NIFTY de LUXE’S BOSTON, 1955 - 1965, WITH A CODA, 1976 - 1977:
An Affectionate Reminiscence.
© Paul H. S. Gaboriault
Albany Street Soup Kitchen : On or near the 400 block, if my memory serves, in the NE corner of the South End, two streets SE of Washington Street and parallel to it. Part of a mission for the homeless and indigent. Aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie Gaboriault) contributed annually to their funding, and on Thanksgiving of 1955 we went there for the meal. It was plain but good, and included turkey and all of the etceteras. Mamie said to me, sub rosa, “I feel like a big shot!”
Alma Mills’s Barber Shop : At 70 Clarendon Street, Boston. Born Alma Sophie Osbak in Wetaskiwin, Genesee Twp, Alberta, on 08 April 1923, d/o Elvin “Edwin” Osbak & Margaretha Christina Dahlgren, she was about five feet nine and 160 pounds in her wrestling prime. She became the National Wrestling Association world champion in 1964, and she was a member of the Canadian wrestling Hall of Fame. She was recognized as champion when Rita Cortez balked at meeting contenders named by the Association. Rated as the No. 1 contender, Mills was awarded the title after three warnings by the NWA to Cortez, and she defended her title successfully. In The Ring Wrestling Magazine, February, 1965, is a feature article about her, “Alma Mills—Barber by Day, Wrestler at Night.” There was also a short article about her in the June, 1968 issue of Wrestling Revue. She was billed as “from Canada, the Barefoot Wrestling Queen.”
She was affiliated with Santa’s Wrestling, and she sometimes wrestled a muzzled black bear named Ozzie. I suppose it had been declawed, an act I deplore and consider criminal, but I doubt that she would have perpetrated such an atrocity herself. I saw her wrestle a few times and she was genuine. She was also an excellent barber. I got so many haircuts in her shop I was al-most bald before I summoned the courage to ask her for a date. She looked at me and said, “I’ve got to sit down.” She did so, in the other barber chair of her two-chair shop, and then she turned me down, saying, “I’m flattered, but I’m married.” I was taken aback, but I had to admit to my- self that if she wasn’t married, she was a superb diplomatist. She also said that no customer had ever asked her out before. She had a few mat burns on her cheeks from having had her face ground into the canvas; but she was a strong, handsome woman who was well-spoken, whom I had grown to like; and I was crestfallen. I remained her customer as long as I was in Boston. She died on 12 Dec 1997. According to published records, she was married, but the details have been kept private by her family.
Angiulo’s Office, Francesco : Over an automotive service garage in the West End of Boston, a section that was demolished in a massive “urban renewal” project during 1958-60 to garner Federal funds, remove so-called “urban blight,” enable politicians to appear progressive and receive public recognition, and provide lucrative construction contracts with the usual kickbacks. During an interrogation to learn about my activities, Mr. Francesco “Frank” Angiulo, known as the bookkeeper of his family organization, gave me some valuable advice: “Always have a permit to carry a gun, but, if for some reason you have to pack heat without one, you get no more time for packing something useful, like a .45 auto, than that pipsqueak .22 auto we found on you.”
He was right. I got rid of my double-action CZ .22, and thereafter carried a 1953 Bernardelli Model 48, caliber 7.65mm (.32 Auto), when I thought I might need it—another pipsqueak round but a better one, and a very fine pistola easily concealed. It was an illegal import that was probably walked over, having no “Made in Italy” legend on it; and I obtained it in a singular way. I got rid of it in a singular way, too, when some punk teens leaped onto a street car I was on and blended into the crowd. The street car left Park Street station in a cloud of dust and ozone just as the police arrived, so I knew I had to get rid of the piece before Boylston Street, for the police were sure to radio ahead. The Bernardelli was in the left-hand inside chest pocket of my jacket, a black, horsehide version of a U.S. Army field jacket, but a little longer and belted, so I pulled out my handkerchief, pretended to blow my nose, then stuck the handkerchief into my chest pocket, wiped the pistol as best I could, and wrapped the cloth around it. Seeing my chance, I slipped the wrapped pistol into a bag of groceries next to me. A petite elderly woman carried away the groceries as the police patted down half a dozen young men, including me, at Boylston. They were cordial when they saw my Northeastern University I.D. Two of the three punks were apprehended. I was not caught packing without a permit, but I lamented that I never had a chance to kiss the Bernardelli goodbye.
Shortly afterwards, at a restaurant in the North End, I bought an FN Model 1910 Browning, caliber .380, made in Belgium, another gun that had walked over, as it had no import marks on it; and that was my gun until I left Boston in 1966. I liked it, but it had no sights except some grooves milled down the top of the slide. It had bad vibes, so just to be on the safe side, should I had gotten a traceable piece with a rep, I ordered a new barrel and firing pin from Numrich Arms, plus a pair of replica FN grips. The parts fit just fine with no smithing. The grips fit perfectly. A little work with some crocus cloth and paste blue and I had the best pocket auto I ever carried—after I ran a box of cartridges through it at the Quabbin Reservoir to see how it hung for point shooting—and all for $75.00 plus another $30.00 for Numrich. I sold it for $200.00 in Providence. I wish I had it now.
One reason that Mr. Angiulo and I parted friends is that, noticing on his desk a watermark detection tray, black glass about the size of a deck of cards, I steered the conversation to philately and ultimately sold him my collection of stamps and covers from the Italian colony of Oltre Giubba. He likely never learned that its principal supporting document, a letter from an Italian General in a franked, genuine cover, was a forgery.
Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant : At 140 Northern Avenue. This seafood restaurant was opened in 1963 in South Boston, on a pier built of a forest of tree-size wooden pilings driven into the muck of the harbor. The restaurant was in a structure resembling a few two- and three-storied A-gabled storage sheds bunched randomly together with their harbor side a sheer wall of scores of windows with walkways like fire escapes at every floor level to facilitate cleaning the glass. It was a long pier and a wide one, and sturdy enough for an acre of parking and eventually, I was informed, to support a small steam locomotive, as a curiosity, just outside the restaurant.
The restaurant fulfilled the three requirements of a successful business: location, location, location—for its windows presented an unparalleled view across the harbor of downtown Boston and the airport. It also served good, plain, regional food and was further attractive to clientele because of the cunning of its proprietor, an experienced restaurateur, who, through the provision of free meeting space for fund drives to sports figures, big shot ecclesiastics, bleeding heart movie stars espousing causes—and, it is believed, the provision of free meals to them in addition to lots of publicity—made his restaurant a place where celebrities went; and other celebrities followed, so as not to be outdone by their predecessors; and fans of celebrities went in the hope of seeing them, as birdwatchers gawk through binoculars; and since celebrities who preen themselves have no more brains than the birds they emulate, what does that reveal about the gawkers? I was there once in 1965 with my parents, down from their home in Vermont, shortly before I left for a new life in Minnesota. I had some clam chowder, which was not as good as served at Teel’s Cabin or at the Blue Ship Tea Room, and at double the price, but the scrod was as good as it gets. It was a standing joke then that a lot of suburban housewives went into Boston on weekends to get scrod.
Armory of the First Corps of Cadets, The : At 130 Columbus Avenue & 97-105 Arlington Street. Built 1891-97 in a Victorian Romantic Revival version of a medieval fortress, it is a massive, rusticated granite, four-story building on the corner that supports a tower of two more stories and is extended along Arlington street by a huge, pitch-roofed single-storied structure that I learned was a drill hall, the whole complex embattled, machicolated and turreted with mock drawbridge entrances and a carved winged dragon on the tower. It was originally used as a base of operations for a volunteer militia company chartered in 1741 as the Company of Gentleman Cadets, the bodyguard of the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts. Members of the company served honorably in United States wars through the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I. Sold by the Corps of Cadets to a private owner in 1966, the Armory is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Armory is now (2010) owned by the Park Plaza Hotel across the street from it and is the site of the Smith & Wollensky Steak House. The upper floors are used for weddings, banquets, and other events. Late at night the Armory appears even larger than it is and seems to loom over the passer by. I used to walk past it in the wee hours and marveled at the sight of such a fortress in Boston. It had a palpably brooding effect, like a mysterious, silent tomb.
Bachrach, Bradford : At 410 Boylston Street. “Photographer of Women.” He did my mother’s portrait when she was graduated from New England Conservatory. He had an impressive sign standing on the sidewalk, perpendicular to the street, that was a display case for photographs.
Bachrach, Fabian : At 410 Boylston Street. “Photographer of Men.” He also had a sign that was a display case. His studios at the 410 Boylston address may be closed now, but the Bachrach studios are still in business big time. I recall stopping one day at his display case to admire a portrait of Professor I. A. Richards.
Back Bay Tea Room : At 41 Belvidere Street, behind the Christian Science Church. Just the place for a light lunch—exceedingly light, such as thin ham and watercress sandwiches, egg salad, and tea and scones. I was brought there by my mother and paternal aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie) at different times when I was a youth. Later, I found it a good place to conduct business, an equally safe and unlikely place to be for people I met; and I perceived that I was not the only one who had thought of that, judging by the appearance of some of the other men who were conspicuous among the ladies.
Batavia Street : Renamed Symphony Road, about 1935. During Prohibition, it was notorious as a hangout for gangsters and their molls, and as having apartments for mistresses, which was doubtless why it was renamed after Repeal, when property owners wanted to improve the value of their property and attract new clientele. My aunt had a first-floor apartment there at No. 07 for years, caring more for the convenience of the location than for convention, for she was a friend of notoriety; but she was never able to convince the owner, who had an apartment in the upper half of the building, to sell her the property at a price she was willing to pay.
Beacon Chambers Cafeteria : At 27 Myrtle Street, located in the Beacon Chambers, an eight-story hotel for men at 19 - 27 Myrtle Street, at the corner of Joy Street, on the back slope of Bea- con Hill, with a basement story accessible from Joy Street. The entrance to the hotel was at No. 19. I was informed that at the time of the fire on 13 October 1980, which destroyed the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors, there were 363 men evacuated, according to a newspaper report. The reconstruct-- ed building, completed in 1983, now called Beacon House, has 136 apartments for elderly people with limited incomes.
The entrance to the cafeteria at 27 Myrtle Street was at the street level of the Beacon Chambers, near the corner. I ate there frequently during 1955-1957 and rejoiced that its food was so good; I usually ordered baked lamb or pot roast or a chicken pot pie—anything with gravy. The rolls were big and just right in texture with a delicate crust, baked on the premises. There were giant baked apples, nearly as big as grapefruit only rounder, peeled and cored and stuffed with brown sugar, spices, a touch of orange zest, a tablespoonful of some kind of cereal, perhaps grape nuts, and red fruit gelatin, so that the apple flesh and sauce was a cheerful red, like a candied apple. Served with coffee cream, they were delicious and only 35 cents. The owner-chef was Nicholas B. Zoumas, an old pro at cafeteria-style cooking, who had been in business for nearly forty years, he said. He had perfected his art. The cafeteria was still operating when I was attending Simmons College during 1976-77, for my wife and I ate there when I had a nostalgic urge to walk the streets of Beacon Hill and guide her about my old haunts. The food was still good, even though Chef Zoumas had long passed to his reward, surely a chair in the banquet hall of the culinary Gods.
Beacon Hill Kitchen, The : At 23 Joy Street, it was a charming little restaurant that had a tasty bill of fare. I remember meals of fricasseed chicken, lamb pot pie, and stuffed breast of veal. It was so small that it overflowed, in good weather, into a high-brick-walled courtyard at its rear that abutted an alley. It was one of the many locations for the filming of a Columbia Pictures 1952 movie, “Walk East on Beacon,” a Louis de Rochemont-produced “red menace” spy thriller about a Communist sleeper cell the FBI was investigating, and on the walls there were framed still-shots from the movie. Another location for scenes from the movie was the Locke-Ober Restaurant. I ate a few times at the Beacon Hill Kitchen with Don Whalen, a law student with whom I shared a room at the B.U. law dormitory at 24 Mt. Vernon Street, Beacon Hill, during the 1955-1956 semesters. Don was about six feet five and had played basketball at Hofstra College, Long Island; and, as a member of the Hofstra team, he had played in a tournament in Cuba. Super-smart, with a switchblade wit and a great personality, he was sure to be a success in life, but I never saw him again after 1957.
Berkeley Street Café : A decent place at 01 – 03 Berkeley Street at the intersection of Berkeley and Tremont streets. It had fixed stools in front of the bar and six or eight booths. The floor was light-grey oyster-cracker tile with a brick-red and black ornamental border, and a floor scrupu- lously clean, as were the rest rooms. The woodwork was dark walnut or brown mahogany, and it looked oiled or waxed, never grimy. The café’s relatively placid environment was due partly to its near proximity to Station Four of the Boston Police Department at 07 Warren Avenue, which was within sight. It (the café!) was a frequent stop for me during 1955-1965.
There was a gallon jar of pickled eggs on the bar with a pair of tongs and a stack of monkey dishes alongside, smoked herrings, slim jims, and packets of cheese and crackers for a light snack with a glass of draft ale—or a musty, for I often drank an “‘arf and ‘arf” as my Cockney nanny called a “musty,” a glass filled with half each of ale and beer, though in Blimey it was likely ale and porter. These items were also the makings of a BBB—a Boston Barfly Breakfast, even with an option of fish on a Friday for minnow munchers. The bartender was Ned O’Riordan, and he knew me by my nickname, “Nifty.” It was a pleasant, family-style beer joint with red and yellow neon signs in the windows. The juke box wasn’t played often or loud enough to be objectionable. There was a decent selection of bottled brews, including one of my favorites, Haffenreffer’s Pickwick Ale, which I liked to call “The Pride of Boston,” and the beer and ale on tap always had a fresh clean taste and the glasses were sparkling. The clientele was congenial. What more could one want for a wet-your-whistle stop?
Blinstrub’s Village : In South Boston at the corner of D Street and West Broadway. It was a cavernous nightclub seating more than 800 people that served good food and staged top-quality performers in musical shows and vaudeville. There was an orchestra for dancing and private rooms for groups, and the place became popular with a varied clientele. It may have been the largest nightclub in New England. Certainly, it had a large kitchen and many cooks and kitchen workers. I never worked there, but I knew a couple of dozen people who had. Apparently, Blinstrub’s would hire anybody as cooks and kitchen workers, try them out, and keep the survivors. It was said that the owner, Mr. Stanley Blinstrub, reputedly a stand-up kind of guy, had a policy to give anyone a job who wanted to work. Of course, many succumbed, unable to learn quickly or not motivated to work hard until they did. When I was a cook at Teel’s Cabin, North Abington, perhaps half of the kitchen workers who applied for a job said that they had worked at Blinstrub’s, as though that alone was an endorsement. Few of them were any good, having little or no training and even less work experience. Blinstrub’s burned to the ground on 7 February 1968, mourned by the public and performers in show biz.
Blue Ship Tea Room : 27 T - Wharf, at the end of the wharf. It was an old wharf, built during 1708 and 1718, and it was a landmark. Opened on 5 Sept 1957, the restaurant was the site of a famous legal case resulting in a classic “you should have known better” verdict, when the plaintiff, who was a New Englander, got a fishbone in her throat from a fish chowder. She ordered fish chowder as a second choice, because the restaurant was sold out of clam chowder. The fishbone was removed at a hospital, and she initiated a lawsuit, “Priscilla D. Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room, Inc. (1964).” The case was argued 6 April 1964 and decided 4 May 1964, in favor of the defendant, on appeal. The incident occurred on 25 April 1959. Mamie and I ate there on occasion, seeking clam chowder and chunks of crusty, yeasty bread to slather butter on; and Mother went there once out of curiosity, glad of a grown-up son as an escort, because the address was not as savory as the food, though the climb to the restaurant on the third floor, up the looooong outside stairway—about 36 steps with a landing half-way—was a grievous punishment to her knees. The Blue Ship Tea Room used Willow Pattern ironstone dishes, probably to add to the old-time New England ambience, as did Teel’s Cabin restaurant, in North Abington, where I worked for a time on two occasions,
Boston City Hospital : In 1962 I was brought there by my business associate, Mrs. Croft, in her taxi, after suffering a broken nose while tending bar at the Roosevelt Hotel Café on Washington Street. My nose had been broken before, and my appearance was not improved either time thereby. I set it myself that time, using two clothes pins. This time it was realined with instruments, the nostrils packed with gauze, and the bridge criss-crossed with tape. It hurt a lot, later, and I had raccoon eyes for a week. Mrs. Croft paid and said that she was reimbursed later by the Hotel Roosevelt, but it was the hospital’s policy from its inception to provide medical service free to those unable to pay..
Boston Elevated Railway Company (BERy). Chartered in 1894 as an amalgamation of several earlier private transit companies, the BERy operated both trolleys (surface cars) and trains, the latter of which ran part of the time on steel structures above the streets; and both trolleys and trains ran part of the time underground, the trolleys in the Tremont Street Subway, the trains in tunnels, some of which were a story lower than the subway. The BERy was the first company in the United States to include subway, surface, and elevated transit all under one management with transfers from one to the other, all at one fare. From early times the BREy used an orange livery it called “traction orange” on all of its cars.
Most of the streetcars (trolleys) were the PCC type in the 1950s-1960s, though there were still some Type 5 cars in use. There are a few PCC cars still in use (2010) on the Mattapan-Ash-mont line. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts bought the BERy in 1947 and renamed it the MTA; then it became part of the MBTA in 1964. The four transit lines were color-coded in 1965—the routes on the maps and signs, not the cars; I took the Red Line train from Wollaston to Boston when I was a graduate student at Simmons College in 1976-1977, then transferred to a surface car from Park Street to Simmons on Huntington Avenue. As an undergraduate in 1955, just out of the U.S. Army, I took what was later the Green Line’s “A” Branch from Park Street to Kenmore Square to Boston University’s Commonwealth Avenue campus, Monday through Fri-day, during 1955 through 1957, though the trolleys (surface cars) of whatever age were all orange with cream uppers and silver tops then. The Orange Line elevated trains ran down Washington Street to Dover Street Station, immediately above where I worked at the Checker Smoker in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then on to Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.
When my mother was a student at New England Conservatory, 1923-1927, she came into Boston on elevated trains of that line from Dudley Station, Roxbury, having transferred there from a trolley line that ran near her parents’ residence at 08 Schiller Street, Jamaica Plain. The Orange Line elevated structure was torn down in 1987, and it was said that it was the first time the street saw sunlight in 84 years. When I was at Northeastern, I took the Green Line’s “E” Branch to Huntington Avenue. As chief bar-tender at the Old Vienna Hofbrau in Alston, I took what became the Green Line’s “B” Branch down Commonwealth Avenue to Alston.
Memorable were the Type 5 streetcars (trolleys) used from 1922 by the BERy to as late as 1959 by the MTA on some lines. I remember them coming into Park Street Station during 1955-57. They were double-ended and of wood construction (it was said) covered with sheet steel. Though they were old, they were powerful. They were noisy and they vibrated, and after their air brakes ground the cars to a stop with a piercing screech of wheels, their compressors recharged the air reservoirs with a loud “buda-buda-buda, buda-buda-buda, buda-buda-buda” sound. When they started, there was a chuffing “whoosh” as the doors were closed by compressed air, and the cars accelerated with a whining crescendo and a whiff of ozone.
In the summer of 1917 my father, just back from a year in Alberta, was prevailed upon by his sister, Adèle-Euphémie (“Mamie”), to journey to Boston, where she had been established since 1908. She said in those days the Chinese residents still wore robes and pigtails. Arriving in August, 1917, he stayed at a house Mamie had purchased in the South End, probably 102 Pembroke Street. By September he was employed by the Boston Elevated Railway Company as a conductor on the Type 4 trolleys (surface cars), which included both “motor cars” and the look-a-like trailers, both used by the BERy from 1907 to 1926, and by the MTA to 1948 on the Mattapan line. By the fall of 1918 he was a motorman on the trolley cars servicing Roxbury, West Roxbury and parts of Dorchester. He was fired in the early spring of 1919, because of an accident not really his fault. Many of the streetcar routes on which he worked terminated at Dudley Station, Roxbury, where there were two inclined streetcar loops so that passengers could transfer to elevated trains at the same level.
Women wore long and voluminous clothing in those days, and the wind blew a woman’s dress or coat back into the door of his car just after she stepped off the car at Dudley Station to cross the platform to an El train. Neither the trolley conductor nor my father, as the motorman, saw the clothing blown back into the car, and he closed the door by compressed air and roared out of Dudley Station on his way down the incline back to Dorchester. Her clothing was ripped from her—fortunately—and she was rolled along the diagonally laid wood flooring of the station clad only in her barest essentials. I have walked along that flooring and remember it. It was poli-tic for the BERy to discharge him, and it did so. I have a photograph of my father as a conductor wearing a uniform with a bell-crowned cap and with a change maker (four-barreled coin sorter and dispenser) clipped to his belt and a ticket (transfer) punch clipped to a pocket and suspended to easy reach by a chain.
Boston Flower Exchange : At 539-551 Tremont Street, between Dwight and Hanson streets. Built 1884 in the classical revival / late Victorian style to house the Cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg. It has a 27-foot steel-trussed dome. Bought in 1923 by the Boston Flower Exchange, which added a new entrance and covered the central dome with a skylight and occupied the premises from 1923 to 1968. Since 1970, it has been operated as the Cyclorama Building by the Boston Center for the Arts. When I lived in the South End, it was a wholesale flower exchange, but I bought many a boutonnière at retail in this market when I was dressed well enough to wear one. What a shame there has never been a flower that smells like chicken gravy or steak and onions!
Boston Garden : At North Station, built in 1928 in the image of New York’s Madison Square Garden. SEE: North Station.
Boston Lying-In Hospital : At 221 Longwood Avenue, it merged in 1966 with the Free Hospital for Women to form the Boston Hospital for Women. In turn that merged with other hospitals in 1980 to become the present [Peter Bent] Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an 800-bed facility affiliated with Harvard Medical School. The original Boston Lying-In Hospital was founded in 1832 for women who were unable to afford in-home medical care, and it became known as “the birthplace of obstetrics.” Aunt Mamie always contributed something annually to its funding. There was a melodic jingle in my time, “Every day is Labor Day at the Boston Lying-In,” crass, but sung by women as well as men in an attempt at humor.
Boston Music Company : at 116-122 Boylston Street. Established about 1910 and patronized by my mother in the middle 1920s, when she was a student at New England Conservatory of Music. Martha Livingston, an officer of the company, was an acquaintance of my mother, who intro-duced me to her about 1949, when we were in Boston on a combination trip to buy furnishings for her and my father’s new home in Vermont, and an excursion for me. It was the premier music store in Boston by far and sold sheet music—some of which was many decades old and available nowhere else—and was the source for recordings and musical instruments. Happening to be there at just the right time, I had an opportunity one morning to play an honest-to-God Guarnerius violin.
Boston Police Department : Boston policeman are, using an old New England expression to signify approval, the “finest kind.” In my opinion, the Boston Police are all heroes. It is true that I used to refer to them as “cops” (from the verb “to cop,” meaning to catch or grab); “flatties” (from the flat feet they were reputed to have as an occupational hazard); and “fuzz” (because they always seemed to be there, like floor fuzz or dust bunnies under a bed), when one would prefer, at times, that they be elsewhere. But that was street talk by a young man. In reality, the police were like the Seventh Cavalry, when they showed up to restore order in a bar room out of control; to nail a druggie breaking into cars in a parking lot for loot to pay a pusher; in response to gunfire in one’s vicinity and, perhaps, bullets through a window. I risked going to jail whenever I packed heat without a license, but I only did it when I thought I might need it before a policeman could possibly arrive to help me. I was lucky that I never had to fire a shot while I was in Boston, though I took a few lumps avoiding doing so. When I was at Fort Lawton and Fort Lewis in the State of Washington in the spring of 1953, waiting to go overseas, I had as a buddy for nearly three months Bob Counihan, the son of a Boston policeman. He told me that his and his family’s concern about his father’s safety was palpable every day of his father’s working years. I never met a policeman anywhere in Boston that I thought was dishonest, i.e., “on the take.” Yet, it was obvious from some circumstances that a few of the higher-ups in the Boston Police Department must have been—perhaps they got contaminated by some of the politicians.
Boston Public Library : 700 Boylston Street, on the west side of Copley Square. It was every book lover’s resort whenever possible. I never cared for the Puvis de Chavannes murals, thinking them two-dimensional and ugly, but I enjoyed the architecture and, on warm days, the courtyard. It was at the north end of the Reading Room that I first encountered the seven volumes of the Abbé Cyprian Tanguay’s monumental Dictionnaire, and thereby began the accumulation of citable data about my family origin, though I had begun making genealogical charts and interviewing relatives at age 16. The south end of the Reading Room had the Reuben Gold Thwaites edition of the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, in English with facing pages in French, Italian, or Latin, as the originals were written, always worth consulting for any research about Acadian or French-Canadian families.
When I was at CGE during 1955-57, at Boston U., I made use of the Boston Public Library’s classical music collection of LP records and its listening booths to refresh my memory in preparation for a whopper of a test. Earlier, I scored high in tonal memory on the Seashore Test of musical ability; a few weeks later I demonstrated my innate prowess by aceing the CGE test on the themes of 100 musical compositions, scoring 100 of 100. That my mother was proprietress of a music store and a professional musician, and that my father had a very large collection of classical music recordings and pre-World War II European café and popular music recordings, helped a little! I loved the big library and had a card there for years, on and off. I generally made a bee-line for it when I was in Boston from my job at North Abington.
Brattle Book Shop : A delightful resort on a day off, this national treasure, though privately owned, has been patronized by generations of literati, scholars and other book lovers. It was only one of several stores selling used and rare books, maps, charts, and prints in Brattle Street and Cornhill (a street, but by custom never called anything but “Cornhill”), east of Scollay Square on the way down to Faneuil Hall. In my day the Brattle Book Shop was at 32 Brattle Street, on its south side, just a little way down from Court Street at Scollay Square. The Brattle Street Tavern was at No. 34, then there was an alley with several steps up to Cornhill, which was about one story higher than Brattle Street; that is, in a building between the two streets, the street level on Cornhill would be on the second floor above the street level entrance on Brattle Street. Immediately on the other side of the alley was the book store. I never learned who first owned the Brattle Book Shop nor when it opened for business, but it was common knowledge that George Gloss had bought it in 1949. In 1955 Mr. Gloss bought Colesworthy’s Book Store, established in 1837 by Daniel Clement Colesworthy (1810-1893), originally at 66 Cornhill in the Sears Crescent building. He also acquired the Burnham Antique Book Store, established in 1825 by Thomas Burnham (1813-1891), that occupied 54-56 Cornhill in Sears Crescent and, I think, he moved the Brattle stock into Burnham’s. Thereby, Mr. Gloss was able to claim for his business a continuity of selling used, antique, and rare books since 1825. I understand that after several removals to avoid the wrecking ball, cope with eviction, escape a rapacious landlord, and recover from a fire, the Brattle Book Shop is now (2010) in downtown Boston at 09 West Street and is owned and managed by Mr. Gloss’s son, Kenneth.
