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A Swan Song For the City's Greasy Spoon

*Tasty, 81-year-old night hawk, closes on Sunday

By Joshua L. Kwan, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

It would not seem possible for oozing grease, globs of ketchup and mustard, and flattened pre-made beef patties to come together and taste so magical.

But for almost a century, a few unlikely chefs have cooked up that kind of magic in a tiny place called the Tasty.

When the sun rises fully this Sunday, however, the dirty grills where those famous cheeseburgers were born each night will sizzle no more.

The closing of the Tasty on Nov. 2 will leave Harvard Square without a single eatery that offers sandwiches, french fries and piping hot coffee at four in the morning for a few dollars.

No longer will students be able to saddle up to the counter and drown out their midterm sorrows with a cold vanilla milkshake.

No longer will patrons be able to buy 25-cent stamps from an Uncle Sam vending machine.

More significantly, the end of the Tasty marks the end of an institution which has epitomized life in Harvard Square for the past 81 years.

Cambridge Savings Bank, owner of the building that houses the Tasty, is forcing out tenants--including the Tasty--to allow for major renovations, which will begin the day after the Tasty shuts its doors.

The historic Read Block, located smack in the heart of Harvard Square, will be undergoing major structural changes for the next two years.

The Tasty is Harvard Square's oldest restaurant, with its original floor tiles laid out in 1916 and its serving counter dating from the 1950s.

Tasty-lovers are not going out without a fight. There have been community meetings to halt renovation plans and creative efforts to find a new location.

But Stephanie Avis Haddad--whose father sold the Tasty to her and her husband seven years ago--said last night in a phone interview that the chances of relocating the Tasty in the Square are extremely slim.

"We're trying right now, but it doesn't look like it'll work out," Haddad says.

That means, barring a minor miracle for this couple, the clock runs out for good at 6 a.m. on Nov. 2.

The Regulars

Alexandria V. Long, known among Tasty regulars as "Cricket," has been ordering hot dogs and french fries at the shoebox corner eatery for six years, and she's only a sophomore at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Long spends about two hours each day at the Tasty, skipping class to hang out and smoke with other patrons.

"It feels like home and the people are so nice to me," Long says, brushing back her dyed, fire engine-red hair.

Long slowly turns her lip ring and shakes her head in disbelief.

"I'm very upset," she says, puffing on a cigarette. "The stupid corporate fascist assholes come here and just take away my home."

Long looks down at her maroon Doc Martens, shrugs her shoulders and sighs.

"This really old guy named me 'Cricket' because I'm always happy, always jumping around," Long recalls. "Not anymore."

Tony, 18, sits on a stool next to Long, whose legs are interlocked with his. With long brown hair flopping over his eyes, he looks very much like the cool high school graduate without a job--and not in the job hunt.

"I've got all my life to work so why start now?" Tony says.

Between slow, deliberate sips of coffee, Tony thoughtfully identifies the conversation as the most alluring aspect of the Tasty.

"This is the only place where you can talk about geopolitical issues in Bosnia and kinky sex and hard drugs with everyone from bums to Harvard kids," Tony says.

"There are people who walk through these doors who make nothing in life," Tony says, pointing at a homeless Tasty patron. "There are others who make millions. And they are all welcome here."

The Tasty is one of few locations in Harvard Square whose doors never need the "Sorry, We're Closed" sign (Store 24, Christy's and Kinko's are other notables).

When the bars around town close, people begin trickling into the tiny establishment at 2 JFK St.

"Where else can you get a burger at 2 o'clock in the morning?" laughs Robert Marshall, who works across the street at the Harvard Book and Binding Service.

"If you had $5 left, you could get a hamburger and fries and still go home with $2."

Every morning at 6 a.m., the "Sheriff" (Marshall once worked as a constable) saunters into the Tasty and shouts out his order, "The usual!"

A cup of coffee and a slice of toast--unbuttered--has been Marshall's usual for the past 27 years.

The toast is left unbuttered during his occasional diets.

"The Tasty was the first place I visited in the Square," remembers Marshall. "It's got local character and color and greasy hamburgers. What else can you ask for?"

