Locke-Ober was one of the best.
I haven't been in years but spent many a great evening here. Like most fine places of years ago, the service started as one drove up. Gino was the valet since before 1981, the year I started going. He would always have a smile and always took care of the cars as if they were his.
Sorry to see this place vanish.
A Locke Ober Story by Bellachefa
Many years ago, back in the mid eighties of the olden days, while nursing an injury that kept me from my day job, I started temping. I always seemed to get the odd calls. Would I wear a bear suit and pass out leaflets, and wave at traffic and have children spit up on me in 90 degree weather? Hell no
But there was one interesting call they chose me for. To meet a train at south station for a couple of days as an assistant. Upon arriving at south station, with no proper directions from the agency, I had the capacity to find some rail workers come to my aid. Of course this was the 80's so I was a wee bit cuter and alluring then as a damsel in distress. They helped me into their truck and drove me down the tracks to where private trains park.
I don't know who my employers were, but the man that hired me was the conductor, chef and man servant of an old rail family couple in what could only be described as the old Oak Room compacted on Rails. It was elegant and luxurious. My first job was to polish all that wood.
Now this is the funny part. The next morning, the conductor had a dilemna. Mr and Mrs X had had dinner the night before and wanted him to recreate the famous chowder at Locke Ober. Problem was he didn't have a dinner jacket to stop in for lunch to try it and figure out the ingredients by taste.
I suggested driving him to Macy's to pick up a jacket and then pick him up after his tasting. He was worried about that, because his employers were old money filthy rich and if I drove him and had an accident......he was very liability paranoid.
But somehow he listened to this young woman, and I brought him to Macy's, he got the jacket, he tasted the chowder and he said the word thyme and gave me a very expensive bottle of wine when I dropped him back off at his luxury train.
Very encouraging news via Patrick Maguire of jm Curley on the fate of Locke-Ober, via his Facebook page:
"Great news. I just got off the phone with my friend, @Jay Hajj, owner of Mike's City Diner in the South End. Jay and two partners have signed an agreement to buy the venerable 'Locke-Ober' building on Winter Place in Downtown Boston. The sale includes the restaurant and its liquor license. Contrary to rumors that the treasured space would be gutted, the new owners fully intend to respect and preserve the rich, historic features and integrity of the first floor, and eventually open a new bar and restaurant in that space.
If destroyed, we could not replace the architecture and woodwork in that building. It is part of our Boston heritage and fabric.
As first reported by Brian McGrory of the Boston Globe, Jay confirmed that the Locke-Ober name and concept will be retired. The new owners are starting with a clean slate, and plan to work diligently with their local and national networks of chefs and restaurateurs to find the perfect fit for the iconic landmark. They are committed to opening an exciting, viable, sustainable restaurant that will coincide with the revitalization of Downtown Crossing.
A few more details:
Jay Hajj, Owner, Mike's City Diner-Boston's South End
Michael Fallman, Principal, British Beer Company-Plymouth, MA
James P. Robertson Jr.-Owner, Origen Property Management-Boston, MA
- The purchase should be finalized in early to mid-November.
- There are no plans to put a British Beer Company store, or any other 'chain' concept in the space.
- Opening a new restaurant in the space is at least a year away.
- Honduran mahogany lovers rejoice!!!
- Mike's City Diner will not be moving to 3 Winter Place...
Please feel free to share as you see fit.
I'm sad to see them close.
Unfortunately, the handwriting has been on the wall for a while.
I preferred it for lunch but had many dinners over the years. We had a group of 5-6 of us that did an annual holiday lunch in Dec for many years. For various reasons, the group dwindled to 2..and we had our last lunch last year.
I guess Cafe Marliave will have to satisfy those of us who long for the good old days..:)
I don't really believe the owner's Globe quote that they weren't losing money. He saw the writing on the wall and took a good offer for the building. I wonder whether the bruited plan for a new ground-floor restaurant is true, or if the whole thing will be just be gutted for condos.
re: MC Slim JB
The street level space is way too valuable for condos, and people don't want street level urban condos. I'm guessing the owner was aware of the hell Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia went through, re-inventing itself for a youthful next generation with different tastes, budgets, attire, and table manners, and elected to leave on a high note. Side note: condos over restaurants are a lawyers' delight, as upwardly permeating smells in older retrofitted buildings cause considerable conflict and litigation - that was among the reasons for the demise of Genji on Newbury St.
I had just seen the news in Boston.com when you posted. This is a disaster for me but I suspecgted it was coming over year ago. I ate there for 50 years. I have a couple of the old plates that they gave me. I imagine the furnishings went with the building? Sounds rather like what happened to Luchow's in New York and, later, Gage & Tollner. Should have seen the end coming wehn they closed the upstairs dining room at the Ritz.
I'm glad my father isn't alive to see this. There ought to be a wake of some sort.
Maybe there was a third way. Clearly what the owner was doing in this iteration wasn't working. And Downtown Crossing's general malaise isn't helping. But I still think there's demand for this kind of beautiful old setting.
Is it possible, had they been bold enough to reimagine the menu concept with an innovative new chef, and perhaps expand the emphasis on the venue's criminally underused bar, there might have been a chance to woo younger diners?
I will miss it, even though I only visited it a handful of times in recent years. A shame.
re: MC Slim JB
We had a very enjoyable New Years Eve dinner there a few years back, which is a difficult feat for any restaurant to pull off. I agree that the bar had much more potential than was ever realized. I will miss the table side preparations of various dishes. It's sad to see another of the old guard go. Actually it is hard to think of any left who live up to Maison Robert, Aujourd'hui, L'Espalier (in the original location). While the food at Locke Ober wasn't as refined as the others in that group, it was still the same type of place in my mind.
re: MC Slim JB
I agree. It is better, in many cases, to "compromise" on principles than to "go out" at all. Locke Ober had compromised on its principles plenty of times in the past, such as when they made the radical decision to let women start eating there.
There is an understandable and reasonable sadness when history's physical artifacts are no more, but Locke Ober has not been "on top" in decades. They made the conscious decision to sink from the top, and to keep going, all the way down to the bottom.
I suspect that this thread will be filled with eulogies from people who have not eaten there in many years, if ever.
re: MC Slim JB
10 years ago Lydia Shire revived this place with some success. Once she was no longer publicly associated with the Locke-Ober it slid downhill.
The location is NOT the problem as Marliave is doing well. Locke-Ober would have been a natural for a retro theme and craft cocktails if the dress code had been discarded.