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Aug 6, 2001 05:36 PM

The closing of Locke-Ober: Please keep the menu

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This is an unprinted letter to the Boston Globe editor, submitted July 28, 2001. Any further information about whether I misinterpreted the Boston Globe's article about the intentions of Lydia Shire and the current owners of Locke-Ober would be appreciated.

Locke-Ober: Please keep the menu

As one of the young patrons and appreciators of Locke-Ober, whose parents dined there decades ago, I am uneasy to see that Lydia Shire plans to forego ‘heavy white sauces’ for ‘simple’ fare. Reviving the martini glasses is laudable, however Locke-Ober’s change may contribute to the disappearance in Boston and New York of classic menus. Keep the old menu (maybe even revive some lost dishes), prepare it well, and stay away from new dishes. There’s more to appreciate than the classic menu and room: the clientele where all are regulars, where little if anything has changed, and where everyone there appreciates that fact. Looking around the room at Locke-Ober to see the other people was always one of the most charming aspects of the dining experience. My copy of their 1959 menu, which sits on my bookshelf, shows the same Lobster Savannah I had at Locke-Ober at my 25th birthday earlier this summer. And where else can you find a classic Steak Tartare? Locke-Ober elegance was simple only in its plain language such as "Sea Food, Winter Place," "Hearts of Palm on Lettuce" and "Mutton Chop with Kidney, Mint Sauce" (new restaurants would use many more words to describe their entrees). It would be a tragedy if the menu were changed simply to keep pace with the masses. People in my generation would then never know what an old Boston restaurant was. Please think carefully—Locke-Ober is not just a beautiful room where just any food can be eaten.

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  1. There was a blurb about LO in Stuff@Nite and I too was thinking they shouldn't mess with it too much. There's no way Lydia Shire isn't gonna add her own twist, which I think that place needs from the sound of it, as far as keeping it in business goes at least. But there's nothing wrong with keeping tradition either.

    1. Yes keep Locke-Ober the way it was:

      Snooty looks from the regulars if you weren't one

      Thrown upstairs into Siberia if you weren't one either.

      Overpriced wines

      Charging additional for the sliced rye bread?!

      Even The best city clubs and country clubs in and around Boston have changed their menus with the changing times and some of their members are older then Locke-Ober itself! Tradition is important but remember, the only constant IS change...

      3 Replies
      1. re: Noreaster

        I don't think I've ever been recognized at Locke-Ober, and was not a regular. I've gotten looks from others, but that's because my table was too loud. Good for them for telling us we were being too loud in such a restrained place.

        I have never been upstairs--I thought it was for private functions only. I didn't find the wines overpriced. Have you been to any New York restaurant lately? Frankly, I find that charging additional for sliced rye bread (I didn't know they did this) to be very interesting and a little charming also. Would you have them replace the rye with seven-grain? You may or may not have paid a lot, but what you get back is priceless. Likely you didn't pay that much compared to NYC meals (or you bought some wine for its price rather than knowing that it was good). And, I remember having really great Burgundies twice there (both times, an educated choice and not a random one).

        I don't know what you can be trying to get at by mentioning the wine list. No one would clamor if the wine list changed--it would have to. Almost all wines go bad after a while, and makers that were in their prime decades ago may not be in their prime now. Plus, importing has changed and many wines are probably now available that were unavailable then.

        Which city or country club serves up really good oysters, shrimp cocktail, steak tartare, Lobster Savannah, steak, calf's liver, etc.?

        What exactly is the rationale for changing the menu? In the Boston Globe article I read, the owner made it seem as though the place was simply in need of a renovation to keep it from falling apart (I'm not sure I believe it).

        Keeping business alive doesn't necessitate making the menu look like every other menu at just any restaurant.

        Have you heard about what happened to Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, NY? I heard it was like Locke-Ober once (it certainly looks like it), but changed its hands (and I think a lot of the waitstaff went) and went way downhill.

        I was amazed when I went to some older-style restaurants in Los Angeles, where restaurants and the like are so well preserved. The menu at Musso and Frank's (in LA) is unrecognizable in comparison to today's typical menus, because of the incredible array of classic items which they still offer (and are offered almost nowhere else in that form).

        It does quite well at being traditional and it is relatively unchanged. I don't think they're hurting for business either. So, should they lease their restaurant out as well, ditch the liver and onions and whatever else made them special? Read a review of them below.


        1. re: Adam

          I guess I will reply item by item.

          No, I would never have them replace the rye bread with seven grain. Actually, the rye bread was very fresh. However, there is nothing charming about paying additional for bread. I'd rather the price be $1.00 higher for the entrees. We aren't talking about dollars here. I've eaten in some of the finest restaurants in this country and never once have I been surprised by price. But the standard 300 percent markup for wines is archaic and unnecessary. Bravo on your educated Burgundy choices. Were they wines you had experienced in the past or something the Wine Dictator told you to buy?

          I'm not sure why you felt the need to give a remedial wine list lesson but whatever...

          I can name more then twenty city and country clubs in the boston area that are serving the best oysters, tartare, shrimp cocktail and lobster savannah not to mention shad roe in season but you'd have to be invited to get in. These same clubs also offer cutting edge dining experiences because they have to. Their broad demographic demands extraordinary variety in an increasingly competitive market.

          Such is the case of Locke-Ober(which, by the way was private some time ago). No one suggests doing away with its charm but an enhancement of an already classic menu. The true charm comes from the experience, the decor, the service and the food.

          1. re: Noreaster

            Alas! A long reply! Thank you. I'm not sure we disagree that much. I gave you the wine list paragraph because that was my way of saying that your post was not entirely to my point about keeping some of the older menu items. I had no way of knowing how much you know about Locke-Ober, the restaurant business, or private clubs, and there are only a few posts under your nick. And by the way, the burgundy choices were not mine.

            I'm curious about these clubs, even though I can't get in.

            Are you saying that the answer to increased competitiveness is to make a menu that more people are accustomed to or expecting from restaurants in general? Isn't what I'm suggesting that there are other ways to survive besides becoming like all other restaurants, as evidenced by some old restaurants elsewhere?

            For me, some of the charm of an older restaurant serving older clientele is when the waitstaff warms up to *you* because you dressed right, ordered right and enjoyed your meal.