Opinion

Jourgensen: They made Lynn stomachs growl

Tuck in your napkins: It’s time to revisit the good old dining days in Lynn, specifically the sub and sandwich shops that filled stomachs and made mouths water. 

It’s hard to settle on a more contentious subject than places to eat in this city. Mention Earl of Sandwich and someone shoots right back with Angelina’s. Recall Sam’s Sandwich back in the day on Lewis Street and someone else shouts, “Don’t forget Tina’s Sub Shop.” 

Dial 1965 into the time machine and it’s easy to find no fewer than 130 places doing business that year across the city that served food ranging from sit-down dinners to quick bites. To understand why the city — all cities — had so many places to eat back in the day, you have to understand what eating meant a half century ago.

Back then, “lunch break” didn’t mean opening a Tupperware container and spending 20 minutes eating. 

If you didn’t bring a brown bag or a lunch box to your job or school, you went out to lunch in 1965 or ate in a company or school cafeteria. Expense accounts reigned supreme and lunch breaks were extended versions of coffee breaks in an era when people worked designated time shifts and left work behind at the end of their shift unless they ran a small business or hustled off to a second job. 

The Lynnway alone offered any number of places to eat 55 years ago with Bill & Bob’s and Burger Bar as well as longtime favorite Christie’s. Plenty of people still remember Varley’s Diner. How about the Howard Johnson’s once located at 637 Lynn and the Redwood Lounge? 

Only those residents possessing a gigantic appetite managed to eat their way down Western Avenue a half century ago. The high-numbered end near the River Works sported Becky’s Lunch, Tom’s Arena Cafe, Perillo’s, the Western Avenue restaurant and the Splendor Cafe, moving on to Bill’s Lunch and Contino’s Sub Shop. Don’t forget the Koffee Kup restaurant and Edna’s Lunch or the Elm Tree Diner.

A lot of people remember the Blue Moon and Latin Villa, but how about the Model Cafe, 751 Western Avenue and Riley’s Sub Shop? 

Lest we give East Lynn short shrift, a hungry walk down Lewis Street ended in any number of dining spots, including Wortman’s with the guy with the crewcut on the sign; Sam’s, of course, the O’Connor restaurant, and don’t forget Mel and Murray Lunch at 116 Lewis St. or Edythe’s restaurant.

On Summer Street, there was Dorothy’s Luncheonette, Erin Cafe, Frank & Al’s sub shop, the Hi-Hat Cafe, the Nip, Roy’s, Peter Shabowich’s Cafe, the Sportsman’s Grill and the Warner Cafe. I’m surprised by how many places you could eat on Union Street, including Agganis Union Grill, Carlo & and Carole’s pizza and subs, Carroll’s Cafeteria, Harold’s Delicatessen and Huntt’s, to name a few. Add in other downtown places and the list grows longer leading off with Sassone’s Spaghetteria on Blake Street. How can you beat that for a classic old-style name?

The Mary Anne Dinette operated on Broad Street, Central Lunch on Central Avenue up the street from Conti’s Cafe. Want a few more? Jimmie’s restaurant, Jules, Karson’s Diner, Klemm’s, Loretta’s Coffee Shop, Mike’s Coffee Shop, Nap’s, Joyce Lunch, Richie’s Snack Bar on Willow Street. 

The ever-lengthening list paints a picture of a city where people crowded the sidewalks, filled luncheonette counters and tables and spent money locally. It seems like if there wasn’t a restaurant on every block there was probably a barroom. 

There were plenty of places to eat in other neighborhoods that are bound to stir memories, including the White Way Grill on Broadway, Victoria Lunch in Market Square, Spencer’s Sandwich Shop on Marion Street, Ronnie’s Lunch on Eastern Avenue, Ralph’s Cafe on Essex Street, Paula’s Delicatessen on Washington Street and the Osmund Coffee Shop on Washington Street.

Federal Square had Murphy’s Cafe and Boston Street spots included Leo’s, the Crystal Cafe, Dutch’s Grill, John’s Diner and, of course, Frank’s Sea Grill.

How about Mac’s Cafe on Chatham Street, Harry’s Lunch on Commercial Street, Jimmie’s on Mount Vernon Street and the Camwood Restaurant? Don’t forget Busy Bee Lunch. You could conceivably vary where you ate day in, day out and only eat in the same place twice a year. 

It’s easy to read through a list of bygone places to eat and understand restaurants, like bars, partly helped define neighborhoods because they were places where people gathered and spent time. If someone wanted to find you, they were fairly certain they knew where you were in an age absent of mobile technology. 

It’s also easy to read the restaurant list and understand that the dining landscape as we know it today was different from the one that dominated the middle of the last century. Chain restaurants existed but fast food franchises were in their infancy, and diners and luncheonettes were unique places with their own character and characters. 

Automobiles and interstate highways reshaped America in the 1950s and 1960s. But cities like Lynn still supported corner and neighborhood dining spots even as highways were sprouting drive-through quick meal places catering to the car. 

People who were regulars in places to eat forged a social bond with a restaurant’s employees and owners and other diners. Taken as a whole, these connections were crucial fibers holding together cities like Lynn 55 years ago. 

Restaurants, diners, luncheonettes and cafes also served a function beyond the menu and the fork and knife. By showing up in their business on a regular basis and spending your money, you supported someone who was probably a fellow Lynn resident and who relied on the dollars you spent every week to sustain their payroll. 

It’s great to come across the names of dining spots that are still prospering, including The Capitol Diner, Giovanni’s (listed in 1965 at 395 Broad St.), Angelina’s, Monte’s and the Lido. It’s sad to see the names of places like the 595 Cafe on Summer Street that are no longer around and new additions to the defunct list like Campus on Exchange Street. 

To their credit, Lynn’s newer arrivals, including people from Central America, are bringing the neighborhood place to eat back to the city, including downtown and West Lynn. They have the same work ethic as the people a generation ago who worked long hours and took financial risks to serve food to people in their community. 

It’s fun to think that some of the new restaurants and cafes that have opened in the city are located on spots where people served food 55 years ago. 

Don’t forget to leave a tip.

 

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