Long before its cocktails and calamari earned shout-outs on “The Office,” Cooper’s Seafood House was a Scranton staple.
Brothers John, Frank, Bill and Joe Cooper opened the restaurant at 701 N. Washington Ave. on April 24, 1948, at the former Erie-Lackawanna Railroad Station, which they bought as the country still was recovering from World War II and the town’s railroad industry had begun slowing down.
Financed by huge profits Frank Cooper had made as the inventor of a unique rug-making technique, the restaurant embarked on what would turn into decades of success serving hearty seafood, steak and pasta dinners alongside its extensive libations menu. Numerous add-ons have grown the seating capacity from 75 in 1976 to more than 500 indoors, plus outdoor decks that accommodate about 100. The staff, too, went from bare bones in the early days to more than 120 employees in 2018.
From Monday, April 23, through Sunday, April 29, Cooper’s celebrates its 70th anniversary with live music, themed specials at the bar and on the menu, a charity raffle benefiting St. Joseph’s Center — with grand prizes that include a trip for two to Ireland, soup for a year, a boat full of wine and liquor, and a Cooper’s Lighthouse party for 20 people — as well as other giveaways of more than $30,000 in prizes.
The celebration kicks off with a party on Sunday, April 22, featuring stations of specialty dishes and beverages representing each decade of Cooper’s history served by staff in period garb. Tickets are required and can be obtained by contacting the restaurant.
Throughout the week, the “Good Ol’ Days” menu will include vintage prices, too, such as cups of clam chowder, oysters or rice pudding for 70 cents, and shrimp, crabs and lobster tails for $7. (More than 4,000 lobsters have been ordered for the anniversary week.)
Customers also can enjoy Stegmaier Gold Medal or Pabst Blue Ribbon drafts for 70 cents and retro cocktails — including the 1940s Pink Squirrel (a creamy, pink cocktail with almond and chocolate flavors), the 1950s Grasshopper (like an alcoholic mint-chocolate milkshake), the 1960s Blue Hawaii (rum mixed with pineapple juice, coconut and Curacao), the 1970s Harvey Wallbanger (a Screwdriver combined with the Italian liqueur Galliano), the 1980s Bay Breeze, the 1990s Mudslide and the 2000s Strawberry Daiquiri — for $4.80 each.
Jack Cooper, a second-generation owner/operator with his brother, Paul, has built up plenty of his own memories since 1964, when he was 12 and his father, John Cooper, hired him to wash dishes for $3.25 per night. Like his seven siblings, Jack Cooper started with this simple job and worked his way up to cooking and learning from the in-house chefs to waiting tables, tending bar and eventually managing. Later in life, he trained his own son, Ryan, in the same way.
“It’s our whole family’s life,” said Ryan Cooper, who now oversees the restaurant’s marketing, social media and bar management.
Many customers who have enjoyed milestones of their own at Cooper’s — from proposals to birthdays to weddings, graduation parties and baby/bridal showers — have called ahead to say they look forward to stopping in and celebrating the restaurant’s success.
According to the Coopers, part of the appeal for fans near and far are the photo ops they can find in almost every corner of the place, from the Elvis-themed ladies’ bathroom and Beatles-themed men’s room to the detailed 3-D critters such as whales, sharks, octopi and swordfish or life-size sea captains and pirates stationed around the property.
The decor mostly stays in the nautical theme — such as the stained glass windows depicting underwater scenes, free-standing vintage boat motors and seashells as part of the parking lot’s landscaping — though visitors can spot anything from collector board games to framed photos of Scranton landmarks, public school class pictures and a World War II and Vietnam veterans tribute wall.
Plaques commemorating members of the original beer club that spanned 1978 to 2010 (and which includes former President Bill Clinton) line the walls, though these days, the beer club that meets the third Tuesday of each month has become more of an educational practice of tasting samples and learning pairings. More than 379 varieties make up the current beer list, and monthly charity firkin (small keg) tappings highlight Cooper’s social calendar.
Like the anniversary celebrations, these regularly occurring events draw people in for more than great seafood and shared drinks.
“They still come in to be part of something,” Ryan Cooper said.
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Cooper’s Seafood House
Address: 701 N. Washington Ave., Scranton
Cuisine: Seafood, steak and pasta
Owners: Jack and Paul Cooper
Established: April 24, 1948
Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to midnight or later (seasonally), and Sundays, noon to midnight