YOU KNOW where to buy books and records, pin-striped bell-bottoms and Tom Jones shirts, the New York Times and Ramparts. But do you know where to eat in Harvard Square? If you're overwhelmed by the possibilities or ignorant of the choices, pay attention to this guide. For just five dollars a day you can eat well in Harvard Square. In the right places you'll be served not only food but also horoscopes, fights, excitement, adventure, bathos, pathos, and even high tragedy--gratuitously, of course.
Our guide for this tour will be Joe Blitman, an Adams House senior who has not eaten a House meal since his girlfriend was knocked off by a Cabot Hall milk machine three years ago. Now for the tour.
Rising punctually at eleven, Blitman heads out into the Square. Since he always misses his English 10 lectures at ten o'clock, he meets his English 10 section woman for a late breakfast at the University Restaurant.
The UR is actually a restaurant, with two Greek owners, an elaborate menu, and Budweiser in bottles. After morning lectures, professors and students assemble in the wall booths to discuss God, Man, and Law over a cup of coffee. During the rest of the day the UR is occupied by pairs of middle-aged ladies, graduate students with briefcases, and lonely men in raincoats.
The trick of the UR experience is to get one of the three window booths which overlook Mass. Ave. If you're gregarious, you can knock on the window whenever your friends walk by. If you're cool, you can wait for them to knock first. Blitman orders a cup of black coffee and an order of English muffins--for 30 cents. Miss English 10 has an Athenian Salad with Greek cheese. While she is explaining the morning lecture to Blitman, she gives out six knocks and receives 21. She is cool. At noon, Blitman, his head ringing, gets up to go to French 125. He leaves a nickel tip for both of them. The University Restaurant is one of the few Harvard eating places where you should leave a tip. But the service is miserably slow--the nickel is plenty.
After class Blitman joins the happy throng headed for Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage. Known as "the Spa," Bartley's combines the best qualities of a Ricky Nelson malt shop and a large brick oven. Cheery red and white signs tumble across two walls. There are too many to read, so don't try. They are all about hamburgers, anyway; Mr. Bartley's offers twenty different kinds, ranging from Hawaiian to Saute'ed Mushroom.
Don't be alarmed if you can't get in the door at first. The crowd is just hung up on a large coat-pole which blocks the aisle. If you wait, there will be a seat--sometime.
At rush hour Bartley's is strictly for undergraduates and Widener types. Students arrive in groups of four and five, or at least in pairs. They laugh and joke a lot; and they don't mind waiting fifteen minutes for a hamburger. If you're in a hurry, try the counter. For amusement there are two highly comical drink machines, one containing grape, the other red punch. Always in motion, they slop and squirt the liquid up, down, all around. On especially good days, they become phallic; the punch machine plays the male to the grape machine's female.
The star of Bartley's is Florence, the heavyset, bespectacled waitress who works from midmorning to mid-afternoon. During the rush hour she takes charge like a floor manager at a Demoratic convention. Try to get to know Florence. She is an amateur astrologer. If she likes you, She is an amateur astrologer. If she likes you, she will cull information for your horoscope by asking for your birthdate and the days on which you have broken bones. Then, weeks later, Florence will predict your future in a handwritten report which may run upwards of nine pages. Afterwards you will sit in Florence's section and leave her tips. Nevertheless, Florence has a certain altruistic concern and helpfulness which you won't find at Coney Island.
Blitman, surrounded by white levis and old tweed jackets, orders a Bartley's Buns 21. The price--$1.10--is steep, but, after all, this is lunch. The Buns 21 boasts two Bartley burgers, two buns, and some scattered potato chips. Accessories include a little paper cup of cole slaw--about one blue plastic forkful--and a pickle. Two pickles if you know Florence. He also orders a large coke for twenty-five cents. Five minutes later, he's done. A ten cent tip for Florence. And don't forget to get a twelve cent box of crackerjacks at the cashier's counter.
NOW COMES ONE of those grueling stretches when Blitman has to amuse himself. We'll leave him to his fun until four when he makes his way along Mt. Auburn Street to Hazen's. There is something unsettling entrance about Hazen's. The impersonal turnstile entrance with its clanging bell. The antiseptic toy counters. The lippiputian nursery school stools. The place oozes sterility. Creeping Brighamism is permeating the Square.
Blitman asks for an extra thick shake and a creme-filled chocolate Ring Ding. He is punched for forty cents. Although he doesn't like Hazen's much, Blitman does get a big kick out of the way his plastic sanitary straw stands straight up in his shake. And he likes to observe the teen-bopper subculture in action. At night, Hazen's absorbs the Bartley crowd. During the weekdays, it becomes a Cambridge streetcorner moved indoors, a refuge for the lustful, sallow, acne-splattered teen set. Precocous little girls with rampaging breasts bump and grind to the Seeds and the Stones. Cheeseburger boys in thick maroon coats and plaid pants leer through clouds of smoke. Everyone is doing all right.