It was in the 32 Brattle Street location that, about 1957, I discovered a book that had belonged to an ancestor, Capt. Thomas Dissmore (1749-1825), which had an armorial bookplate. I couldn’t afford to buy the book and didn’t think to put a down payment on it to hold it, but I did record the title and made a sketch of the coat of arms. By writing to the British Museum and The Augustan Society (from 1957 to 1995 at Torrance, California; then at Daggett, California; since 2007 at Orlando, Florida), I learned the blazon and symbolism of the arms. The Brattle Book Shop seemed to be the most orderly of, perhaps, three or four book stores on Brattle Street and in Cornhill, some of whose stock rested in dusty, teetering piles that menaced the integrity of the glass in the store fronts.
Brodney Gallery of Fine Arts : At 145 Newbury Street. A carriage-trade shop, vending antique and elegant costume jewelry from estate sales, and paintings and sculptures from the same source suitable for home furnishing. I was introduced to it by my mother, who was a sometime customer, either for a bauble to wear or for resale. She bought a painting or two or three there for the Ascutney house after 1950. When I was a young man about town in Boston in the 1950s and ‘60s, I dropped in once in a while, just to see what was on display, and such window shopping was tolerated, if one was quiet and polite. Once, just to indicate that I was a customer, not a perpetual gawker, I bought a group of sterling silver decanter labels for my mother.
Budd Cars : Self-propelled diesel multiple-unit railcars used singly or coupled together as a train and, if coupled, controlled from the cab of the front unit. The car was 85-feet long and powered by two GMC Detroit Diesel Series 110 engines, each of 275 h.p. Built by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, the Budd Rail Diesel Car (RDC) was introduced in 1949, and 398 had been built by 1962. They were primarily used for passenger service in rural areas with low traffic density or in short-haul commuter service. The Boston and Maine Railroad ran Budd Cars on a South Shore commuter line that terminated at South Station, Boston; and when I worked at Teel’s Cabin restaurant, I accompanied Al (Chef Albert E. Chasas) several times into Boston from North Abington on our Monday day off, almost always after breakfast at Sheena’s Family Restaurant near the train station. Good food well served and much appreciated.
Café Budapest : At 90 Exeter Street in the basement of the Copley Square Hotel and earlier in Brookline. A posh Hungarian restaurant with better food than the Csárdás Restaurant in New York—where I ate several times during 1950-1952, as a cadet at Admiral Farragut Academy, Pine Beach, New Jersey. Certainly, it is more memorable, if only because of its gowned and bejeweled proprietress-maîtresse d’hotel, Mme Edith Ban (1917-1988), née Rosenblatt, tall and stately in a floor-length white gown accented by a jeweled necklace and wearing a corsage wristlet over one of her elbow-length white mousquetaire gloves, open at the wrist, and the hand section tucked in. The long gloves, it was said, covered a serial number from Dachau tattooed on one forearm. There were three dining rooms, each with its own ambiance, all superb; the oak-paneled Hungarian room with stained glass, in the lower lobby of the hotel, was the only one familiar to me; but there was also the Weinstubbe, in the basement; and the fairy-princess Pink Room with crystal chandeliers. There were Viennese waltzes played from recordings and sometimes by an orchestra—a good venue for music students—and there was a wandering gypsy violinist. My friend and colleague, Chef Albert E. Chasas, “discovered” the Café Budapest shortly after it opened in Brookline in 1963, for he did his best to eat at least once in every restaurant in Metropolitan Boston. The Café Budapest moved to Boston and opened in the basement of the Copley Square Hotel in 1965, in the former Storyville Jazz Club site, there from 1953. In the late 1960s Chef Chasas obtained a few of the Café Budapest’s recipes from its Brazilian chef, Ivair Madrona, Sr., and shared them with me. In 1965 I squired my aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie) to the Café Budapest. At age 77 she was slim and ramrod straight, nearly six feet tall in heels, a knockout in personal appearance and fashion, whose silver shoes and purse matched her hair and whose eyes—the deepest blue I ever saw—matched her gown. She had the carriage and dignity of a countess, despite a hoyden and mischievous spirit. We were both amused that some people obviously thought that I was her gigolo. Sometime later, I accompanied my business associate, Mrs. Croft, to dinner there, and she found it a good place to meet with clients, so we had dinner there a few more times. I am informed that the Café Budapest closed in the year 2000, a victim of changing tastes and the generalized casualness and galloping insipidity of society.
Carson Beach, South Boston : A beach easy to get to, especially for spur-of-the-moment parties with six-packs, hotdogs and rolls, and jars of mustard and relish, all easily procured. But finding cheap long-handled forks for roasting the dogs over a beach fire was a problem, as there were no tree branches anywhere near the beach. One had to make a quick stop at a five-and-dime store, somewhere, or improvise brochettes from coat hangers. If the fire was kept small it did not attract the police, though it might attract a gang of rowdies, easily routed by a warning shot if one packed heat. But a gun is not a magic wand, and it will not deter everybody. If one draws down on someone, one had better be ready to shoot. I always was, for I was a resolute man, and such resolve is a product of personality, training, and experience, prompted by caution, undergirded by thought, and reinforced by preparation. Besides that, it is just plain fun to see some badass decamping incontinent and calamitously.
Casino Theater : At 44 Hanover Street, at the end of Scollay Square. With an obligatory stop at Jack’s Joke Shop at 48 Hanover to buy, shall we say, dribbling water glasses; “loads” to insert into cigars and cigarettes so they will explode; and, perhaps, something cultural for postprandial drawing room use, such as a donkey that defecates a cigarette when its ears are depressed. Hanover Street was between Bullfinch Street on its west and Scollay Square on its east with Somerset Street 2/3 of the way down it from Scollay Square. Opened on 3 January 1910, the Casino Theater was renamed the Old Howard Casino Theater after the Old Howard Athenaeum was burned in 1953 and the license of the Old Howard was transferred. The Casino was supposed to seat more than 1,800 people, but I doubt that. Maybe 800 on the main floor and 400 in the balcony. It was closed in the spring of 1962 and razed later that year to make room for the Government Center complex—a starkly hideous warren for malignant bureaucrats. I was in the audience one night in 1956 when the drummer got sick in the orchestra pit, puked his guts out, and had to be helped out of the theater. Consternation ensued, until sand from a couple of round-bottom fire buckets was liberally dispensed. To the query over the loud-speaker, “Is there a drummer in the house?” I responded; and, as I seated myself behind a wildly mismatched trap set, was told by the band leader, “Just keep the beat, and for Christ’s sake, let the girls bump to the rim shots; don’t try to time the shots to the bumps and be late!” I got the point and avoided looking at the girls; I set the pace, and the girls bumped o.k., and I was o.k.
In that little band played a trumpeter with the raunchiest sound I ever heard, like a brassy, rasping, bubbling fart. He had perfected the sound. It was ideal for the venue. I was living then on the Hill at 24 Mt. Vernon and also had a hideaway apartment at 06 Charter Street in the North End. I played the drums at the Casino only one other time, so I never had to join James C. Petrillo’s Musician’s Union; but I did become a grip for the acts, and I “trod the boards” a few times in some scurrilous routines. Once I was set up without warning, and, unusually for me, with my laggard wit, thought fast enough to extricate myself. I was playing the stooge to a baggy pants comedian. The name of this lowest kind of performer—excepting his stooge—derives from an ancient shtick performed with a claw hammer thrust handle-first into a side pocket of baggy pants, the claw of the hammer-head hooked over the edge of the pocket. The pants are baggy to provide loose material that will permit movement of the handle. When a scantily-clad female says or does something provocative, or even just swivels by, twitching her tush, Baggy Pants presses down on the hammer head, raising the handle of the hammer, simulating a reaction unmistakably male. The shtick never fails to get a laugh. In the skit we were on a desert island and had to share a scantily-clad lovely plastered with enough makeup for a clown (so her face could be seen to the gallery); Baggy Pants drew an imaginary line across her waist and kissed her on her left cheek, saying, “I kissed my half!”; after the laughter died down, I drew a line bisecting her, crown to crotch—taking my fumble-fingered time with the bisecting, especially at the end, while mumming with my tongue out and waggling it at the audience for laughs (you stick out your tongue, keep it limp, and shake your head forcefully)—and kissed her on her other cheek: “I’ll settle for a quarter,” I said, “Let’s save the rest for a rainy day!”
Intercalated among the two or three skits that intervened between stripping acts were a few moments of dialogue called “patter.” Patter provided time to put a few stage props in place for the skits or clear them away or for the audience to have a quick smoke or drain the dragon in the loo. The patter was structured in very short routines, or mini-skits, and there might be two or three routines in a row. One routine I remember was about a typist: Baggy – “I hear you’re going out with a typist. Is she pretty good?” Stooge – “You should see her fingers move—80 strokes a minute!” Baggy – “On your person?” Stooge – “On the keyboard! (Drummer mimics typing with a paradiddle on the woodblock and a bell). But, she’s having trouble with her colon.” Baggy – “With her colon! What have you been up to?” Stooge – “It’s all smeared on the paper.” Baggy – “Looking at the paper, are you? Invading her bathroom! Isn’t that a bit too personal?” Stooge – “In the typewriter! And you should see her slash!” Baggy – “What’s wrong with it?” Stooge — “It’s all fuzzy! And she’s missing her period.” Baggy – “That’s it; I don’t want to hear any more; you’d better take the next bus out of town!” (Drummer does a rimshot.)
It was a wild bur-ly-cue thee-ay-ter, that’s for sure. I can reel off the spiels of the candy butchers yet, with their promises of wrist watches or Parisian photographs of stahk nekkid ladies in every tenth package of salt-water taffy or caramel corn. Whitey Tracy (whose real name was John Limes) and I went to New York for a lark, where we stopped at the Hotel Taft to hear Charley Drew and appropriated a large part of his hilarious song, “He’s the Mailman With the Longest Route in Town”; but though several of us tried our hands in the writing, it didn’t quite lend itself to an adaptation for an entr’acte burlesque routine, yet Whitey thought it might work in a music hall if somebody like Benny Hill performed it. SEE ALSO: Pilgrim Theatre.
Castle Square Theater : At 421 Tremont Street, on the corner of Ferdinand (now Arlington) and Castle (now Herald) streets. It was opened in 1894 as a performing house for opera and stage shows and had its own stock company from 1908 to 1916. As a member of the company from 1912 to 1914, Alfred Lunt got his start. It became a moving picture theater, renamed the Arlington Theater, during the Great War (World War I) but returned to live performances in 1920. It was a favorite place of entertainment for my aunt Mamie when she first came to Boston in 1908, as it was for my father and paternal grandparents, who were also frequent attendees of concerts at Jordan Hall, when they lived in Boston. The theater succumbed to the taste of the public for moving pictures and was closed in 1932 and razed during 1932-33. Gone 25 years in my time, it was fun to give as a destination to elderly cab drivers, who may have wondered if they had driven into a time warp upon hearing it. The Animal Rescue League moved into its new building on the site in 1956.
Chandler Street, 61 : My residence from 07 September 1964 through 18 June 1965, while I worked at Ken’s at Copley, 549 Boylston Street, near Copley Square. I had a large and clean second-floor room with a sink, though I had to share a bathroom. Mrs. Harry E. Webb was the proprietress. She was ever so helpful in keeping a record of phone calls for me, jotting down numbers and directions, and was never inquisitive about who they were from. When I left, I gave her a beautiful Chinese vase that had a mysterious provenance and a generous gift certificate from Schraft’s.
Chandler Street, 110 : Residence of my business associate, Olivia Wade Croft, who lived on the second floor, 1963-65, et seq. Before that, during 1962-63, she lived at 115 Chandler Street, first floor; and when I first met her, on 22 August 1960 (the anniversary of my birthday) at the New Adams House Restaurant on Washington Street, she had an apartment at 78 Appleton Street. She was in the business of distributing truckloads of merchandise from undisclosed sources to various non-inquisitve entrepreneurs. For a time I drove delivery vans rented for the purpose. She had a phenomenal memory undergirded by mnemonics and conducted her entire business without any incriminating records and seldom needed to consult a telephone book more than once for any address or number.
Charles’ Textile Mending : At 453 Washington Street, opposite Jordan Marsh. Master tailors who restored fabrics, filling in moth holes, burns, and tears, reweaving fabric to look like new. Their motto: “If we can’t fix it, throw it away.” They repaired zippers or installed new ones, shampooed and rewove rugs to eliminate raveled ends and burns and stains and stenches from animal indiscretions and tobacco ash. I brought in a grey tweed suit that I had bought in a pawn shop that had three bullet holes in the jacket. There must have been blood stains, but they had been removed. Probably the suit came from an undertaking parlor after the widow decided to have an open coffin funeral and found something else for a send-off suit. Since the holes in the back were no larger than those in the front, the bullets were doubtless military FMJs, i.e., full metal jackets. How appropriate! Charles’ Textile Mending rewove the fabric so expertly that it was hard to detect where the holes were, even when one knew where to look. That the cloth was a rough Donegal tweed with a pebbly weave helped them a lot, of course. It was one of my best suits, and after some slight alterations fit me just dandy. I wasn’t squeamish about it, for who ever heard of a haunted suit?
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe : 429 Columbus Avenue. Established in 1927 by Charlie Poluos, who died in 1962, it is a diner in layout and just a bit wider but not by much. The counter is on the left as one walks in. It has 13 stools, and there are four tables and 16 chairs. There were never any WCs and there are none now (2010), the place having been grandfathered to operate without them. In the 1950s and 1960s nearby doorways and the off-street sides of automobile tires served as pissoires for men after dark; I have no knowledge of the women’s make-do, but I suspect it was a group of women clustered in an adjacent lot to obscure what was going on behind them. Charlie was a Greek immigrant and as perceptive as he was pleasant and hard-working; accordingly, he allowed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to hold union meetings upstairs over the restaurant gratis, and they and their relatives and friends patronized Charlie’s diner thereafter and it flourished. Most of the big-time Black musicians and show business celebrities ate there, whenever they had gigs in Boston. So the word got around that nobody hassled Charlie nor his partner, Chris Manjourides.
In my time the diner had many Greek dishes on the bill of fare, such as spinach and feta cheese omelettes, deep-fried eggplant with tomato sauce, minced lamb dolmas, a wonderful Greek salad, moussaka, pilaf with tomatoes and lemon—always one of my favorites—and baklava. But, as the clientele grew increasingly Black in that area of the South End, the menu metamorphosed into southern dishes, such as fried chicken, rice and black-eye peas (a tasty recipe somewhat like “Hoppin’ John”), deep-fried okra, and sweet potato pie. I liked it all. Now, with the “gentrification” of the South End, Charlie’s features la-di-da griddlecakes with various additives, such as bananas, blueberries, chocolate bits, raspberries; French toast with “cranberry compote”; and turkey hash—tasteless, unless it includes plenty of chopped onions before it is fried or grilled and is doused with A-1 Sauce or ketchup, or, maybe, some hot sauce. Only corned beef hash is always good—except that, in my opinion, red flannel hash is too, if it is prepared with beets, carrots, potatoes and onions with a meaty base of beef and / or pork and maybe some bacon, all fried crisp and condimented with vinegar and ketchup, too, for good measure.
One day, perhaps in 1957, I looked around a packed diner and discovered that, besides Charlie, I was the only Caucasian in the place. As times changed, I grew a little apprehensive that a newcomer from the south or someone drifting in from New York or Chicago might think I was a tourist looking for trouble and not a neighbor who lived just around the corner on West Brookline Street. But I have been polite since I was in rompers and learned early to keep my nose clean, so I was always o.k. Perhaps it helped that Charlie and Chris knew me as “Nifty de Luxe” and called me “Nifty,” and it didn’t hurt that Henry LoPresto was with me sometimes.
Charter Street, 06 : My “hideout” apartment in the North End, “Little Italy,” from 30 October 1955 through 30 June 1956. I had a one-room “studio” apartment one flight up from the street. It was quite large, though the antiquated bathroom was very small and built into a corner. I paid to have a professional cleaner scour it spotless and sanitize it; then I disguised the fixtures as best I could with paint, doing the steel shower stall inside and out with enamel from an electric spray gun and the floor of the stall with a patent enamel containing grit, of no consequence to my feet, since I always wear shower shoes. A few weeks later, I fabricated a dandy duckboard floor for the shower stall out of pallet wood, well sanded. At my request the landlord had the room painted in a light cream hue; and when I was finished with furnishing and decorating it, the room looked great with a quilted, padded door and a matching quilted padded bar, both of which I did myself with red Naugahyde held over waste cotton by brass upholstery tacks, constructing the bar of wood from discarded pallets with a thick plywood top cut for the purpose, sealed with shellac and enameled black. The style had been around since the 1930s but still looked swank to me.
I set an insulated ice-cube container on the bar top, together with a Boston cocktail mixer (two truncated cones, the glass bottom cone jamming into the slightly longer stainless-steel top cone, together about a foot high) and a lacquered round tray with a few upside-down cocktail glasses on it over a napkin. If I had an acquaintance or two over, which was rare, I had to procure a package of cracked ice, for my refrigerator made only one tray of cubes. There was a twin-size bed masquerading as a studio couch under a fitted floor-length cover and big pillows; two matching wood-framed easy chairs with wide bent-wood arms enameled black and fitted with red cushions flanking an end table; a coffee table in front of the couch; an Art Deco console with a record player between two small bookcases against a wall; some scatter rugs; and two Art Deco floor lamps. I didn’t need a desk, because I kept my portable typewriter in my room at 24 Marlborough Street and made do just fine here with a plywood writing board. There was a bookcase handy to one of the chairs. The kitchen was a table against the exterior of the bathroom wall with a small sink on its left that shared the bathroom plumbing through the wall, and a small electric stove and a tiny refrigerator on its right. The descriptor was “small,” for I thought the kitchen facilities resembled the galley of a power boat. Two tall department-store three-section chinoiserie folding screens linked end-to-end concealed both the kitchenette and the door to the bathroom.
There were a few cheap (but tasteful!) prints in impressive looking (papier-maché) frames as decoration, together with a couple of posters I liked. Most of the furnishings came from Morgie’s, but I had some of it refurbished and the cushions recovered. It all looked good, though the stock of the bar was meager. It felt great to have a hideout! I paid a $140 returnable deposit and $140 a month, which was about par in those days, and I had to scramble to obtain it. I had no telephone and didn’t want one, especially since I didn’t want the number and address listed. It was not a Better Homes and Gardens apartment, but it sufficed.
Checker Smoker, The : At 1135 Washington Street, on the SW corner of Dover and Washington streets. Walking down Dover Street from Tremont Street introduced one to a pawn shop; a mis- sion with a big sign “Jesus Saves,” which was frequently desecrated by a crudely made addendum attached by coat-hanger wire underneath it, “But Moses Invests”; dark stores with second-hand items; used clothing stores; a den of miscellany called “Harry the Greek’s”—alternatively known by older residents as “Jimmy the Thief’s”; and loathsome boozer bars, the worst by far called “The Palm Garden Café, Inc.” The Dover Street Station of the El was right over the intersection of Washington and Dover streets and there were stairways to and from it on all of the corners, the one outside the Checker ascending from and descending to Dover Street. The main entrance to the Checker was right on the corner of the building on the Washington Street side of the intersection with Dover Street. There was a side entrance at 85 Dover Street.
It was a restaurant, tobacco store, and place to buy candy, perfumes, colognes, various oddments, and kitchen utensils that might be of assistance in “light housekeeping.” That meant cooking on a table-top two-burner gas stove on little six-inch legs set on an insulated metal shield, in a furnished room with a small ice box or fridge alongside the gas stove, and a sink that doubled for kitchen use and personal ablutions. Ice was still delivered by the pound then, summoned from a truck in the street, the amount according to the uppermost number of four printed on a square of cardboard set in a window, generally 25, 50, 75, 100 pounds. It was cut to the requested weight by the iceman with an ice pick, and carried up the stairs in tongs over his shoulder, which was protected by a padded rubber cape. He carried a little scale with him to demonstrate his accuracy in cutting and adjusted the price if he was a little under the number wanted; but the days of the ice man were numbered, too. It was said that there were many lonely housewives, and the ice man had his pick. The Checker’s proprietor and treasurer was John Marder, whose partners were Benny Hillman, president, and Ralph Hillman, corporate clerk;
I left my name and address at the Checker in 1955, shortly after enrolling at BU’s College of General Education. The place (the Checker!) was notorious, but I had learned that the employees were allowed one meal per shift at no cost and that the wage was good and the tips as well. After a few weeks Benny Hillman telephoned me at the B.U. Law School dormitory on Beacon Hill late one afternoon, found me in, and came for me in a cab. On arrival at the Checker, I put on an apron and slogged out an evening shift. I got the rhythm of the place quickly, benefitting from some experience in my father’s grill room at the Winner Hotel in Claremont, N. H., and from a plentiful amount of woods cooking. I was a rookie at the Checker, but I did well, finding the counterwork a snap and able to spell the grill man for breaks. I worked there on and off for several years, generally on call as a spare or relief counterman or grill man, as my studies at Boston University or Northeastern University permitted. Eventually, Mr. Marder paid me a high and much appreciated compliment by asking if I would become a cash register clerk behind the cigar counter, which was the place of payment for the lunch counter as well as all other transactions. I declined regretfully, since by then I was a graduate student at Northeastern U. and would be looking for a teaching position upon graduation.
Long-time employees at the Checker were Charles Beck, cashier; Charles Kirk, cash reg- ister clerk; Henry (Barker?), chef; Harry Osterofsky, day grill man; Arthur Breton, night grill man. Many countermen worked there, among them Big John Leahy; Harold Pearce; Earnest Carl Bostwick—always addressed or referred to as “Earnest Carl,” as though his first name was an epithet; a rugged bald fellow who looked like Mr. Clean; Lester Callahan (who looked clean but wasn’t); and I. There were doubtless many others, even in my time. Waiting on the customers, we filled as many orders as we could at the counter and called to the kitchen for those we couldn’t fill, over a squawk box (microphone). We served coffee, soda fountain drinks, ice cream, sundaes, pastries and wedges of pie, often with a slice of cheese, New England style. There were numerous sandwiches, several of them hot from the grill, such as grilled bologna and a superb brand of knackwurst. English muffins were popular—usually ordered by calling out to the grill man, “Burn the British!”—as well as succulent date-nut bread, but there were no doughnuts. There were wonderful hard bulky rolls and soft egg rolls, and vats of coffee, LaTouraine brand, made in and drawn from a trio of big gas-fired urns with a barrel-shaped Wyott cream dispenser on a one-legged stand with a horseshoe-shaped foot alongside. The central urn was the hot water boiler. Some stuff we called out (announced in a loud voice) just for the fun of it, or showmanship, for we countermen filled most of the orders ourselves. Orders for meals, however, were called to the kitchen via the squawker, which was a two-way. Tickets were punched for the bills, and the customers paid the cashier. The place was well known far beyond the South End. Outside on the corner, Paul ______ hawked newspapers under the El stairway on Dover Street, and “Snuffy” ______ parked his black-and-white cab on the Washington side of the corner.
Harry Osterofsky (1905-1987) was the finest grill man I ever saw in action, just as Phil Morin, of the Pleasant Restaurant in Claremont, N.H., was the all-time champion counterman, moving with the poise and rhythm of a ballet dancer, as he performed miracles of multitasking. Harry made an omelet by pouring two beaten eggs at once on the grill and folding them immediately this way and that with a narrow pastry spatula, until in nothing flat they were entirely folded in a neat rectangle and voila! done par excellence and nestled onto a plate warmed at the edge of the grill. When it was ordered, he would drop instantly a big spoonful of shredded cheddar or sliced mushrooms or pinches of herbs on the poured eggs and immediately start folding the mixture. It was an art. He told me the secret was in having the grill temperature exactly right at just a notch above medium heat. If he dropped something on the floor he would make hand motions resembling crossing himself as he stooped to pick it up and would intone, “And the Lord said to Moses, all the Jews will have big noses—except for Aaron; he’ll have a square ’ne.” People used to order various kinds of omelets just to see such an artist do his stuff. All the while he could have half a dozen other items working on the grill, which had three gas jets, so that its surface could be regulated, somewhat, as to temperature. He never got ruffled, and it was always a pleasure to work with him. Harry had been a cook in hotels and at resorts, and if Henry (Barker?) was ill he was able to take charge as chef; and he did so for two weeks at a clip when Henry was on vacation; but he said he found the daily grind as a chef too stressful, and preferred work as a grill man and counterman as a regular job.
Arthur Breton, the night grill man, was no slouch, either. A fellow French-Canadian, he was in his early fifties and a tall, big man with grey wavy hair and blue eyes. He had a charming young daughter aged about 14, very pretty with light brown hair. He spoke some French and had been in the U.S. Navy in W.W. II. We went to the Syrian Club a few times, after hours, where the management and a lot of the clientele spoke French.
Directly across Washington Street on the SE corner of Dover was a Waldorf Cafeteria. Catercorner from the Checker on the NW corner of Washington and Dover was the Premier Restaurant, which had a blue glass-tiled façade and red neon sign; it was a heavily patronized Jewish delicatessen and was by far the best place to eat in the immediate or far vicinity; and on the NE corner was a drugstore that I never entered and the name of which escapes me. My tout of the Premier does not mean that the Checker’s food was bad—far from it: Henry (Barker?) was an ex-army cook, and he was an excellent chef. The Checker’s food was plain but wholesome and really tasty. Some of the mainstays, two choices per day, were ham and spinach, baked kidney beans and knackwurst, pot roast with garden gravy (carrots and peas in the gravy), meatloaf and gravy, breaded pork chop with fresh applesauce, chicken cacciatore (which we enjoyed calling chicken hootchie-cootchie), baked stuffed haddock, salmon loaf with egg sauce. A choice of several styles of potatoes, one or two vegetables. Bread and butter.
Daily there were two hearty soups served with crackers for an inexpensive lunch. There were many kinds of soups. As a counterman, I waited months for the right combination and a customer changing his mind, so I could drawl over the microphone, “Hold the chicken—make it pea.” Slight humor, but hugely enjoyed by all. Henry’s Cabinet Pudding was locally famous. Anything called “cabinet” in the context of cuisine means literally something that is the best in a cabinet; and figuratively it means something really special or of highest quality. Henry’s Cabinet Pudding was a bread pudding that included the leftovers and sweepings from the pie display cabinets, so it was rarely similar, batch to batch, but it was always good and certainly a “cabinet pudding.”
Customers were sometimes coy with their orders, not decisive, or, perhaps, bored with our menu, and would want us to tempt them with something. Arthur might suggest, “How about a sliced ham, potted lamb, razor clam, buttered yam and cherry jam sandwich on a toasted bulkie roll?” I might ask a customer if he or she might like to try a sardine, peanut butter and marshmallow-fluff sandwich on date-nut bread. Harry might offer to make a chopped braunschweiger (liver sausage) and olive omelet on the grill—“With a ladle of pineapple sauce from the fountain, it’s a winner!” When Mr. Marder was on duty as cashier and heard such recom- mendations, he looked philosophically at the ceiling.
