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6 Businesses I Miss in Downtown Lexington, Mass.

Downtown Lexington, Mass., remains an impressive central district with many outstanding mom and pop shops and restaurants, but I do miss greatly some of the businesses of yesteryear. Ahh, the memories. Here are six Lexington businesses that I wish still existed...

Lexington Drug

Located at the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Waltham, St., where Rancatore's Ice Cream is now situated, Lexington Drug thrived as a cornerstone business in downtown Lexington for many years. Most people went there for prescriptions and the newspaper, but we often went as a family on Sunday mornings for the candy and postcard sections. I loved the Fruito candy bars with real artificial fruit in the middle of a mediocre chocolate bar, as well as twirling the postcard display to receive a mini history lesson on the significant history of Lexington. The gray-haired man behind the counter actually reminded me of a Colonial era politician with wavy locks, a distinct nose, not-from-this generation glasses, a certain old world formality and a gentle diplomacy that endured no matter how crowded Lexington Drug became with locals and tourists. Sorry to see this place close, but not a bad thing that a quality ice cream shop took over!

Bargain Basement

Many remember Decelle's for its discount clothing that, I believe, often surpassed Marshalls, but Bargain Basement might have been ever better at this location. We could always find what we were looking even though the displays were kind of a mess with no rhyme or reason. Bargain Basement truly represented Old School Lexington -- that is, a large downtown space with no pretentiousness and a mission to save locals lots of money on clothing. You would unlikely see this kind of store in downtown Lexington today as the whole central district has become more upscale.

Ingalls Stationery

Generally, stationery stores are about as exciting as a piece of paper (hey, that was a good one!) but Ingalls made the experience a wonderful one -- "willing and label" to go the extra distance (hey, that was a good one, too!). With well-organized isles, an always fully-stocked supply of the basics and beyond, and knowledgeable, friendly staff to help the customer, Ingalls was certainly a "staple" on our shopping list. Pardon the puns, but those are the "fax!"

Peking Garden

I always loved going here with friends on a half-day (one Wednesday a month at Arlington High School, as I recall) for the huge luncheon buffet. Peking Garden didn't look tacky like some other old school Chinese restaurants, the service was generally more friendly and the food clearly created by a master chef. One thing, however, that irked the staff at Peking Garden: asking for separate checks!
As kids, we were always amused by the response: "NO, NO SEPARATE CHECKS!" We got the message loud and clear time after time, but kept asking the question on virtually every visit because we liked the animated, predictable answer.

Bel Canto

Located on the second floor at 1709 Massachusetts Ave., Bel Canto won high praise regionally as a restaurant chain serving outstanding deep dish pizzas and calzones with either regular or whole wheat dough. They also allowed customers to order unbaked calzones to bring home to cook. Bel Canto was unlike any other pizza place and served as a great alternative to traditional local pizza joints like Regina Pizzeria, Santarpio's and The Pleasant Cafe. The ingredients used to make the pizzas and calzones were beyond the norm -- so fresh and bursting with flavor. What's more, Bel Canto  featured a clean-looking atmosphere with spotless surroundings (including the kitchen) and a bright interior with contemporary decor and furniture. Unfortunately, Bel Canto suffered a fire at the Lexington location and the chain eventually started slipping in quality. I wish someone would bring back the Bel Canto name and concept to its original glory.  They would do very well today, I believe!

Battle Green Motor Inn

This intown motel would also never cut it in downtown Lexington today with its basic lodging offerings and affordable prices. Many travelers back in the day needed no more than a carpeted room with television, telephone and individual bathroom and thermostat. That's why the Battle Green Motor Inn lasted from 1959 to 2007!

Because I lived in neighboring Arlington, there was no reason to stay at the motel, but I was continuously curious about the place. I always thought the underground parking was so cool! It didn't take much for me to be happy, as you can see.

The Battle Green Motor Inn gave way to condo development. I suppose that's the way of the world, as Earth, Wind and Fire once said.

Old School Lexington Still Exists!

Yes, downtown Lexington has become more exclusive and expensive, but I am so glad to see so many long-time businesses still thriving like The Crafty Yankee gift shop, Mario's Italian restaurant (try the baked ziti, it's amazing!), Michaelson's Shoes, Spectrum Music and Theater Pharmacy.

Yes, it is sad that so many old-time businesses are no longer with us in Lexington center, but the mix of new and old shops and restaurants comprises one of the more impressive downtowns in all of New England. Shop local, buy local while discovering the wonderful history of this beautiful town!

Related article:
Fond memories of a wonderful Lexington pediatrician




Aku Aku in Cambridge, Mass.