Now that Theresa is gone, Hazen's waitresses are an undistinguished lot, a makeshift collection of young girls, middle-aged women, and grandmothers. Only wiry Chas, the efficient cook, has any class. Joe Blitman leaves Hazen's in the midst of a Mamas and Papas sing-along.
As dinner-time approaches, Blitman is in good shape. He has spent only $2.32. There is a lot of time and a lot of food yet to come.
For dinner, Tommy's Lunch. Tommy's attracts the really alienated Adams House types and hangers-on, not because of its food which, at best, is ordinary, but because of its extras--the jukebox, the pinball machine, and big Tommy himself. Regulars claim that the Seeburg Stereo Jukebox is without doubt "the best box in the Square." At full volume, it provides total sound. Even the roast beef moves. Right next to the box is a great pinball machine, next to the box is a great pinball machine, Midway's Two Man Rodeo. You can always get a game at Tommy's, but be sure that you're not being hustled by an expert. The Redo has inspired a cult of pinball addicts whose kingpin is Bob Willing '67, the fastest man on the flippers in Cambridge. Most pinballers never score above 500 points. Last year he racked up 2785 points, a record which should never be broken.
A monument to bountiful eating, the proprietor, Tommy, is a welcome contrast to his sour counter assistants. A congenial jokester who knows all his steady clients, Tommy is always willing to do a favor for those he likes. The store will cash small checks for destitute and hungry students. And, several years ago, Tommy spread two checkered table cloths, lighted candles, and personally served a blacktie dinner for some Poonies.
For a big man, as they say, he moves pretty well. Shelves of bowling trophies attest to his ability, and when hippies get out of line, Tommy can mix with the best. Last year, for example, a stoned hanger-on entered Tommy's one night, leaped up on the counter, and tried to kick Tommy in the face. Tommy snatched his leg out from under him, dumping him back on the floor. The assailant smashed the first person to reach him. Moving out from behind the counter, Tommy took him by the neck, threw him down, and jumped on him. The Big Splash. Ten minutes later, when the cops arrived, Tommy was still sitting on him.
Above both entrances to Tommy's, signs proclaim that shishkebab is the specialty of the house. Blitman goes up ot the counter and asks for shishkebab. "We're all out," says Tommy. Shishkebab is a standing joke at Tommy's. They never serve it there. Blitman orders a hamburger plate. For only 85c he gets two hamburgers, one bun, two pads of butter, lettuce and tomato, mayonnaise, and french fries. A fifteen cent coke brings the price of dinner to one dollar even.
After dinner there is an agonizing wait of six hours before Blitman can eat again. At midnight, he throws down a book and heads for Elsie's to get a snack. Elsie's, the proverbial hole in the wall, is just around the corner from Hazen's. But that's where the similarity ends. Elsie's is dirty. The grimy floor is overlaid with green sawdust and the cramped cooking area is about as immaculate. Elsie's is uncomfortable. When there are more than about nine people, you have to eat standing up. But Elsie's has good food at low prices. Spectacular food. Creme cheese and caviar sandwiches. Chopped liver. Beer Wurst. Knackwurst, Bratwurst. Wurst Salad. Just plain Wurst. Knackwurst, Bavarian oxtail soup. Danish Cakes. Cheese cake. The fast, efficient members of the counter gang have the dedicated air of European innkeepers. People who patronize Elsie's are serious about eating and only the uncouth order hamburgers. They like Cossack hats, don't laugh very much, and are of an intellectual bent. They actually enjoy standing up to eat. For them Elsie's is a Bavarian outpost in Harvard Square.
Blitman orders a roast beef special and cheese cake to go. The order is passed along by the counter people and finally disappears into a cranny near the big black stove. Then out of the confusion of cardboard boxes comes the special. Thirty seconds flat.
Clutching his 70c bag of goodies, Blitman walks down to Cahaly's. He goes past the soups and cereals to the freezer. A quart of chocolate milk for 33c. This will be a feast. On the way out Blitman stops to watch the Johnny Carson Show on Cahaly's minitube. Speaking around his cigar, Ralph Cahaly tries to sell Blitman one of his modern aerodynamic red snow shovels. Blitman doesn't need one. He pays for the milk, counts his change three times, and leaves.
The end of Joe Blitman's day is a foregone conclusion. At three in the morning, he puts on his wrap-around sunglasses, jams The Sot Weed Factor into his pocket, and goes to the Bick. Since that first cup of coffee at the UR he has spent $4.45 on food and tips. Now he will end it all at the Bick.
There is something refreshingly obscene about the Bick at three in the morning. A film of dirty water covers the proliferating H's on the tile floor. The fluorescent lights shine unmercifully on the naked orange, brown, and green wall panels. And the pastoral murals along both sides of the room are somebody's idea of a bad joke.
