Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Twilight of the Clamstrips

Oh, dear - here's one that I wish were in fact an April Fool's joke...

My beacon of calm reason (and occasional, as here, bad news), All Things Considered, reported this afternoon on the closing of one of only three Howard Johnson's restaurants left in all of these United States.  Yes, with Lake Placid gone, it seems that fans of tutti-frutti ice cream and clam dinners now have to go either to Bangor, Maine, or Lake George, New York.  I really had no idea that the venerable chain (can one even call only two restaurants a chain, anyway?) had hit such hard times.

My Howard Johnson's, I suppose, wasn't really a typical one - it was the one in Times Square, smack on the corner of Broadway and 46th, right in the heart of Olde Manhattan.  It didn't have the trademark orange roof, but it did have clamstrips, killer cocktails and a very colorful upstairs neighbor, the Gaiety Burlesk.

All that is gone now, and has been, I believe, a decade or so.  But oh, for the nights we spent there!  My dear departed friend Bruce loved HoJo's - watching the collision of humanity as the tourists from Cats encountered the Gaiety dancers (on a break or negotiating a delicate transaction with a patron in one of the back booths) and just generally delighting in the seedy majesty that was Pre-Disney Times Square.  We'd spend long evenings gawking at the passers-by, alternating Old Fashioneds and root beer floats, relishing the occasional celebrity sighting - Chita Rivera striding down the Avenue on her way to Spider Woman, say, or Robin Byrd doing whatever it was that she did when not on Channel J,  Bruce had a regular table, in the window at the corner, and people would come and go, on the way to wait table or stopping in after a gig at Don't Tell Mama or some other tawdrier joint.  It wasn't quite the Algonquin, maybe, but we certainly did enjoy ourselves.

I don't suppose the Lake Placed branch was ever quite so festive, but even so I'm sad to see it go.  It's going to be replaced, I've read, by an "upscale roadside diner," which I suppose means artisanal burgers and lots of commercially produced "microbrew" beers.  I only hope they give at least a nod to the storied past and serve some decent fried clams...


  1. I remember well that HoJo in Times Square. I worked on 44th & Broadway and my co-workers and I would end up at HoJo’s at all sorts of hours. We people-watched during conversations that had us laughing so hard we were in tears. Yet for the life of me I can’t remember what the heck was so funny. I guess it was just our youth. Perhaps you and I may have crossed paths at some point.

    Times Square was a seedy garbage can back then, but I liked it better than the Disney in Tokyo look of today.

    The last HoJo in my current suburban area became an Outback Steakhouse. Not nearly as much fun. Thanks for the memories.

  2. As a classic "starving actor" in the early 80's, the 46th St. Ho Jo's happy hour (in the tiny bar area on the west end of the joint) was a lifesaver. You could fill up on endless plates from the warming trays of complimentary mini franks and chicken wings for the price of a club soda. Originally found it in the "Cheap Eats" section of the now defunct Actors' Datebook & Survival Quide. No, it wasn't the Algonquin (hell, it wasn't even PJ Moran's), but it was a hub and often a savior, and I miss it every time I walk past!