Boston restaurants of a certain age

You can still get your aphrodisiac fix at the Union Oyster House.

You can still get your aphrodisiac fix at the Union Oyster House.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

Durgin-Park, the Boston restaurant founded in 1827 (!) and famous for heavy “New England cuisine’’ and by turns rude (and often large) waitresses, is closing, to the gnashing of teeth of habitues, or, to be more accurate, mostly former habitues. It has always amused me that so many people who demand that a “beloved institution’’ stay open either have never been there or have long since stopped patronizing the joint.

And so another famous restaurant will join Locke-Ober and many other famous Boston eateries that haven’t been able to keep up with patrons’ changing tastes, demographics and daily schedules. Yankee pot roast and Indian pudding just don’t have the allure that they had 50 years ago. Boston is a big and rich city; there are more than enough prosperous people to keep the likes of Durgin-Park open – if restaurant romantics wanted to eat there. But it seems that many who did now just want to wax nostalgic or have shuffled off to the great dining room in the sky.

I’m hoping that an even older place, the Union Oyster House, started as a restaurant in 1826 but in a structure believed to have been built in 1704, will survive. I go there sometimes with a French friend. (Weird fact: Louis Philippe, the king of France in 1830-1848, lived in exile in that building in 1796, paying his expenses by teaching French to young women. But perhaps that’s not as weird as that the late Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh had worked in the Parker House hotel.)

The Union Oyster House still has at least one big thing going for it: As the great oyster-eating scene in the movie Tom Jones demonstrates, oysters are a lot sexier than roast beef.


The Durgin-Park closing reminded me of another sign of the passing of generations and changing tastes. An old friend who teaches at a certain elite college invited her class to dinner and a showing of the classic movie Casablanca, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1943.

While you might think that the movie, with its suspense, witty lines, bittersweet romance and evocative music might be well-known across age groups, you’d be wrong. The kids had small reaction to the film and demonstrated little knowledge of its historical context of World War II. It seemed dead to most of them.

So they come and they go.

One bit of dialogue from the movie, with the French police Captain Renault (played by Claude Raines) and café owner Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, seems appropriate:

Renault: '’Why can't you go back to America? Why Casablanca?'’

Rick: “I came here for the waters?'’

'’The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.'’

‘'I was misinformed.'’