funday” around this slice of the Lake Erie waterfront. The type that, for 44 years, has helped the Mickey Rats Beach Club survive. Behind Alberts, a row of boats was docked a few splashy steps from the beach. Inside the bar, people in jerseys and bikinis, swim trunks and cargo shorts, people with gray hair and no hair and hipster beards, watched the Buffalo Bills play the Carolina Panthers.
At that moment, Alberts had been working too hard and moving too much to ponder that this day – Sunday, Sept. 17 – could be the the last day ever for Mickey Rats.
“I’ve stayed pretty busy running the place, so I haven’t had time,” said Alberts, who manages Mickey Rats and Captain Kidd’s, a restaurant within the complex, for his older brother Richi, the owner.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet," added Alberts, his booming voice riding over the sound of the football calls blaring through the sound system. "It will tomorrow.”
But will it?
This summer was billed as the final one for Mickey Rats, a seasonal and storied established opened by Richi Alberts in 1973. This weekend has been touted as the closing party, with Sunday being the curtain-down day.
Last November, Richi Alberts sold the 4.26-acre parcel of land on which his businesses sit to Grandview Bay LLC, an investor group that includes developer William Paladino of Buffalo’s Ellicott Development and attorney Acea Mosey. The Grandview Bay group paid $1.45 million to Alberts, who told The Buffalo News last November that he would lease back the property to keep the Mickey Rats complex open for at least one more summer.
“Then we’ll see what happens with that,” Alberts said at the time.
By the time the season arrived, Mickey Rats staff and patrons were treating summer 2017 as the beach club’s last. A Mickey Rats Facebook post last week read: “This is it. Fri Sat & Sun is closing party weekend. Come drink this place dry and give it the send off it deserves. Thanks everyone for all the memories.”
Meanwhile, some preliminary details on the redevelopment of the land were revealed. Earlier this month, Paladino told The News’ Jonathan D. Epstein that the plans include apartments, condominiums, public beach access and multiple restaurants and bars.
It’s certain that the Mickey Rats of today – and of the last four decades – will be no longer. That reality triggered a flow of nostalgia this weekend from the club’s regulars, many of whom come from the Evans-Angola area, and from its longtime employees.
On Friday night, as DJ Ace (real name: Anthony Ernewein) sat in the shag-carpeted soundbooth pumping Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” into a decades-old control board, he pointed out the window to the patio below. He has deejayed at Rats since 2010 and knew most of the faces.
“You look around the bar here, you’ve got some of the younger regulars,” said Ernewein, dressed casually in shorts, a T-shirt and a backwards baseball cap. “You’ve got people who are a little bit older, who’ve been going here a long time.”
He stopped to single out a man sitting alone at the bar. “You’ve got people like this guy here with the Mickey Rats hoodie,” Ernewein said. “He’s been going here since I was probably in diapers.”
Ernewein is 34.
He pointed out the window to a tree, which reminded him of a customer named Carl who used to come every night, looking like “Miami Vice, shirt unbuttoned … He used to dance by the tree right out there. Every night, all night, from start to finish.”
“Dancing Carl,” as he was known, died a few years back from cancer. He came to Rats alone, but after his death, a bunch of customers showed up dressed like him, to dance and honor him.
“He always had a party around him,” said Wayne Griem, a Rats employee for 28 years who manages the place with Tommy Alberts. Griem, a tall, tanned man with neat, gray hair, is an elementary physical education teacher in Silver Creek during the fall, winter and spring. But come June, he works – or make that worked – at Rats every day, all day, all summer. Years ago, he met his wife, Jennifer, working at Rats. Today, they run – or, now, ran – the complex’s busy Shirt Shack, where they sell (OK, sold) clever shirts. He was wearing one Saturday afternoon: a blue shirt that read, “It’s not over until the Rat says it’s over.”
Griem, like many, isn’t ready to Rat-talk in past tense.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m not saying what’s going to happen in the future; we really don’t know. The property is sold. You can’t take the Rat down easy. We might be around. We don’t know.”
Later, he added, “I know the Rat’s not ready to call it quits yet.”
Was Griem hinting at something not yet revealed? Is Mickey Rats about to not be buried in history, but rather go into hibernation to re-emerge somewhere, in some form, next summer?
“Yeah, we’re hoping,” he said.
“We’ll see what happens down the road,” Griem added. “I don’t know if it’s going to be here, on this property, or maybe somewhere else. I think there’s a good possibility we’ll still be around.”
Tommy Alberts is hoping, too. This place is loaded with people and memories he loves, from the hammerhead shark hanging over the patio (Rats won it in a drinking contest with other bars some 20 years ago) to the customers who approach him hoping he can hook them up with a Rats T-shirt (“We’re wiped out completely,” Alberts told one woman).
“I’m too young to retire,” said Alberts, who is 54. He was sitting in a white patio chair, pondering what’s next. He’s going to take the next couple of months to figure that out. He might buy into a small bar.
Like Griem, Alberts thinks there’s a tiny possibility – “maybe a 10 percent chance” – that Mickey Rats comes back, in some form, someplace. He isn’t offering specific scenarios. But we can piece together a possibility: In theory, his brother Richi could continue leasing space from the new owners, and it’s conceivable that the redeveloped facility could include remnants of the old Mickey Rats. People around the Rats bar this weekend were pondering as much.
Tommy Alberts would get only this specific: “If Richi remains involved, it will be Mickey Rats. If he’s not, then it won’t be Mickey Rats. At this point, it doesn’t look like it, but there could be possible changes. If he decides to lease again, you know …”
Tommy Alberts noted that a planned Sept. 30 event, where memorabilia from the Rats bar was going to be auctioned, has been called off for now. That could be a good sign.
“People are curious,” he said. “They want pieces of the bar, signs, whatever. We have to figure out when something like that is going to occur, but we decided not to do the 30th till everything is finalized.”
So this isn’t final?
“It’s pretty final,” he said. “But there’s still that little bit ...”