By Louis C. Hochman | Published Nov 23, 2023
Alice Szigethy — owner of Alice’s Restaurant in northwest New Jersey’s Jefferson Township — has always been amused by the fact that her business shares a name with folk singer Arlo Guthrie’s offbeat, goofy and meandering 18-minute, 34-second Vietnam War protest.
Yet somehow, Szigethy said, her 19-year-old son has never heard Guthrie’s famous refrain: “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant (exceptin’ Alice).” She mentioned it to him this week, and he couldn’t recall ever listening to the song.
“I feel I’ve failed as a parent,” she said.
Guthrie’s 1967 folk ballad — formally "Alice's Restaurant Massacree” — is something of a Thanksgiving tradition. It doesn’t get played quite as often as it once did, but hit the right spot on the dial any Turkey Day, and you’ll hear Guthrie (a Coney Island native) take you through his winding journey.
You’ll hear about the old Army building on Manhattan’s Whitehall Street and the draft. You’ll be asked to raise your voice in protest to the Vietnam War. And... it’s a lot to take in.
You’ll barely hear about the namesake restaurant in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, owned by Alice Brocks. Incidentally, it wasn’t even called Alice’s Restaurant — “That's just the name of the song,” Guthrie tells listeners.
But in the late 2000s, Szigethy opened her own Alice’s Restaurant along Lake Hopatcong, which straddles Morris and Sussex counties.
And yes, you can get anything you want, if what you want is casual American dining.
Szigethy, now 57, didn’t originally intend to name her restaurant for the song. She had other names picked out — they’re too awful to mention, she says — but during construction, everyone just talked about going to “Alice’s.”
“I said to myself, well, I am Alice, and I do have a restaurant, so If anyone can get away with this, I can,” she said.
It wasn’t a new idea. Szigethy knew the song as a child, and would play make-believe “Alice’s Restaurant” as a child — serving up family meals and making up her own menu’s with “Alice’s” on the cover. But she never felt a real association with the song until she actually opened up her real-life business.
From time to time, customers and friends happily remind her of the link.
“Sometimes when people see me, they get to know me, they might burst out in song, or they'll quote a part of the song to me,” Szigethy said. “But it doesn’t happen very often.”
She used to keep copies of Guthrie’s album framed up in front. They didn’t last long.
“It’s highly in demand. It's all the rage. Considering a lot of people claim they don't know the song, they do a very good job of stealing my album,” she said. It’s been swiped twice so far.
She used to play the song in the restaurant once in a while as well. But Szigethy said an 18-minute folk ballad war protest full of diversions and digressions doesn’t make for the easiest listening during casual dining: “People would get frustrated and be like, ‘What is this going on?”
Szigethy has her own reasons to be thankful this year. She’d closed Alice’s Restaurant for renovations prior to the pandemic — and the business stayed closed through COVID restrictions. But recently, Alice’s reopened for catered events, and this season Szigethy is transitioning back to a la carte dining with limited hours.
Alice’s won’t be open on Thanksgiving — Szigethy doesn’t like to go out to dinner on the holiday herself, and she says it’s nice to give the staff the time off. But in the runup to the holiday, she hosted a meal for local senior centers. She says every year, she and her staff try to find some sort of community outreach as Thanksgiving approaches.
She’ll be at home, cooking, for Thanksgiving. Szigethy plans to step outside her door in Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade go by, then catch the rest on TV. Then, on Friday morning, it’s back to business at the restaurant.
Arlo Guthrie has never, to Szigethy’s knowledge, stopped into her restaurant. But she’s hoping someday she spots him enjoying a casual meal and calming views of the lake.
“Maybe he'll consider a summer home and become a regular,” she said. “It's a great place to visit.”