I worked the day shift, from 6:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M., sometimes, but usually the night shift, from 2:00 to 10:00 P.M. It was a busy place with a wild and varied and weird clientele. A tall, thin, white-crew-cut-haired Scottish-looking fellow would come in and holler “Haggis!” And we counter-men would holler back in a chorus, “Baggis!” It was a ritual. Then there was “Tom the Weeper,” who wept uncontrollably, shedding continual tears, as did St. Arsenius, Tom was afflicted probably with a nerve disease, the good saint probably with an eye irritation suffered in Egypt. I was there during the 1960 election after which Charley Kirk, who bet on the wrong man and owed the shylocks big time, absconded with the contents of the Checker Smoker’s safe; and during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 22 October 1962; and I have scores of stories about the place. A John would buy a box of chocolates for the shady lady accompanying him. Half an hour later the shady one would return and sell it back at half price. Charley Beck told me that one box came back seven times one evening. The perfumes were hardly parfums de Paris. Someone would ask for Evening in Paris. Charley Kirk would answer, facetiously, “We’re out of it just now, but we have Night on Dover Street.” I became convinced that the folklore about the full moon is true.
Lester Callahan’s story is a duesy: he was fired for urinating in the dishwasher under the counter. The counter was L-shaped and its long axis was parallel with Dover Street; the short axis was parallel with Washington Street. At the end of the long axis, near the kitchen, was the dish washing machine, used solely for washing drinking glasses; the crockery and utensils were bussed to the pearl diver in the kitchen. When the racks were full one of us would start it up. It was a good washer, I think a Hobart, and the water was hot. A container of powdered soap was handy by. The door was hinged at the bottom, and Lester developed a technique of throwing his apron over the open door of the machine and, while wiping the counter in front of it, taking a leak before closing the door. I suppose he needed to go frequently and left his joint hanging out underneath his apron. One night a patron smelled the steam from the hot water when the dishwasher was opened and told the boss, who kept a weather eye on Lester from the kitchen door at the end of the counter. Caught with his pants down, almost literally, Lester was fired from his job like a rocket!
There was a murder at the Roosevelt Hotel while I worked at the Checker. During our next day shifts a plainclothes detective showed each of us a photograph of the dead woman’s face. Macabre! “Did you see her here last night?” I was asked. “I served her coffee and pie,” I replied. “Was a man with her?” “Yes.” “What did he look like?” “I didn’t look at him.” “Then how did you know he was a man?” “From his voice and my peripheral vision.” “Did he order anything?” “Just coffee.” I didn’t have to look at a person full in the face to take an order or serve one.
At night several of the newspaper-men from the Boston Herald would dogleg three blocks from the Herald building to eat at the Checker. They were a good lot, and they may have added a little tone to the place. They seemed to think so. Once in a while, a Salvation Army band would play just outside on Washington Street. They certainly lacked instrumentation, having only a cornet, trombone, bass drum with a cymbal on its top, a woodwind or two, and a tambourine. Charley Beck would always run outside and holler, “Don’t lean on the windows! Keep away from the glass!” He said they had cracked one of the display windows once. Of course, the Sally with the tambourine, a woman thinner than Death, would come inside and walk up and down, holding out her tambourine and rattling it, for pocket change. I always contributed, for I like the Sallies. They do good work and are not bloated with a bureaucracy like the Red Cross, from which I never got anything but a paper cup of weak coffee and a stale doughnut while I was standing on a pier in San Francisco in 1954, when our ship got home from Korea. But they sure took a lot of pictures of the event.
There was another Checker Smoker at 1797 Washington Street, but it was off my beaten path, and I never was curious enough to go see it. However, I was very familiar with the Red Ram on Tremont Street, which was owned, or, at one time had been owned, by John Marder, as its name was his surname, spelled backwards.
Clarendon Gardens Tavern : At 517 Tremont Street, it was the original dining room and bar of the Clarendon Hotel, 517-529 Tremont Street. A capacious old-time beer garden, worn, dirty, and dingy from 75 years and more of hard use by the 1950s, it had a high ceiling yellowed by generations of tobacco smoke, and a worn mahogany bar to the right of the entrance with a cluttered back-bar and a clouded and cracked mirror that reflected the high-backed wooden booths along the left wall. Bookish and inquisitive people like me knew that the place had been famous once, and that after the nearby Castle Square Theater opened in 1894, the bar and dining room had become frequented by the theatrical crowd, actors, patrons, and hangers-on. It was said that countless cocktails and some 1200 bottles of beer—50 cases—were served from the bar on a good day. But in the bar’s decrepitude, some 75 years later, the bartender probably hadn’t sold more than a dozen mixed drinks since Repeal. Its only claim to being a “garden” was its proximity to the Boston Flower Exchange at 539 Tremont Street. But hold up a glass to the light and it was clean, and sip a draft beer and it tasted good. There were some good people there—some bad ones too. Décor? Who needs it all the time! It was a tavern for the proletariat, but I always felt comfortable bending an elbow there. Irish Sweepstakes tickets were for sale if you knew whom to ask. SEE: The Clarendon Hotel, infra.
Clarendon Hotel, The : The first hotel at 523 Tremont Street in Boston, known as the Clarendon House, opened in 1868 and burned in the great fire of Boston, 9-10 November 1872. That was when a hotel was still called a “House.” The French term, “Hotel,” became popular about the middle 1870s. A larger four-story hotel, named The Clarendon Hotel, was built on the same site and opened in 1874. With additions, the address of the hotel was 517-529 Tremont Street, which was on the right side of the street as one progressed up Tremont Street from downtown. Owned by John L. Garner, the hotel was operated by a succession of his surrogate managers, the most colorful of whom was heavy-weight bare-knuckle boxing champion John L. Sullivan. It was a first class establishment with a fine dining room, a bar, and a “palm court” (lounge) with nightly entertainment by an orchestra of lady musicians. Examples of its monogrammed chinaware survive and surface from time to time in auction sales to collectors.
Probably because of a polymorphous curiosity, I investigated the history of this hotel lightly, but did not trouble to trace deeds of conveyance. The hotel was listed in several Boston directories, the last of which was 1920. It was listed in Hotel Red Books from 1906 to 1918, but not in 1922 nor later. As of 1962, and perhaps later, there was still a Clarendon Hotel at the 517-529 Tremont Street address, though it had long ceased to advertise and was known only to South End locals as a cheap place to rent a room or store furniture or anything else, including one time, so the night clerk told me, a trunk full of dessicated body parts. The countenance of that unfortunate man was a constant grimace of consternation and chagrin, as if he had delivered himself of a painful intestinal eructation and gotten a dreadful surprise. His duties as concierge were mainly as warden for fire and guardian of the miniscule lobby, preserving it from occupation by derelicts and from the pilferage of its furniture. Some retired show business people lived there, because it was the best they could afford and still have the address of a hotel, not of a rooming house. You know you are not in a posh establishment when guestroom doors are padlocked on the outside in the hall and secured from the inside by a Fox Police Lock, an iron bar wedged at an angle from a steel socket set into the floor to a steel socket bolted to the door. Henry LoPresto and I collected some vigs (vigorish / interest) from men who lived there, and it was not pleasant to go into the building. One was immediately reminded of the old witticism, “ ‘Now I’m really in a hole,’ as the bishop said to the actress.” The hotel was boarded up in 1964 and it burned to the ground in February, 1969, victim of a fire started by vagrants who had broken in to keep warm. SEE: Tremont Gardens Café, infra.
Cobb Street, 12 : Residence of a man who was a vicious and persistent wife beater—or, maybe, girl-friend beater. Varied and changing but continual evidence showed on the face and arms of a woman companion of his who was a customer at the Checker Smoker. A vigilante terminated that evil practice permanently, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. Cobb Street was laid out in 1872 as a 40-foot-wide street between Washington Street and Shawmut Avenue and was developed with some fine town houses. The Cobb Theater, originally called the Dreamland Theater, was a 688-seat nickelodeon at 1005-1009 Washington Street, on its west side near the corner of Cobb Street. It was built ca 1905-1910, eventually became a cinema, and was in business into the early 1950s. In the autobiography of comedian Fred Allen (1894-1956), he states that he played in vaudeville at the Cobb when it was still called the Dreamland, ca 1912-14. Henry LoPresto and I had occasion to collect rents and debts on Cobb Street, and I can attest that it was little better than a slum in my day. The theater and the whole street was demolished in the late 1960s and 1970s to make room for an industrial park, it was said, but I have not learned if the land was put to that use.
Cobb’s Restaurant : 32 Tremont Street, in the heart of downtown Boston. “Established 1860,” it advertised, which, if true, made it a hundred or more years old in my time. The enormous lobster in its show window, if it was genuine, not a simulacrum, must have been equally old, for it was about six feet long, almost unimaginably large, and again, if genuine, was probably caught in the net of a purse seine, for it was a hundred times too large for a lobster pot. Anyway, whether fact or fiction, it was a genius attraction in the show window. I do not eat crustacea, thinking that I should rather become a cannibal than eat any kind of arthropod, since they all look like insects or arachnids to me—yucky bugs; but I became familiar with lobsters and crabs as a cook, sorting scores of them daily. They were kept in crates of moss in a walk-in reefer, and every day, donning a warm jacket, I picked up each crab or lobster and shook it gently—the limp and lazy ones got cooked that day; the feisty ones got reprieved for another day; and I have cooked bushels and bushels of shrimp, timing their cooking and pinching them for doneness. I abhor crustacea—bugs—yet, I can eat a steak with equanimity while my companion eats lobster. Most of the time, however, I have clams, scallops, oysters, calamari or fish—and, in Florida, conch chowder—for I do like seafood. My relatives and friends liked Cobb’s Restaurant, and I have enjoyed many a meal there. The downtown location of the restaurant is wonderfully convenient; however, the constraints of a downtown Edwardian building result in an atmosphere with less ambience than a canoe shed.
College of General Education, Boston University, “CGE,” at 785 Commonwealth Avenue on the corner of University Road, part of B.U.’s Charles River campus, occupying the space of the former Sargent College of Physical Education for Women. The building had been originally the New England headquarters of the Shell Oil Company, and there were scallop shells and other aquatic symbols cast into its concrete façade. Then it became a retail store for the General Tire Company before the building was acquired by Boston University. We used to call the building “The Tire Store.” The school was next to a Howard Johnson’s restaurant at its left, as one faced the building, and was catercorner across the avenue from the Peter Fuller Cadillac-Oldsmobile Agency at 808 Commonwealth Avenue. On the ground floor of that building in the former auto showrooms is an art gallery for the university’s M.L.A. visual arts program, and there are classrooms and administrative offices upstairs (2010).
The raison d’être for the College of General Education was to offer an integrated or “interdisciplinary” studies program, which was believed to provide much more information and a superior understanding of it than the usual hodge-podge of courses, even those at the College of Liberal Arts at B.U. But, since the college furnished the textbooks and supplementary reading materials for all of the courses, and checked them out to the students at the appropriate places in the syllabi, the cost of the books and materials and the staff to check out and order and process and coordinate everything proved more than the university wanted to pay, and eventually the program was terminated. The building now houses the Boston University Academy, with its entrance at 01 University Road.
I was at CGE in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and was conferred the Associate in Arts degree. I thought it was a superb school then and have never ceased to think so. I earned five more degrees after the A.A. from C.G.E. but kept all of my syllabi and reading lists from there. I was editor of the annual literary magazine Siege, for 1957; the name derived from the sound of “C.G.E.,” but it was also intended to be a waggish intimation of misfortune to those foolish enough to read it. There were some memorable professors: Ernest M. Blaustein (1921-2005), Ph.D., a World War II veteran and idiosyncratic inculcator of the history of science, whose remarks were delivered from carefully crafted notes and who began each lecture from the middle of the sentence where he had stopped when the bell ended his preceding lecture; Donald Born, professor of the humanities, a veteran of the India-Burma Theater in World War II and of several universities, sometimes a bit tipsy, who read Shakespeare in the lecture hall as if he had just come from the Globe Theater, or, more likely, from a tankard or two at The George Inn nearby in Southwark; G. Norman Eddy (1906-2000), professor of social sciences and a dramatic, even mesmerizing lecturer on comparative religion, who strode into the midst of his auditors in the lecture hall and communicated directly with some of them, peering straight into their eyes: “Don’t you think so?” or “You would doubtless have approved!” Or “Could you have done otherwise?”—though he never expected, and seldom got, an answer; Stuart J. E. Good, a World War II veteran, guidance counselor extraordinaire, a crew cut sandy-haired Joe College type, a big fellow, beaverly eager and impossibly buoyant; Prof. Mary Elizabeth Hawthorne, who had written our text in biology and urged us to “Come into the cell!” with the zeal of an explorer, suggesting to a hopelessly confused student that we had all become microsized and that she was searching for the pith helmet she had dropped—somewhere; Morton Margolis (1917-1990), professor of the humanities, a polymath in art and music and the performing arts, student in Paris of Nadia Boulanger, who demonstrated his versatility by drawing amazing impromptu sketches on a portable chalkboard fastened to an easel and illustrated his sections on music history with effortless riffs and runs on the piano; Associate Dean William F. Perry, A.B., A.M., professor of English, who exuded as much charm as erudition and sometimes wore a bowler; Prof. Bill Reed, a poet who knew and had written about Dylan Thomas; Dr. Myrl M. Young, whose humor made American political history fascinating, and even economics, “the dismal science,” attractive. The secretary of the Humanities Department was H. C. Kolbe; she was bright and brisk and witty and thorough and had a cute little butt. I lived at 24 Mount Vernon Street in the B.U. Law School dormitory during my freshman year, September, 1955, to June, 1956 (with a hideout apartment at 06 Charter Street from 30 October 1955 to 30 June 1956.)
Combat Zone : Downtown Boston along Washington Street, after the do-gooders and proponents of a new “government center” managed to destroy Scollay Square, including a pub on Brattle Street in business since 1766, and some literally wonderful bookstores in Cornhill. Most of the Combat Zone was after my time, but it was going full blast when I was at Simmons in the ‘Seventies. I remember only a nightclub tout on the sidewalk, a dwarf with an improbable name, “Mr. Maximilian Short,” who wore a top hat and pointed with an abbreviated crook-handled cane to the entrance of a frolicking place, bawling out “Just in time to catch the next act. I’m the M.C.; I’ll be in shortly – I won’t be long!” At that time in my life I was glad to pass by.
Copley Plaza : This 1912 landmark is one of the best hotels anywhere—or was, during my time. It is catercorner from the Boston Public Library. I once accompanied my aunt Mamie to a $100-a-plate dinner there—big stuff at that time. The Merry-Go-Round Bar, just off the lobby, operated from 1934 to 1978 and made one revolution per hour, so there was no trouble getting off the contraption, even if one wasn’t quite as steady on the feet as when getting onto it. There were charming ladies there from out of town, attending conventions, glad of a little anonymity. This is the hotel to which my cousin, Eldredge McDonald—my father’s nephew by his sister Constance—chauffeured my mother in 1945 in his Chrysler limousine, down from our Winner Hotel in Claremont, N.H. On their arrival in front of the Copley, Eldredge opened the passenger door for my mother and announced her name to the doorman. But the doorman mistook Eldridge’s “Mrs. LaPanne,” which he pronounced correctly as “lapahn,” for “Lily Pons” (1898-1976), Franco-American coloratura soprano, and he passed that name along with the baggage handler to the front desk. The Boston pronunciation is cop-ly, not cope-ly.
Copley Square Hotel : At 47 Huntington Avenue / 30 Exeter Street. An old and tired hotel, but well managed and in a splendid location, it was the site of an extravagantly good restaurant in its basement, whose address was at 30 Exeter Street. The Café Budapest had three dining rooms, each with its own décor and ambiance, and it was open from 1964 until 2000, when it became a victim of changing times and tastes. I thought it was better than the Csardas in New York City, where I dined a few times as a cadet at Admiral Farragut Academy in New Jersey, and that is saying a lot. I was an occasional patron of the Café Budapest in 1964 and 1965. My friend and colleague, Chef Albert E. Chasas, obtained a few of its recipes from its Brazilian chef, Ivair Madrona, Sr., and passed along some of them to me.
Crawford Hollidge Department Store : At 141 Tremont Street, on the corner of Temple Place, across from R. H. Stearns. Founded in 1920 by C.[larence] Crawford Hollidge (1877-1939), it was tony and high-end, “An Exclusive Shop for Women.” My mother shopped there on occasion. It burned on 18 Feb 1967 in a five-alarm fire and was never rebuilt on the site. C. Crawford Hollidge was a regular guy who liked rifles, shooting and hunting—one of his rifles, a custom Springfield .30-06, made and stocked by Adolph Otto Niedner, I think, was for sale at auction a few years ago (2010). I coveted it, but the bidding was at a level beyond me. I suspect Mr. Hollidge would have enjoyed the letter I sent to the Board of his landmark store about 1958. I was on vacation at my parents’ home in Ascutney, Vermont, between jobs, and I adopted the persona of a farmer whose barn had been struck by lightning, burned down and took a number of cattle with it. The farmer addressed his letter to the firm of Crawford Haulage, at the correct Boston address, stating that he had been referred to the firm by a friend, and asked for a quotation for hauling away the remains of the barn and about five tons of manure. I gave as the return address the manse of the local Union Church (UCC), whose parson often dropped in at our place for tea or a tipple, but I never heard that he got a letter in my name.
Crawford House, The : At 17 Court Street, Scollay Square. Opened in December, 1865, on Brattle Street, it expanded into Scollay Square in 1874 with an entrance at its lopped-off corner to the National Security Bank. From its beginning to about 1920 it was a quality Boston hotel. Its quality had dropped off big-time by the 1950s, though it was still a hotel, and the interiors of the few rooms I saw looked as though the paint or wallpaper they got in 1874 was the last they ever had. The newer part of the hotel that was at the corner of Brattle and Court streets was a five-story building plus a half-basement, with a mansard roof pierced by pointed dormers, a prime example of a hopelessly antiquated Victorian architectural horror. There were originally three entrances on Court Street, the middle up to the restaurant, the left down to the bar in the half-basement, and the one next the bank up to the lobby. A glass 8 X 10-inch photograph negative by the Detroit Publishing Co. shows The Oriental Tea Co. immediately adjacent to the Crawford House with a very large teapot for a sign, which was crafted in 1873 and has become famous as the smoking tea pot. The Crawford House and the building housing the Oriental Tea Co. were demolished in 1962 to prepare the way for the Government Center, and the smoking teapot was moved to the corner of the Sears Block, site of the Court Street Tavern.
In 1928 The Strand Theater opened in the half-basement of The Crawford House and was the first 24-hour moving picture theater in Boston. One can imagine the bums sleeping in the seats in lieu of a room and try not to imagine what went on in the theater late at night. By the late 1930s the Strand became the Crawford House Theatrical Bar (licensed as the Crawford House Café), at 19 Scollay Square, whose fixture for 20 years was Sally Keith, “The Tassel Girl,” née Stella Katz of Cicero, Illinois, born ca 1913. That is the establishment that I remember, though I was too late to see Sally Keith, except for framed photos of her in the foyer. There was a graffitum in the men’s restroom, incised into the plaster wall with ink applied to the incisions—a name and a telephone number: “Natalie ‘Tits’ Talbot.” At night The Crawford House drew attention to itself by a loudspeaker, out of which howls from a much-worn recording of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Love for Sale,” bellowed into the noises of Scollay Square.
Crosstown : Also written “Cross-town,” a name used largely by the black population to describe a section of the South End of Boston that was demarcated in part by the intersection of Colum- bus and Massachusetts avenues. Also called “Soul City.” SEE: Wally’s Paradise, The Hi-Hat, and Morley’s Café, infra.
Crusher Casey’s : A saloon at 340 Massachusetts Avenue, Back Bay, nearly across from Symphony Hall, opened by Stephen “Crusher” Casey in 1949. Born in Ireland in 1908, Steve was a natural athlete; a champion oarsman with his six brothers—there was also one sister among them; six-time champion of the world in wrestling, 1936-1946; and a heavyweight boxer who defeated the U.S. boxing champion Tiger Warrenton in 1940 and whose subsequent challenge to Joe Louis was not accepted. He served in the U.S. Army from 1941-1943 and attained the rank of sergeant. He was tall and rawboned and had enormous hands. He died of cancer in 1987, and it was said of him that “He was the last of the pre-television heroes in Boston and, no doubt, of many points west.” One of his brothers, James, owned the 318 Lounge in Somerville, which bar was later known as Pal Joey’s. I was introduced to Crusher Casey in his saloon in 1956 by Irish-American James Francis Kelly “Jim” Joyce, a fellow service veteran and classmate at B.U., who was acquainted with a multitude of bars and bartenders in Boston and elsewhere. It was a privilege to shake that big hand and be able to say ever afterwards, with pride, as I do, “Shake the hand that shook the hand of Crusher Casey.”
Dover Street : A street running approximately NW to SE between Tremont Street and Albany Street, which were about parallel to each other in the South End of Boston. Intervening parallel streets were Shawmut Avenue, Washington Street, and Harrison Avenue, with Shawmut Avenue 2/3 of the way down toward Washington Street, which was ½ way toward Albany Street, with Harrison Avenue about ½ way between Washington Street and Albany Street.
It is not true that the street was named in honor of the legendary British music hall comedian, Ben Dover. That is a blatant lie. It was named on 10 Nov 1834, as were Canton, Dedham, Newton streets, etc., after one of the towns served by the former Boston and Providence Railroad, in service under that name from 1834 to 1888, that originally bordered the South End (SEE: Boston, “Annual Report, Laying-Out Department” [of the Board of Street Commis- sioners], Boston, 1894, p. 105).
Dover Street and the South End around it was a rough neighborhood in the 1950s and always had been. During 1917-19, my father was a conductor and then a motorman in the streetcar division of the Boston Elevated Railway, later called the MTA and finally the MBTA, which had a line that ran down Washington Street toward Roxbury. After work at night he would get off a train at the Washington and Dover station, right next to the future Checker Smoker, where I worked intermittently in the 1950s and ‘60s, which was near where he lived on Tremont Street. He said he always carried a trolley brake handle with him when he walked up Dover Street to Tremont and tended to walk down the center of it. Dover Street was re-named “East Berkeley Street” in the 1980s.
Dugout Café, The : At 722 Commonwealth Avenue, just across the street from the College of Liberal Arts of the Boston University campus. Opened in 1934, just after the Repeal of Prohibition, it was a semi-subterranean pub several steps down from sidewalk level. It was immediately popular with students. I was generally too busy to visit The Dugout but attended it, at times, as I would a church, on principle. During 1955-57, a few of us 30 service veterans at CGE, 29 men and one Air Force woman, veterans of one or two wars and of countless bars, would go to the Dugout, and there was frequent singing. As I recall, the beer was 25 cents for a twelve-ounce seidel, glasses having proved too delicate for the environment, and they were handy for rapping, not pounding—as a concession to the management—on the wooden tables to the beat of the songs. Pitchers of beer were available at a cut-rate price of a dollar, providing a free seidel full or maybe two. There was usually free popcorn and, occasionally, free peanuts “as long as they lasted.”
I remember singing the Gaudeamus Igitur anthem on one occasion with some surprisingly good harmony, and on another the Drink! Drink! Drink! song from Sigmund Romberg’s “Student Prince,” one of the best of brindisis, led by an aspiring tenor from New England Conservatory who was a dedicated crawler of student hangouts. We veterans cheerfully would have sung a few of our service songs, but it was a mixed crowd with some respectable young women among us, and we accepted that we were a minority among the college crowd. I think the most risqué song we attempted was an old chestnut that some of us learned in boarding school, Mimi, the College Widow : “Mimi, the college widow, / Pride of the university. / Mimi the college widow, / She taught all the boys anatomy. / Mimi the college widow, / To know her is to love her, that’s for sure. / She laid the cornerstone of knowledge, / She laid the entire college / That’s Mimi the college—widow!” Be- cause it was a college hangout it could not be called a “low dive,” but it was unsavory, rank with stale beer and a horrible stench of tobacco smoke. The toilets were not as clean as those in some of the boozer bars on Dover Street—likely as much the fault of the clientele as the management.
Some finely crafted wooden paneling was the principal asset of the décor, but much was scarred and festooned with sports memorabilia and framed photographs of B.U. sports heroes forgotten after three or four years, a few supposedly humorous cartoons that nobody gave a rat’s ass about, and some framed C. M. Coolidge anthropomorphic dog prints to lend an air of cultivation to the place, for it was, after all, right next to the B.U. campus. There was a back room with a badly worn dart board and a crippled pool table in need of new cushions and felt and so far from level that it reminded one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado, where, in the Mikado’s song, the billiard-sharp is condemned to play “on a cloth untrue with a twisted cue and elliptical billiard balls.”
One might say that it was a fair venue for a college student to become acquainted with beer in a proletarian barroom but with glassware inspected at least occasionally by the Boston Board of Public Health and without being preyed upon by prostitutes or pimps or drug pushers or much worry that he might get into a fight or that she might be groped against her will.
I have been informed that there has been a splendid Old English pub on the Boston University campus since 1978 (?) at a side entrance of 108 Granby Street in the basement of Boston University Castle at 225 Bay Street Road. Called, appropriately if not imaginatively, The Boston University Pub, it doubtless provides a more wholesome atmosphere than the Dugout, a much larger selection of beers, and most certainly, better food—for those who can afford either or both—though the days and hours of operation may be more restricted, and the habituées more assiduously “carded.” In due time, special recognition might be given to the B.U. Pub’s “sons of habituées,” perhaps by the issuance of a special card.
Durgin-Parke Co. : At 30 North Market Street, established 1827. In my time the address was at 340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace—or, maybe it was the other way around. The restaurant continues to be a tourist destination within the new Quincy Market complex. There are entrances at both of its façades, Faneuil Hall and Clinton Street. About 1960 I got the biggest mutton chop there I ever saw, and it was broiled to a perfect medium-rare, as I had ordered it. Seated at the long oilcloth-covered table next to me was a USMC major; three women tourists, one of them with butter running down her arms from ears of corn; some blow-hard politicians, by their talk; a Greek clergyman; a fisherman, by his hands and aroma; and two retail food-market workers, wearing straw boaters. Only in America is there such equality, and God bless us for it!
Of course, I started my meal with a bowl of fish chowder, rich and savory with a broth thickened by a butter-based roux to a voluptuous texture, and ended with—what else?—baked Indian pudding replete with coffee cream. It was a glorious repast that could not have been improved upon except by the company of a lady friend who liked regional food in season, cooked to perfection, as much as I do. What reveals much is the posturing of internet gastronomes who complain that there are no “burgers” to their liking at Durgin-Parke. Really? They are so plebeian or culturally deprived that they cannot think of anything to eat but gobs of ground meat flattened and grilled—and at a New England historic restaurant! One that provides a panoply of wonderful regional specialities. Grow up, hamburger chompers! Better yet, burgerheads, stay away. And have your Thanksgiving dinner at White Castle, where you belong. I do not decry White Castle sliders, for I like the little squares of ground meat and the buns that steam on them—always with grilled minced onions, and with a smear of mustard and a plop of relish on each slider, thanks—but I do not fancy to make hamburger my principal food focus.