Blitman pushes through the double set of doors and walks slowly down the Bick's wedding aisle. The scenery is great. Beneath one table an expanse of smooth pink thigh under a black mini-skirt. Off in the corner the inevitable lonely old man crouched over the Record-American, looking more forlorn for his old fashioned brown suit. A table of Negroes with conked hair and nail-head stovepipes. A bearded student reading The Mill on the Floss. Two gas station attendants just off the late shift. The whole crew.
Behind the counter "Our Special juicy grilled Steak Plate" is coming down to make way for Scrambled Eggs and Bacon. And one blatantly red jello with stiff whipped cream topping goes begging in the ice bin.
Fried Egg Special
The 60-year-old mop man wears new Texas Wranglers beneath a soiled white apron, and the cook's slick black hair doesn't quite hide his bald spot. Blitman orders a Fried Egg Special. Two eggs over, hashed browns, one tough English muffin, a packet of marmalade, and regular coffee. Fifty-five cents. Joe Blitman has done Harvard on five dollars a day. The mop man sneezes into his shirt sleeve.
Blitman takes his faded green tray up to the front of the Bick. As a rule, the old people and adults don't stray far from the counter. The hoods, hippies, and students head, for the plate glass windows. But at some point. The young meet the old. That's the beauty of the Bick.
Down at a table near the counter are six guys just off the late shift. Two tables away are a Harvard student and his girl. He is pounding out a solo with his fingers. His girl is talking about God. The boy keeps pounding, moving, the head low, the fingers hard and calloused on the formica. For five minutes, this crazy drum solo. Then he stops, leans over, and kisses his girl. The six leer!
Three girls come in. Down the aisle in hip-huggers, and mini-skirts. The six turn and lust frantically.
A hippie enters. Down the aisle with hair to his shoulders. The six stare. "Jesus Christ." They whisper. They laugh.
One middle-aged woman can't take it. "Hey, you, hey, Are you a boy or a girl?" Lots of chuckles from the six. The hippie goes over to the lady, unbuttons his shirt, and holds it open. He offers further proof. The lady declines.
The old man with the Record-American turns his gray face to the brown clock, decides that he has an important appointment to keep, and leaves.
Behind Blitman, a freshman from across the street in a tweed overcoat is talking to his date.
"It's very funny, he's literally the only painter who, lived in Switzerland who produced anything."
"I know," she says. "I think of Switzerland as a non-productive place. It's spectacular--but boring."
"I mean, think of the color scheme of Swtizerland. It's white, blue, and green--at its best."
Blitman squashes his eggs and mixes them with the hashed browns.
"He was so fantastically anal--it was disgusting."
Yellow and brown mixed into a miscegenated map of Spain. And one tough English.
The Bick pick-up is a public spectacle. A patent-leather red-head comes in. Tall, about 30, as subtle as the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. You just know she's a whore. She sits down next to some guy wearing a suit. "Wanna buy me some coffee?" is the line. Looks him right in the eye. Then they go out. There's something about the frank way that she looks at him. O.K., baby
Sometimes, it's more exciting. Like the night two drunk whores careened in. Blitman was studying for an exam. They started to make comments about his long hair. Then they moved on to the truck drivers and gas station attendants. "Bet he likes the boys instead," one would say. Then the other, "Bet he's got no balls." Finally, one guy jumps up and yells, "Okay, I'll make you feel it. Let's go." They left.
The bearded student comes over to ask Blitman for a match. He explains that he has come to the Bick to study since his sophomore year. He stays until four when the place shuts down for an hour. He wrote his English thesis in the Bick.
"The Bick is another part of my education," he says. "I have good powers of concentration. Whenever I want, I can look up and be diverted. You can keep in touch with reality here. Keep in touch with the working people, the old people. Truck drivers will come in, sit down, and ask you what the hell you are a student for. You get in conversations with Negroes about race, about male virility. There are all kinds of people."
"What kinds?" asks Henry.
"Night watchmen, bands from the Boston Tea Party, show people, folksingers, Irish drunk singers, drunken clubbies who slobber around, even prostitutes."
"There's sex, to be sure," says the bearded student. "But the Bick's a place where people can just sit around and talk. Where groups sort of shift as the night goes. It's a place where people can let down their defenses."
Joe and the bearded student are sitting there when this high school kid comes up. "Got any grass," he says. "Any what?" says Joe. "Oh, yeah, grass. No. Try Friday or Saturday night." The kid goes off to another table.
The mop man wheels his cart up the aisle. He picks up a strawberry shortcake bowl full of Marlboro filters and dumps in into the plastic trash bin.
The counter man blinks the lights twice. The Bick is closig for an hour. Blitman gets up to go.
Outside, he looks through the plate glass window to see the Texas Wrangler man chasing dirty water across the tile floor.
A truck driver pulls up, finds the door locked, and swears.
Joe goes home to bed