Today we mourn the passing of one essential facet of life at Harvard--madness. Hot-dog madness, breakfast madness, winter madness and summer madness will never again brighten our gastronomic lives, now that Elsie's has closed. After 30 years, a great institution of higher eating has disappeared.
We'll miss the breakfast sandwich, the pastrami on a bun, the huge jumbo with "everything" that could feed all of Lowell House--all at prices reasonable enough to justify the absence of fast-food franchises in the Square. The service was lightning-fast, if a little blunt.
First Tommy's Lunch underwent a series of bizarre transformations, and now Elsie's waits vacant for a new tenant. Why are these landmarks fading away? Elsie's owner Philip S. Markell cited the difficulty of procuring a lease as a reason for his recent departure from the restaurant business. Markell said he might still open a new, smaller Elsie's if he can find an affordable space.
There's no doubt that real estate prices in the Square are only rising, and perhaps only upper-crust eateries like 8 Holyoke (A Grille, wouldn't you know it) can pay the tab. The problem is that students can only afford to patronize places like 8 Holyoke once in a while, Even fast-food offered by Au Bon Pain puts a significant pinch on one's pocket money. We need inexpensive, high-quality food that can be prepared in a hurry--a commodity Elsie's had no trouble providing.
In this quest, organizations like the Harvard Square Business Association are not being helpful. They look askance at such wonderful inventions as McDonald's and other meccas for poor, hungry students. Yet the demand is there, from students who have been and continue to be the core of Harvard Square. Moreover, it's not a question of needing to attract these types of establishments; if Cambridge would stop meddling with the free market, the supply would move in to meet the demand.
The University, of course, is not impotent. It, too, can help to fill the gap that Elsie's demise only worsens. Most universities have some in-house outlet for the fast food cravings of their student bodies. If all goes as planned with the Memorial Hall renovations, we may soon too. The plan behind these changes is to create a real student center. We hope the administration remembers that nothing brings people together like food.
There will be no recreating the particular Elsie's style. It can only be hoped that what Elsie's offered--good, cheap food--will not pass away with it.