Ehrlich, David P., Pipe and Tobacco Shop : At 207 Washington Street, just across from the Old State House. Its glass door with its large smoking-pipe handle was famous. There was a master craftsman seated in the window repairing pipes, viz., fitting new bits, banding cracked stems, splicing new ends on broken stems. Fascinating. I brought a couple of my father’s old pipes there to have new bits fitted. Masterly work. Once I found a large, nameless, beautifully rusticated, burl-walnut poker pipe (which has a flat bottom so that it can be placed on a table and stay upright) in a second-hand store @ $10.00 and brought it to Ehrlich’s to be reamed out, sanitized, sweetened, polished, and have a new bit fitted. It cost me $25.00, a lot of money then. But it was a great pipe, and my father enjoyed it. He thought it might have been a Dunhill “reject” that someone had repaired with consummate skill and infinite labor, as it took a high-power lense to see a keyed-in repair at the edge of the bowl. He was quite delighted with it
At Ehrlich’s there was tobacco of every kind. The shop smelled so good it was hard to leave. Every time I passed it I was reminded of the radio program, “Martin Kane, Private Eye,” the title role played by William Gargan, the episodes of which always eased into a scene set in the tobacco shop of retired policeman Happy McMann (what a tag-name for a retiree!), to enable a dialogue between Kane and McMann that constituted a seamless advertisement of pipe tobacco or cigars. Photos of Gargan reveal that he surely knew how to wear a fedora, e.g., with the brim slightly down all around the crown, “safari-style,” and with only a suggestion of a snap-down at the front.
Emerson College, T.V. Studio : At 130 Beacon Street. [William] Elliot Norton (1903-2003), drama critic of the Boston Post until it ceased publication in 1956, and thereafter of the Boston Record American and its successors, was also a sometime adjunct professor of drama at Emerson College and, doubtless, at other colleges and universities. I had lunch with him early one afternoon at the Parker House in the summer of 1957. Having just undergone the tonsorial ministrations of “Manny,” senior barber at the Parker House, I entered the grill room in the basement of the hotel and found it crowded. Despairing of getting a seat in this lifetime, I spotted Elliot Norton, occupying a table for four, alone. Risking his displeasure, I approached the table and spoke: “Mr. Norton, I ask nothing from you, not even conversation, but I should like to share your table, so I may order lunch.” He motioned me to the seat opposite to him. I murmured “Thank you, sir,” and sat down. Soon, I was able to order: I think it was a cup of the soup du jour, a chicken pot pie, Parker House rolls (of course), and a macédoine of fruits for dessert. Mr. Norton was reading a newspaper and cast his eyes back and forth from his plate to the paper. Soon, he nodded to me as he left the table. We spoke not a word, but I can say that I had lunch at the Parker House with Elliot Norton.
Perhaps three months later, I was at Emerson College’s T.V. Studio to hunt up a young woman who was an acquaintance but whose phone number I had misplaced. There was Mr. Norton, at about six feet-two a bit taller than I and slimmer, and not only distinguished but impeccable, even elegant, on his way to the street after having given a lecture, I presumed. He smiled and asked if I was a student at Emerson. I said, no, I was at B.U., just looking for a young lady of my acquaintance. He asked me how I had recognized him at the Parker House. I replied that my father was an innkeeper in Claremont, N.H., and that among the newspapers subscribed for his establishment were the Boston Globe and its successor, the Boston Herald American, that his drama column was popular reading, and that his picture headed the column. He said he was pleased to have readers north of Boston. Hatless, he touched two fingers to the side of his glasses and strode away, his white hair identifying him for a few moments as he merged with the passers by. He certainly had readers south of Boston, for the New York playwrights depended on his criticism so that they could revise their plays to be box office attractions. He was a critic that astute.
Essex Hotel : At 695 Atlantic Avenue, right across Dewey Square from South Station. Where Ray Potter got his “Big Orange” drink and introduced Al and me to its merits. Eventually, I was a bartender there. In season they served a capital Tom and Jerry, and I have the recipe. There was a huge neon sign on the roof that went on the fritz, so for a time it advertised on and off, over and over again, in its flashing way, “ __ SEX HOTEL.”
Falstaff Room : The main of six restaurants at the Sheraton-Boston Hotel at the Prudential Center, from the time the hotel opened in 1962 until about 1976, when the restaurant was renovated and renamed. There were Falstaff Rooms in other Sheraton hotels around the country, and the name and concept for a British-influenced restaurant in big hotels have been around since the 1930s, at least. In Boston its principal attraction was a very large full-length painting of Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters. The décor sought to give the im- pression of an Old English or Tudor pub and the bill of fare reflected that with an emphasis on beef and lamb chops, stews and roasts, and pot pies with rich gravy. I liked it, for British pub fare at its best is plenty good; and I had even then grown tired of the la-di-da “hotel French” cuisine ubiquitous in big hotels internationally, and dead-level mediocre in every one of them, now being replaced with “Pacific Rim” Asian mystery meals, already tedious. I escorted Mrs. Croft to the Falstaff Room a couple of times to conduct business; but understanding the protocol, I absented myself at the appropriate time to ensure that I would have no idea what that business was. Through the years, the Sheraton-Boston hotel at the Prudential Center has been called the Sheraton-Copley and the Sheraton-Back Bay by the public.
Farmer’s School of Cookery, Miss [Fannie] : In Huntington Chambers at 30 Huntington Avenue from 1903 to 1944. Miss Farmer, born in 1857, had been a student at the Boston Cookery School and became its principal, and while there wrote her famous Boston Cookery School Cookbook (1896); but she left it in 1902 to found her own cooking school. After she died in 1915, Alice Bradley, an instructor there, became principal, but the school closed in 1944, a victim of changing times. Whenever I passed the site of the school, I gave a little salute, touching my hat or eyebrow, for Fannie Merritt Farmer, and her cookbook, are both New England Institutions and dear to my heart, and I have kind thoughts about Alice Bradley, too. The cooking school had such a reputation that some kitchen workers of my time claimed to have been graduates, but they were almost always too young to have been so, and one of them I worked with soon proved himself a fraud: “he couldn’t make toast,” as we cadre often expressed it, when a hopeless tyro demonstrated his ineptitude.
Filene’s : Washington Street, corner of Summer Street. Its “automatic bargain annex” was usually called “Filene’s Bargain Basement.” There was an entrance to it directly from the subway. In 1976, when Marian and I lived in Quincy, while I was pursuing a graduate degree at Simmons College, we went to Filene’s for something. I was taken aback by the sight of a comely young woman who had stripped to her ultimate essentials in order to try on a close-fitting dress at a bargain counter. I couldn’t help but look, but she looked daggers at me when her head popped out of the dress! What did she expect?
Foley’s Café, J. J. : 117 Dover Street (now East Berkeley Street). Established in 1909, and nearing 50 years of operation when I got acquainted with it. From Tremont Street it was down past Washington Street toward Albany Street, and I seldom had business past Washington Street; but when I did, Foley’s was a welcome haven from the sleazy joints and flyblown eateries in the vicinity. Despite its deplorable location, it was the kind of place where regular guys congregated. I am only one-eighth Irish, having O’Fallon and McGlynn ancestors, but I always felt welcome, for it was an honest pub as Irish as Paddy’s pig then; and though the beer and, of course, John Jameson’s Whiskey (since 1780), were just fine, I ate there only once, happening to arrive at just the time to have a large bowl of Irish stew, surprisingly meaty with chunks of mutton, potatoes, carrots and onions in a rich gravy with just a hint of tomato, a soupçon of seasoning that I hazarded as mainly bay leaf and, perhaps, a leaf of spearmint, all of which was far better than most pub food I remember. With three slices of crusty, chewy, soda bread swiped with butter to mop out the bowl. Washed down with a crisp draft brew, probably a Pickwick Ale. I have been informed recently that J. J. Foley’s menu has long since been expanded and its cuisine has become widely known by trenchermen and their ladies. Accordingly, it must be a magnet bar—both attractive of customers and difficult for them to leave.
Fuchs, Ernest, Inc. : 28 Tremont Street. Primarily a model railroad store with live Lionel and HO-gauge displays and bushels of trains, parts and accessories for sale. It also had quality toys both new and used, domestic and imported. As late as 1976, when I was pursuing a doctoral program in library administration at Simmons College, I bought a vintage Gilbert Erector Set there like the one I had as a child, which had been stolen, together with many other of my toys, in a big wooden box, when I was about 11 years old, a trauma from which I have never recovered. [The name is pronounced “fewks” as in “a few good men.”]
Gardiner Museum, Isabella Stewart : At 280 The Fenway, near Simmons College. Built in 1902. One of my undergraduate classes from Boston University met there one afternoon and I oohed and aahed with the rest; but I had several courses in art appreciation thereafter, and I concluded that the best way to learn about art is through illustrations in books and by observing color slides and digital media. Until such media were available, visits to museums were what there was. In my opinion it is better to learn from media first, so that one knows something about art when an opportunity a visit a museum occurs.
Goodspeed’s Book Shop, Inc. : Opened in 1898 on Beacon Hill at 18 Beacon Street by Charles Eliot Goodspeed, Sr. (1867-1950). The shop at 18 Beacon stocked historical Americana in books prints, and autographs and also genealogical and heraldic books. Its catalogue was so carefully prepared it served as a subject bibliography. There was a subsidiary Goodspeed’s at 2 Milk Street that stocked common hardback books. During 1955-56, when my “official” undergrad residence was the B. U. Law School dormitory on “the Hill,” as Beacon Hill was often called, I visited Goodspeed’s out of curiosity and because I wanted to be able to relate to my father that I had been there. That was because my father was a sometime client by mail order, sending for a town history or a book about genealogy listed in a Goodspeed’s catalogue, or sending on a fishing expedition to the Milk Street address to piece out a set of volumes acquired by or donated to him for his hotel collection of 4,000 to 4,200 books. He often acquired a fine set of books for little of nothing that was missing one or two volumes and enjoyed acquiring the missing “orphans,” as he called them, by sending here and there from a card file of addresses. I bought a history of Chase’s History of Haverhill, Massachusetts (1861) at a fair price of $25.00—its signatures were loose and the cover badly scuffed with worn corners and a cracked spine, a certain candidate for rebinding and worth it, yet usable as it was—and happened to mention that my father was a mail order client. Asked his name and address, I responded, and within moments was informed that, yes, indeed, he was an honored customer and Goodspeed’s welcomed me to their clientele as well. The amount of money that my father pried out of his wallet once in a while to send to Goodspeed’s must have been exceedingly small, but their attitude was a testimony of their business ethic and old-time courtesy. I learned to my sorrow that Goodspeed’s sold off its stock and closed in 1993, unable to find a buyer to continue the business because of a recession and a sharply rising cost in rents.
Greyhound Terminal : The Greyhound Bus Lines station was at 10 St. James Avenue at Park Square, near Arlington Street. This was replaced with a 19-story office tower in 1982. To many, the bus station was a place to leave town in a hurry—“Gimme two pickets to Tittsburg!”—and a place familiar to me when I was traveling occasionally between New Jersey and New York, New York and Boston, and Boston and Claremont, N.H. / Ascutney, Vermont, in the 1950s. Grey- hound and other bus companies now operate from the new (1990s) South Station Bus Terminal. There was a Waldorf Cafeteria at 09 Park Square which was a good place to meet people, because it could be identified as “the Waldorf near the Greyhound terminal.”
Harry the Greek’s : At 75 Dover Street on the same side as the Palm Gardens. Its proprietor was Harry Kamenides. He was comfortable with his epithet, for his shop sign, trailing along the side of his shop above the windows, was “Harry the Greek’s.” The alternative name for his establish- ment, used by South Enders of an older generation, was “Jimmy the Thief’s—which may have referred to Harry’s predecessor. His store was a den of miscellany, with an emphasis on used clothing, obtained from widows by telephoning them after funerals and by people bringing stuff in: he would buy clothes right off someone’s back. I bought a slightly worn Burberry’s single-breasted raincoat from Harry at $35.00, which had a removable liner and was just my size, about 44 Long, then; he probably thought he made a killing, but I knew that at Filene’s a new one would have cost me about $385.00, for they were criminally overpriced. But he also had an amazing accumulation of every kind of item that people use in daily life, from kitchen utensils to reading lamps to drafting tools. He did not trade in books. He was pugnacious, as are many shorties, but he wasn’t big enough to be dangerous and was not known to pack heat. Next up the street at 73 Dover Street, was Slessinger’s pawn shop: “H. Slessinger & Son, pawnbrokers.”
One afternoon in the Checker Smoker, when I was on duty as a counterman, a customer took off his glasses and put them to one side, while he rummaged through his pockets for something. When he turned to get his glasses, they were gone. Someone had been sitting there, and he was about to run out into the street after him, but I dissuaded him, explaining that if the thief thinks he is being pursued, he will hide or get away and the glasses will be gone forever. But wait 15 or 20 minutes, I advised, and then go to Harry’s or the pawn shop next door. Sure enough, the man got the glasses back from Harry, at a cost of two bucks. He came back to thank me. Harry probably doubled his money in 10 minutes. He was in business at 75 Dover Street until perhaps 1958 and then moved across Washington Street on the corner directly opposite the Checker Smoker, where, with his son, “Munchy” (Milton), he changed his focus to new clothing, specializing in work clothes and work boots and was successful. More power to both of them!
Hayes-Bickford Cafeterias : There was a chain of about nine of them, and there were some 19 Waldorf Cafeterias and 14 Albiani Cafeterias in Boston and Cambridge. They all operated the same way. The Albiani chain had its central commissary on Church Street in Boston. Food was prepared there and delivered in panniers to the separate cafeterias. A popular item from the commissary was chicken croquettes, which were mostly bits of chicken skin, but also some bits of chicken, mixed with seasoned stuffing and packed into cone-shaped scoops, then released to be tossed in flour, dipped in egg wash, rolled in cracker meal, and deep-fried. Two of these little mountains were “plated” (put on a plate), covered with a ladle of yellow-tan chicken-flavored gravy, and served with sides of mashed potatoes and carrots and a roll and butter, all for 50 cents. It was a tasty meal. There was Salisbury Steak, prepared from utility-grade beef tougher than a cedar shingle, but pressure-cooked to tenderness and served in a sauce of tomatoes, celery, onions and carrots, together with mashed potatoes and green beans, it was good. Very good.
There was short-order cooking at the individual cafeterias, particularly at breakfasts. The cooks were artists with eggs in any style; anyone who prepares 10 dozen eggs every morning gets to be reliable—there were a few that got broken yolks or overcooked, but not many. The clientele could gourmandize on occasion: I remember being in a cafeteria the day that strawberry -rhubarb pie was “back”—a seasonal delicacy. I ordered a wedge: it was good, though predict- ably, it contained more cornstarch-thickened fruit juice than fruit. This was fast food in the old days. All kinds of humanity were on display. The management had to keep an eye open for those who would order tea, which came as a green enameled steel tea pot of hot water on a saucer with a tea bag alongside—people would pocket the tea bag, put the hot water in the cup, and then put ketchup in it for a “soup.” Often, the countermen and counterwomen were thieves, palming quarters throughout the day, a favorite trick being to put sawdust in their pockets to prevent coins from jingling. Women would drop coins down their décolletage. Naturally, there was a big turn-over in staff as the palmers were apprehended. The Hayes-Bickford name was so well recognized in New England that our cat was named “Mr. Bickford,” formally, but “Bigfoot,” informally.
Hi-Hat, The : A night club at 576 Columbus Avenue, almost, but for one house, at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue. Owned by Julian Rhodes (1904-1981), it had a black, glass-paneled façade in art deco style with a double-door entrance door that had the shape of a huge glass porthole in its center. Tall art deco letters along the roof edge and at the right of the door, spelled out “Hi-Hat” and “Barbecue.” I think the lettering was purple neon. It opened as a whites-only night club about 1945, but by 1948 it was integrated and featured jazz music by big-name bands. The Hi-Hat had a symbiotic relationship with Symphony Sid Torin (1909-1984), a famous jazz disk-jockey from New York, who broadcast from it over WCOP from 1950-1957. They were memorable broadcasts and the subject of conversation in Boston. The Hi-Hat was destroyed by fire on 10 March 1959.
Hillbilly Ranch : At 125 Eliot Street, Park Square. Opened 1950. Billed as having the “Best hillbilly music this side of the Ozarks,” and a good enough venue that Tex Ritter performed there. Unfortunately, it was a hellhole filled with redneck troublemakers, many of them truck drivers, that got drunk and disorderly as a matter of course and violent frequently just for fun. But because they were transients, there was no opportunity for them to learn that extreme rowdiness was not tolerated. Consequently, there were fights galore, and no matter how good the music, local people learned to stay away. The police tried to maintain order, but there were not enough of them to assign someone there all the time, and the off-duty cop on the premises faced overwhelming odds. More and tougher bouncers that beat the worst offenders to a pulp might have helped, for word of that kind of treatment would have gotten around via the truck stops. Two visits were enough for me. About enough for Tex Ritter, too, as I was informed that he stopped appearing there.
Holy Cross Cathedral : Mamie was unacquainted with it, except for a rare funeral, and one funeral was the extent of my acquaintanceship. Yet, I did go to see it once just to observe its architecture, for the supporting columns of its nave are cast iron and less bulky than those made of stacked drums of stone. Very effective and quite beautiful. It is certainly large, as large as Westminster Abbey, it was said. I remember one of the customers at the Checker Smoker calling it a white elephant: too costly to maintain and too expensive to tear down.
Homer’s, Inc., Jewelers, Established 1884. At 44-46 Winter Street. In my time the manager was Donald Cohen, who had connections everywhere and could get any kind of broken jewelry or object d’art fixed or polished or re-enameled or matched or copied or whatever. He was also handy to give evaluations of jewelry; and though he never bought used jewelry, he knew people who might. My aunt and mother visited Homer’s from time to time. It was the number one place to gitcher sweetie a bauble when yer flush. It was where I got my fiancée her wedding ring in 1969, or, rather, my mother did as my deputy.
Hotel & Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union, AFL-CIO, 525 Walnut Street, Cincinnati Ohio. This union was chartered in 1891 by the American Federation of Labor. Ii was represented in Boston by Local 34. I was informed by an acquaintance that in 1973 all three of Boston’s hotel and restaurant craft locals merged: Local 34 of what was then called the Bartenders and Dining Room Employees’ Union—but was the Hotel & Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union, AFL-CIO when I was a member; Local 186 of the Cooks and Culinary Workers’ Union; and Local 277 of the Hotel, Catering and Waitresses’ Union. The combined union is now called the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union (HRE), Local 26, Boston, which includes bartenders and culinary workers of all kinds, those who work out front and those who are in support positions who never see the public. Its address (2010) is 33 Harrison Avenue, 4th Floor, Boston.
I joined Local 34 on 15 January 1960, shortly after I was employed at Newbury’s Steak House as a bartender, though that restaurant was not a union shop. I paid dues for just over a year. My withdrawal card is dated 20 April 1961, signed by James J. Horan, President, and George H. Donovan, Secretary, and is framed and hung on a wall to ensure that I not likely lose it. When I worked in a union shop after that, as at the Statler-Hilton, as breakfast cook, I merely paid “a fair share” from my wages for the “union representation,” for I knew that my work there was temporary. The Old Vienna Hofbrau where I was chief bartender was not a union shop, but Steuben’s was, and I paid “a fair share” then.
Hotel Diplomat : 26 Chandler Street, corner of Berkeley Street, South End. An eight-story hotel, built about 1905. By the 1950s it was a notorious workplace for prostitutes, having more of them per square inch in all shapes, sizes, races and ethnicity than perhaps any place in Boston. That the pay-by-the-hour hotel operated just a stone’s throw from Boston’s Police Station 4 can mean only one thing. I was a relief bartender there perhaps a dozen times in the 1960s. My friend Chef Albert E. Chasas informed me that the Diplomat was bought by an optimist, refurbished, and reopened in 1983 as the Chandler Inn. That took some guts, certainly, and some fortitude to live down such a reputation. I have been informed that it has gained since a new reputation altogether.
Hotel St. Moritz : SEE: St. Moritz Hotel.
Hudson Bus Lines : In the 1950s-‘60s it was a short-haul bus line that served towns on the South Shore of Boston from a stop at South Station. Beginning operations in the 1930s, it had many other routes and various stops and terminals. It was a good, reliable, clean, and well-managed bus line, but its Weymouth area, including North Abington, site of Teel’s Cabin restaurant, was absorbed by the MBTA (Metropolitan Boston Transport Authority) complex in 1984, and the company ceased operations in 1994.
Iggy’s Coffee Shop : 09 Berkeley Street, just around the corner from The Berkeley Street Café and within sight of Station Four, the busiest police station in metropolitan Boston. Its proprietress was a short, homely, shapeless and mannish-haired woman in her late twenties or early thirties who was pleasant and accommodating to customers and likeable. She employed a very pretty younger woman with long hair in a 1940s shoulder-length style, who had sleepy looking eyes and moved like a zombie. Perhaps she was stoned much of the time. The muscle to control the late night baddies was a tall, rawboned, Dick Tracy-nosed American Indian-looking young man about 20 years old whose weapon, if he needed one, was a one-gallon coffee-urn filler-cup of very hot coffee. The hero or po’ boy sandwiches, called “subs” in Boston, because they were thought to resemble submarines in shape, were excellent, the coffee was LaTouraine and a treat, compared to the bitter muck served in many “coffee shoppes,” and the place was clean. It was an occasional stop for me because of its proximity to the Berkeley Street Café, so I was recognized as a familiar if not a frequent patron, and not a “tourist,” and I was known by my street name.
Izzy Ort’s Bar & Grille : a low dive at 25 Essex Street that was popular with sailors during World War II, because it had good jazz music for dancing and, consequently, was a place to pick up girls. Mercifully, it was on its last legs during my time, having changed its name to “The Golden Nugget,” which both old timers and new comers avoided using, and substituted rock and roll crap—rhythmic noise—for jazz. I was thrown out one night by mistake. Apparently, someone who looked like me, or, at least, was dressed like me, had caused a disturbance a short while before I entered and had been violently ejected; for when I entered, someone shouted “There he is again!” and I was grabbed by two bouncers, who propelled me to an exit and actually threw me into the alley to the right of the building as one faced its façade. I thought of fire-bombing the place in retaliation and brooded about it for a week, but at last I saw the humor of it, as did the Swede who was being badly beaten but laughed all the while, explaining later that his assailants kept saying, “Take that, you damned Norwegian!”
Jack’s Lighthouse : At 55 Scollay Square on the same side as The Crawford House, but further down toward the Half-Dollar Bar. Its sign was an inspired creation, an illuminated three-dimensional lighthouse about ten feet high projecting from the upper floor of the façade, and it attracted sailors as a light attracts moths. The proprietor was Vito Venuti, Sr., of Revere, about 20 years older than I was. The irony was not lost on him that lighthouses on seacoasts and islands and lakeshores are warnings of danger. The MC was Cookie Mack, who was of better than medium height, perhaps five feet nine, and who weighed plenty, maybe 280 or 290 pounds of pulchritude. There was a lot of woman there and very pretty. I went into the place one night in 1957 and, just for the effect, she yelled out “Here comes my Rabbi Lover!” I had just grown a full beard. Deciding to play along with the gag, rather than be the butt of derision, I ended up on the stage with my arm around her—well, partly—and faked a kiss, the kind where one’s back is to the audience. She liked me, and we went out a few times. Could she eat! That woman could put away a pound of clams with tartar sauce as an appetizer and then a whole chicken and French fries, accompanied by buttered rolls, all washed down with Narragansett Lager. Getting the band to “play along” one night, if I may be pardoned a pun, I did the Clancy Hayes “Huggin’ and Chalkin” song, with one of the bar tenders “comin’ around the other side.”
Jacob Wirth’s : At 31-37 Stuart Street, founded in 1868 and always on Stuart Street since then, but I do not think at the same location. No matter, it had built a reputation that was still deserved in my time. Vastly different from Lüchow’s, New York’s premiere German restaurant, in that it was not so tony and had not the advantage of being in the heart of the theater section and thereby attracting many famous musicians and theatrical luminaries and literati among its clientele. Yet, it was yet Boston’s famous German restaurant—famous for its selections of German beers and good food. Visiting Boston from Wisconsin in 1982, I went into the kitchen one night with my friend and colleague, Chef Albert E. Chasas, whose tour of the kitchen was a professional courtesy extended to a chef. I was allowed entrance as his guest. There was some unusual kitchen equipment there, such as a spaetzle press, clay cooking pots, roulade clamps. One of the line chefs knew Al from some kitchen or other. It was the last time I saw Al, though we kept in touch until he died five years later. We were friends for 30 years.
Joe & Nemo’s : In Scollay Square on the corner of Stoddard Street, the first of the several J & Ns, and up nearby Howard Street was the Boston Athenaeum, better known as the “Old Howard Theater.” In my time the hotdogs and hamburgers were a dime apiece, and though the hotdogs were NEPCO (New England Provision Company) and very good and a bargain for a dime, the hamburgers were very small. But loaded up “all around,” that is, with mustard, relish, and onions—there was no ketchup—both were good. When the price went up to two for a quarter, it seemed like the end of the world. We had been conditioned to pay a dime apiece for so long, we felt violated. It was the principle of the thing! One time, at the Joe and Nemo’s at Scollay Square on the corner of Stoddard Street, two men I was sitting between, strangers to me, got into an argument and were trading punches around both sides of me—a melée to remember! Another time, at the Joe and Nemo’s at 641 Washington Street, I spied Stuart Barter, from my home town. I wished it had been his older brother, Wayne, who became a chiropractor and who had always been a friend; but it was Stuart, whom I had never liked since the first grade in grammar school and had not seen for maybe ten years. He showed no glimmer of recognition. As I left, I said, looking at my watch and touching the stem, as if to regulate it, “Do you have the time, Stuart?” He was thunderstruck! I walked out and never saw him again.
Joe Tecce’s Ristorante : At 61 North Washington Street, North End. A classic Italian-American restaurant, opened 1948 with a somewhat cluttered crockery-on-shelves-and-hanging-raffia-wrapped-chianti-bottle décor. Checkered tablecloths. Bibs if you had wit enough to ask for one, and they came with efficient short chains with a clamp on each end. Clods who tried to make off with the chains were apprehended at the door, for the waitresses kept a lookout’s eye on them. It was the only place in town to go for veal rolatini. The chef at Pieroni’s must have teetered on suicide at the thought of really good Italian cooking obtainable elsewhere. And far better food, I was convinced. At Joe Tecce’s the chicken marsala was superb and the veal picata as good as it gets, anywhere. Capped with a dessert of zabaglione, of course. I went there when I was depressed, fairly often then, as an undergraduate, to get Italian soul food, minestrone, sometimes pasta e fagioli—"pasta fahjhool”—as my Italian friends called it, which seemed to work for a Canuck, too.