Very few people believe me when I tell them that the former Aku Aku restaurant at Alewife Station was not the first Aku Aku in Cambridge, Mass.

The original Aku Aku was located on Route 2 near the Arlington line, just a few hundred yards from the former Lanes & Games bowling alley.

More specifically, you might remember Faces Nightclub in that region where disco reigned as the ultimate funky town for those who liked to party and get down. You know what? That's where the first Aku Aku was actually located!

I liked the original Aku Aku more than the iconic Alewife location, The dining room and bar were comfortably darker, the multi colored lights brighter and the waterways running through the restaurant lending a nice soothing feel. Why drive 90 miles to Barnacle Billy's in Ogunquit, Maine, for ocean water views when the Aku Aku offered their version of the Hai River three miles from home?

Funny story at the first Aku Aku: My dad and his friends took a lunch break there once and ordered the numbered specials. My dad's friend said, "I'll have number one." My dad said, "Me, too." Guess what meal they served my dad? Number two!

Whether the first and second Aku Aku, the pu pu platters were huge and tasty, the service quicker than competitors in a fast-serve restaurant genre, the Tolstoy-length menu dressed in clear font for reading ease, and the price always right at this old school Polynesian restaurant..

I am not clear on when the first Aku left the premises, but the Alewife location reigned from 1968 to 2000. The dining room seemed larger than Shanghai and the elbow room increased from the former Aku Aku location.  It is here, I believe, that fake news got its start, also -- not from the media but the younger crowd that loved to impress their friends with outlandish stories. Here is the standard story that circulated probably better than the Boston Herald American, at this time: There was this group of young adults that chose not to pay their bill and ran out of the restaurant. Driving fast from the restaurant, the group felt they got away with their plan. Looking in the rear view mirror, however, the driver was horrified to see a maniacal Asian chef with a kitchen knife on the back of their moving car screaming at them to pay the bill. A deliberate fast turn shook the chef off the car and onto the road where the man stumbled back to the restaurant.

You wouldn't believe how many people believed this story. Having an IQ over 40, however, I was skeptical. Turns out my cynicism proved right when, through the years, I heard the same story applied to other restaurants.

Do you miss the Aku Aku? I sure do, and was delighted to find out that its successor, Jasper White's Summer Shack, kept many Aku elements including a wall mural (see photo above) and the plastic Tiki God from back in the day, as well as a commemorative plaque, at its restaurant.

As seen on the plaque, Summer Shack even features, on its drinks menu, the legendary Aku Aku scorpion bowl that uses the original recipe!

The scorpion bowl at Jasper White's Summer Shack
 in Cambridge, uses the original Aku Aku recipe.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook page.
I highly recommend you check out the Summer Shack for these wonderful remnants of a once great Chinese restaurant, but, more importantly, as a fabulous place to dine on some amazing seafood in a comfortable atmosphere. It's one of the best seafood restaurants I have been to in all of New England.

The Aku Aku surely gained its most fame from the Alewife location, but let's not forget, also, the Boston Aku near Fenway Park and the Worcester spot. All were great examples of a classic old school Polynesian restaurant -- you really couldn't go wrong at any of the locations.

Too bad they all closed, but isn't that the way of the restaurant industry? Just when you think you've found a restaurant for life, they close on you.

Hundreds of thousands surely enjoyed the Aku Aku through the years and with good reason: They took the most beloved aspects of Americanized Chinese restaurants -- food, restaurant design, reliability and consistency-- and put it all under one roof.

Many miss the Aku Aku. Me, too!

What are some of your memories of the Aku Aku?





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5 Old School Boston Area Restaurants That Are Still Thriving Today

The sepia-tinted memories of going out to eat with family and friends back in the day conjure up warm memories at wonderful places that, unfortunately, are no longer with us. We can never get that back, but, on the other hand, those special memories can never be taken away.

Fortunately. many old school-style restaurants in the Boston area remain thriving, thus allowing us to connect to the past while creating new traditions and instant memories now and, hopefully, long into the the future. It's like the best of both worlds!  Here are a few old school Boston area restaurants that, thankfully, seem stuck in the past...

Pleasant Cafe, Roslindale

Not much has changed at the Pleasant Cafe since its opening in 1937, keeping many of the same recipes and going through only one ownership change since FDR served as U.S. president. Specializing in Italian and American dishes with delicious thin-crust pizza as one of the signature dishes, the Pleasant Cafe remains true to old school Boston form. The leather green booth seats, the long bar with green stools and the wood-paneled walls lend a feel that seems more like part of our childhood than that of the 21st century.  Plus, Owner John Morgan is a true gentleman -- like a kind neighbor I knew when growing up in the 70s!

