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Hamlin House will be serving its final meals this weekend

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John Bitterman ran Hamlin House for three decades

Hamlin House’s John Bitterman, pictured here in 2007, said, “What should I do next? I don’t know. I’ve been doing this since I was 17. I’m 63 now.”

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Hamlin House, the heart of the American Legion building on Franklin Street, pumping flapjacks and fish fries into Buffalo for decades, will serve its last meal Sunday.

For a third of a century, Hamlin House was the closest thing to a blue-collar diner serving some fairly plush blocks of Allentown and environs. The 1860s-era Italianate villa at 432 Franklin St. hosted benefits, banquets and balls, but the most oft-celebrated event at Hamlin House was happy hour.

John Bitterman managed to keep "Allentown's best-kept secret" going through quite a few scrapes and economic tailspins. For the first couple of decades, he also got to serve his father, Jim Bitterman, a Korean War veteran who showed up for fish every Friday.

Hamlin House’s fish fries drew steady crowds of regulars for the usual beer-battered and breaded versions, plus blue cheese panko and haddock francaise versions. But the ways the pandemic-era ingredient price increases and wage increases changed basic restaurant equations meant it was time to stop, Bitterman said. Losing banquet business for two and a half years was too much to overcome. The American Legion is selling the building.

Does that mean the end of Bitterman’s restaurant career?

“Good question,” he said, sounding rather philosophical, not bitter. “What should I do next? I don’t know. I’ve been doing this since I was 17. I’m 63 now.”

If you’d like one last visit, you will need reservations, Bitterman emphasized, at 716-885-8084. Noon to 8 p.m. or until sold out on Friday. Closed Saturday. Sunday is the last stand, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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