Jordan Hall : At 30 Gainsborough Street, it is the concert hall of New England Conservatory of Music. Erected in 1903, recognized as an historic landmark by the National Parks Service in 1994, and restored in 1995, Jordan Hall is considered acoustically superb. Capacity seating is 1,051. Tickets are available at 30 Gainsborough, but there are free concerts several times a week by students, faculty and visiting artists, and regular tickets are often sold at half price. When I lived in Boston I found it worthwhile to keep informed about coming events at Jordan Hall, but I found it more convenient to listen to recordings than to go in person to musical events. Some of the world’s greatest vocalists, instrumentalists, orchestras, ensembles, and dancers perform at Jordan Hall, and students give recitals there. As a conservatory student, my mother made her musical debuts there in voice and pianoforte, and performed on other occasions for the experi- ence. My paternal grandparents and my aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie), attended concerts there often in the 1920s.
Jordan Marsh : Probably New England’s favorite department store in the days of my youth (1940s-1950s), and certainly a Boston magnet store.
Keene State Teachers College : As an experiment in 1961, I attended the Summer Session for eight weeks from 17 June through 16 August, living in a room at the college and boarding there, but on some weekends driving to my parents’ home in Ascutney, Vermont, 43 miles north of Keene on Interstate 91. I suffered through an excruciatingly boring class of Philosophy of Education but enjoyed a class in The Teaching of English (methods) taught by an inspired and inspiring professor, Sprague Warner Drenan (1893-1964), B.A., Dartmouth, 1916; M.A., Middlebury College, 1927. This gifted professor I have remembered all of my life. He had taught in high school and had been a high school principal, so he had been in the trenches and knew what he was talking about. He was witty and spoke his mind. I shall never forget his apocryphal recommendation of a student: “He is slow and sure—slow to learn and sure to forget!” He had taught at Keene for years and was one of the emeriti for whom a building had been named. He was a worker and spared no red ink in correcting papers. It was his last class before retirement, and he gave me five books from his office about literary criticism that I have read many times. I began to think that I might try teaching as a profession—but I was not ready to commit myself to it, still having stars in my eyes about becoming a chef, for I liked the camaraderie and teamwork of cooking, the endless opportunities for learning, the frequent pride of accomplishment, the observable results, the hierarchic ladder of the profession, and, of course, the access to food! In 1963 the college was removed from the jurisdiction of the N.H. State Board of Education and placed under the jurisdiction of the University of New Hampshire Board of Trustees. With that improvement its programs became academic rather than pedagogic, broader in scope, and its name was changed to Keene State College.
Ken’s at Copley : At 549 Boylston Street, near Copley Square and Trinity Church, and approxi- mately opposite the Copley Plaza Hotel, Ken’s was the biggest delicatessen in New England, having three floors with dumb waiters (service elevators too small for passengers) between them and seating 200 patrons. It was unique in Boston, open 20 hours a day, every day, closing from 3:00 to 7:00 A.M. for cleanup. There was a deli counter immediately to the left of the main entrance for take-out food. On the same street-level floor there was a counter with stools on the left in line with the deli counter, followed by a stairway to the basement; and on the right, across from the center aisle, were booths and a stairway to the second floor. The kitchen was in the back on the first floor, past the down stairway. The cooks’ lockers, storerooms and scullery were in the basement. Two pay telephones were on the landing of the down stairway, and when they rang a waitress, cook, busboy, etc, always answered and paged, or caused to be paged, the person called. On one of those telephones, about the first of June, 1965, I was hired to work in Minnesota, where I met my future spouse. The proprietor of the restaurant was Ken Rosenfield, who was a trap drummer and kept a set of traps on the premises, because he had some steady gigs but also played drums on call. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II and served in China with the Air Transport Command. He was a great raconteur. His partner was his brother-in-law; both were from Winthrop. Ken’s was a hangout for Emerson College students.
There was a covey of waitresses, all hard-working but effervescent femininity, reminis-cent of the gang in Pride and Prejudice, all overshadowed by Big Jane Ingram, easily six feet two in her sox and more than six feet three in her low-heeled service shoes, pressing her way through a throng of customers, supporting a tray on one spread-fingered hand eight feet in the air, announcing “Waitress with goodies coming through!”—She got that right!
I began work there as a line cook, chef de partie, at the sandwich and salad station in the kitchen. The aboyeur (announcer / “caller-outer”/ co-ordinator) usually called the “Expo” (Ex- pediter) in more recent times, was Joe _______ ; and he was so efficient and polished, and rhyth- mic and funny in every way that patrons in the theatrical crowd frequently came into the kitchen to observe him. We thought Joe would end up in a theater production some time, but it never oc- curred while I was there. After a couple of weeks, so that I could learn the lie of the land, and because I had good and relevant experience, I became a roundsman or relief cook—chef de tour- nant—at higher pay, substituting temporarily for all of the line cooks, one by one, so that they could get a break; but I had also some “side” duties as a preparations cook, such as dressing (de-boning) and boiling and skinning the beef tongues for sandwiches, preparing the mix for potato latkes (I kept the recipe, which was simple —all good cooking is), and preparing the blueberry and cherry sauces for the blintzes. As a chef de partie I was permitted to eat any of the meat and cheese scraps at my duty station, since they could not be sent to the public on any of the plates or platters ordered. Roumanian pastrami was hand-cut, so there were always some scraps, As a chef de tournant my menu of scraps expanded to include morsels of London broil. I must have eaten a pound or more of scraps every day plus the one meal I was allowed on my shift, but I never got fat, because the work was intense and continuous.
Ken’s had the first microwave cooker I ever saw or used, a “RadaRange,” made by the Raytheon Company. It was about the size of a household refrigerator and must have weighed more than 600 pounds. It had one compartment, with a door hinged at the bottom, that occupied a quarter of the space in the machine and was next below the top quarter, which had an ominous looking central knob that was the control for setting the time limits. Kitchen lore related that it had cost $5,000 originally and that Ken had gotten it for very much less from another restaurant that tested it but found it pretty much useless. So did the staff at Ken’s with one exception: it was perfect for thawing frozen trout enough for broiling. The problem with it is that it didn’t cook anything so that it looked browned or resembled food cooked as people expected it to look or taste, except for potatoes, which could pass for boiled, maybe.
The printed menus had an art deco style of vertical black-and-white strips symmetrically curved at the apex. The bill of fare was extensive and varied, yet there was a clipped-on page of daily specials. One special always welcomed was “flunken,” which was served with piquant hot red cabbage and boiled white potatoes drizzled with butter and garnished with parsley. I was amazed to discover that this highly touted meal was nothing more than beef flank, boiled to tenderness, but it certainly was good.
Some weeks I was scheduled as the chef du garde, filling in for the day chef after he went home, and did the occasional short-order “nuisance” cooking for the late-night “celebrity crowd” of show biz entertainers and musicians and sports figures. Many of them were otherwise decent Italian-Americans, who couldn’t resist ordering spaghetti in a Jewish delicatessen, likely just to see what hilarious mess might result. Fortunately, we always had spaghettini in the kitchen as quick lunches for those on the staff who liked it, and probably as well for those inebriated customers in the elder hours whom it was more politic to humor than disappoint. After having to improvise a sauce the first time, in 30 minutes, by elaborating from frozen tomato juice, sautéing green pepper rings, sliced onions, chopped garlic, sliced mushrooms and finely julienned carrots; inventing meatballs from minced pastrami scraps and hamburger, minced onions, eggs and cracker meal; and being lucky enough to have a block of dry gorgonzola cheese, which I crumbled and sent out in a bowl, accompanied by a spoon. After a while I was sent a cigar wrapped in a 20-dollar bill, conveyed by Ken Rosenfeld himself, who repeated his own compli- ments the next day. When he asked where I got the recipe, I said it was inspired by one from a family friend, Signora Elda (Godutti) D’Arienzo, whose husband, Franco Vincenzo D’Arienzo (or, more likely, his father), had been Prefect of Cagliari Province in Sardinia—so, I called it “Cagliari Sauce” (pronounced “Cal-yar-ee”). It was true, for Elda had been my mother’s friend at New England Conservatory, but Ken was amazed that I had an answer. Thereafter, I made sure the next celebs traveling on fumes were pleasantly surprised by keeping appropriate supplies, such as tomato paste and canned tomatoes in the pantry, and, as insurance, some prepared sauce in the freezer, for the tomatoey southern Italian “gravy” (sauce) they liked, but I never got another 20 bucks. During that time, 07 September 1964 through 18 June 1965 (with 21-30 November 1964 off for an excursion to the Dominican Republic), I lived at 61 Chandler Street, Mrs. Harry E. Webb, owner.
Latin Quarter, The : At 46 Winchester Street, bordering the theater district. It was opened in 1939 by theater agent Lou Walters, father of journalist and television personality Barbara Walters, and it was first known as the Barclay Club, then the Towne Club. The Boston Latin Quarter opened with a line of cancan girls and a French singer named Mimi Chevalier. My mother said the only thing she had going for her was a French accent; my father said that statement wasn’t quite accurate. I have a picture of the two of them taken there looking cold sober. I went there with a guest, David Hilliard, from Ascutney, Vermont, when I was home from Korea and on leave in 1954. In 1942 Walters opened another Latin Quarter at 1580 Broadway at 47th Street in New York’s Times Square, at the corner of 48th Street, and branches in Miami Beach. The Boston Latin Quarter was touted as “America’s Most Beautiful Theatre Restaurant.” The shows were at 8:00 and 11:30 p.m., seven days a week, and you could get a good meal there if you didn’t mind paying more than double for it just to see an acre of tits and tushes jiggled by six-foot-tall showgirls in the dance routines.
Lenox Hotel, The : 61 Exeter Street, SW corner of Boylston & Exeter streets, behind (west of) the Boston Public Library at Copley Square. Built in 1900 by Lucius Boomer, the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. At eleven stories it was the tallest building in Boston, then. Many celebrities stayed there, and it was still operating as a first-class hotel when I worked there as a relief bartender. The bar was a very large rectangle with rounded corners that had a short section on hinges to enable the ingress and egress of the bartender; and because the bar was so large, a lone bartender needed roller skates to work there, since some patrons inexplicably choose a seat far from the bartender. Because of the design, there was no back bar, so there was no mirror to stare into, which some people like (as I do), perhaps so they can see who or what might be coming up behind them; and there were no ledges or shelves on which to display elixirs to stare at and keep them handy for bartenders to grab. Whoever designed that bar must have been a teetotaler and pretty much an ignoramus.
Lew Shing Restaurant : At 665A Tremont Street, between Pembrook and West Brookline streets, later called the Yum Mee Chinese Restaurant, sometimes the Yum Mee Chinese Garden—665 “A” because it was—and still is—in the semi-basement of a private house numbered 665. Recent (2010) reviews describe the menu as longer than the Bible and the food as worse than in China and greasy enough to launch a ship. Down three or four steps from the sidewalk, it had just a few tables, being mostly a takeout place.
It was the scene of a desperate fight I had in 1957, when a baddy groped a Chinese waitress wearing black pajamas and I called him on it. In the ensuing struggle I managed to knock him down flat with a good short punch that had all of my anger and a lot of my weight behind it; but his companion, a little fart, was a boxer, weighing at most 145 lbs., soaking wet; and though I flailed away and landed a few good punches, especially a right hook, and damaged one of his knees with a kick intended for up his crutch, he beat the crap out of me—he must have hit me a hundred times—pounding my ribs like a drum and beating on my arms and shoulders until my arms were numb from covering up. Desperate to put him down before I was helpless, I backed into the kitchen and whopped him with an object I seized, a cooking pot with a long handle; then, dropping the pot as unwieldy, I grabbed a wooden paddle used to stir pots of soup or stock, I supposed, and slammed him over the head with it. The paddle was light and springy, so it was not a lethal weapon, but it must have hurt like hell. I hit him again with it, hard, as insurance, and then again—the short little punk was just made to be driven into the ground like a post.
Escape my only thought, I leaped over the boxer, supine at last, rolling around on the floor, clutching his head. I was half way through the restaurant toward the entrance when I was beset by the first guy. Fleeing up the outside steps, I nearly got away but was struck near my left kidney as I gained the street level. Though nauseated and hunched over by blinding pain, I turned, and by the grace of God managed to kick the pestiferous wretch down the steps, where he hit his head against the door jamb or the wall near it, slid down, and lay still. I decamped as quickly as my condition allowed, but I was identified later by some scandalized, gawking, clueless, bleeding-heart, do-gooder, buttinsky passer-by and sued for $50,000 by the baddy. Abraham Ratzkoff, Esq., my aunt’s lawyer, got me off for very much less by devious means and nefarious acquaintances. The few details I was able to extract from him hinted at a long ride out of town to a remote spot and a charade that included an argument between the acquaintances concluded by a gunshot behind the baddy, leaving him in a state of dithering, quivering terror; but that is just my supposition. It’s a long story, better left untold. (Abraham I. Ratzkoff, Counselor at Law, 73 Tremont Street.)
Lithuanian Club, The : At 07 Oakland Street, Cambridge, formally known as The American-Lithuanian Citizens’ Club of Cambridge, but popularly as “The Lith Club.” Established in 1920, it was active until 1971, according to my colleague Chef Albert E. Chasas, who was of Lithuanian descent and a member. I went there a few times with him; there was a dancehall, busy and noisy, and Al could polka with the best of them. One had to be a member or a member’s guest to be admitted. The restaurant served good, plain ethnic food and snacks and excellent beer. The music was galvanic—it made everyone dance. Healthy, wholesome, young and pretty Baltic women taught me the polka; I couldn’t resist. There is yet a Lithuanian Club in South Boston, called “Southie” by its residents and by others familiar with the community. Established in 1948, it has a restaurant serving traditional Lithuanian food, but whether it is open to the public I know not.
Locke-Ober : At 2 Winter Place. A good restaurant with ordinary food and drink at high prices to keep out the riff-raff. If you were more interested in associating with men in three-piece suits and with tailored women (from 1970, when they were allowed ingress), than in enjoying excellent food with ordinary people, it was the place to go. One famous cocktail originated there in 1898, the Ward 8, named in honor of a Boston politico who was boss of that ward: In a Boston shaker over a scoop of cracked ice, pour two ounces of rye whiskey, the juice of one lemon and one orange, and add a splash of grenadine. Shake the contents well, strain the drink into a five-ounce tumbler, and garnish the drink with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry. There are very many other recipes for a Ward 8, but this one is as good as any and better than some.
Lowenstein’s : There were two of these on Boylston Street, the antiques store, M. Lowenstein Co., at 841 Boylston, and the used furniture store, Lowenstein’s, Inc., at 863 Boylston. One may be indulged in supposing that there was a business connection between them. The “used furniture” was from estate sales and was quality stuff. The company was staffed and equipped to do repairs and refinishing and upholstery work. That is where my mother bought her Jacobean-style dining room furniture in 1949, a suite consisting of a refectory table, eight chairs, a buffet, and a court cupboard, definitely Jacobean in style, but of a size too small to be genuinely of the period, and having a piece, the buffet, not of the period. Still, it was quality oak furniture, in Jacobean revival style, made ca 1905. It was close enough in style to the 17th century original that I recognized instantly the large court-cupboard and the table and chairs at Donegal Castle, Ireland, in 2010.
Manger, Hotel : This was the hotel at North Station and was visible to everyone who, like me, arrived by train from the upper three New England states. I remember seeing it through the window as the train pulled into the station and also going into its lobby when I was a child. It was a lesson in proportion: my father’s little inn of 43 rooms was a four-story building of a fair size in our town but was like a toy compared to the Manger. So was our town to Boston.
Marlborough Street, 399 : This house was near the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River. I lived there from 01 July to 22 September, 1957, when I started working as a shipper-receiver at the Old Colony Company on Massachusetts Avenue, makers of cardboard frames, mattes and folders for portrait photographs, before finding much cheaper “digs,” for I couldn’t save any money living the good life on Marlborough Street. I stayed at the Old Colony Company until 22 September 1957. My roommate at 399 Marlborough was Mike Mulloy, a cab driver from Roslindale and a friend of Jim and Jerry Joyce and of Edward “Ned” Brown. Mike was a good guy, and I hope he had a good life. He said once that he was going to get a rat terrier for a pet, and Ned Brown said later that we all ought to chip in and buy a whole lot of rats and dump some of them off at Mike’s place periodically to keep the terrier in shape. Aunt Mamie (Adele-Euphémie) gave Mike and me eight tall shutters from one of her houses for a room divider; we attached two-way hinges and it came out super and never fell down because there was so much of it, which is just as well, for it weighed a ton. At this time the Joyce brothers lived at 409 Marlborough Street.
Marlborough Street, 409 : The “digs” or “pad” of the brothers Joyce was a penthouse, no less, but its access was via a ladder and roof scuttle from the hallway of someone else’s apartment, an inconvenience to the apartment dweller settled by an adjustment in rent. The penthouse itself looked like a tarpaper shack surrounded with duckboards to protect the roof membrane. It had running water and a rudimentary bathroom with a shower but no tub. There was a magnificent view. It was great for parties. One morning I woke up seemingly paralyzed, unable to move my arms. After a desperate struggle I plunged off a tubular metal barracks cot in a tangle of sheets and blankets and eventually discovered that I was rolled up in a window shade. But, in addition, before I was rolled up, someone had pulled a woman’s corset down over my arms. The sense of helplessness was profound, but combined with a hangover and a desperate need to drain the dragon, it was excruciating and nightmarish, and I hollered for help. Finally, Mike Mulloy blearily unrolled me and helped me wriggle out of the corset. I never learned which of the lads perpetrated the atrocity, but I had a suspicion.
Massachusetts General Hospital : 55 Fruit Street, Boston, West End, with half a dozen or more satellite facilities in metropolitan Boston. I was there twice: (1) in 1957, arriving in “Snuffy” _________ ‘s Black & White taxi, from his stand on Washington Street at the corner of Dover Street, next to the Washington Street entrance of the Checker Smoker, after impaling my right hand on a turned-up corner of a stainless steel plate underneath the right-hand unit of a trio of coffee urns at the Checker Smoker; and after arrival having some harsh—“actionable,” so he said—words for a lawyer who pestered me—I saw no reason whatever to sue John Marder; I should have been more careful; (2) in 1960, after having been run down at a cross-walk on Washington and School streets, downtown, following my visit to the newly restored Old Corner Bookstore building, which I had just left: a woman driving down or turning into Washington Street grazed my right hip with a fender, knocking me several feet to the pavement. She stopped, stuck her head out of the car window, and screamed, “Look Out!” Supine on the pavement, partly under a parked car, I yelled, “Why? Are you coming back?” It was an old joke that popped into the forefront of my mind, and it drew laughter from the policeman who hurried over and called for an ambulance. I said I’d prefer to go in a squad car, but there was a union jurisdiction that settled the matter, so I arrived at Boston General in style. I was badly bruised, more from hitting the pavement than from the car, and I could hardly walk for a week, but nothing was broken. Another time, in the middle of May, 1961, I was driven there from the South Shore Hospital by my boss, Leon P. Bosteels, proprietor-chef of Teel’s Cabin restaurant, North Abington, when I was struggling with a bad nosebleed, one of three afflictions of cooks (the other two are flat feet and alcoholism), but it stopped just before we got there.
Massachusetts Historical Society : At 1154 Boylston Street. A magnificent collection that I was privileged to consult only once. Could I have returned to Boston to live, I should have requested membership. I can think of a dozen of my unfinished projects that would benefit from research there.
Mexico City College : In Mexico, D.F. (Distrito Federal), Mexico, this four-year institution, which included several graduate schools, was established in 1940. It was approved by the U. S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs in 1953 for attendance by United States veterans receiving G.I. Bill educational benefits and was recognized by the Southern Association of College and Schools (SACS), Decatur, Georgia, in 1959 for transfer of credits to United States colleges and universities. I was a student there in 1958 and 1959, enrolling in the foreign trade program; but I found accounting boring, and after floundering through a course in Mexican business law, I changed my major to comparative literature. Mexico City in the 1950s was said by many journalists to resemble Paris in the 1920s as a magnet for artists and writers, and Mexico City College had an outstanding art department and an acclaimed program in Meso-American studies with, as might be expected, plenty of hands-on experience in archaeology. The college provided an intellectual extravaganza with exotic professors, some of whom had fled Franco Spain. Unforgettable were Dr. don Pablo Martinez del Rio (1892-1963), Professor of history and anthropology, who had ridden with Pancho Villa during 1910-14 in the Mexican Revolution; Baron Alexander von Wuthenau, educated at the universities of Freiburg, München, and Kiel, who taught art history; Colonel Carlos Berzunza, a graduate of the Heroica Escuela Naval Militar (Mexican Naval Academy) but was a colonel in the Ejército Mexicano (Mexican army)—an anomalous military man with a free spirit, as learned as he was flamboyant, who taught economic geography in a cloud of cigar smoke; Prof. Angel Gonzáles-Araúzo, M.A., University of Edinburgh, who spoke with a British accent, drove a classic 1939 Lincoln Continental, and taught literature; he eventually earned a Ph.D. in Spanish literature from Johns Hopkins University. Prof. Richard Posner taught drama with the insight of a psychologist; his class in Shakespeare, when I was there, included American actress Nancy Carrol (1903-1965). Prof. Luke E. Judd, Dean of Men, taught political science with verve and brio and trenchant wit and delighted in commenting on the Mexican political scene. There were students from more than 35 countries. When any of us sang the Guadeamus Igitur, it was a chorale of unification, a synergy, almost spiritual. There were opportunities for adventure in the state of Yucatan and the territory of Quintana Roo in Mexico, and in nearby British Honduras and Guatemala, which opportunities some of us undertook and survived. I left the United States with a student immigration visa on 14 June 1958 and returned with a B.A. degree on 06 January 1960.
Mid-Town Journal, The : 37 Rutland Street. The Journal Publishing Co. Home base of Ibin Snupin and Handycap Harry. This inimitable weekly newspaper, eight pages for five cents, and in my time 10 cents, but never more, was called a scandal sheet by both advocates and detractors. It was, but it was also a record of the history and sociology of a section of a city, and it immortalized the people who lived there. Read throughout Boston, and famous far beyond the city, it was written, printed, published and distributed from 1938 to 1966 by a Lebanese-American born in a section of Boston now in Chinatown, who was no stranger to adversity, had a short acquaintance with crime, and enjoyed a successful career in show business as a vaudevillian, acrobat and dancer. He was Frederick Shibley (1905-1970). He used the Ibin Snupin nom de guerre for general writing about the residents of the South End and Handycap Harry for racetrack advice. The second nom guaranteed a wider readership.
He had an innate talent for writing prose, studied the art of prosody to enhance his natural gift, and wrote almost everything in a voice of mock dismay and feigned indignation, all in a breathless, racy style with sniggering innuendo and barely suppressed glee. He wrote of bizarre and outré occurrences and events, about eccentric, unconventional, flamboyant, exhibitionistic people who suffered from or enjoyed conflicted gender identity, antisocial or predatory proclivities, and criminal intentions. His subjects were rapacious or unfair landlords, nosy or thieving rooming-house keepers, wayward spouses, weird musicians, sexual freaks, drug pushers and addicts, pimps, prostitutes, porn peddlers, interracial liaisons and experiments, and the LGBT community before its members discovered the alphabet. He captured and exploited the foibles, frailties and follies of humanity.
His sources were the police court records, rooming house gossips, spurned lovers, betrayed partners, disgruntled employees, malicious tattlers, and, sometimes, paid informers, and exasperated people who telephoned or came into his office. He wrote his headlines in a telegraphic, alliterative style with balanced phrasing, much like the following: “Stark Naked in Hotel Hallway, Locked-Out Lover Leaves Lobby Behind Potted Plant.” Another example might be thus: “Sepia Switcher Has Ménage à Trois with Lavender Lad and Teenage Pale Patootie.” But during the span of 28 years, the ethnic and racial tapestry in the South End changed its warp and woof, customs evolved, mores were modified, minorities gained privileges through the courts and acceptance by an evolution of public opinion. The readership of the Mid-Town Journal withered. It had been eclipsed by time. Fortunately, because the paper recorded history, almost every issue survived and has been microfilmed and is available for viewing at the Boston Public Library.
My involvement with the Mid-Town Journal was via the academic program at the College of General Education at Boston University. The program was integrated and did not provide much time for electives, but there were a few: I remember taking a PR (Public Relations) course that was pretty good overall, and a communications course that was excellent in critical thinking. A requirement of the latter was that students who intended to be journalism majors in the junior year apply for a job at a Boston or suburban newspaper, radio, or television station. Whether or not there was a job offer or acceptance or compensation was irrelevant. The student carried a form to document the visit, to be signed by an officer of the communications medium visited. The act of visiting a medium and talking about a job was the point of the requirement.
Because I lived in the South End and not far from the office of the Mid-Town Journal, I applied there. Mr. Frederick Shibley was approximately popeyed with astonishment. “Here? You want to work here? A university student? What could you possibly do? It’s a one-man operation.” I suggested that I could write a column from a student’s viewpoint and that I wouldn’t mind doing some of the grubby work and gofering, all for no compensation, except that I wouldn’t mind a by-line, using my street name, if he liked my column. He shook his head, signed my form, wished me good luck with a hand shake, and Bob’s your uncle. In the next issue was a mention that he had been visited by a college student for a job, which he seemed to equate with a visit by the Dalai Lama riding an ostrich. I have forgotten the date of the issue, but it was probably in the Spring of 1958. Perhaps if I hadn’t been a “college boy” he wouldn’t have been so reluctant. I still think a column with the byline of Nifty de Luxe would have enhanced his paper and enlarged his readership. But maybe not.
Morgan Memorial, The : “Morgie’s,” founded in Boston’s South End in 1895 by the Reverend Edgar J. Helms, its full name today is Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to provide job training to individuals who face barriers to employment, such as mental and physical disabilities, lack of education, etc. It comprises a world-wide network of some 215 affiliates (2010). Its headquarters and outlet store in Boston was at 27-32 Corning Street, but a huge fire on 12 October 1963 destroyed that site. The headquarters and outlet store subsequently have been at 1010 Harrison Avenue. There are outlet stores in most of the Boston suburbs. The stores are sources for clothing, furniture, household appliances, tools, books, collectables and antiques. All items are donated, many are new. Much of my furnishings for my various residences, as well as a lot of good books, came from Morgie’s.
Morley’s Café, Inc. : “The Big M,” at 408 Massachusetts Avenue, near the intersection of Col-umbus Avenue, right across the street from the office of the Musicians’ Union. It was not the biggest of a dozen or so black-owned nightclubs, but it was one of the best, and it certainly had the biggest sign, a huge and thick “M” on top of the building, complete with flashing lights, perhaps 20 feet high, visible for blocks; and because of that, the place was nearly always called “the Big M.” It had a largely black clientele, but whites were welcome and I never heard about any trouble there. What attracted people was the music, though the drinks were excellent. Unfor- tunately, the place was infested with prostitutes, both white and black; but once they under-stood—or the management did—that you were not interested in a “business transaction,” and were not an undercover cop, nor an interloper trying to invade someone else’s turf by pushing drugs or pimping, you were left alone to drink and enjoy the music.
