No Name Restaurant. Things Change
We sat upstairs in a big, low-ceilinged room, at a table next to a window that looked out on the harbor. Nothing was going on out there except the bleak landscape, a harsh blue sky and an occasional gull. A waiter brought us a plate of garlic bread. We all ordered fish chowder, which was good – milky, not thickened with anything, full of fish. The fish dinners, fried clams and fish sandwich that followed were good too, although some components of the fish dinner (the scrod, for example) were considerably better than others (the shrimp). The place was by no means full. There were plenty of waiters, all of whom were cheerful and relaxed and happy to serve.
In other words, except for the food, it was a far cry from what No Name used to be. It used to be a relic of the days when that part of town was a working waterfront. Now it’s a forebear, at best, of something that someone (probably the city’s urban development agency) wants the waterfront to be. It was a relic in the same way that Sweet’s fish house was a relic in the Fulton Market neighborhood of Manhattan (when I went to Sweet’s in the mid 1970s, I asked the waiter, a slow-moving, effortlessly efficient black man, something about beef, and without so much as looking at me he answered, “Aint no meat in this house,” which prompted me to bury my nose in the menu and order a broiled flounder).
I’d been to No Name only twice and I make no claim to have participated in any way in anything having to do with a real working waterfront, in Boston or anywhere, except to have been the grandson of a laborer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the son of a tug boat deckhand who eventually found a better job as a ferry boat deckhand. I went to No Name in 1974 because it was a hip thing for college students to do (which of course begs the question that my daughter would ask: if it was so hip, what were you doing there?). But to prove that I’m a nostalgic, romantic middle aged fogy, I liked the old No Name better and so I dug around in my old journals and found something I wrote after my most recent visit, a mere 24 years ago. The price for lunch yesterday for four, by the way, was about $70.
1/27/81 -- Arrived home last night about 9:30, after a hard drive from Boston. Before I left I had a bowl of chowder at No-Name. I was not sure I could find it, but when I drove down Boylston I saw a sign for the waterfront, so I followed it. It led over a steel bridge partially enclosed by girders. The road then passed the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage and led down to the fish pier. I drove through the gate and parked right in front of the No-Name. It was ten-to-four, and not very crowded. I entered through what I think is a new room -- more fashionable than the counter-and-tables in the adjacent room. I went to the counter, which was lined with forks and spoons, and plates of bread and butter. If one customer did not eat the bread and butter, it was left for the next person. Behind the counter was a middle-aged man with silver hair, dressed in white. He looked at me as I sat down, and without stepping any closer, said, "Yeah?"
"Bowl a chowder," I said.
He ladeled out a thick stew of fish chunks and creamy, off-white broth that filled me up easily.
"Something to drink?" he demanded.
A younger man with a navy blue v-neck sweater, jeans, and a long white apron tied around the waist replaced him. He spoke with a slight Italian accent.
"You gonna have anyting else?"
Two guys about my age came in and sat at the counter. They were not workers on the pier, they were fairly well-dressed. Before they reached their stools, the young counterman asked, "Youse gonna have chowder?"
One guy said yes, the other no. The guy who didn't order the chowder ordered a haddock sandwich, and they both giggled with delight when they saw the fish piled on the roll and stacked next to the roll, and the huge mound of coleslaw and some other salad that I could not identify. A couple of stools past them, a man had a fish dinner with the same bounteous portions, plus an enormous helping of green beans, which the counterman offered by saying simply, "You want green beans?"
"Yeah, string beans," the customer said.
I ate up, paid $1.52, and was in my car by 4:15.