Susan Peacock: Where J&S once stood, the dance goes on

Johnnys and Sammy's was the hub of community activity for 40 years.

That steamy August evening when my husband and I moved to Salisbury in 1969 was also the first time I set foot in Johnny and Sammy’s restaurant.

We stumbled upon it accidentally as we searched for a place to get an iced drink and some air-conditioning.

Johnny and Sammy’s used to be located on Route 13 near the “S” curve. Built in a chalet style, it featured a main dining area known as the Alpine Room, a coffee shop and a lounge, which was near the rear of the building.

From the 1940s through the 1980s, this venerable institution was considered the place to eat, socialize and dance the night away in Salisbury.

My husband and I quickly fell in with the locals and began to frequent Johnny’s and Sammy’s to the extent that our budget allowed.

Their food had an excellent reputation, and I always looked forward to the hamburgers and French fries served in the lounge.

By contrast, the Alpine Room offered a more upscale menu which included favorites such as prime rib and surf and turf.

In the mornings, the coffee shop was so crowded with regulars that it was often hard to procure a seat.  It’s not a stretch to say that long before America ran on Dunkin’, Salisbury ran on Johnny and Sammy’s.

Probably the most unique feature of Johnny and Sammy’s was its smooth wooden dance floor located in the center of the lounge.

On weekend nights it was packed with couples swaying around the dance floor to live music provided by the husband-and-wife duo of Maude and Earle. Maude was the vocalist while Earle plied the keyboard, and they were just as much an institution as Johnny and Sammy’s itself. I can still hear Maude crooning, “For the Good Times.”

Well, the good times rolled on by. New chain restaurants eventually siphoned off customers, and going out to dance became passé. But it was still sad news to many when Johnny and Sammy’s served up its final prime rib and Maude and Earle played their last dance in the 1990s. Eventually, the building was demolished and a Wawa convenience store built in its place.

Now, I must confess to not being much of a Wawa customer in the beginning. But time has won out, and I now stop by frequently for a cup of scalding hot tea and a power bar when I’m out running errands.

I’ve become rather fond of the place.

As I entered Wawa one morning last week, I couldn’t help but notice the camaraderie of the Wawa patrons as they moved freely about the floor.

I watched as a dozen or more people worked their way artfully around the centralized coffee station, filling cups with steaming high-test, stirring in sugar and cream, putting little cardboard sleeves on their cups, all the while engaging in friendly banter with friends and strangers.

Suddenly, visions of Johnny and Sammy’s bygone dance floor jumped into my head. That dance floor, you see, had been located just about where Wawa’s coffee station is today.

Like the transformed building itself, the swaying couples of the past are now new urban-style dancers moving to a different beat.

But their dance floor is still the place to be in Salisbury.

Susan Peacock lives in Salisbury.

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