The bill of fare was limited, but the few items on the menu, which changed sufficiently to avoid monotony, were mostly “soul food,” which I was early hooked on as a cadet at Admiral Farragut Academy, Pine Beach, N.J., where Chef Sam Felts, a huge black man, demonstrated his mastery of southern cooking. Of the daily southern-style specials at Morley’s I remember ham hocks and dirty rice; Hoppin’ John with collards and a pork hock; oxtail ragout with sweet potatoes; and ham and speckly gravy with greens and buttermilk biscuits—always good. The cook was Shawleen Bonhom, tall and willowy and languidly handsome. She wore a bright shirt and dark jumper with a standard cook’s white halter-apron over it and a blue polka-dotted sweat band. She had what the Spanish call “piel canella,” cinnamon skin, and had a lengthy stride and regal walk in low-cut sneakers. She kindly gave me advice about—but not the recipe for—Hoppin’ John, but I learned enough about it from conversation with her to be able to fill in the blanks.
“The Big M” was a venue for jazz, one of about a dozen jazz clubs in Soul Town, and big-time musicians might show up and sit in at any time. The house band was plenty good, and there were some warblers and hoofers with it, all occupying an elevated place behind the bar to the left as one walked in; and early in the day one might see and hear a rehearsal, with many starts and stops of music and of foot work this way and that and stamping and spinning in unison in a restricted space, and see and hear the polished version in the evening. This was perhaps at the apogee of popularity of the jazz clubs in what was called “Soul City” or “Cross-Town.” The venue started to die in the 1960s as a new kind of music became popular. SEE also: Walley’s.
Mount Vernon Street, 24 : The Boston University Law School Dormitory, composed of two adjoining houses, No. 20 and No. 24, with the entrance at the latter. The houses were old and worn but had good fire escapes. There was a creaky elevator if one had the time and fortitude to endure its slow lurching upward, like an exhausted rope climber, and its halting descent. As a freshman at B.U. in 1955, I was required to live in a dormitory for the 1955-56 year, but because I was 21 years old and an army veteran, I was allowed to live in the law dormitory with graduate students, thanks to the kindness and understanding of Alfred N. Devine, A.M. (Tufts), the B.U. Registrar. I lived in house No. 20 on the third floor, sharing a suite of rooms with Don Whalen and Mike _____ . I had a little side room, and they had to go through it to get to our bathroom. We got along well, but I longed for solitude and soon (30 October 1955) found a place in the North End at 06 Charter Street that became my hideout, and I never let on to Don and Mike where I spent much of my time.
Municipal Building : At 249 Dover Street, site of the Public Baths and the City of Boston’s laundry. People who lived in rooming houses with poor bathroom facilities or rooms with access only to toilets, and bums and other street people could get a shower at the Municipal Building at the cost of a dime, which included a medium-size Turkish towel and a small “toilet-size” (from the French toilet—pronounced, approximately, as “twah-lay”) bar of soap. Many people mispronounced the name of the building as “money-sipple,” and their pronunciation “toy-let” soap conjured to one’s mind a commode cleaner.
New Adams House Restaurant : 533-35 Washington Street. An excellent restaurant with a long history. It was the successor to the main dining room of the Adams House on Washington Street, a large and tall luxury hotel erected in 1883, closed in 1927, and razed in 1931. Calvin Coolidge resided there from 1906-1920. That grand hotel was on the site of an earlier Adams House, a multistoried, stone-veneered wooden building erected in 1846, and that was on the site of the Lamb Tavern, the sign of which was mentioned as early as 1746. The first Adams House was named for Laban Adams, proprietor of the Lamb Tavern. The New Adams House Restaurant, Inc., established 1935, was called “New,” because the name, “The Adams House,” had been legally assigned in 1931 to Harvard University, which wanted an incontestable right to name an undergraduate dormitory “The Adams House,” in honor of the Adams family. But the New Adams House Restaurant inherited the location, traditions, and clientele of the two Adams House hotel restaurants and of the Lamb Tavern, all the way back to 1746. In the 1950s-‘60s the New Adams House Restaurant was catering to white-collar lower and middle management executives and young professionals. It was there I met my business associate, Olivia Wade Croft, on my birthday, 22 August 1960. There was always a bill of fare typed on house stationery posted in the window, and I checked it every time I was in the vicinity, usually going in for roast lamb or pork with apples. The bar had Dubonnet and Pikina as well as Cinzano and Martini & Rossi sweet vermouths, and I always had one of them over ice with a twist of lemon as an apéritif before dinner. Because of that, Antonio, the barman, called me “l’Elegantone,” (lay-lay-gan-to-nay, the Elegant one), which was a fair approximation of “Nifty” in Italian.
New England Conservatory of Music : 290 Huntington Avenue. My mother was a four-year alumna, starting in 1923, who earned a diploma in pianoforte in 1926 and another in voice in 1927. The conservatory’s concert auditorium was Jordan Hall.
New England Historic Genealogical Society : During 1955-57, I was able to become acquainted with the magnificent genealogical library of the Society, courtesy of my Boston University library card. The Society’s reading room and stacks were then at 09 Ashburton Place, and had been since 1913, in the same location familiar to my mother, who did research there in 1925-26, when she was at New England Conservatory. The Society lost its building to the State through eminent domain, since the State wanted the land as the site for an office building. It opened at its new and seventh location since its foundation in 1845, on 14 Dec 1964 at 99-101 Newbury Street. I did not have an opportunity to visit the beautiful new facility until 1976-77, when I was attending Simmons College. Thereafter, I was a member for a number of years, even after removing to the mid-west.
Newbury’s Steak House : At 94 Massachusetts Avenue at the corner of Newbury Street. Nathan- iel “Nat” Ramin was the proprietor. The hostess-cashier was a Miss Rosemary Nugent, young and pretty, a curly head, who had a bunch of admirers. The chef was Demitros Leonides (?) During 10 January to 24 June, 1960, I was the bartender and wine steward (sommelier), presiding over a 5,000-bottle cellar of cheap but drinkable and medium-priced wines, mostly Italian, Spanish, French, and Chilean. The bar was a service bar, that is, all the alcoholic drinks were served from there by waitresses.
Mr. Ramin was an expert restaurateur and believed that wine should be served at reason- able prices so that people could enjoy it, that a modest profit was sufficient. I thought he was correct. In the bar he had a dozen or more books about cocktails and the liquor trade, including trade magazines from liquor wholesalers. The best of the books was Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Spirits and Beers, by Harold J. Grossman (New York: Sherman & Spoerer, Inc., c. 1940. First Edition). He suggested I read the books and magazines, but not when I was on duty, and he checked them out to me carefully, as if he were a librarian. I learned a lot from the books and trade magazines and from Mr. Ramin. He was an excellent supervisor as well as manager and a constant inspector of trays coming from the kitchen and being bussed to the kitchen. His restau- rant had the best canned dinner music anywhere, such as Johann Strauss II’s “Voices of Spring” and “Vienna Blood” waltzes, and selections by the Hungarian String Quartet, for he was a cultivated man. I first heard Enriquez Granados’s Spanish Dance No. 5 there, which became one of my favorites.
Mr. Ramin was not a friendly man but eminently fair and considerate, the kind of man one respected and believed himself lucky to have as an employer. The only time I ever saw—and heard—him angry was when he received a letter from a newspaper in which he was addressed as Mr. Gnat Ramin. “Was this massacre of my name from ignorance or by design?” he snarled. “It’s the second time from those people! I called them after the last time, and they promised to correct their file!” His favorite story was that in the 1920s, when Howard Johnson was scrounging money to open his first restaurant in Quincy, Mass., near the Wollaston Theater, he, Nat Ramin, could have worked with him and have had a half interest in the business for $250. He declined. Newbury’s Steak House eventually became the Blue Cat Café and has had several name changes and changes of cuisine and clientele since.
Nifty de Luxe, Introducing : In the spring of 1956 I was walking down Commonwealth Avenue, alongside the College of Liberal Arts building of Boston University, and I noticed an Auto Union cabriolet that had a chrome emblem, “Sonderklasse,” at the back of the front fender. At that moment I spotted a girl I knew slightly from having been in a class with her. She was from Germany and was a secretary at the school, working toward a bachelor’s degree. During the War she had been in the Bund Deutscher Mädel, since that was then the thing to do. I hailed her and asked what “Sonderklasse” meant. She identified the car as Auto Union’s DKW F93 (Front wheel drive, Type 93) and said that “Sonderklasse” -- pronounced as zonderklassa -- translates to “Special Class” in English, but “Deluxe” is what is meant. An English near-equivalent might be “Peerless,” as was so-named an American automobile of yesteryear. She said I should get one—or aspire to one. I asked why, and she replied, “Because you are a Deluxe kind of guy.” Startled, I raised my hat and said, “You flatter me!” She made a motion simulating my hat exercise, but amplified to that of a seventeenth-century courtier, including an extended leg, and said, “See?” and was gone.
I had been known as a nifty dresser in high school, before I was sent to a military school “because I was bad”—bad enough, at least, that my mother feared for our family’s reputation; and the 1950 Stevens High School (Claremont, N.H.) Yearbook listed me as the best dressed member of the sophomore class. That was largely because I had access to clothing left behind at my father’s hotel, e.g., pants, jackets and suits, the likeliest of which Mr. Isaac N. Gelfand, our much-esteemed local tailor, obligingly fitted to me at modest cost and made some colorful vests and Ascot-style cravats as accompaniments. All of us at the hotel polished leather like batmen, since many of the permanent roomers worked in shoe companies during the war years, and my shoes were resplendent. So, a few of my friends began calling me “Nifty.”
A few days after the “Sonderklasse” incident, I sent for several mail order catalogues—for ship models, smoking pipes, gunstocks, camping equipment, auto repair materials, and decided to be known as “Paul de Luxe” to avoid having my real name ending up on a mailing list that might proliferate into bushels of junk mail. Suddenly, thoughts converged, and, unlike Superman, I did not have to enter an alley nor disrobe to my longjohns to assume my street guise as—“Nifty de Luxe.” The name caught on immediately among my street friends.
North Station : The North Station I remember was combined with Boston Garden. Built in 1928, it lasted until the early 1950s. My parents took me to Boston in 1948 to see the Shipstad’s and Johnson’s Ice Follies. We traveled on “The Cheshire,” a stainless-steel clad diesel-powered “streamliner” that had been the “Flying Yankee” on the Bangor, Maine, to Boston route, introduced in 1935. That route was likely the source of the following old chestnut: “I took my girl [friend] to Maine,” “Bangor?” “No, I don’t know her that well yet.” That 1935 train with three matching sections still looked modern in 1948, compared to the smoke-belching steam behemoths hauling a congeries of mismatched passenger cars. The amenity of a table that hooked onto the outer wall with a single hinged leg supporting it on the corridor side, so that one could lean on one’s elbows while draining a tall glass of tonic and watching the landscape speed by provided a posh few moments, indeed. Passengers found it amusing just watching the porters struggling to hook up the table and manage its leg.
The train was constructed by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, makers of the later self-propelled Budd Cars, and was a twin of the prototype 1934 “Zephyr” of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R.R., which, on 25 May 1934 ran non-stop between Denver and Chicago in 13 hours and five minutes at an average speed of 78 m.p.h. Everybody talked about that train. Streamline trains were sold as toys. I thought then that the ride on “The Cheshire” was more fun than an hour and a half watching the ice follies. It was also fun the see my aunt Mamie again, and I always liked the bustle of North Station and lunch at the restaurant in North Station, though I can’t remember its name.
That is where I first saw my Aunt Mamie demonstrate her art of diplomatic persuasion. There was no booth empty, but seeing a man and woman each occupying a booth, Mamie introduced herself to the woman and stated that her family of four would like to sit in a booth, but that the gentleman occupying it is too shy to ask her if he could share her booth, so that he could relinquish it to us. Of course, the woman agreed to share her booth. Then Mamie spoke to the man and said that the woman across the aisle would welcome him to share her booth, so that we could occupy his, but that she had no way of telling him that until she, Mamie, a casual acquaintance, happened along. “Casual acquaintance” indeed! With that, Mamie took his arm and guided him to the woman’s booth and then conveyed his plate, utensils, water and coffee to him, saying with a laugh, that she used to be a waitress. My father called this maneuver a “shuffle,” and said that Mamie seldom failed to execute it.
He also said that she could draft total strangers to carry things for her, summon taxies, do errands, give her newspapers in subway cars, give her a better seat in a movie theater. Years later, I saw her on three occasions exhibit either bravery or foolhardiness in calming and placating men who were outraged or belligerent and threatening, by speaking to them softly and soothingly, stroking their arms and shaking hands with them. Surely, she was the most confident, self-assured and composed person I have known
Northeastern University : The main office was at 360 Huntington Avenue. In my time it was sometimes known as “The Poor Man’s M.I.T.,” because whereas an M.I.T.-educated engineer was likely to get a top job, his assistant was likely to have been graduated from Northeastern U. According to the number of students enrolled, it was the biggest university in New England and famous for its night school courses and work-study programs. I earned a Master of Education degree there, conferred in 1965; and on 29 May 1964 I was in the first group at Northeastern to be elected to the Kappa Zeta Chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society and wore its Quill & Scroll pendant on my watch-chain for years. Dr. Frank Eugene “Swampy” Marsh (1919-2018), Dean of the School of Education, was the man who helped me make the choice between becoming an educator by attending Northeastern, or a chef by attending, as basic preparation, the Toledo School of Meat Cutting, of which I had the brochure in my possession, and then the Culinary School of America or another good cooking school. Did I make the right choice? I’ll never know. About the second day of January, 1963, I walked into the administration building at Northeastern still dressed in my whites from my job at the Statler Hilton, with my knives rolled up in an apron under my arm. By happenstance, Dr. Marsh was able to see me immediately, and he gave me nearly 40 minutes of his time. I told him about the summer I had spent at Keene State Teachers College, exploring the prospect of becoming a teacher, and how impressed I was with Professor Sprague W. Drenan; but I also revealed that I was enamored with the idea of becoming a chef. I was in a quandary. After due palaver, I decided to start courses in the spring semester if the university administration would take my word that I had a bachelor’s degree, for I did not know how long it would take for Mexico City College to respond with paperwork. Dr. Marsh authorized my enrollment on trust. I started graduate courses a few days later in the night section of the spring quarter, about a week late in the quarterr, I think, and the paperwork arrived from Mexico in about a month. I enjoyed the course in the history of education, taught by the witty and enthusiastic Dr. Marsh; the class in cultural anthropology, taught in August, 1963, by Dr. E. Lawrence Durham (1918-2012), who had even, square-cut features and looked like Superman in mufti, and who, apparently, knew more about the Kwakiutls than they, themselves; and the course in English, taught by Dr. Samuel French Morse (1916-1985), poet and scholar, who taught me the rudiments of poetic scansion and inculcated the four basic questions about literary analysis that served me well for decades: What did the author say? How did he say it? Did he say it well? Was it worth saying? (SEE: St. Botolph Street)
Old Colony Co. : 100 Massachusetts Avenue, in the basement. Makers of cardboard mats, frames, and folders for portrait photographs. Mr. Oscar D. Obert was the president and treasurer and on-site manager. He had a press man named Mike Repentigny doing the cutting, a printer, and some assemblers and packers. I was the shipper-receiver and odd-jobs man, doing the paperwork to send out completed orders and ordering, receiving, and inventorying supplies; assembling shipping boxes from flat-folded corrugated cardboard shipping containers, using a stapling machine; packing completed orders in boxes; telephoning carriers, such as the P.I.E. truck (Pacific Inter-mountain Express); moving pallets of cardboard on a hand-operated wheeled pallet jack, etc. It was not very exciting work and offered no future. I lasted from 01 July to 22 September, 1957, giving a week’s notice. The manager was not pleased—which was partly from displeasure from having to find and train somebody else and partly an indication that the quality of my work was good. While there, I lived at 399 Marlborough Street with a roommate, Mike Mulloy, a cabdriver from Roslindale, a friend of a friend, Jim Joyce, who was a fellow veteran and fellow student at CGE. Mike was a great fellow. What caused me to leave the Old Colony Co. was an advertisement in the Boston Globe for a “chef trainee” at Teel’s Cabin Restaurant in North Abington. I could see a future there.
Old Howard Theater : 34 Howard Street. It is said that a Millerite church was first on the site in 1843 but burned after about a year. Then, the Howard Athenaeum was built and opened on 13 Oct 1845. It burned down a few months later but was rebuilt in a Gothic style and opened on 05 Oct 1846. It was a playhouse for drama, ballet, and opera, seating 1,400 people. Edwin Booth and his brother, John Wilkes Booth, played Shakespeare there; Mrs. Julia Bennet Barrow, Charlotte Cushman, Fanny Davenport, Little Egypt, performed; Buffalo Bill Cody appeared; the cream of vaudevillians played there, W. C. Fields, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle, Abbot and Costello, Phil Silvers. It became a moving picture theater and, finally a burlesque house. Because of that, it became world famous during World War II. Generations of college men studied anatomy there. It became known as the Old Howard Theater, where there was “Always Something Doing from 8 to 11.” It was closed after 30 Oct 1953, when on that date some burlesque performers were charged by the police with “open and gross lewdness” and taking part in an “immoral show.” A group of history buffs raised money to rehabilitate the Old Howard as an historic landmark, and among them, Francis W. Hatch wrote a splendid article about the theater for Yankee Magazine in July, 1960. However, on 20 June 1961 a fire “of undetermined origin” destroyed it “beyond possibility of restoration,” it was said; but just to make sure, the City demolished it shortly thereafter. I saw several adults crying in the streets when the Old Howard was razed. The talk on the street was that the fire was arson perpetrated by order or on behalf of the Boston Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority. A requiem article, “The Old Howard,” by Franklin L. Thistle, was published in Cavalier, a men’s magazine, in the issue of November, 1962.
The Old Howard’s license was transferred to the Casino Theater at 44 Hanover Street. It is ironic that the burlesque performances at the Old Howard were as mild as Sunday school compared to the live “shows,” pornographic movies, and pornographic bookstores available in the “Combat Zone” centered on downtown Washington Street in the 1960s et seq. Of course, the politicians whom the people elect to represent them always know so much more than those who elect them; they are therefore so much better able to establish standards for public decency, and where and when such standards should be enforced. They know so much more about history and what to preserve. The self-imagined superiority of politicians might be true if they were elected because the people recognized them as the best of themselves, the cream that rises to the top. But, so also rises scum. Yet there are many excellent and worthy politicians who deserve honor and praise for their service. We the people can but mourn that there are no objective criteria in the Constitution that would help us to identify the good ones and hasten the removal of the bad ones, that without such criteria there is no recourse but to vote bad politicians out of office or petition for their recall, and both are after they have done much harm that cannot be undone.
Many architects would demolish the tomb of Jesus if they could erect in its place a grotesque monstrosity to demonstrate their “art” and “originality.” Certainly, they are able to overawe politicians and seduce their support for grandiose projects as egregiously aggrandizing as a Government Center. That is why, in my time, the BMRA or BRA was called by some Bostonians the Boston Urban Redevelopment Presidium (BURP) and its national prototype was referred to as the Federal Area Redevelopment Tribunal (FART).
Old Vienna Hofbrau : At 1314 Commonwealth Avenue in Alston, a suburb of Boston on the streetcar line. The manager was John F. Helfer; the owner was John P. Helfer, whom I never met. It was a large place with three adjacent rooms: the bar, which had stools and a few tables; the middle room, filled with tables and booths and restricted to dining; and the dance floor, which was mainly open, but which had booths on its perimeter. There was a talented peripatetic accordionist. The prices varied in all three rooms and rose according to one’s distance from the bar. The place was especially popular with men who had been in Germany during World War II and/or thereafter on occupation duty in Germany or Austria, though there was no war memorabilia at all. The veterans said it was as good as any German or Austrian tavern and had better food.
The place was also popular with college sports teams, and the Celtics met there on occasion. During busy nights there were times when I would prop the beer tap open with a skimmer and draw 20 seidels of beer without stopping, handing them to an assistant, who placed them on the bar. The keg tapper was a busy man. The menu made my mouth water, since I like sauerbraten with gingersnap gravy, bratwurst and sauerkraut, schnitzel and hot potato salad, apple strudel; and there were many other Teutonic specialities. A gemütlicheit old-world tavern atmosphere was striven for and pretty much achieved. The waitresses wore dirndls and the waiters liederhosen. I was the head bartender from 08 January through 31 August, 1962, and asked for—and got—an inventory with a signed copy for me on accepting the job. Of course, I took an inventory when I left. Since I stayed behind the bar, I was spared the liederhosen costume, though I wore band-across-the-chest suspenders and, on special occasions, such as a wedding reception, a short Germanic bar jacket with cuffs and pewter buttons and an Alpine hat with a feather. The food and music and imported beers were good enough that the employees from Jacob Wirth’s came there after 11:00 p.m., when their restaurant closed. While I worked at the Hofbrau, I lived at the St. Moritz Hotel. It was a neat correspondence in Teutonia.
Olde Brattle Tavern, Inc., Ye : This respectable tap room at 34 Brattle Street was on the right (south) side of the street a couple of blocks down from Court Street at Scollay Square, starting from the Crawford House on its north corner. It had been in business continuously since 1766, so its sign boasted. I was curious to learn whether or not the boast was true; knew I had a good chance to find out from deeds, licenses, court records, tax records, street directories, newspaper files, historical references, etc.; but lacked the time to investigate. I did not think that the building was older than, say, 1825; but licenses can be transferred, and clienteles will follow a tavern to a new site. So, I took it on faith that I was standing on dust, dirt, and street debris tracked in a long time ago, and that I was immersed in tradition that had been steeping a long time.
Since the building was in the vicinity of several book stores, the first of which opened in 1825, the tavern was doubtless an oasis for book perusers who had parched for hours in dusty stacks. It was common knowledge even among the bung lickers who frequented the place (a pleasant lot who asked me a few leading questions to draw me out and were soon satisfied that I was benign), that some mighty Victorian notables had tippled there; and there were a few framed prints and photographs of some of them affixed to the walls. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), “The Wisest American,” was there, his kind and homely face afflicted with a nose outstanding enough to be a hat hanger. I venerated his Essay On Self-Reliance, and more than once I turned from the bar to salute him on the wall behind me by raising my glass of suds, for his reflection showed in the backbar mirror, and he was the kind of man whom I thought would enjoy the bonhomie of that tavern.
There was also an advertising placard at the street side of the backbar that depicted the beautiful and leggy Jinx Falkenberg, “Miss Rheingold of 1941,” surely the recipient of more suds salutes than any other image in the bar. I was happy to tipple at the Brattle Street Tavern on occasion, happy to be in such an historic place, especially since it offered Haffenreffer’s Pickwick Ale, “Boston’s Pride,” I called it, and that delightful Rheingold Beer from New York State, with its advertising jingle set to a rollicking beerhall tune, ironically composed by a Frenchman, Paul Lacome, but attributed to Emil Waldteufel, because he arranged it and published it in 1883 as his Estudiantina Waltz.
This fine tavern is gone now, razed to make room for the Government Center Complex, a demonstration of the evil of eminent domain when it is executed without consideration of alternative sites, contrary to the will and desire of the people, and without respect for history. Such acts of political vandalism occur because too much power is held by too few and it is exerted too quickly. By the time the people can rally, it is too late. One could say that the Boston Redevelopment Authority was one BRA that didn’t provide much support—of the people, that is; and that is why it is better known by some as the BURP and much worse. (SEE: Old Howard Theater.)
Old Corner Bookstore : This gambrel-roof building has an ideal location, right downtown at 283 Washington Street, at the corner of School Street. It was rescued from demolition by private enterprise. Its historical value is much more related to publishing than book selling; and though the authors of many of the books published there were present on its first floor and may have socialized on its second floor, their shades are faint today. The chief value of the Old Corner Bookstore is that it is a surviving example of an 18th-century commercial building. Its principal liability is that its small size restricts its use. I was privileged to see the building after its major restoration and left it hugely satisfied that some things turn out right. Then I was struck by a car. (SEE: Massachusetts General Hospital—1960.)
Oriental Tea Company : At 57 Court Street, right next to the Crawford House in Scollay Square, its very large tea pot sign, made in 1873, shows in a photograph of 1910. It is the huge smoking tea pot that I remember, when it hung at 57 Court Street until March, 1967, and was then moved to 63 Court Street, where it was placed on the corner of the Sears Block above a Starbuck’s coffee shop that occupied the space of the former Court Street Tavern. That move was just after my time in Boston, as I left to take a job in Minnesota in June of 1965. I learned about some of the “doings” in Boston thereafter from letters from my aunt and by telephone calls, letters and postcards from friends. My friend and colleague, Chef Albert E. Chasas, sometimes sent me newspaper cuttings. A much-published stereopticon photograph of the Oriental Tea Company’s interior gives the address as 85, 87, and 89 Court Street. Since the Crawford House was numbered 17 Court Street at one time, the discrepancy indicates that the street numbering was changed at least twice. I went to the tea shop with my mother when I was lad. It was a stop for my aunt during some 60 years, and she took me there when she gave me a tour of her favorite places soon after I arrived in Boston after my discharge from the army. In the shop we had tea and scones and bought packages of tea. The pastries were good enough to attract me many times during the 1950s and ‘60s, when I was in the area, and it was a good place to try different kinds of tea. The Oriental Tea Company went out of business in March, 1967, when the building it occupied was razed by order of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Palm Garden Café, Inc., The : A cesspool saloon or waterhole for bottom feeders at 81A Dover Street toward Tremont, separated from the building that housed The Checker Smoker by a litter-strewn alley. J-K Huysmans could have been inspired there. The proprietor of that ghastly place was a tall, bent-nosed and craggy-featured man with greying hair who wore rimless glasses and looked harried and slightly astonished but somehow distinguished, as though he was an execu- tive from somewhere just filling in for a friend as a favor. He always wore a starched white shirt with the cuffs rolled up twice. He was Ralph Menchi, despite his dreadful business a stand-up kind of guy, and he lived in Stoneham. His bartender and manager was a genial ex-prize fighter named Paul Zaremba, a light heavyweight, getting elderly, though he was still lean and strong. I learned how to do the “bum’s rush” by observing him: just spin a man around, reach through his crotch and grab his belt in the front; put a hand on his back to bend him over; and thus, since he is overbalanced and helpless, he is easily tiptoed out the door. Moreover, in a street fight a baddy can be rammed head first into a wall that way, if one is lucky enough to get behind him for a grip.
The rest room was surprisingly clean and free of clutter, but the chemicals used to clean it made one’s eyes water even during a quick leak. And a leaker had better watch his step to avoid a cosh over the head from a mugger that might be just inside the door or the ghostly hands of a pickpocket who walked designedly past him on his way. Vendors of bootleg perfume and ersatz wrist watches—with displays up their arms—and of pornography pulled out of hats and the inner breast pockets of coats and jackets sidled through the place, from time to time. As unsavory as it was, the place was surprisingly busy.