Woodman's of Essex

Woodman's stands as the gold standard for fried clams in the Boston area. It was after all, the birthplace of the fried clam in 1914. The Woodman family still owns the landmark clam shack, now in its fifth generation.  Although a tourist destination, Woodman's never let it go to their heads, favoring the plain, traditional no-frills clam shack atmosphere and continuing to specialize in fried clams, lobsters and steamers.

The Woodmans are very nice people -- truly humble and seemingly unaffected by all the success. I had the chance to sit down with Steve and Rhonda Woodman earlier in the year and they treated me like family. What was scheduled to be an hour interview went much longer. The societal lost art of conversation became revived when chatting with the Woodmans, taking center stage alongside the wonderful comfort foods that, to this day, continue to make Woodman's one of the best old school Boston area restaurants.

Bliss Family Restaurant, Attleboro

Bliss started as an ice cream stand in 1930, grew into an ice cream parlor in 1952 and then into a family restaurant in 1978.  Similar to the former Brigham's and to a lesser extend, Friendly's, Bliss epitomizes the classic ice cream restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner items and a fabulous choice of ice cream flavors in a counter and booth restaurant format. Although New England Ice Cream in Norton, Mass., bought Bliss out a few years ago and the restaurant was updated, Bliss still looks every bit the part of old school with families out for a good meal and a wholesome, unpretentious feel that made it so appealing in the first place. My favorite ice cream dish: the Dusty Glacier with two fudge brownies, three scoops of vanilla ice cream saturated with hot fudge and topped with whipped cream, a smattering of cocoa and a cherry on top. Yum!

Mug N' Muffin, Norwood

Yes, there still is a Mug N' Muffin around from the days when this chain competed against the Pewter Pot for a place to enjoy coffee and muffins in a Colonial-style atmosphere. Downtown Norwood is so lucky to have this blast from the past gem that remains true-to-form, thanks to owner Dave Monaghan who first started working at the restaurant chain in 1971. Dave loved working at the Mug N' Muffin so much that he wanted to continue owing one despite the demise of the chain. He and wife Sheila serve up pretty much everything for breakfast and lunch that you remember from the Mug N' Muffin restaurants of yesteryear!

Red Wing Diner, Walpole

The Red Wing Diner first opened in the 1930s and features a classic 1920s dining car embedded into the restaurant. Old school in every sense of the word, the Red Wing Diner specializes in traditional Italian-American specialties (fried seafood and pizza are most popular), a plain-looking dining room, the diner that now serves as a bar and staff that has been there forever. Once stepping into the Red Wing, you definitely feel like going back in time -- this despite upgrades to the dining room. It's especially popular with local families and townies who love the nostalgic vibe.

What are some of your favorite old school Boston restaurants still open today?

The Old Oaken Bucket, Westford, Mass.

Growing up in Arlington, Mass., during the 60s, 70s and 80s, I was country before country was cool.

I loved watching The Andy Griffith Show and thought Goober was one of the best characters in the series. My impressions of Hee Haw was that it was a brilliant show, realizing better than anyone east of Route 495 the genius of Roy Clark and Buck Owens. I listed to WCOP-AM 1150 radio for country music and often thought of Merle Haggard as the Shakespeare of twang. What's more, I had no Boston accent, thus making some wonder if I lived in Podunk and commuted 1,000 miles daily to attend Arlington High School.

So, it came of no surprise to anyone that I loved The Old Oaken Bucket in Westford, Mass. The rustic country style atmosphere and food felt close to my suburban Boston rural heart and so far removed from the confines of the densely-populated community I called home.

I read that The Old Oaken Bucket went through a few fires in the 1970s and 1980s, but, fortunately, rebounded quite well. In the latter years, The Old Oaken Bucket's menu became a bit more refined with higher quality offerings

The 99, a local chain restaurant, took over The Old Oaken Bucket in 2002. Nothing against The 99, but what a shame that The Old Oaken Bucket's great run starting in the 1930s had to come to an end. To me, the closing was equal to the saddest country songs of all time.

You can see some of The Old Oaken Bucket menus at The Westford Historical Society Society and Museum on Wednesdays in 2019.

Does Anyone Remember the General Glover House in Swampscott?

The General Glover House was the only restaurant I knew of named after a local Revolutionary War general (John Glover) born in Salem and raised in Marblehead. So, why was the restaurant located in Swampscott? Maybe it was a good "general" location. Sorry for the bad joke.

