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Nicolino’s Narrative

Restaurant’s building in Perth has long history

March 8, 2009
By RICHARD NILSEN/The Leader-Herald

PERTH - The "young" Richard "Butch" Robertshaw, now 74, remembers spending most of his life at The Drum, - widely known as "Butch's Drum" - now Nicolino's.

Major renovations in 2004 by owner Antonella Cassella updated the building while continuing the family recipes begun by her parents, Nicolino and Nicolina.

She will be celebrating her 25th anniversary there March 17.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen

Antonella Cassella sets up a table in the dining room at Nicolino’s in Perth Tuesday.

"I grew up over the restaurant, upstairs," Cassella said.

So did "young Butch."

"My grandfather was a butcher," Robertshaw said. "That's where the 'Butch' came from."

Robertshaw said the building was built on land owned by Robertshaw's grandfather the year of his birth, 1934, by Nick Finley of Amsterdam. It opened as a grocery store and meat market until World War II closed the store because strict rationing made it unprofitable, he said.

During those years, his father, Vernon "Butch" Robertshaw, played in various bands professionally from age 14. Vernon helped establish and served as president of the local musicians union for 35 years, according to Sylvia Zierak's book "Perth: Memories and Reflections," published in 1976.

After the war, Robertshaw said, his father reopened the market as a grocery and beverage convenience store. Then the building was used as a third-grade classroom for the first Perth Central School expansion in 1950.

"They used it because it was nearby and had indoor plumbing," Robertshaw said. "In 1954, he reopened it as The Drum with a bar, light food, parties, clambakes and live music Friday and Saturday nights."

Robertshaw said he was partnered with his parents in running The Drum, and continued to do so after his mother died in 1960 and his father died in 1971. During those years, many "jam sessions" were part of the weekend routine, with Robertshaw and his father taking turns sitting in on drums.

"We broadcast live through a phone line hook-up with WENT in 1968," Robertshaw said. "It was one of the hottest night spots in town for 20 years."

In answer to rumors The Drum had an earlier history as a speakeasy, Robertshaw laughed and said no, though they were open after hours once they had their liquor license.

"We never got caught though," he said. "I lived there until I sold it to Nick."

Zierak said her husband, William, was friends with Nicolino Cassella and helped him set up the restaurant.

Antonella Cassella said her father bought the place for $40,000 and did major renovations before opening the restaurant. A second renovation took place in 2004.

"I put over $200,000 in the restaurant," Cassella said. "We gutted the place to put in new bathrooms, kitchen, bar and windows."

Cassella said her parents were in the restaurant business at the Pompeii Room in Schenectady before starting Nicolino's in 1984. She said their specialties include veal dishes, homemade tiramisu and homemade bread.

"We have a newly renovated restaurant, but we still use the traditional family recipes when we cook," Cassella said.

Cassella said she wanted to continue her parents' tradition of taste, service and excellence.

"I use my mother's recipes," she said.

As the second generation to run Nicolino's, tradition is important to Cassella. She said the family returned to the towns where her parents grew up in Italy almost every year. Her father grew up in Cusano Mutri, Benevento, Italy, and her mother grew up nearby in Alife, Caserta, Italy. Members of the next generation that may get a chance to run Nicolino's are shown in photos hanging at the restaurant, wearing chef's hats and cooking paraphernalia. They are Cassella's daughters, Kassandra and Giovanna, now ages 6 and 4.

Besides regular dining hours Tuesday through Sunday, Nicolino's offers banquets, parties, catering, take-out and special features like Pasta Day on Sunday and Parm Night on Wednesday. Thursday they have live entertainment with music, carrying on "The Drum's" tradition.

Cassella said she was doing everything she could to make her patrons happy.

"I know people enjoy the Manhattanesque ambiance here," she said. "I look forward to seeing both regulars and new faces come in the door.

"We strive for perfection," she said.

Nicolino's is located at 4515 Route 30, north of Amsterdam.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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