Friday, August 26, 2022

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Dorsie's Steak House, West Yarmouth

    This legendary establishment along the high-traffic Route 28 in Yarmouth had a dedication to great entertainment and terrific food. Its status as a place to be was in part thanks to the tireless efforts of its larger-than-life owner. For nearly two decades, George “Dorsie” Carey ran his eponymous steak house in two separate locations along Route 28, creating buzz around town with his entertainment and cuisine. 

    Carey had come to the Cape from Dorchester. And no, this was not how he got the nickname Dorsie. That nickname was bestowed on him by his niece while they were living in the same three-story building in the historic Boston neighborhood. She could not pronounce the name George, and as it usually came out “Dorsie,” the name stuck with him. Carey had another nickname that became the name of a restaurant—“Handlebar Harry”—due to his handlebar mustache. He opened Handlebar Harry’s in Plymouth with his wife, Louise Houston, in 1991.

Dorsie's when it was still the Gay Nineties.

    Dorsie’s began as a much smaller restaurant located at 183 Route 28 in West Yarmouth, near the iconic Mill Hill Club in 1974. Business took off over the next few years. The landlord of the property decided after the 1978 season to increase the rent for the property by 400 percent, from $8,500 per month to $35,000. This shocking increase set off a chain reaction that ended up taking Dorsie’s to new heights.

    Carey searched all along Route 28, from Hyannis to Bass River, in the hopes of finding a new location. One of his regular customers at the restaurant was, in fact, the owner of an establishment called the Gay Nineties located half a mile away on Route 28. After hearing of Carey’s plight, the owner sold the Gay Nineties building to him on a handshake. On the night of July 3, 1979, Carey, his staff, close friends, and some of the Yarmouth Police worked through the night and moved all of the equipment from the original Dorsie’s down the street and into its new home.

Inside Dorsie's

    “We were opened July Fourth,” Carey proudly reflected, “although there was no food service until July Fifth.”

    The hard work of finding the new location paid off.

    The new, larger Dorsie’s had a lot more space for patrons and entertainment. There were three unique function rooms at this location. There was the Cranberry Room, which was located over the main dining room. It was totally self-contained and seated 60 people. There was the Nineties Room, which had an 1890s motif as a nod to the former Gay Nineties Restaurant. This sat 200 people. Finally, there was the Waterwheel Room, which was the primary function room. It sat an impressive 350 people and was complete with its own banquet kitchen.

    There was always something going on as far as entertainment went at Dorsie’s, including an up-and-coming Jay Leno plying his trade in the Waterwheel Room. Leno had been contracted to play another legendary establishment in West Dennis called the Golden Anchor. However, that place was sold before he could perform, so Leno’s contract was given to Dorsie’s. He was given the gate while the restaurant kept what the bar brought in.

The front entrance

    Diane Dexter, who played piano and sang at Dorsie’s starting in 1981, has fond memories of her time playing there as well as the man behind it all.

    “I worked in their main lounge on a grand piano as a solo act,” she recalled, “playing and singing standards and pop/folk/country/rock songs that were popular at the time.”

    Dexter also recalls the Dorsieland Ragtime Review, a Dixieland band that played in the Gay Nineties Room and was a very popular attraction. As for Carey himself, Dexter remembered that he was “always very good with people.”

    The one thing that put Dorsie’s over the top was its affordably priced food. The establishment did a tremendous liquor business, which Carey wisely reinvested in his menu. Marinated steak tips, steak teriyaki, and prime rib were the biggest sellers, made even better by the fact that the meat would be cut and cooked at the Pit, right out in the dining room. Customers could watch while their food was prepared before their eyes. It only added to the uniqueness of Dorsie’s.

    After years of successfully running his mid-Cape complex, Carey yearned for a change. He got that chance when Cordage Park in Plymouth, which converted buildings into a mall in the 1980s, came calling. Carey sold Dorsie’s in 1990, and it became a Lambert’s Farm Market. In 1991, Carey opened Handlebar Harry’s, which became the anchor of the mall. It was tremendously popular in its own right and ran until 2003.

    Today, George “Dorsie” Carey is retired, but even more than thirty years after Dorsie’s closed its doors, he still has people coming up to him and wanting to reminisce about those good old days. As of 2022, Antiques Center of Yarmouth stands where Dorsie’s once did.


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