Anthony Athanas, of legendary Anthony's Pier 4 fame in Boston, opened the General Glover House in 1957 with the charming Essex Room at the forefront of the classic memories here. The Essex Room was definitely charming because they said so in the promotions. The huge room came across with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink colonial stagecoach stop scenes including the big fireplace, post-and-beam ceilings and lanterns and copper pots all over the place. The waitresses were such good sports, having to dress up in those long colonial-style dresses and the goofy frilled white caps that concealed 60s and 70s hairstyles.

 As kids, we thought George Washington would walk in the room at any moment, especially at night where it was known that he couldn't sleep. How do I know this? Well, he couldn't lie. The General Glover House was good but not great, in my opinion. Down the road in Saugus, the Hilltop Steakhouse served better steaks, and the Continental better popovers. Plus, it was more fun trying to drive 90 MPH out of the parking lot at the Hilltop to try to break into the insane Route 1 southbound traffic.

I believe the General Glover House closed in the 1990s and its presence is definitely missed even if it wasn't my favorite North Shore restaurant. I miss most the really neat colonial theme (well there's a "Leave it to Beaver"-type phrase for you!) and the kind waitresses that were enough to make the dining experience worthwhile!

WHDH AM 850 Boston Showcased Amazing Talents in the 60s, 70s and 80s

 When thinking of some of the greatest personalities in modern Boston radio history, the old WHDH on 850 AM (now WEEI) surely ranks amongst the best. They certainly showcased some amazing talents in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Consider all the names that jumped out of your transistor radio, and what they brought to the airwaves. Jess Cain served as the morning funnyman but with a class and restraint that was more akin to comedians/TV talk show hosts Steve Allen and Dick Cavett rather than the screaming top 40 DJs of the generation. He was famous for the "The Carl Yastrzemski Song"...



For a while, Bob Raleigh anchored mid-morning and later went onto greater fame at WBZ AM's overnight shift.  The conversational Dave Supple had this warm personality and a slight lisp that made him an endearing personality -- like some one's favorite uncle. Frank Kingston Smith, originally of New York City radio fame, took on the late afternoon shift and had this great, stop-and-go Dick Van Dyke-type voice set to a slight echo. He was an incredible talent and had radio legend written all over him. Norm Nathan possessed the warmest radio voice ever, was an insightful humorist, and graced us with his vast knowledge of jazz and the American songbook, making for some truly listenable radio with his "Sounds in the Night" radio show. Norm and my dad were good friends and he would come over to our house or meet us for Chinese food at the China Blossom in North Andover. He was one of the nicest people I ever met -- so sincere, warm and authentic.

Additionally, Alan Dary had this wonderful Sunday morning show playing some of the greatest pop and jazz-influenced tunes ever set to vinyl. Mr. Dary didn't use any radio tricks or self-absorbed drama to show you how talented he was, instead talking to his audience as if the broadcast came from his living room. What a natural!

WHDH miraculously kept the high level of talented staff and well-chosen top 40 and pop songs (never any loud rock) going through the 1970s to the 1980s including the personable, articulate Tom Kennedy, Sean Casey with his subtle sense of humor and wacky "Chicken Man" cliffhanger segments, and the golden throat Bill Silver. I believe Mr. Silver initiated the famous phrase "But wait, there's more" as an advertising staple. Tom Doyle, who gained fame for his off-the-wall humor and deft imitations, became a co-host with Mr. Cain sometime in the early 1980s. Jim Sands, a military vet with a classic deep voice, became best known for his Saturday night oldies show. I remember meeting him at a live broadcast at Arlington Town Hall, and he was the nicest fellow (like a more gruff Norm Nathan). Mr Sands even let me say a few words on the air!

Additionally, WHDH had the very likeable Chuck Igo, one of my favorite radio personalities who has a morning show at Rewind 100.9 in Portland and is the author of an excellent book,"Taken Identity," a geo-political thriller.

That lineup playing top 40 and middle of the road songs set to catchy radio ID jingles and a news staff that was second to none -- including Vin Maloney, Nick Mills and Joe Klemente (hope that is the correct spelling) -- was everything you could ever want in a local radio station. I wish radio stations today could cultivate local talent the way they did back then on WHDH.

Sports also played a major role in the station's success with Don Gillis and Leo Egan handling the popular "Voice of Sports" show at different periods, Red Sox broadcasts bringing us the legendary Ned Martin, Ken Coleman and Jim Woods, and hockey and basketball with Bob Wilson, Fred Cusick and Johnny Most. Eddie Andelman and The Sports Huddle brought an entirely different take on sports, not taking itself too seriously and offering some of the funniest moments (including prank phone calls and memorable host-caller interaction) in contemporary, local radio history.