It was in the Palm Garden that Charley Kirk bought a round of drinks for Arthur Breton, Big John Leahy, Les Callahan, and me after quitting time (10:00 P.M.) at The Checker Smoker, on Wednesday night, 09 November 1960, just before he left town—never hinting his intentions to us—after having removed $2,000 of John Marder’s money from the company safe. He had made the big mistake of betting shylock money on Nixon. The voting was on Tuesday, 08 November, but the election hung fire until Wednesday afternoon, when Nixon conceded to Kennedy. On Thursday morning, the police asked us, “Anybody seen Charley Kirk?” I heard sometime later that Charlie was apprehended in Florida.
Parker House, The : At 60 School Street at the corner of Tremont Street, immediately across the street from King’s Chapel, in the burying ground of which one of my 17th century ancestors, James Skinner (ca 1635-1701), was buried. Based in Marblehead, he was a trader to Damariscotta and other coastal settlements in Maine, who fell off a gangplank and drowned in Boston Harbor. Perhaps he had drunk one too many. I used to get my haircuts from “Manny (Manuel) the Barber,” a Portuguese-American barber at the Parker House barber shop. The hotel is the origin of the famous Parker House Rolls (1870s) and of Boston Cream Pie. (1856). Anyone a bit psychic, as am I, knows that the place is haunted.
Pembroke Street, 120 : One of the houses owned by my paternal aunt, Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie). Her gentleman friend, Dr. Daniel Livermore, died there of influenza in his second-floor suite in 1938. She never had his rooms touched thereafter. Photographs reveal that he had a gorgeous LaSalle convertible; I wonder what happened to it. I stayed in his suite occasionally, which was lined with books, when I came up to Boston from Teel’s Cabin Restaurant in North Abington. Though he was about my height, six-feet one, as I judged by his trousers and walking stick, he was of slighter build, as his size 40L jackets, size 16 collars, 32-inch-waist trousers, and size 11 shoes demonstrated. I could wear none of his clothes or shoes, with but one exception: his voluminous opera cape that was lined with green silk. I wore it a few times with a dinner jacket and black-revered waistcoat and carried his silver-headed black walking stick. When the cape billowed as I descended or ascended steps, I must have looked like an Irish vampire.
Pilgrim Theatre : 658 Washington Street, in what became Boston’s “Combat Zone.” On 30 Nov 1974 Congressman Wilbur D. Mills (D, Ark.), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a distinguished lawyer, disgraced himself there by appearing on the stage, pretty well oiled, with a nearly naked stripper, Fanne Foxe, “the Argentine Firecracker,” together with her husband. Mills gave a press conference later from her dressing room. A month earlier in Washington, D.C., the two had been involved in a minor traffic violation, driving without lights after dusk. But she fled his car after scuffing with him and breaking his glasses and jumped into the Potomac. That was scandal enough for the tabloids. To his credit, Congressman Mills went off the sauce after that and mended his ways. My acquaintance John Limes, known professionally as “Whitey Tracy,” was a hoofer who did a “pregnant woman pushing a baby carriage” routine in that theater before it became notorious as a strip joint. His sister Marge was given to malapropisms such as, “he ran around like a mad haddock.” “His job was never-ending, like the Myth of Syphilis.” “He was a bit too belly-close for a little runt.” Whitey was so-named from his beautifully combed shock of white hair. He was aware that anagrams of his name, “Limes,” were “Miles” and “Slime,” but he only got ticked off when he was addressed or referred to as “Miles of Slime.” He was not only a good music hall and vaudeville hoofer, but also an accomplished pickpocket. SEE ALSO: Casino Theater.
Pizza Land : Immediately to the south of Joe and Nemo’s hot doggery and hamburger heaven in Scollay Square, at the corner of Stoddard Street; i.e., Pizza Land was immediately to the left as one faced the J. & N. façade. It was the place to buy pizza wedges at 10 cents each. They were thin, crispy, tomatoed and cheesed and Bob’s your uncle. The tomato sauce was seasoned with garlic and basil. That’s all. It was 1955. I have never since eaten pizza I liked as well. Pizza was new in the United States then, introduced, I suppose, by enterprising members of the armed forces who had fought in “It’ly,” as my New Jersey friends called it.
Professor’s Barbecue Stand : A movable barbecue stand under a marquee with open-pit-style cookers that was set up at Columbia Square (which is really a triangle) at the intersection of Warren and Columbus avenues, by a tall, bulky, and jolly black man. The Professor—he professed to be a master barbecue chef, and he was—sold beef ribs, pork ribs, and chicken wings, mostly, in waxed cardboard trays, and everything was delectable. Scores of people in the neighborhood would buy wings or ribs and take them home to eat while sitting on the steps of their brick-and-brownstone row house, a kind of communal picnic. I think that Columbia Square is now called Harriet Tubman Square, but it is still a triangle.
Ralph Miller’s Corner Store : At 98 Chandler Street, if my memory serves, at the corner of Warren Avenue. A typical hole-in-the wall mom-and-pop store of a type no longer seen. His mom and pop had died; he had helped them until they did; and then he was stuck with the store, unable to do much else but mind it, for there was nothing of value, as a business, to sell; and, astonishingly, he did not own the property. It was the old, sad story. He spoke good high school French, and my aunt Mamie went out of her way to shop there to give him some business and exercise his and her French. He eked out a living by knowing exactly what to stock and how much of it and very often for whom, functioning like a pay-per-item collective pantry. He was a good guy whom I enjoyed seeing, and we were close enough so that he loaned me his pickup a few times, when I needed it. I always returned it fueled and maintained. He had a fund of Jewish stories and folklore that I found useful to retell. He introduced me, via translations, to the works of two great writers in Yiddish, Isaac Leib Peretz and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The story I have found most absorbing and ponderable and useful to retell is Peretz’s “Brontshe the Silent.”
Red Lion Grill : 117 Massachusetts Avenue. I seem to recall that the entrance was flanked by two cast-iron lions painted red, about 18 inches high, on pedestals, and that there was a lot of shiny brass here and there. It was probably the best pub architecture that could be contrived in a store-front establishment. I rarely visited the place, unless I was in the company of Jim Joyce, one of my classmates at BU (CGE); but I always enjoyed the Red Lion when I was there. It was one of Jim’s regular watering holes, but off the trail I usually travelled. Good pub food. I enjoyed a sirloin tips and onions casserole there early one afternoon, served with tiny buttered carrots seasoned with orange zest and with buttered and parsleyed boiled potatoes, together with a fine ale—Croft’s Cream Ale, one of my favorites.
Red Ram Lunch, The : An eatery at 532A Tremont Street on the right side, looking downtown, just before one got to the intersection of Dover Street. The sign was the head of a ram (male sheep) painted red with white horns. The place was the scene of an hilarious caper—not the robbery kind of caper but the high-jinks kind.
The Red Ram Caper was inspired by a story told by my Aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie) and was instigated by her. She told me the story one afternoon in the Back Bay Tea Room at 41 Belvidere Street near the First Church of Christ, Scientist. It was about a caper that had been perpetrated in Brunswick, Maine, at a downtown lunch room patronized by Bowdoin College men, doubtless members of a fraternity at the college. I laughed so hard that I attracted attention from the clientele, but perhaps Mamie laughed louder. She had learned of it as a young woman when she had worked as a waitress at the Brunswick Hotel.
Within a week I collected three friends: Michael “Mike” Mulloy, a cab driver from Roslindale; Edward “Ned” Brown from Dorchester—originally from Manchester, N.H.—the source of whose income was a mystery but who always wore a neatly pressed suit, polished shoes, and a crisp white shirt with a tasteful tie; and John Francis “Big John” Leahy, from Roxbury, a cook and counter man here and there, who was big and rugged but not more than five-feet ten, and with whom I had worked at the Checker Smoker. Big John was the only man I ever knew who could eat a box of chocolates while drinking beer and watching a ball game on T.V. His favorite squeeze was a nice looking and charming medium-size older woman who worked in a laundry. I don’t think she worked very hard, else she wouldn’t have looked so nice.
Our target was the Red Ram Lunch, a long and narrow eatery on Tremont Street near Dover Street (now East Berkeley Street) as one traveled NE toward downtown, for no other reason than we knew it had a marble-topped counter and that it would be no heartache to us if we forbore to revisit the place for a long time. The counter was on the left as one entered. Besides constant swabbing with soap and water, the counter was waxed frequently to protect it from vinegar and other condiments and acidic foods such as sauerkraut. Not common knowledge was that the Red Ram was one of the restaurants owned by John Marder, the principal of John Marder, Inc., who also owned the Checker Smoker at the corner of Dover and Washington streets and presided there. Originally called “Marder Lunch,” the name was changed to the “Red Ram” about 1950, when, it was said, he leased the business to another operator. “Red Ram” was his name spelled backwards. John Marder was a good guy, and we had nothing against him or his business.
We borrowed a hot water bottle from Mamie and practiced the routine at her flat, which was then 07 Batavia Street (Symphony Road). We arranged to meet at the Berkeley Street Café at a certain time. Mamie came with me, since she intended to go into the Red Ram as an observer. When everyone was at the café, we left Mamie there, got into Mike’s cab, and drove around until we got a parking spot on Dover Street just around the corner from Tremont Street. When Mamie saw us walk around the corner onto Tremont, she crossed Tremont from the Berkeley Street Café to the corner of Dover and crossed Dover to where we were standing, nodded to us, and walked ahead of us into the Red Ram. She planned to order coffee and a roll or pie, something light. We waited a few minutes and went in.
We found four seats at the counter several feet from the entrance door and about midway between the ends of one of the green marble slabs that comprised the long counter top. Our object in being midway was to avoid the germ colonies that were guaranteed to lurk in the cracks between the slabs. Mamie was a little further into the restaurant in one of the booths along the wall opposite the counter. I had the hot water bottle slung around my neck on a cord underneath my shirt and jacket. It was filled with cooked oatmeal, tinted green with food coloring. A few raisins and broken up multi-fruit roll candies had been added to make the green stuff look interesting. We ordered coffee and sweet rolls. Ned, on my right, started the patter:
“You’re going to be sick again,” he said in a loud voice. “Every time you eat that stuff you heave it up!”
“I know it,” said I, in a plaintive voice, “but this coffee should settle my stomach.”
“I don’t think so,” said Mike, on my left, “You look awful!”
I took a sip of coffee and a bite of my roll and started to retch a little, trying to sound realistic. Then, I did a pretty good imitation of gagging.
“He’s going to heave!” exclaimed Big John, apprehensively, on Ned’s right.
“Let’s get him outside, quick!” said Ned, in an excited voice.
Big John got behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. I stood up slightly and gagged a little more, then he slipped his hands to the front of my shirt and squeezed hard. I guided the neck of the hot water bottle, and its green and mottled contents erupted onto the counter.
Immediately, the four of us used our coffee spoons to eat the stuff. Pandemonium!!! One of the customers puked on the floor; others screamed. The guys helped me out the front door quickly, while I made noises of retching and strangling all the way. Then we ran around the corner to Dover Street, piled into Mike’s cab, and drove off.
The caper didn’t cause the furor we expected, but it was something to remember! And, for a wonder, we got away without ending in the toils of the law. Mamie told us later that it was one of the funniest capers she had seen in her 72 years and that the counter man and counter woman appeared to have been in shock—perhaps she used the word “frazzle-assed,” or maybe not. She said that the customers were unsure of what had happened and that when she paid her check everyone was arguing about what they had seen. Apparently, no one called the police, because they didn’t know what to say!
R H. Stearns : A ten-story department store at 140 Tremont Street, across from the Park Street subway station on Boston Common. I bought a few “men’s accessories” there from time to time, such as suspenders and handkerchiefs, sox and ascots, that were foreign to the pawn shops where I obtained must of my apparel.
R. H. White Co. : Washington Street, corner of Bedford Street. One of the first items of civilian clothing I bought in September or October, 1955, was an overcoat at R. H. White. It was a gorgeous heavy wool tweed—perhaps a Donegal tweed—that was a bluish grey, single breasted with a military collar, and very long. I wore it for several years but eventually outgrew it, since I went from a size 44L suit jacket to a 46L as I matured. It cost me $85, which was plenty in 1955, but it was in the bargain section, as it hadn’t sold, and I couldn’t resist. It looked and felt great, and I generally wore it with a white woven silk scarf. I also had a midnight blue six-button benny, but that only looked good with a blue pin-stripe (or in Bostonese, sometimes called a “pimp stripe”) or a grey herringbone suit. I had a collection of hats, but my favorite was a slate-grey Dobbs tapered-crown, center-crease fedora with a medium width brim.
Ritz-Carlton Hotel : At 15 Arlington Street, NW corner of Arlington and Newbury streets. The Posh place in Boston for new money; old money stayed at the Vendôme. My mother introduced me to an occasional splurge of “breakfast at the Ritz,” which she always celebrated with rashers of bacon (i.e., Canadian bacon), a frothy egg souflée, which I finally learned to make, together with toasted English muffins topped with grilled tomatoes and cheddar introduced briefly to the broiler. The Bennies there would have made Oscar Tschirky (of the Waldorf Hotel in New York) proud, but they were no better than served at the Copley Plaza. Yet, nowhere else could I find sautéed boneless kippers and fried eggs, nor a rack of toast with grapefruit marmalade. It was a joy to luxuriate in the quiet of the dining room, to be able to converse with someone across the table without raising one’s voice, for children were routinely 86-ed (not admitted), whether or not they were guests at the hotel “We have no children’s menu and no high chairs; I am sure you would be happier somewhere else.” Adult men without a jacket and necktie were turned away, as were men or women in shorts. Other than respectable attire, the only criteria for admittance were dignity and decorum, for everyone was welcome who knew how to behave.
Roosevelt Hotel : 1147 Washington Street, near Dover Street (later, East Berkeley Street). Named for Theodore Roosevelt, its “café” at 1143 was one of the toughest bars in Boston. The night manager of the hotel upstairs was a genial and greatly respected black man, Benjamin (Jamieson?), a retired policeman, who kept a revolver on his person and had a telephone on a shelf just below the counter in front of him. His desk was surrounded with a barrier of finely woven 3/8-inch chain link wire, with interstices just wide enough to poke a gun barrel through, though the wire mesh was of soft steel and probably could have been shot through in a quick or sticky life-or-death confrontation. The cage had a steel-rimmed pass-through at counter height barely large enough for the exchange of cash and keys. There was a shelf in front of the pass-through on which the guest could sign the register, which was printed on numbered cards, one of which was slid toward the guest. Tethered by a cable was “a pen that wrote mostly fiction,” as writers of crime novels say.
On occasion I was a relief bartender in the Roosevelt Hotel Café, one of two bartenders on duty per shift, assisted by two waitresses. In this kind of bar the clientele drank mostly draft beer and ale, though some of the more elegant of the clientele drank bottled brews—right from the bottle, usually. I don’t recall any orders for cocktails, though there were a few popular mixed or long drinks: screwdriver, Collins, bloody Mary, rum and coke (add juice of half a Caribbean lime and you have the ancient Cuba Libre highball), whiskey sour, old fashioned. There was a Jewish cab driver who came in sometimes and ordered a Raunchy Rabbi, which was a species of sour: (1) Cut a lemon in half and cut a cartwheel off the end (2) Squeeze the remaining part of the half lemon into a mixing glass (3) Pour in 1 jigger (1 ½ ozs.) vodka (4) Pour in two jiggers of Mogen David (5) Stir with ice and strain the mix into an 8 oz. tumbler (6) Fill with seltzer water (7) Notch the cartwheel and hang it on the rim. Barfly rumor-mongers circulated that the cabbie was a rabbi moonlighting for extra cash. It became a game among the lads to see who could speculate the most dreadful reason the Rabbi needed the money! Meanwhile, seeing a bottle of Slivovitz (Hungarian plum brandy) in a liquor store display window, I bought it and took it to the Roosevelt Café, where I tagged it with my name and put it in a cupboard behind the bar. Next time the cabbie came in, I suggested substituting Slivovitz for the vodka in his drink, and he tried it. From then on, that was the way I made the Raunchy Rabbi.
Sometimes there would be arguments and fights, usually settled by friends of the participants—but not always. Benny couldn’t look out for us, because he was upstairs, but we were instructed to holler up there if we needed help quickly. Underneath the bar at the Roosevelt, there were two or three short, old-style police wooden billy clubs with screw-eyes in the butt ends, so that they could be suspended from hooks under the bar; but to use such a club meant risking that someone might wrest it from you with predictably disastrous results. I got to be a good diplomatist, and, fortunately, had some friends among the steady clientele to back me up. Nevertheless, I was involved in a few scuffles and a particularly bad incident, during which I failed to dodge a round-house right from a barstooler and suffered a broken nose. It didn’t hurt much, but I bled all over my shirt. By great good fortune, my business associate, Mrs. Croft, had just come into the bar to give me a personal message (there were no cell-phones then), and she skewered my assailant slightly, in the vicinity of his right kidney, with the ice pick she carried in her purse for protection. The momentary respite allowed me to rally and knock him on the head with a bottle, judiciously, just a light rap, for I didn’t want to dent his skull like a hat and get into big trouble over such a scumbag; but, unfortunately for him, while he was dancing around, hollering and holding his head, and screaming about his loin, one or two of the lads kicked him on the backside a few times and probably on the front side as well. The other bartender had called the cops, so Mrs. Croft and I left immediately in her waiting taxi for Boston City Hospital, just a few blocks away, where the septum of my nose was realined and the nostrils packed with gauze. The next day my black eyes made me look like a raccoon.
According to a newspaper clipping sent to me at Ely, Minnesota, by Chef Albert E. Chasas, the Roosevelt Hotel, which the article called a “transient hotel,” burned in the morning of 04 February 1968, beginning at 3:45 a.m. Nine of the 138 occupants died, probably from smoke inhalation; 100 were rescued. But I was told by an eyewitness years later that “the rest fled on foot with bottles in their hands from the bar.” Washington Street was narrow at that point, and the elevated railway extended almost sidewalk-to-sidewalk, so the same eyewitness told me that ladders had to be erected from the railway to the windows of the hotel, some of the ladders extending almost horizontally. The building was razed shortly thereafter, to nobody’s grief.
Ruby Foo’s Den : A Chinese restaurant at 06 Hudson Street. Opened in 1929 by Ruby Foo (1904-1950) from San Francisco, who moved to Boston in 1923. Starting in a single room, it expanded and became the flagship restaurant of a chain under the Ruby Foo name in Providence, New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami. I became acquainted with the restaurant in New York, when I was at Farragut Academy in New Jersey. By the time I got to the Boston restaurant in 1955, it seemed a little shop worn, but the food was good, though hardly a gourmet’s delight. Popular as a hangout for the various species of celebrities during “the War,” as World War II was called by everyone old enough to have experienced it in the service or as a civilian, it had lost most of its luster as new places came along, but it remained as the only reason many people ever went to Chinatown.
Sailor Jake’s Fry Shop : A fry cookery at 549 Columbus Avenue at the corner of West Newton Street. There were, I think, four electric fryolators behind the counter under a hood with a whopping big and noisy exhaust fan powerful enough to suck the spots off a Dalmatian. Its housing vented directly through the wall to West Newton Street, and an unwary passerby was nearly asphyxiated with a cloud of grease vapor, but the smell was far reaching and great advertising. Besides a large reach-in refrigerator and a work table, I don’t remember any other equipment. There were delectable fried clams and fried fish served in Chinese-style take-out cartons. There were also French fries and onion rings and chicken, but little if anything else. There were bottles of Frank’s Hot Sauce on the counter, my favorite brand of hot sauce then and now: “Lends flavor, not just heat.” After an evening of pub crawling I would end up there and buy a half-pint of fried clams, sometimes an encore of the same, once in a while some fish and chips, sozzle on the hot sauce, and eat the clams or fish with my fingers, leaning on a shelf for the purpose against and across the expanse of the plate glass window. Next morning, my mouth would be somewhat abraded from the crunchy batter which, because I had been heedless in my chewing, suggested that I had been munching on shards of glass.
St. Botolph Street, 158 : Ed Fregosi of Proctor, Vermont, cousin of the Jim Fregosi who played for the Angels and later for the Mets, attended the summer session at Northeastern University with me for eight weeks, both of us pursuing a master’s degree in education, and we lived at this address in rooms 8 and 9 from 29 June through 21 August 1964, after having taught school for two semesters at the high school in Newbury, Vermont. Neither of us went back. In fact, none of the eight teachers in the high school did, because the Newbury School Board was a bit too light on remuneration. I was philosophical about it: in lieu of a student teaching course I had taken a teaching position without having any experience in teaching; it was a preceptorship, under the guidance of a skilled professional, Hope Rogers Kjellerup, M.A. (Mrs. Robert Kjellerup), a former professor of education at Lyndon State College. It was sink or swim, and I stayed afloat, at least. As a result, I was conferred the M.Ed. degree in 1965, and the degree entitled me to a Massachusetts life-time teaching credential in English and social studies at the secondary level, i.e., in high school. Nevertheless, I could make more money as a cook, and I did so at Ken’s at Copley in Boston.
Ed was a phys-ed teacher and coach and was very pleased that Bill Russell of the Celtics was in one of his classes. Ed had a Volkswagen Bug, and I got to drive it through some back alleys and among mews that I knew connected with places I wanted to go but where I didn’t care to walk without packing heat, and I had given that up by then, having sold my FN Model 1910 Browning .380 in Providence.
St. Cloud Hotel : At 565-69 Tremont Street, with its entrance at 567. It opened in 1872. In those days it had a tony dining room and a well-stocked bar and wine cellar. According to Henry Chamberlain, elderly barman at the Hotel Touraine, Boston, who used to mix them, the St. Cloud Cocktail was originated at the St. Cloud Hotel about 1895 by his paternal uncle Lawrence, who was barman there. The St. Cloud Cocktail shares some aspects with the White Lady and Pink Lady cocktails but tastes much better, mainly because it doesn’t contain gin. In 1963 I mixed one at the Touraine under Mr. Chamberlain’s direction for a lady who couldn’t decide what she wanted; and she liked it so well she wrote down the recipe, and so did I, as follows: Juice of half a lemon, white of one egg, 1 oz. white rum, ½ oz. Cherry Heering, ½ oz. Curaçao (the original clear type, not the blue). Shake well with cracked ice, strain into a 4 oz. cocktail glass, garnish with a stemmed cherry. The lady said she thought it tasted like crêpes Suzette! Today, we might substitute 1 Tbsp. of pasteurized egg white for the raw egg.
The St. Cloud Hotel was built in the Second Empire Louis Phillipe style with a mansard roof and a white marble exterior. It was still open for business in the 1950s and early 1960s and perhaps later, as a “transient hotel”; but it was a dreadful ruin of a building, eerie with decay, a victim of fallen plaster to the extent that structural members showed in places. There were gas-lights that, mercifully, no longer worked; electrical lines that were surface-mounted—and a long time ago; mottled walls that hadn’t been painted in 50 years or more; hopelessly, even bizarrely antiquated plumbing fixtures; and an atmosphere of dust, dirt, decrepitude, and dereliction. Yet, in some parts of the building, especially the dining room, partitioned to make several smaller rooms, there were still visible some architectural elements, such as ornamental plaster cornices and tall paneled pocket doors which still, almost miraculously, slid on tracks into the walls, that suggested the building was soundly built and must have been beautiful in the preceding century. By the late 1970s or early 1980s, it was an abandoned building, boarded up, broken into from time to time by homeless men desperate for shelter in cold or inclement weather.
One of residents in the 1960s was “Doc,” a deregistered pharmacist whom I knew slightly, hawk-nosed, about five feet ten, rail thin, weighing at most 145 pounds—belying that he was a regular diner at The Checker Smoker—who had a live-in office in one of the third-story rooms. Its walls and woodwork were grimy, some of its window panes were cracked and flyblown, and its furniture was as elderly and as decrepit as the hotel, all in great contrast with Doc, who was invariably clean and well barbered and manicured and a snazzy dresser with immaculate shoes. But he had little else to recommend him and emanated bad vibes. One might suspect that his office mirrored his soul and manifested it like Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey.
I remember Doc fondly, for I obtained various pills and botanicals from him, from time to time, and once, especially, a small bottle containing a Mickey Finn. After having had trouble with a loud-mouthed troglodyte at the Roosevelt Hotel Café a time or two, I happened to mention it to Doc, thinking of chloral hydrate, knockout drops, and asked if he could get some for me. He said he had a better remedy and got me some tincture of jalap, which is a violent purgative, and which is what a Mickey Finn really is, not knockout drops, a dose of which is also effective, but requires that the victim be carried from the premises. Doc showed up at the Roosevelt to see the effect. I nodded to Doc after I dumped the Mickey Finn into a glass of draft beer. After about 10 minutes the loudmouth suddenly decamped for the jakes. When he returned, he looked about ten pounds lighter, a rubber-legged, stunted doppelganger of himself, bent over with pain. Doc said his appearance suggested that he had extruded his whole upper body southward and hanged himself with his anus.
St. Moritz Hotel : At 329-331 Tremont Street, near Broadway. I had suite No. 16 (“sweet sixteen”), consisting of a bedroom, sitting room with “kitchenette,” and a bathroom, on the second floor from 04 September 1961 to 18 January 1963. It wasn’t originally that number, but I wanted it, because I liked the allusion to the song. After a visit to a hardware store I took the numbers off the door to my suite, put a good brass “1” and “6” on the door, and gave the original numbers to the manager, Samuel Pratt. He took on something fierce, but he became quite tractable when I dialed my boss in bill collecting, Il Speditore (The Dispatcher), who, after I explained the situation and handed the phone to Mr. Pratt, gave him some good advice. The hotel closed about the middle of 1969, I have been informed, and thereafter was a private residential building. I had an arrangement with the people I worked for: I wouldn’t photograph or question the origin of the works of art that appeared on and disappeared from the walls of my suite, as if by magic, and I would enjoy them for free.
Sevens The : 77 Charles Street. A well-known bar at the foot of Beacon Hill, in my time a hangout of law students from the B.U. Law School dormitory at # 24 Mount Vernon Street at the top of Beacon Hill and law students of Portia Law School (since 1969 New England School of Law) on Beacon Hill. If there was food there then I don’t recall anyone ever eating any. There was a sign on the left wall as one entered: “In 1776 Boston was the most revolting city in America.” Another sign, painted directly on the right wall, advised: “You are in the oldest condemned building in Boston. Why?” There were a few strange ones there from time to time. When I was an undergrad at the College of General Education at B.U., 1955-57, but, as a veteran of the Korean War, was allowed to live in the B.U. Law School dormitory with the graduate students, I saw a tall young woman in a booth flash her companions before sitting down with them to demonstrate that she was wearing absolutely zero beneath her raincoat. With black gloves and shoes she could have attended a masquerade ball as the five of spades. That sort of sophomoric stuff occurred there, but nothing really outré.
Schirmer’s (Boston Music Company), where I played the Guarnerius. (SEE: Boston Music Company.)
