Last call for Lil' Bear

Huck Little announces Feb. 26 closing for popular Tiverton bar/restaurant

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 2/24/21

TIVERTON — Transformation to a considerably younger crowd is in the works for a landmark Tiverton watering hole.

Portsmouth’s Huck Little announced “with a heavy heart” …

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Last call for Lil' Bear

Huck Little announces Feb. 26 closing for popular Tiverton bar/restaurant

Posted

TIVERTON — Transformation to a considerably younger crowd is in the works for a landmark Tiverton watering hole.

Portsmouth’s Huck Little announced “with a heavy heart” recently that he plans to close his Lil’ Bear Sports Lounge at 983 Main Road at closing time on Sunday, February 28. That will end a 39-year run for what was once one of the most popular spots of its type in the area.

Next chapter for the long-time bar/restaurant/function hall will be a child care center, a venture being organized by Mr. Little’s daughter Cheryl.

He’ll miss Lil’Bear, a place of many great memories and friends, Mr. Little says, but the time has come.

Covid-19 played a part in the decision, as it has with many businesses.

“We lost our bar crowd and when that happened it became very difficult to keep going … After they took the stools away from the bar, the numbers just weren’t there.”

Also figuring in to the decision is the fact that, “I’ll be 87 in March.” Getting up early to prepare for breakfast at Lil’ Bear isn’t as easy as it once was, he said. “It’s just time for a change.”

 

Abrupt career change

A most painful mishap at work triggered Mr. Little’s entry into the bar and food business.

He got started as a painting contractor and was high up on a ladder one day in Newport when he fell, a tumble that left him with a broken femur.

“That was the end of my house painting career,” he said.

Seeking a safer occupation, he found an empty building with a great view across Mount Hope Bay on a busy Tiverton street. That hillside down to the bay was filled with military fuel tanks then — today it’s all condominiums, the Villages on Mount Hope Bay.

“I didn’t know much about the bar business,” he said, but it seemed like a good opportunity.

He found a partner, and together their names provided inspiration for the venture’s name — Huck Little and John Bear … ‘Lil’ Bear.’ Eventually, Mr. Bear decided this was not the business for him and Mr. Little became the sole owner.

Before long it was a success, regularly filling to its 80-customer capacity, especially whenever the Red Sox played, which was almost daily during that long season, or the Patriots, Bruins or Celtics at other times of the year.

Later they brought in a three-piece country bands on weekends — Friday evenings were always packed with customers drawn from Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown, Westport, Little Compton and Fall River.

“We tried all sorts of things and they mostly worked pretty well.”

“Our lobster raffles were a big hit … You buy a drink or some food and get a raffle ticket for lobsters.” On each of these nights, first place took home five lobsters, second place won three, and third place got two. “People came from all over for that.” Older customers also flocked to the Keno events.

And over time, breakfast became a mainstay — they had regulars who’d come in almost every day.

“We were like one big family,” Mr. Little said, not unlike Cheers where everybody knows your name. 

This family even traveled together. There were Lil’ Bear bus trips to Fenway Park to cheer on the Red Sox, and to Foxboro for the Patriots. Once they even took a busload down to Gettysburg to tour the battlefields.

They sponsored Little League and Babe Ruth teams and even had their own ice hockey team — Lil’ Bear was a force in area men’s leagues and often welcomed the opposition to join them back at the bar for a cold one.

And it was a family in other ways.

In addition to daughter Cheryl, the employee list has included the Littles’ two sons, five granddaughters and two grandsons.

Though Lil’ Bear could get lively, “we never had problems here. It was simple — If you ever got out of line, you wouldn’t come back. I wouldn’t let them in. They knew I meant it.”

At one point they remodeled and added a function room for wedding receptions, birthday parties, even politics. Tiverton’s Democratic and Republican town committees both met there, as did Portsmouth Republicans.

The bipartisan nature of the place came naturally. Mr. Little was a fixture in Portsmouth politics for decades — he served on the Town Council for 26 years, then as a state senator for another six year. He ran as a Republican but got along with colleagues from both parties.

Closing will be bittersweet, Mr. Little expects.

“We’ve had lots of good times there, gotten to know so many great people,” celebrated weddings, cheered for the Sox … On the other hand, he won’t miss working hours that could be brutal. For some of the years, he said, he couldn’t afford a manager so would close up himself — “wouldn’t get home until 2 am.”

He said he’s fortunate to have remained reasonably healthy, “and I just got my Covid vaccination!” 

Time to settle back and enjoy the memories, he added.

 

 

 

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