RIP Out of Town News

Harvard Square landmark newsstand to close. I often browsed there, never bought anything. Apparently, a lot of people were like me.

The closing inspired this list.

Defunct Harvard Square businesses worthy of mourning:

  • Out of Town News.
  • Elsie’s. A long-time sandwich institution. They made a hell of a roast beef sandwich, heavy on the Russian dressing. Replaced by a dire “wrap” restaurant my freshman year, 1990, when “wrap” was the new “sandwich.”
  • Nick’s Beef and Beer House. Usually known as “Nick’s Eef and E Ho” thanks to the management’s disinclination to replace missing letters on the marquee. The greasy cheeseburgers here were about as good as the ones at the much closer Charlie’s Kitchen (which is to say, very good) but much, much cheaper.
  • Wordsworth. Always thought of as second fiddle to Harvard Book Store, but I probably bought more books here overall. HaBoSto put stuff on the front table that was going to be in New York Review of Books; Wordsworth was more likely to promote whatever first novel the guys at the desk liked. Their spin-off children’s bookstore, Curious George, is magnificent and still doing a vigorous business at the heart of the Square.
  • Campo de’ Fiori. First-rate Roman-style square pizza in the heavily travelled corridor through Holyoke Center. There was usually a line. That these guys somehow went under is the surest sign I’ve seen that the fundamentals of our economy are unsound.
  • C’est Bon. Lebanese convenience store that made a wonderful dolmades sandwich — my take-out meal of choice whenever I was rushing to catch the T.

Defunct Harvard Square businesses not worthy of mourning:

  • The Tasty. Foul all-night diner with no redeeming qualities. I once saw someone pour a bottle of ketchup on semi-notable ice skater Nicole Bobek here.
  • Cafe Avventura. Upstairs in the Garage; named for the intestinal adventure enjoyed by all who patronized it. Also known as “Three-plate pizza” (for the number of plates one greasy slice could soak through in the time it took to eat the other) and “Bad pizza” (no explanation necessary.)
  • The Crimson Sports Grille. Noxious.
  • The Wursthaus and The Skewers. Controversial picks! I liked both places, and I think they’re generally warmly remembered. But when I de-gauze my memories, I seem to recall that the Wursthaus was satisfyingly caloric but dark and cheerless, and that the Skewers was a mediocre Middle Eastern sandwich shop that didn’t measure up to C’est Bon.

Current business that would truly be terrible to lose:

  • It’s actually a short list. Mr. Bartley’s, obviously, still serving the best hamburgers in the United States after almost 50 years. The Brattle Theatre. Maybe Schoenhof’s. Maybe the Million Year Picnic.

Feel free to add to the lists in comments — there’s no wikipedia page for “closed Harvard square businesses” so I’m sure I’ve missed a lot.

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13 thoughts on “RIP Out of Town News

  1. Em says:

    I loved Wordsworth and C’est Bon. I used to get the grape leaf wrap at C’est Bon all the time.

    My favorite item at Mr. Bartleys is the lime rickey. It’s much harder than it should be to get a good lime rickey.

  2. I’m surprised and saddened to hear that Campo de’ Fiori closed, it was my favorite lunch place in the square. C’est Bon and Wordsworth were great too. On your list of businesses that would be terrible to lose, my vote would be to add Dickson Brothers, which is the most useful hardware store per square inch that I’ve ever encountered.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Campo de’ Fiori was never my favourite place, but it was always tasty, cheap, and interesting. The name C’est Bon didn’t register at first until my wife pointed out that is where I used to by chicken curry sandwiches about twice a week…. Noooo!

    As to what one would miss most (taking a slightly generous definition of Harvard square), let me nominate Upstairs at the Square, Cafe Algiers (for the Turkish coffee), Darwin’s and Oxford Spa for sandwiches, and Cardullo’s for those times when you just have to have some chinotto/mince pies/specialty marmalade.

    Let me register a vote of dissent on saving Mr. Bartleys, however. It has character, admittedly, just not good burgers.

    There are a few other places I would be sad to see go (like Burdick’s chocolate shop, Grolier poetry bookshop, or Cafe Pamplona) more for reasons of local character than
    because I was a frequent customer.

  4. Tom says:

    Perhaps Anonymous would also like to cast a dissenting vote against water being wet or the Red Line being part of the MBTA. I don’t care about the character of Bartley’s, but I can’t imagine what someone would want from a hamburger if that person were not getting what he or she wanted from a Bartley burger. Genuinely baffling.

    The Skewers was better than mediocre; moreover, it provided a combination of large portions, decent quality, and low price that was all but impossible to find elsewhere on Harvard Square.

    But more to the point: unless I missed some drastic emergency-relocation effort, the demise of the Skewers was accompanied by the loss of its upstairs neighbor, the Harvard Provision Company. Now THAT is an irreparable hole in the fabric of Harvard Square.

    And since Harvard Square is not and should not be designed to satisfy the effete and sophisticated sensibilities of our 37-year-old selves, my drunk and ravenous 20-year-old self will briefly time-travel here to declare that I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU IGNORED THE MOTHERFUCKING HONG KONG RESTAURANT YOU UNPASTEURIZED-CHEDDAR-STUFFED, FARMER’S-MARKET-GOING, BADGER-FUCKING BADGER-FUCKER and also that IF ANYBODY EVER FUCKS WITH THE FUCKING KONG I WILL CUT SOME MOTHERFUCKER UP.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What would I like from a burger? Taste, perhaps? I always had better burgers from Barney’s Hamburgers in Berkeley, and that place wouldn’t even make my top 20 Berkeley restaurants. I think the appeal of Bartley’s to many of you is nostalgia rather than quality, since eating there is the closest thing your 37-year-old selves can do to time travel back to 1991.