Schrafft’s Tea Room : 356 Boylston Street. One of my mother’s stops when she was in town. Always a pleasant stop for me when I was with her and, sometimes, when I was older and on my own. There was a Schafft’s on Milk Street and another at the Prudential Center on Huntington Avenue. And one at 144 Federal Street.
Sheraton-Boston Hotel : SEE the Falstaff Room restaurant.
Shreve, Crump & Low Co. : 330 Boylston Street, jewelers, silversmiths, purveyors of antiques. One of my ancestral cousins, Henry Burrell Stanwood (1817-1868) was a silversmith in Boston, coming to Boston from Gloucester in 1833. He became a partner with William Harris from 1839 to 1850 as Harris & Stanwood. The firm became H. B. Stanwood & Co. from 1850 to 1855, and evolved to the present Shreve, Crump and Low Co. in 1869. We have six coin-silver soup spoons made by Stanwood, which I prize and enjoy using, as I am fond of soup. For years I visited Shreve, Crump & Low a couple of times a year—and I actually bought a few things there!
Silver Dollar Bar : At 640-2 Washington Street. About 1962 it became the Two O-Clock Lounge. At present (2010) it is the site of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Established in the early 1930s, it was popular with Armed Forces personnel during the War and an infamous den of iniquity long before its area was designated Boston’s “Combat Zone.” Yet, there was quality dining and dancing, and some ranking as well as rank entertainers performed there. Our cousin, Pearl Goodhue [Godu] warbled songs and played the piano there in the ‘40s and ‘50s. My father jocularly referred to her as “an osteopathic mezzo,” because “she sang in all the joints.” I have a photograph of my parents and paternal aunt Mamie that was taken there in the 1940s; they don’t look very happy. A 1947 Life Magazine article described it as “famous” and “gaudy” in prose that reveled in sordid details.
Simmons College : Having its administrative building at 300 The Fenway, it is a well-known women’s college founded in 1899 that became a university about 1980 and was known in my time as “the women’s M.I.T.” By the 1960s it allowed men to pursue its graduate degrees, so I submitted my credentials, which included, by that time, the attainment of three master’s degrees—in education, English and library science—from Northeastern, UMD, and the U. of Illinois, plus experience in teaching in high school and community college, and two and a half years of experience in library management. I was interviewed for admission to the doctoral program in library management and was accepted. I attended Simmons full time during 1976-1977, commuting on the M.T.A. from Wollaston, where I lived with my wife from Minnesota in an apartment upstairs in the home of a family friend. I was 42, and a man knows he is old when pulchritudinous young women make way for him when he approaches an elevator and say, “Good morning, Sir.” In June of 1977 I was conferred the degree of D.A. (Doctor of Arts / Artium Doctor / docteur ès arts) in library management and did well enough academically to be initiated into Beta Phi Mu, the international honor society for library and information science and information technology. One would think that commo slickers could come up with a shorter spiel!
South End Realty Co. : At 678 Tremont Street, managed by Jean Mitchell. It was an agency for the sale and leasing of property, both buildings and apartments, and, in some instances, rooms, depending on its contracts. It was also a collection agency for rents, contracting with my Aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie) to collect her rents for her; and it was through her I was hired as a collection agent in 1960. But eventually, by referrals from the South End Realty Co., I became a collection agent for vigs owed shylocks, bounced checks purchased by speculators, and unofficial property insurance (“protection”)—all the business of second parties who managed their own operations and were not affiliated with the South End Realty Co. At that time I was a little over six feet one in shoes and weighed about 210 lbs., but I was no match for some of the bozos I collected from, and, besides, I was paid to collect, not strongarm. So, for those collections I had as an associate a tall and burley man, Enrico LoPresto, who wanted to be called “Henry.” “But Enrico means Henry, and you look Italian,” I said. “I know it, but call me Henry.” I called him Henry. He carried rubber gloves and a pair of pliers in his pockets. Recalcitrant debtors quailed when Henry laid the pliers on a table and started putting on the gloves. We never failed to collect, unless a debtor skipped town, though sometimes it took perseverance; and once I was sucker-punched on the right temple and addled and afflicted with double vision and nausea for two days or more, having no recollection of how I got home, but doubtless owing the trip to Henry, who had been solicitous enough to remove my jacket, shoes and tie and open my collar. By some kind of auto-pilot I managed to get to the bathroom, though I didn’t remember it. Henry said he looked in on me a couple of times a day. He also related that he made the perpetrator wish he hadn’t been so free with his fists by jimmying some elevator doors and dumping him two floors down the shaft, where he landed on top of the car, an account that was probably true, as next time the man paid with alacrity. Henry had it right: they always have the money or can get it; it’s just a question of their establishing a priority. Part of our job was helping them establish it. Bill collecting was one of many jobs I had that could be accomplished at part time, and, largely, when I found the time to do it. SEE ALSO: 104 West Canton Street.
South Station : The stop in Boston when Chef Albert E. Chasas, Michael Rhynne, and I and others from Teel’s Cabin, such as Ray Potter, a black man who was an accomplished pastry cook and raconteur, came up to Boston via Budd Car from North Abington. When I was alone, I often had breakfast at the Waldorf Cafeteria right across Dewey Square. But also across the square was the Essex Hotel; and when I was with Al and Ray, it was our next stop, to get a “Big Orange” with Ray. That drink was made to Ray’s specifications and was nothing more—but that was plenty—than a screwdriver in a tall glass but made with Bacardi white rum instead of vodka. The ritual was to pour chilled freshly squeezed orange juice and chilled white rum—both kept in a reefer—over ice cubes in a chilled tall glass with a sugar-frosted rim. Tasty. Served with a straw and a garnish of a slice of orange if one wanted to be fancy. We didn’t. Eventually, I worked at that bar as a relief bartender, and I still have the recipe for the Essex Hotel Tom & Jerry mix, which makes a delightful quaff on a frosty evening. I always credited Ray when I made a Big Orange, which was often after someone was introduced to one.
Station Four : Boston Police Department’s D-4 (District 4) police station at 07 Warren Avenue, corner of Berkeley Street. Old-time South Enders never said “D-4”—always “Station 4.” Built in 1932, during the 1930s to the 1960s and perhaps later it was the busiest police station in Boston. It was converted to 26 condominiums ca 2005. The new D-4 is at 650 Harrison Avenue and is likely still the busiest, as it serves the South End, Back Bay, Lower Roxbury, and the Fenway. When Aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie) and I and Henry (Enrico) LoPresto were busted for stealing Charley Batson’s wooden leg—intending to hold it for ransom, i.e., until he paid his rent—we were taken to the old Station 4 in a cruiser. SEE ALSO: 104 West Canton Street.
Statler-Hilton Hotel : At 64 Arlington Street. Built in 1927 as the Statler Hotel, it became the Statler-Hilton about 1954 after Conrad Hilton bought the Statler assets, and after my time in Boston it became the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. From 03 September 1962 to 18 January 1963 I was a chef de partie or line cook on the breakfast shift in the Pilgrim Room and wore a tall mushroom-shaped toque, because we were visible to the breakfasters and the management wanted its cooks to all look like chefs. I already had the rank of sous-chef (under-chef), earned the hard way at Teel’s Cabin and bolstered by varied cooking experience elsewhere before and after that, but I was a newcomer at the Statler-Hilton and lucky to be a line cook. I was years away in experience from the rank of chef de cuisine. If I recall correctly, the sous-chef to whom I reported at the Statler-Hilton was M. Raoul Bédard. During that time, I lived at the St. Moritz Hotel. Following that job, I became a full-time graduate student at Northeastern University and removed to 244 West Newton Street.
A singular incident at the Statler-Hilton I shall always remember: an overflow of water from a faulty shut-off valve on a coffee urn boiler flooded an electric Thurmaduke waterless hot table, an oxymoronic “waterless steam table”—and three of us immediately started dipping out the water with pots and pans and sopping up spillage with cloths. There was, perhaps, a slight risk of electrocution, but we did what we had to do. We managed to find a valve further down the plumbing line and shut it. Meanwhile, the coffee station tender, a kitchen man who had few other duties, just stood around and gave us no help. Shouts to him to pitch in were unavailing. After the furor he stated: “It’s not my job. I do only my job. I follow the Union Book. Otherwise, I would get into trouble.” He got into trouble all right. He found it a difficult place to work and left shortly thereafter. The purpose of a union is to stand up to management, but not to shaft the lads while doing so.
Steuben’s : A restaurant and nightclub at 114 Boylston Street near Tremont, in the Theater dis-trict, established 1948, closed in the early 1970s. Max Schneider was the manager and a co-proprietor with his brother Joseph. There were five rooms: the Dutch Room served lunch, such as lobster and turkey specials, to shoppers; the Vienna Room served elegant dinners and the patrons could waltz to the music of Johann Strauss II, Waldteuffel, etc.; the Blue Room, which had predictably blue walls and was inspired, so it was said, by the song of that name, had a general menu and featured non-descript “cocktail” music by pianists and small orchestras; the Cave, which had Latin Music and an à la carte menu; and the Café Midnight, which catered to the late crowd, such as celebrities who came there to unwind after their shows elsewhere, served à la carte food and pretty much whatever weird stuff might be ordered if it could be conjured up from what the kitchen had. All the food came from the same kitchen. I was the garde-manger, pantry-man, there from 04 September to 31 December 1961, having installed myself at the nearby St. Moritz Hotel on 04 September 1961. Employees ate well at Steuben’s, but they worked their arses off. In four months at Steuben’s I must have made at least 3,000 sandwiches, using as a slicer a 13-inch French knife I bought for the purpose by mail-order from Herter’s, Waseca, Minnesota. I also made vast quantities of potato salad, egg salad, gelatin desserts, aspics for meats, patés, citrus macedoines and various puddings.
Sumner Tunnel : A road tunnel under Boston Harbor. Opened in 1934, the year of my birth, it carried traffic between Logan International Airport and the North End, East Boston, until the completion of the parallel Callahan Tunnel in 1961, at which time the Sumner was restricted to traffic from Logan and the Callahan to traffic to Logan. The Sumner Tunnel was named after William H. Sumner, son of Governor Increase Sumner; and I discovered at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, while working on my mother’s genealogy, that the latter was a co-descendant with her of William Sumner (1605-1688) of Dorchester, born in Bicester, Oxfordshire, who became a Deputy to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 2010 my spouse and I visited Bicester and went to the churchyard where William Sumner and his father, Roger, and their wives, are buried.
Symphony Hall : At 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Back Bay. Built in 1900 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and still its venue (2010), as it is for the Boston Pops and the Handel and Haydn Society.
Teel’s Cabin Restaurant : At 1235 Bedford Street, North Abington, Massachusetts, on Route 18, once the main highway to Cape Cod. Known for its extensive bill of fare, excellent cuisine and moderate prices. Established in 1930, it did a high-volume business until its proprietor sold the business in 1962 and retired. I worked there from 23 September 1957 to 21 May 1958 and from 24 January to 14 June 1961, starting as an apprentice cook (apprenti de cuisine) and attaining the rank of first cook (sous-chef) in record time. It was a great experience that I have treasured all of my life. The founder and owner-manager was maître chef Leon Petrus Bosteels (1898-1983), a man whom I liked and admired and remember with much affection. Albert E. Chasas was the working chef there, the chef de cuisine. We were friends for 30 years until his death.
Titlist, The Terrier : This was the caption under the weekly photo of a pretty girl on campus published in the Boston University student newspaper, B. U. News (published 1916 to 1977), which was student-run and university-funded. There were bushels of pretty girls at B.U., so it was a mystery how the girl was chosen and by whom. The weekly choice was known as “The Titlist,” pronounced in three syllables as “ty.til.ist,” and meaning “title holder,” but no one knew what the “title” was.
Toll House Inn, The : In Whitman, Massachusetts, on Route 18, once the main highway from Boston to Cape Cod. Built in 1709, it was a large Cape Cod-style house half way between Bedford and Boston on the outskirts of Whitman, Mass., where stagecoach passengers paid toll, changed horses and ate meals. Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield bought the house in 1930, restored and updated it, and reopened it as the Toll House Inn; and in that year Mrs. Wakefield originated the world famous Toll House Cookie, using broken up Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bars—chocolate bits came about as a result of her recipe. But the restaurant was also noted for good New England regional food. I can attest to that, having eaten there a few times during the 1950s before I went to Mexico. Chef Albert E. Chasas worked there from 1965 to 1968 and from 1975 to 1979, 1965 being the last year Ruth Wakefield was still the proprietress; but the cookies had long been made elsewhere by a commercial bakery. The Wakefields sold the inn in 1966 to a family with more money than brains that tried to make it into a nightclub. In 1970 it was bought by the Saccone family, who turned it back into its original form and traditional cuisine. Sadly, the Toll House burned on New Year’s Eve in 1984 and was not rebuilt. Accompanied by my wife and children during a 10-day tour of New England in 1995, I traveled to Whitman to eat at the Toll House again and learned of its fate.
Touraine Hotel : At the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets, the “Breezy Corner.” Erected in 1910, it was mother’s favorite hotel in Boston, because of its proximity by shank’s mare to most things she liked. In addition to being a first-class hotel in a central location with a premier restaurant and a very well-stocked bar, the Touraine was known for having the largest and best hotel library in New England. It was a lending library, as well as a reference center for business men, with street directories of most of the larger cities and towns in New England and upper New York State. My father prided himself for having in his inn at Claremont, N.H., the biggest hotel library—some 4,000 to 4,200 books—north of the Touraine.
When I was a lad about 10 years of age, I accompanied my parents to the Touraine for dinner. I ordered roast stuffed chicken and was served the chicken’s crop along with the meat and dressing. My father noticed what had happened as I cut into it and looked at it askance. Summoning the waiter resulted in the chef coming from the kitchen in his whites to our table. He apologized personally for the egregious error of his staff. My father arose and shook his hand, they exchanged a few words in French, and Bob’s your uncle. The chef bore my plate back to the kitchen. In exchange, I got a Delmonico steak with mushrooms. There was no charge for our dinner. Fifteen years later, I was a relief bartender at that grand old hotel. It is now, I am informed, a building metamorphosed to condominiums.
Tremont Street, 610 : One of the houses owned by my paternal Aunt Mamie (Adele-Euphemie). In 1928 my paternal grandfather, Amable IV, aged 84, fell down the stairs to the cellar there and died at Boston General Hospital the next day of a cerebral hemorrhage. Built in 1899, a large house on the corner of West Dedham Street, it was owned by my aunt by 1924, I think, but she had sold it by 1948. At some time in the house’s history, the wall at street level was fitted with a door and shop window and converted to a market and later a drugstore with the address of 610A.
Union Oyster House, Ye olde : At 41 Union Street in a picturesque, Georgian-style, laterally bent building (to follow the curve of the street) with a gambrel roof. Established in 1826. Quaint. Its boast of being “America’s oldest restaurant” may be based on fact. Good menu, good food, good ambience. Definitely worth dining there. If you like politicians you will love the place. Not my cup of chowder.
Vendôme Hotel, The : At 160 Commonwealth Avenue on the SW corner of Dartmouth Street. Easily Boston’s most genteel hotel for the upper-crust. It had an especially well-stocked bar with a few rarities, such as a goodly sampling of single-malt Scots whisky, which I do not care for, preferring any kind of Irish whiskey to any kind of Scots. It also had—far less likely found than Pimm’s Cups Nos. 1 (gin) and 2 (Scots whisky), the first which I despise and the second deplore—the estimable Pimm’s Cups Nos. 3 (brandy), 4 (rum), and 5 (rye), all of which I like very much, taken over cracked ice. Built in 1871 in the French Second Empire style, with Mansard rooves, part of the Vendôme burned on 17 June 1972, and nine fire fighters died when a wall collapsed after the fire was out. A memorial fund was established to assist their survivors.
From 1957 et seq., now and then, I was an escort and body guard to a lady residing at the Vendôme. She was an elderly gentlewoman, a widow, and our relationship was strictly profess- ional. I answered an advertisement for the position of an occasional “private secretary”; she interviewed me during tea; and she had me investigated, which included enquiries of at least two of my professors at B.U., Morton Margolis and G. Norman Eddy, who had permitted me to name them as references for positions that might become available; and so (about the investigation) the former wrote me in a note. She utilized a long cane as she walked, almost a staff, and I had to be careful not to trip on it. She never paid me for services, but she paid for meals, tips, tickets, and taxis for every place we went, mostly concerts, art galleries, historic houses and other buildings and sites, historical societies and collections, and restaurants. I enjoyed every place we went. Occasionally I received a gift. We became good acquaintances, as close to friends as our relationship permitted, and I learned to appreciate the concerns and wisdom of the elderly. She was the archetypical grande dame, but very kind. There were some important people at her funeral, but I may have been among the principal mourners.
Vin & Eddie’s Supper Club : At 1400 Bedford Street, Route 18, Abington, Massachusetts. Established in 1955 by Vincenzo Travi, it was not a rival of Teel’s Cabin restaurant in North Abington, but an alternative to it. Featuring northern Italian cuisine, it served excellent food, and it was worth driving from Boston to eat there, if only to get out of town for a while and spend some time with a sweetie, an observation conveyed to me by others but one I support. I dined there a number of times in the 1950s and early 1960s; and my wife Marian and I, when we removed from Minnesota to New England in 1973, had the pleasure of dining there with Chef Albert E. Chasas and his wife Nancy.
Vose Galleries of Boston, Inc. : 559 Boylston Street, established in 1841. “Importers and dealers in paintings of quality / by old and modern masters / framing and shipping / restoring and appraising by experts. Mother was a some-time customer and may have bought our painting, “Sleep of Tartini,” by Ruggieri, there.
Wally’s Paradise : at “Crosstown,” 428 Massachusetts Avenue, at the intersection of Colum- bus Avenue. The oldest and probably the premier black nightclub in Boston, famous for the big-name jazz musicians that played there as well as some talented newcomers. Fewer white cus- tomers than at Morley’s. In 1979 it moved to 427 Massachusetts Avenue, directly across the avenue and on the same side, and was renamed Wally’s Jazz Club. SEE also: The Hi-Hat and Morley’s Café, Inc.
Walter’s Lounge : at 707 Dudley Street, near Upham’s Corner, Dorchester. Despite its name, it was owned by Edward A. “Wimpy” Bennet (1919-1967); his brother, Walter Bennet, was the manager. Another brother, William, “Billy,” worked there. The Bennets controlled a substantial numbers game and loan-sharking enterprise throughout Dorchester and Roxbury and were allies of, but distinct from, the Winter Hill mob of Somerville. All three of the Bennets were murdered in 1967, Wimpy in January, Walter in April, and Billy in December. Wimpy and his friend John Buccelli were indicted in 1958 as accessories in the 1950 Brinks armored car robbery following a police raid on a residence where Wimpy had cached $90,000.00 of the Brinks money in his office. Wimpy was not charged but Buccelli was sent up for a while. Wimpy was reputed to have been the mentor of Stevie and Jimmy the Bear Flemmi, one or both of whom likely did him in. While I was walking on the 400 block of Tremont Street on its west side with my Aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie) about 1956, we encountered Wimpy, and I was introduced to him by my aunt, who had known him since he was a child. He said I should look him up at Walter’s Lounge. Eventually I did that but decided early that he was better to have as an acquaintance than as an associate. I doubt extremely that my aunt had any idea of how Wimpy made his living.
West Brookline Street, 186 : One of the several houses in the South End owned by my paternal Aunt Mamie (Adèle-Euphémie), who was 46 years older than I. She installed me in a street-level suite of rooms, which had once been the dining room and kitchen of an excellent town house, built in 1865 with the original lead plumbing, its crimped and soldered segments observable along the walls, with a bathroom adjacent to the laundry room in the walk-out basement. In my parlor or living room, which had been the dining room long ago, was a marble mantlepiece with an arched cast-iron insert that was a gas fireplace. My aunt said it still worked, but I never tried to light it. At the opposite end of West Brookline from Tremont was the Concord Baptist Church, built in 1869, at the north corner of Warren Avenue. I lived at 186 West Brookline Street from about the middle of September, 1956, to 30 June 1957, while I attended my second year of Boston University’s College of General Education. It was really my aunt’s apartment, but she preferred to live on Batavia Street, as she called it, which had long been renamed Symphony Road. She dropped in frequently, and she collected my rent assiduously. On 30 June 1957 she gave me a refund check for the full amount!
West Brookline Street Café : At 655 Tremont Street on the corner of West Brookline Street. One of the most antiquated eateries in metropolitan Boston, its equipment, furniture and décor were ca 1910 or even earlier, but the place was clean and the food excellent. The dishes were heavy crockery and looked 19th Century. The floor was oyster-cracker grey tile and the counter a species of dark green marble. The walls were paneled to about six feet from the floor with a dark wood, perhaps cherry emulating mahogany, above which the walls were cream-colored to the ceiling, overlaid with a small magenta criss-cross pattern, perhaps impressed into steel from the reverse side and highlighted on the raised portions with paint from a roller. The lighting was gas fixtures adapted to electricity. Sometimes one can see a place like it in a silent movie. I ate many a breakfast there and always felt that I had stepped back in time. The dropped (poached) eggs on toast were perfect, the eggs just right and drained on a cloth napkin so that the toast they were served on stayed crisp. It was right across the street from a corner drugstore, the Brookline Pharmacy, Inc., at 652 Tremont Street, at which corner one boarded a trolley to Park Street. Bless the proprietor of that drugstore! He didn’t mind if one waited in his store for a trolley when the weather was inclement.
West Canton Street, 104 : The residence, on the first floor, of One-Legged Charley Batson, whose artificial right leg my Aunt Mamie, Henry LoPresto and I removed to hold for ransom until he paid his rent. Mamie had more than 50 accounts to collect each month for rooms, apartments, houses; and she paid a small percentage of each account to a real estate agency which made the collections for her. It was the South End Realty Co., at 678 Tremont Street. Eventually, I worked for that agency and made hundreds of collections with a large man as an associate. We always got the money: people always had it or could get it. But one account was that of the one-legged man who roomed at 104 West Canton Street. Neither I nor my large associate, Henry (Enrico) LoPresto, felt comfortable putting the arm on him or threatening him with bodily harm, so we let the account drag on for a few weeks until I had a chance to tell Mamie about it.
“Why, that’s One-Legged Charley Batson,” she laughed, pronouncing “legged,” in two syllables, as I learned that everybody did. “He’s a professional beggar and an amateur thief and he’s worth a hundred thousand dollars, but he’s so cheap he lives in a rooming house. Let’s go get him!”
So we did. After telephoning Henry we took a taxi from her apartment on Batavia Street (Sym-phony Road) to West Canton Street and waited no more than five minutes for Henry to show up and extricate himself from a taxi.
We found Charlie in. “Where’s my money, you old faker? You flim-flammed my nephew, but you can’t fool me!”
Charley leaped backwards but moved too quickly for his wooden leg to catch up and it tripped him. Mamie saw him about to fall and pushed him onto a couch. “Pull his pants down!” she said. “We’ll hold his leg for ransom!”
Mamie managed to pull down his suspenders but had to dodge his flailing arms. Henry grabbed his wrists and I unbuttoned his waistband, yanked down his pants, unhooked the leg from a waist harness, and pulled off pants and leg. Charley screamed something foul and rolled off the couch and tried to stand up.
Mamie hollered, “Let’s go!” and charged out the door with leg and pants under one arm. Henry and I followed her, and we ran down the street with Charley hopping after us shouting “Stop them, they stole my leg!” We realized our folly in not having a taxi waiting for us and not having made better plans, but it was too late. Mamie separated the pants from the leg and Henry tossed them through an open window on our way. It was just our luck that a police cruiser hove into sight as we rounded the corner of Tremont Street, and it braked ahead of us, tires squealing. Two grinning cops bore down on us, and we were at Station 4 in short order. Another cruiser was radioed and picked up Charley.
The older flatties at the station recognized Mamie, who had been a fixture in the South End for 50 years, and they were respectful and polite, but they had no sympathy for One-Legged Charley. I spoke quietly to him and suggested that if he pressed charges for assault, some of the lads I knew would impair the utility of his remaining leg. Big talk, but he believed it.
Mamie said that if he didn’t pay up he could find other lodging and she would see him in small claims court, besides. Sheepishly, Charley said he would pay up as soon as he could get to his checkbook. “They always have money,” said Henry, or they can get it!”
We left, Charley with his leg back on and wearing pants from the police collection. “You should- n’t have done that, Mamie; you have no heart!” he called out, as Mamie and I got into a cab and Henry got into another.
“Go buy a roller skate and some ski poles and scoot off to Schenectady,” she retorted, “You’re just a lying miser!” And we were off. SEE also: South End Realty Co.
West Newton Street, 244 : An excellent house, built in 1890. Queen Ann-style Victorian. When I left my job at the Statler Hilton, I gave up my suite at the St. Moritz Hotel and took a vacation at home in New Hampshire and Vermont. On returning to Boston, I rented Room 08 at 244 West Newton Street from 30 January through 08 June 1963, while I was pursuing a Master of Education degree program at Northeastern University. According to a newspaper article. it was right next door to the residence, or one of the residences, of the Boston Strangler, who murdered eleven women from 1962 to 1964. We may have waved hello, going up or down our adjacent walkways.
Windsor Café : At 608 Tremont Street, on the east (left, coming from downtown) side of the street, South End. A beer and liquor bar, it was a hangout for petty and wannabe big-time thieves and other baddies. I have been informed by people who certainly knew, that one of the parting farewells for someone leaving a holding tank, lockup, or prison was “Meet me at the Windsor,” it being understood that the time would be when the person addressed got out.
Wonderland Dog Track, Revere : Just 25 minutes from Park Street via the MTA. Some people who went there put carfare—one dime—in a locker at Revere Station before going to the track, so that they would be sure to have carfare home.
Wursthauss, The : At 04 Boylston Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, a few moments’ walk from the Red Line terminus. Its sign proclaimed “Gutes Essen” (Good Food), which was no lie. Established in 1917, and catering to academics and students, as one would expect from its loca-tion, it was an upstairs restaurant with a shrouded-in-gloom darkness but a very large selection of beers and ales and a representative menu of German food and snacks. The food was solid and full of calories, such as spaetzle soup with a rich, fatty broth; sauerbraten with ginger snap sauce; a myriad of sausage sandwiches; a wonderful hot potato salad with bacon, piquant with just a few drops of vinegar. Its cuisine did not compare with that of Jacob Wirth’s in downtown Boston nor of The Old Vienna Hofbrau in Alston, but it was tasty. Moreover, it was great to have a restaurant with an ethnic cuisine of its type, since there are so few Germans in New England, and it was a welcome change from so many southern Italian spaghetti joints, for, as good as some of them are, Master Chef Leon P. Bosteels said it best: “There are only so many ways to torture a tomato.” The Wursthauss was the nearly unanimous choice of the graduating class of doctoral students from the library school of Simmons College in 1977 for a last social gathering. I had the bratwurst and sauerkraut with a double helping of the latter, a tablespoonful of Düsseldorf mustard alongside, and mashed potatoes drenched in brown gravy. Pumpernickel bread and butter. With a bottle of Beck’s. Maybe two. “Next to sex, it’s Beck’s,” as the actress said to the bishop.