At Oneonta Restaurant, Christmas Rules
Owl-Fresco, the Christmas Pickle and a creche tucked in a corner are only a few of the hidden gems amid Alfresco’s Italian Bistro holiday decorations this season.
“We want to get people in the spirit,” said owner Elisabeth Webster. “Alfresco’s is not just a place to eat – we want it to be a true evening out. Even if you’re not eating here, you can come in and look at the decorations.”
Preparation at the restaurant, which Elisabeth and husband Gerald have run for 33 years in the former Oneonta Dairy, started Thanksgiving Day when the “Main Tree” – this year, a 17-footer from Filor Farms in Cooperstown – was brought into the dining room and decorated by the Websters and the Alfresco’s staff over the weekend.
“It takes about 50 hours to put everything up,” she said. “And 75 to take it all down.”
There are five trees across four dining rooms, including a black tree covered in Italian masks, a tree themed to the French countryside and a fiber-optic sci-fi tree decorated with “Star Wars” and superheroes in homage, in part, to their son James Cory, who works as a comics illustrator.
This year, they added a new twist on an old Webster family favorite. “We’ve always had owls on our tree, but we brought this one down for the main tree,” she said. “We tell people he’s Rocky’s cousin who decided to stay in the county for Christmas.”
“We call him Owl-Fresco,” said Gerald.
Owl-Fresco, along with the traditional glass German gherkin, is hidden on the tree for diners to try and find among the pizza and Santa ornaments.
“Stanislaus, who does our sauce, sends us a beautiful tomato ornament every year,” Elisabeth said.
Friends donated decorations over the years, and Elisabeth often gives away decorations to staff or customers. “We recycle,” she said.
Every corner is filled – an army of nutcrackers overlooks diners from a shelf near the ceiling, and a Lenox china crèche is tucked off the main dining room. Even the outdoors is decorated by Gerald with wreaths and poinsettias from Mount Vision Garden Center.
“We really enjoy going all out at Christmas,” Elisabeth said. “Not everyone has the space to host or decorate but we hope that our efforts help to bring an element of that to those that can’t.”
Diners on Christmas eve will even get a party favor of their own; a traditional “Christmas cracker” with a prize inside. “We always give these away,” she said. “And kids can get a candy cane too.”
The decorations will remain up until mid-January, when the tree will serve a second purpose – protecting the restaurant’s rose bushes, a tradition Elisabeth has carried on from her childhood growing up in Potsdam.
“We used to get made fun of in high school for collecting the trees that others had thrown out,” Elisabeth said. “But my dad – an economist and passionate about his rose bushes – highly suggested we do it; it’s a tradition we continue.”