  6. JSE says:

    1. I know Anonymous to be a refined dude and refined dudes do not always like Bartley’s (I still recall the disaster that ensued when I recommended it to the extremely refined A. Agb00l4) but I can’t stand by and let him compare it to the very ordinary Barney’s Hamburgers. Nostalgia taints all judgments, of course, but I ate thousands of burgers before 1991 and there’s a reason that Bartley’s is the one I come back to. And, of course, Bartley’s routinely makes national best-of lists and etc., compiled by people with no nostalgic connection to Harvard Square.

    2. As for the Hong Kong, I didn’t include it because its uncanny shape-shifting powers make it immune from the business cycle. Cheap Chinese food going out of style? They’re a comedy club. Comedy boom ends — they’re an upscale lounge. And when the lounge thing runs its course, Mrs. Lee is no doubt going to open a pit barbecue, or a nu-metal record shop, or she’ll perm people’s hair, or whatever it takes, because Mrs. Lee will not be stopped.

  7. Dear All,

    Bartley’s is an acquired taste. I will guess that Anonymous is a foreigner,
    or at least was at one point (the marmalade and chinotto cravings are
    the main evidence), and the burgers at Bartley’s have a level of greasiness
    which is close to intolerable to many foreign palates, and wipes out any
    other taste.

    When I first ate at Bartley’s, probably in late ’94, I found it indescribably
    revolting, and disappointing given the hype. When I next ate there, ten
    years or so later (during which almost all my eating, and definitely all
    my hamburger eating, took place in the US) I found it pretty good.

    The underlying fact is that American’s enjoy a level of fattiness in their
    meat which would be regarded as extreme in many other countries, and
    even more so in their burger meat.



  8. Solo500 says:

    @Tom concerning the Hong Kong: AMEN. Please say hi to your 20 year old self from us the next time you knock back a few Scorpion Bowls..

    -I second the Wordsworth & Pamplona mentions as well.

  9. Tom says:

    I don’t know Jordan. It’s not that The Skewers was so fantastic (although it would certainly have ranked among my top Harvard Square dinner spots) but to put it on a list of five unworthy of mourning spots seems like a pretty unnecessary slap in the face. I mean, really?? The Skewers? Worse than One Potato Two Potato? Worse than Tower Records? Worse than Lee’s Beehive? (or is that still there?)

  10. JSE says:

    (The other) Tom makes a good point — Skewers is on the list just because it was popular enough that other people mourned it, which meant it came to mind as a place that closed. It’s certainly more mournable than the other places you mention. Though did you know that former Dean of Students Archie Epps was said to eat at One Potato Two Potato every day?

  11. Steve says:

    I’m sad that the Skewers is gone, not because it was great, but because it was pretty good, and quite affordable, especially given the area. Had the Skewers existed after C’Est Bon stopped serving its own food (the name C’Est Bon still exists, but it’s just a convenience store), and had I lived around here at the time, I would have eaten at the Skewers regularly.

    I liked Caffe Paradiso, which doesn’t show up on the list above. Its dessert-only Italianate sensibilities made it an unlkely candidate to have survived as long as it did. But where should one go now for pastry? Finale, I guess. But everything there costs even more, and it feels like a sit-down restaurant, not a cafe.

    Another HSq business I’d really, really miss if it went away: Curious George! (Makes sense only if you have kids, I guess.)

    No one has brought up the demise of the record store, a national, not a Harvard Sq, phenomenon, and one that will sooner or later overtake what remains of the Harvard Square In Your Ear, which once had fun, knowledgeable staff and a working knowledge of new indie rock– now it’s dusty and feels underused, the Providence IYE has been gone for a long time, and I suspect that the HS IYE’s days are numbered, though I’m not sure what sort of store would do well in that space.

    There’s only one place where I’ve had better burgers than the burgers at Bartley’s, and I’ve eaten a lot of burgers. Too many, from an environmental perspective. But if you don’t like the burgers at Bartley’s, you shouldn’t be trusted to judge U.S. burgers. (I shouldn’t be trusted to judge poutine or vegemite. And I like poutine.)

    Is a badger-f*cking badger-f*cker the same thing as an ordinary badger-fucker, or is a badger-f*cking badger-f*cker a badger-f*cker who’s been caught in badger flagrante delicto? Enquiring minds want to know.

  12. Tom says:

    The implication would be that this is not only someone who is generally known to engage in the practice of coupling with badgers, but someone who is profoundly personally involved in the actual process of said coupling, perhaps even actively involved in it at the moment (cf. “Kobe, kiss my ass” / “Kobe, tell me how my ass taste”). It was clearer in the original Gravinian.

    Hey, you know what else? The Harvard Coop. Not because the “rebate” debacle gave us a firsthand tutorial in the workings of business-as-Ponzi-scheme, but because it was a pleasingly serious, old-fashioned department store. Housewares, casual clothes, men’s suits… I still have a Coop house-label sweater that I bought on clearance for 10 bucks.

  13. Mo says:

    In case you folks are interested, there IS a page of closed Harvard Square businesses, although it is not totally comprehensive. I compiled it while writing my book about Harvard Square. I haven’t had time to update it but it might jog some memories. Book should be out in fall of ’09.

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