Long-time area residents remember the exquisite dining experience known as the Swiss Tavern. The place had been some sort of eatery for years before it opened its doors, in the early 1930s, as a full-fledged restaurant under the management of Ernest Alpsteg, the owner-chef from Switzerland.
His son Hans and his wife, Agatha, by all accounts turned it into an first-rate dinner destination during the 1960s and 1970s; Swiss Tavern was rated ‘four stars’ by the New York Times.
The Alpsteg family kept it going until 1979, when the place was sold and transformed in L’Auberge de France. But we’re getting ahead of the story…
According to a NY Times food review in early 1979,
…the Swiss Tavern in Wayne began life as a speakeasy during Prohibition. The family of the present owner‐chef, Hans Alpsteg, turned the century‐old frame house into a full‐fledged restaurant in 1934, but managed to retain the Victorian coziness of the small parlors and the Victorian splendor of the large bar and grill.
(I don’t know anything about “the bar and grill” that it was before now, but I’m sure the building had an interesting history prior to its Swiss Tavern incarnation.)
The building itself was described as “A large 1850 house of many small rooms, glassed-in porch, a roomy oak-paneled bar, period wallpaper and furniture, paintings and drawings, ferns and aspidistras. Candles and fresh flowers, good napery, friendly service.”
The NY Times reviewer was enthusiastic about the fare, describing it as “excellent” and “delectable”.
The recommended dishes included “baked oysters or baked clams ‘Swiss Tavern,’ homemade headcheese, butterfly shrimp Genevoise, laeberle (Swiss‐style liver), oxtail in a red wine sauce, sauerbraten with spaetzle, rack of lamb persillade for two, soufflé potatoes for two, apple fritters, caramel custard, and Swiss apple cake.”
There was even a fountain pond out front, stocked with live trout, where patrons could check out the fish, have the chef catch it in a net, and have it cooked to order.
Besides being a lunch and dinner haven, the Swiss Tavern was something of a social center as well. Rotary meetings and political get-togethers were held there; local mayors held meet-and-greet functions; the Pompton Lakes chamber of commerce held its annual dinner-dance there. Large dinner parties were not uncommon. Many a wedding party held its reception there, as well as later anniversaries.
The place stayed in the family until 1979 when the Alpsteg family sold it, whereupon it became a French restaurant, L’Auberge de France.
Alas, the successor was met with far less enthusiasm in an August 1979 review by the NY Times:
For four months, the establishment continued to be known as The Swiss Tavern. But two months ago, it became L’Auberge DeFrance, translated literally, “The French Inn.” Unfortunately, something was lost in the translation, or the transformation, if you will.
The food was just fair to middling, according to the reviewer, but with “big league” prices, and noted that “it is a rarity to find a dish that totally satisfies at this new restaurant.” The review concluded by lamenting “It is a pity when a restaurant as good as The Swiss Tavern leaves us, but more’s the pity when its successor leaves so much to be desired.” The reviewer pronounced it merely “fair” — no stars.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t succeed. I don’t know when the restaurant closed for good (I understand it became other eateries including the French Quarter and the Red Fox Inn), but the long-abandoned building is slowly crumbling. A website called “Abandoned but Not Forgotten” visited the place at some point; see the photos here.
An enterprising fellow named Luke also managed to get inside and take some photos. He’s posted them on his Flickr account.
Update: The building was razed on April 9, 2019; it seems a WaWa will be built on the site. I arrived a day or two late, and this is what greeted me.