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...