Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fare-thee-well, Locke-Ober’s

I seldom get to use the word ‘bastion’ in conversation or in blogging, but the shuttering of Locke-Ober’s restaurant really leaves me with not much of a choice: Locke’s was, for many years, an absolute bastion of Boston’s WASP business community.

It was so bastion-y that women could only dine in the main dining room on the day of the Harvard-Yale game (when the game was played here), or in one of the warren of private dining rooms on the second floor.

Presidents visited, along with sports stars, Hollywood actors, and power brokers from coast to coast. Some diners were so regular that the Globe once published a map of the dining room showing who sat where. When customers died, their chairs were leaned against the tables to signify the loss. (Source: Boston.com)

Wonder how long those chairs were cocked? Maybe it made a difference whether you were Quentin Tetley Brewster III and Quentin Tetley Brewster IV…

Anyway, after Durgin-Park and the Union Oyster House, Locke’s was the oldest restaurant in Boston. And the only one of  the big, old three that I never worked in. Maybe something to do with there being no waitresses there during my waiting days.

It is, however, the only one of the big,old three where I ever ate more than once or twice over the years (other than the free grub Union and Durgin fed us workers, which doesn’t count).

Yes, although I’m not now, never have been, and never will be part of haute WASP Boston (which really doesn’t even exist any more, as far as I can tell), at one point in my life I ate with some regularity at Locke’s, in both the first floor dining room (after it went co-ed) and in the intimate little upstairs rooms. I also drank at the bar on occasion. (Champagne cocktails.)

Maybe I haven’t been there in, twenty years. Maybe thirty.

The food, in my dining days there, was pretty much haute Boston WASP: oyster stew, lobster stew, liver and onions, iceberg lettuce wedge with Russian dressing…

It probably hadn’t changed much from 1875.

Well, even though I haven’t eaten at Locke’s at any point during the last 25 years, I am at this very moment missing the oyster stew.

Most of my visits to Locke’s were Saturday lunches with my husband, so I’m not just missing the oyster stew, but having a bit of nostalgia for my personal good old days (30 years/20 pounds, or is it 20 years/30 pounds?)

I also had a couple of business dinners there.

Most memorably, I was the junior member of a team that was trying to get a couple of investors to partner with my then-company on a product aimed at money managers. The crew at this dinner was the company president, a VP, my boss, me, and our potential investors, Neil and Larry.

During the period when we were trying to woo Neil and Larry, the company was going through a major wrangle with a very prominent company in the financial services industry. We had just settled with the company, and those of us who knew about the situation and the settlement had been told that mentioning it outside of the company was a firing offense.

Fair enough.

At the dinner, the company president – as haute-WASP an individual as I ever worked with – slammed down a couple of Negronis, and proceeded to blab all about our touchy situation and settlement to Neil and Larry.

At least we were in one of those private dining rooms!

Anyway, we ended up developing a prototype with a lot of input from Neil and Larry, but without the infusion of any Neil and Larry cash. Maybe they were afraid that we’d piss it away on another settlement.

And now Locke’s is no more…

“Here’s what I was faced with,” [David] Ray continued. “I had a choice. Make Locke-Ober more casual, lower our standards to conform with the way society is today, or I could close it. I could close it with its history and its dignity intact. Because, frankly, it looked as good as it’s ever looked. The service was good, and the food was good.”

There are plenty of online quibblers about whether the service and/or the food was good. And that “lower our standards to conform to the way society is today” sounds a bit peck-sniffy. Maybe it’s just that tastes change and life goes on.

Practically speaking, I won’t miss Locke-Ober’s.

But I have to confess that I will miss the idea of it.

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