There are too many fabulous and historical eateries in Lee to mention here, scattered around from Housatonic Street, to Park Street, to Main Street, and onward. It would probably require an entire book to discuss them all in depth. This is just a selection of a few of the better known places.
Many of the more recent additions to the food service industry are within the historic buildings that line Main Street, and also in lovely old buildings found down some of the less traveled streets that any visitor would be encouraged to investigate. One example is Lucia’s on Railroad Street, which occupies the old railway station, built in 1893 for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Many of the original fittings can still be seen inside.
Do yourself a favor and pick up the Walking Tour of Historic Lee brochure at the Visitors’ Center and take a stroll around. Right next to Memorial Hall is the Baird & Benton Block, built in 1879. Continue on down toward beautiful Lee Library, past the Phelan Block (1912), the Olan Block (1879), the Morey Block (1879) and, finally, the Baird Block (1857). You will have passed at least six fine eating establishments, all housed within these historic buildings.
The Morgan House is one of the oldest buildings on Main Street. This wonderful establishment started off as a private residence when it was built for William Porter in 1817. Purchased by Edwin Morgan in 1853, it became a welcome refuge for those arriving on the stagecoach. After a tiring journey over unpaved, bumpy dirt roads in vehicles without adequate suspension, heating for the frigid winters, or air conditioning for the hot summers, the travelers must have considered themselves in heaven when they finally alit to be welcomed into this classically handsome building to be served good food and given a comfortable bed for the night.
Readers may recognize the names of some of the guests of the Morgan House – Ulysses S. Grant, George Bernard Shaw, President Grover Cleveland – all enjoyed the hospitality of the Morgan House during their visits to the Berkshires. Some may also recognize the name of Robert Titus, he who entered the tomb of King Tutankhamun after being the first person to open it, and who subsequently held his Annual Raccoon Hunting banquets at the Morgan House. More recent visitors were Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Dennis, the founders of Jacob’s Pillow. It would be remiss not to mention Maria Cole, wife of Nat King Cole, and one-time owner of the Morgan House.
Joe’s Diner, just before the railroad track, was named for its founder, Joe Sorrentino. Joe’s has become an iconic part of the Lee landscape. Joe opened the doors to his diner in 1955 and, all these years later, it is still as popular as ever.
Fans of Norman Rockwell’s art come flocking to Joe’s, purported, among several other establishments, to be the scene of one of Norman’s most popular paintings, ‘The Runaway’, taking photos of themselves posed on the stools that are depicted at the counter. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t Joe’s, but Norman Rockwell was influenced by several of the local diners and perhaps his painting has a bit of each of them in it.
Composer, conductor, and pianist, John Williams, plus other Tanglewood luminaries, have enjoyed their meals at Joe’s as it is said did the Kennedys on their camping visits to October Mountain. In 2008, Joe’s made the big time when ABC-TV’s morning crew, Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts and Chris Cuomo arrived with their crew to film there.
On Route 20 on the way out of Lee toward Lenox is the Cork N Hearth. It lives in a building that was once a blacksmith’s shop.
If you are a history buff and are looking for somewhere to take a bite or a brew, hopefully the preceding will have been of interest.