For decades, Harvard students have gone to Tommy's Lunch on Mt. Auburn Street seeking French fries, lime rickeys and late-night pinball games.
But students arriving there now will find only a sign in the window reading CLOSED. After more than 25 years as a Cambridge institution, Tommy's Lunch is no more.
The restaurant is slated to reopen, under new ownership, as Tommy's House of Pizza in January of next year, according to the sign.
Neither former owner Tommy Stefanos nor the new owners could be reached for comment last night.
But neighboring merchants expressed surprise at the sudden closing.
"They're closed for good?" asked the manager of Pinocchio's Pizza on Winthrop St., who identified himself only as "Ralph Z."
Employees at The Starr Book Shop and Elsie's also on Mount Auburn St., said they had no idea that Tommy's Lunch was folding.
"I was surprised that Tommy's closed so early," said Jan Cooper, an Elsie's worker. Cooper said she had not expected Stefanos to retire for several more years.
Neighborhood merchants say they have no reason to believe the restaurant was in financial straits.
"It's a good location...I don't see how you could go under," said Ralph Z.
Tommy's Lunch, known for its late hours, served grill food, sandwiches and snacks. The restaurant also harbored a collection of pinball and video games, making it a favorite hangout for Cambridge youths.
"Tommy's runs" have been a nightly tradition at The Crimson for the past 20 years, according to Crimson Production Supervisor Patrick R. Sorrento.
Each production night, a Crimson staffer goes to Tommy's to buy coffee for Sorrento and food for other staff members.
"It's been a tradition that the compers always made the Tommy's run," Sorrento said. "That's how they've always been initiated. It's the only place in the Square where you can get good coffee."
Students and Cambridge residents interviewed yesterday said they were sad to see the passing of a local landmark.
Gregory J. Lopez '95 said, "It's really kind of a shame...It's a Harvard tradition and it's the only place around here to get a decent egg cream. So now the egg cream is officially dead here."
Jeanne L. Smoot '93-94, who described herself as "surprised, shocked and dismayed," said that when she took a year off from Harvard, she specifically looked forward to patronizing Tommy's on her return.
"You go and you hang out [at Tommy's]. You can just be, for long periods of time," Smoot said.
James Dowling '76 and Charles G. Lewis, a Cambridge native and graduate of Boston University, said they would miss the restaurant's relaxed atmosphere.
"It was a good place to go without drinking," said Dowling.
"Tommy is a character--a very nice person," Lewis said. "It was a nice place to go to get something quick to eat or just for a couple of games of pinball."
The manager of Pinocchio's Pizza said yesterday he is not worried about facing competition from a new pizzeria.
"We wish them luck," he said.