Like many AM radio stations, WHDH dropped its music format in favor of talk radio around 1987 and employed such legends as David Brudnoy and Larry Glick (both, better known at WBZ) and other huge talents like Avi Nelson.  I think, for a while, current WRKO afternoon talk show host and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr had an afternoon talk show -- and facing stiff competition against the great Jerry Williams on WRKO.

WHDH eventually became WEEI, which became one of the most influential sports radio stations in the country. The local lineups on WEEI moved to 93.7 FM years ago, thus leaving the 850 AM dial position with syndicated sports talk radio. What a far cry from the incredible local talents that graced WHDH for so many years. I wish they could bring back a personality-driven oldies format that harks back to the days of the station in its prime. With WODS Oldies 103.3 dropping the oldies format in 2012, there is a big market for this type of station and with a powerful 50,000 watt signal on 850 could reach many interested people. This format has worked well at WROW-AM 590 Albany, New York, with its "Albany Magic" moniker, so why not Boston?

If it never happens, though, that's OK because many of us have these great memories of WHDH that can never be taken away!

Great Boston Area Delis to Remember

Jack and Marion's matches. Photo source: the Daily Dish at
 http://thedailydish.us/photos/main.php?g2_itemId=36189
The Boston area had this bad rap in the 60s, 70s and 80s about lacking good delis, but in a pickle they seemed just fine to me.  Plus, it was a lot closer, geographically, than traveling to that deli capital of the world called New York City!

Here are some great Boston area delis that bring back some wonderful memories...

Ken's at Copley, Boston Ken's seemed to please all generations -- popular amongst students looking for a cheap meal, kids magnetized to sandwiches, and, in general, all fans of good deli food. I remember the rotisserie chickens, excellent pastrami sandwiches and that brisk, sometimes brusque deli service so akin to many delis. The Boylston St. location was ideal, as back then, the area had a surprisingly low number of good places to eat -- probably fewer than the towns of Podunk and East Washbucket (sorry, had to be dramatic here to prove a point). Ken's always seem to hit the spot and one of the owners (the one named Ken) brought a lot of pride and character to this Boston deli landmark.

Mel and Murray's, Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers I used to go to Mel and Murray's Deli with my grandma Anna and family at the Liberty Tree Mall location. My grandma made the best Jewish-style food anywhere in the Boston area in her very own kitchen, but sometimes she needed a break from all her hard work. Mel and Murray's more than held its own as a convenient stop for excellent deli food. The original Mel and Murray's started in Lynn, I believe, in the 1920s, but they eventually expanded -- seemingly with no drop in quality. Usually mall and "sequel" suburban restaurant locations fall about as flat as a potato pancake, but Mel and Murray's somehow held onto the tenets of a good Jewish deli that reflected the quality of the original location.

Metro Deli, Boston As a Suffolk University student with a fast metabolism, I would often walk to Cambridge St. for a full turkey dinner at the Metro Deli and then return to sociology class lethargic from the large serving and all that tryptophan. They would carve the turkey fresh every day to create the next best meal to Thanksgiving. I remember the drumstick that was about the size of Rhode Island, and all the "fixin's" including stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and mashed potato. The Metro Deli wasn't just about the turkey, however, as they served some huge, delicious sandwiches. Why didn't anyone outside this neighborhood know about the Metro? I think it was the best deli in Boston! As an added bonus, virtually everyone working at the Metro looked like comedian Richard Lewis.

B&D Deli, Brookline Not that I am an expert of New York City delis, but my guess it that B&D came as close to an authentic Big Apple Deli as any in the Boston area. From 1927 to 2005, B&D took on a household name status in the world of local delis. I always thought it was better than the famous, also closed Rubin's Deli in Brookline. Through the years and the many conversations about local restaurants, experts on delis and those who knew nothing at all (translation: vacuous), mentioned the B&D Deli as one of their favorite delis. Falling into the latter category, I really loved this place!

Jack and Marion's, Brookline Jack and Marion's offered amazing soups, substantial main meals and huge desserts in a bustling, semi-urbane atmosphere. I loved the pleasant dining room with deli aromas that seemed to extend to our faraway parking space -- and, lucky us, that is was always raining on those days. For some reason, Jack and Marion's gets lots attention as the deli locals miss most -- just look online, or ask any local senior citizen or knowing baby boomer loving good deli food.

What were your favorite delis in the Boston area that are now closed?

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