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  Story and Photographs by Chris Poh

Photo courtesy of Gallery Forty One and Carol Sunderwirth    
Court Street Bridge in Owego NY as seen in American Public House Review

I distinctly remember the first time I caught a glimpse of Owego, New York while crossing the Court Street Bridge. There was an Oz-like quality to this storied village on the banks of the Susquehanna. And while the facades of the brick Italianate, Greek Revival, and Victorian Gothic buildings that comprise the historic district were not bathed in an emerald green glow—the mere fact that Owego was awarded the title of “The Coolest Small Town in America” by Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine in 2011 was reason enough for this wandering old soul to consider further explorations.

For a good number of years now, this Southern Tier community has been my backroads gateway to and exit from the Finger Lakes. For someone like myself who has the peculiar calling of always seeking that next unique setting from which to raise a glass or two, the towns and cities along the shores of Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka have been a reliable source of some extraordinary finds. But in the course of my most recent trip to the region, I found myself questioning the merits of my pursuits. What did I actually have to show for 45 years of time spent on either side of those countless bars?  I could feel the grip of the “Dorothy Syndrome” taking hold. Perhaps there really is no place like home. But there it was toward the journey’s end—the calling was rekindled at the Calaboose Grille.

Tioga County Jail in Owego, NY  as seen in Americasn Public House Review

In 1997, the Tioga County Jail in Owego graduated its last class. Shortly thereafter, the building was purchased by a private developer and then cleverly repurposed into a bar and restaurant. When first built in 1910, many of the town’s citizens were of the opinion that the structure’s apparent comfort and charm would do little to dissuade criminals from wanting to take up residence. The fact that at least one of those former inmates refuses to exercise his parole gives some credence to that belief. Local lore has it that the mischievous spirit of one of Owego’s over-imbibers named George still prefers a cell door in lieu of the Pearly Gates. And a rather convincing piece of photographic evidence unintentionally captured on a patron’s cell phone would give even the most hardened skeptic pause. Because it’s not a matter of whether or not you believe in ghosts, it’s a matter of whether or not they believe in you. And the spirit or spirits that inhabit the Calaboose Grille most certainly believe in the current proprietors!

Ghost haunting the Calaboose Grille in Owego, NY as seen in American Public House Review
The ghosty image of George?

The bar at Calaboose Grille in Owego, NY as seen in Americsan Public House Review

Cell dining tables at the Calaboose Grille in Owego, NY as seen in Americsan Public House Review

Cining area cells at the Calaboose Grille in Owego, NY as seen in American Public House Review

After the initial opening of the restaurant 2001, the location experienced a quick succession of four owners until Clark and Karlyn Hepworth took over the operation in 2011. Their success and longevity is a testament to their talents, hospitality, and dedication to service. We were able to experience those attributes firsthand during our time in the Calaboose this past summer. And while this magazine seldom engages in product reviews, my never ending search for that perfect Reuben, only surpassed by my search for that perfect bowl of chili, may have been finally put to rest. The corned beef was more than worthy of this particular condemned man’s choice for a last meal. But hopefully, I’ll be granted a long reprieve from that inevitable fate in exchange for an extended sentence at the Calaboose Grille!

The Calaboose Grille in Owego, NY. Image by Carol Sunderwirth as seen in American Public House Review

Calaboose Grille

176 Main Street
Owego, NY 13827



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