The week Dave Waterman, 26, was scheduled to open Top of the Hill Bar and Grill in the town of Johnstown was the same week in 2020 when bars and restaurants in New York State were forced to close in due to the pandemic. Still, the young owner said he was not discouraged. He waited a full year to finally open Top of the Hill in the spring of 2021.
And things were going well. In June, Waterman, who also owns his own construction company, renovated the exterior of the building, which had once been the Rockwood Tavern. And last week, the bar, which has over 2,000 likes on Facebook, hosted one of its biggest events to date: a Halloween party with around 50 or 60 people – a sizable turnout for one. upstate New York hometown bar.
“It was crazy. We had a lot of people,” said Katelyn Kwiatkowski, the only bartender at Top of the Hill. The 22-year-old is also Waterman’s girlfriend. She said people were dancing and put a lot of effort into their costumes. One guy dressed in Old Spice deodorant; another guy like a bag of Wonder Bread. Kwiatkowski and Waterman wore matching cowboy and cowgirl outfits. And even though he was difficult to keep up with all food and drink orders – Waterman is also the Top of the Hill cook – Kwiatkowski said: “It was one of our best nights.”
Six evenings later, Thursday November 4, Top of the Hill, at 4700 State Highway 29, experienced a fire that destroyed his kitchen and damaged the bar, according to Fulton County Emergency Management Director Steven Santa Maria. No one was injured and the cause remains under investigation by the County Investigation Team, but the Top of the Hill fire followed a catastrophic blaze that destroyed another beloved Fulton County business more early in the week.
That Sunday fire completely wiped out Colonial Overhead Doors, on State Route 67 in the town of Johnstown, which had been open since 1989. Owner Michael McGregor said news of the fire had made him ill.
Equally heartbreaking was the Top of the Hill fire, just an 8-minute drive from the Colonial Overhead Doors site.
“It’s just unfortunate for the region,” said Santa Maria. “Let’s face it, times aren’t 100% perfect right now. We’re still a little reeling from the pandemic, so for a person to start a business and try to build something in Fulton County, that’s a wonderful thing. ”
See two Fulton County businesses badly hit by fires in a week?
“It’s still devastating,” said Santa Maria. “They put their necks in danger to try to get things done and they want to get involved in the community. It is always difficult.
The night of the fire was surreal for Kwiatkowski and Waterman. They were at the bar just an hour before they heard of the flames, Waterman said. It had been a slow night, like many weekday evenings, so they closed around 9 p.m.
Fulton County Fire and Emergency Department Deputy Sheriff Christopher Ortlieb discovered the blaze around 10 p.m. when he saw smoke and flames coming out of the back of the building, according to Steven Santa Maria. Ortlieb walked around the building to assess the extent of the fire and to see if there was anyone inside. Fortunately, no one was.
Ortlieb reported the fire to the Fulton County 911 dispatch center, which promptly dispatched the Rockwood-Garoga-Lassellsville Station (RGL) Company of volunteer firefighters on the scene. The RGL Fire Department responded under the direction of RGL Fire Chief and Fulton County EMS Coordinator Mark Souza, according to Santa Maria. Deputy Fire Coordinator Ralph Palcovic was next to arrive at the scene and reported a massive fire in the back of the building, where the kitchen was located, with flames through the roof in that same area, said Santa Maria. Palcovic immediately asked the Ephratah Volunteer Fire Company to come to the scene with manpower and equipment, according to Santa Maria. Seconds later, RGL Chief Souza arrived and immediately requested additional resources from the Caroga Lake Volunteer Fire Company to attend. Several other units eventually joined the fight, according to Santa Maria.
While all of this was going on, Waterman and Kwiatkowski were getting calls from friends about the fire. The couple ran back from Fort Plain. The 25-minute ride had never been so long, Kwiatkowski said.
When they got back to the bar, they didn’t see any flames, just thick smoke and lots of flashing lights.
“My heart sank. I wanted to throw up. I was just heartbroken,” Kwiatkowski said.
Waterman said: “It has taken its toll. Honestly, we’re still grabbing it.
The flames were quickly extinguished with swift action and effective tactics, Santa Maria said, with teams entering the building through the unburned front section and making their way to the kitchen in the back.
“As soon as the crews got there, they got down to work. The guys did a phenomenal job. Truly the fire never progressed further than it was when they arrived. They did all the right things. They attacked him from the right side, ”said Santa Maria. “They came in and went to get him. ”
Firefighters went up to the attic to fight the blaze that had spread there, and they remained at the scene until about 3:15 a.m., extinguishing hot spots, ventilating the building and supporting the investigation. , according to Santa Maria. The fire reportedly started in the kitchen, he said.
The building’s kitchen, back and attic were badly damaged, but the rest of the building suffered only heat, smoke and water damage.
“The kitchen area suffered the most damage. The bar had smoke and heat damage, ”said Santa Maria. “That will kind of be what the insurance company and the owners decide to do. I think it could be saved, but sometimes it’s cheaper to start over.
Although Waterman said, “It’s a pretty good mess,” he also said the plan is to rebuild with the help of insurance.
If and when that happens and Top of the Hill finally reopens, Kwiatkowski has said his heart will be healed.
“This piece that broke last night will almost be healed because we can do what we love to do again,” she said. “We will be happy to be able to do it again and see everyone’s faces again. This room will be almost full.
Andrew Waite can be contacted at [email protected] or at 518-417-9338.
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