Friday, April 01, 2016

Anthony’s Pier 4: bringing on the wrecking ball

When I first moved to Boston, in the late 1960’s, the city wasn’t exactly known as the gourmet capital of the world.

Not that anyone would have expected it to be.

For one thing, few folks were as into food as they are now. Fewer meals were eaten out. Restaurants offered generally bland, meat and potatoes fare. (London Broil, anyone?) Exotic was red sauce Italian and sweet-and-sour sauce Chinese.

Not that I would have known all that much about dining out when I first came to Boston.

My family went out to eat en famille once a year, to the Fox Lounge for steak sandwiches, fries, and salads – still, one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.

When I went out with friends, it was mostly to Friendly’s.

The scene changed a bit when I got to Boston, but not all that dramatically. I was in college. No one had much money. And people just didn’t eat out that regularly. When we went out, it was generally to one of these now-defunct restaurants: Pewter Pot (muffin-house), Jack & Marian’s (deli where I once witnessed a knife fight in their open kitchen), or Ken’s (upscale, relatively speaking, deli – great cheesecake). Marliave’s was another, more special occasion, restaurant. The old Marliave’s (ancient waiters serving red-sauce Italian dishes) has been replaced by the new Marliave’s, a yuppified bistro.

My friends and I were, of course, aware of the big-time Boston restaurants (all, come to think of it, now defunct).

These was Locke-Ober’s, which served WASP-i-fied fare like oyster stew, and only opened its main dining room to women on the day the Harvard-Yale Game was played in Boston. Fight fiercely, Harvard, and then retire to Locke’s for oyster stew and Indian pudding.

There was Café Budapest, with décor that would have been right at home in Hitler-era Berchtesgaden.

And Anthony’s Pier Four, known for its “celebrity” clientele – think pols and the Rat Pack when they were in town – and for its delicious popovers.

Locke’s didn’t start “admitting” women until 1971, and I first ate there in the mid-1970’s. The oyster stew was pretty good, as I recall.

But on special occasions in college – someone’s 21st birthday or my roommate’s mother and maiden aunts in town – we did eat at the Budapest or Anthony’s.

And one summer, I applied for a job at Anthony’s, but got turned down. The reason given was that I had no experience with tray service, but I think Anthony – who inspected all the girls before anyone was hired – thought that, with my long hair and hoop earrings, I looked like too much of a radical, a hippie, or worse. In his mind, he probably saw me advancing on Sharon Tate with the Manson family.

But mostly, even when I started eating out all the time, I didn’t eat at Anthony’s.

It was boring, pedestrian, and so ridiculously retro: the epitome of 1960’s everything. Once in a while, when my husband and I were out for a Sunday walk and ended up on the waterfront, we’d stop there for a cup of chowder. We’d look at the Rat Pack pictures, note how much that had been “glam” in the 1960’s – the captains’ chairs, all the dark wood and red carpet – was worn out. And the waitresses – and Anthony, who was always there – were worn down. We’d laugh that, even though we were in our fifties, the average age of the diners appeared to be seventy-five. (Sometimes, for a change of pace, we’d stop at Jimmy’s Harborside, Anthony’s across-the-way and kitty-corner archrival, which was much the same deal, right down to the old folks there with their grandkids.)

Anthony’s closed a couple of years ago and I suspect that most of those who would have missed it were no longer alive.

But it was one of those classic Boston spots.

In truth, it hasn’t been the same since its add-on cocktail lounge – the 160328_MJ_001-5795Peter Stuyvesant, an old Hudson River passenger steamer parked alongside the main restaurant  – sunk during the Blizzard of 1978. (It may have keeled over during the Blizzard, but I believe it was left there, listing in the drink, for decades after. A symbol, I’m afraid, of the way Anthony’s Pier 4 was heading.)

Fast forward, and an area that had little to offer other than Anthony’s and Jimmy’s is almost completely built up – office buildings, luxe condos, a convention center, hotels, upscale restaurants, the Institute of Contemporary Art, fancy new Federal court house, nifty harbor walk – and the real estate that Anthony’s is sitting on is really, really valuable.

So they’re bringing on the wrecking ball.

It’s not exactly as if they’re paving paradise and putting up a parking lot. Whatever replaces Anthony’s will no doubt be an improvement.

Still, it’s sad to see yet another remnant of the old Boston – before the city was hip and happening – bite the dust.

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