"You get everything from hippies to punk rockers to police officers to mentally challenged people," Marshall says, jerking his thumb to a buddy standing against the wall.

Behind the man is a world map from the 1960s with hundreds of pins stuck into every corner of the globe. Representing the home towns of the Tasty's many patrons, the pins are scattered across the map from Sacramento to Singapore to Sydney.

The man standing against the wall is Jeremiah Johnson, a 50-year-old street person who has been frequenting the Tasty for 37 years.

As a youngster, Johnson used to sneak out of his house to grab a bite at the Tasty. "My parents wouldn't let me go to the Tasty," he recounts. "They wanted me to be a good Christian boy, a Catholic priest perhaps."

"I discovered the Tasty and it dawned on them that there was no way in hell I was going to the priest-hood."

Stroking his full grey beard, Johnson says wistfully, "I'm going to miss the camaraderie."

Losing a Job

Don Valcovic is going to miss his job. After working the stainless steel grill at the Tasty for over 10 years, Valcovic says he doesn't know what he'll do in the future.

"This has been one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had--spiritually and intellectually," Valcovic says above the drone of National Public Radio's newscast.

"This place is the pulsating heart of Harvard Square."

It is also a place where drunks can sober up with a hot cup of coffee or even urinate on the floor like Johnson once did, Valcovic recalls.

Greg Kinney, 46, knows he will never be able to find another place like the Tasty.

"It's a funky place with a lot of Bohemians and fringe characters," says the Dorchester resident.

"I guess I'm one myself and that's why I like it," Kinney chuckles.

With a menu offering everything from "VE RI TASty" frankfurters to grilled-cheese sandwiches to the "Heart Attack," a double cheeseburger with bacon and an egg, the Tasty attracts a continuously bustling crowd. Patrons who aren't lucky enough to snag one of the 15 bar stools end up having to stand and eat shoulder-to-shoulder.

Since August, Sarmonica Jones, 27, has shot more than 100 rolls of film commemorating the Tasty. Jones, who works at the Harvard International Office, proudly flips her portfolio binder to a black and white photograph and points out Johnson and Valcovic.

Jones, also a part-time student at the Harvard Extension School, eats a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich everyday at 8:30 a.m. before starting work.

"I'm heartbroken that the Tasty is closing," Jones says. "It's a great loss for the Harvard Square community."The Tasty spans the 20th century, comforting night owls from the world over.

Tasty-lovers are not going out without a fight. There have been community meetings to halt renovation plans and creative efforts to find a new location.

But Stephanie Avis Haddad--whose father sold the Tasty to her and her husband seven years ago--said last night in a phone interview that the chances of relocating the Tasty in the Square are extremely slim.

"We're trying right now, but it doesn't look like it'll work out," Haddad says.

That means, barring a minor miracle for this couple, the clock runs out for good at 6 a.m. on Nov. 2.

The Regulars

Alexandria V. Long, known among Tasty regulars as "Cricket," has been ordering hot dogs and french fries at the shoebox corner eatery for six years, and she's only a sophomore at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Long spends about two hours each day at the Tasty, skipping class to hang out and smoke with other patrons.

"It feels like home and the people are so nice to me," Long says, brushing back her dyed, fire engine-red hair.

Long slowly turns her lip ring and shakes her head in disbelief.

"I'm very upset," she says, puffing on a cigarette. "The stupid corporate fascist assholes come here and just take away my home."

Long looks down at her maroon Doc Martens, shrugs her shoulders and sighs.

"This really old guy named me 'Cricket' because I'm always happy, always jumping around," Long recalls. "Not anymore."

Tony, 18, sits on a stool next to Long, whose legs are interlocked with his. With long brown hair flopping over his eyes, he looks very much like the cool high school graduate without a job--and not in the job hunt.

"I've got all my life to work so why start now?" Tony says.

Between slow, deliberate sips of coffee, Tony thoughtfully identifies the conversation as the most alluring aspect of the Tasty.

"This is the only place where you can talk about geopolitical issues in Bosnia and kinky sex and hard drugs with everyone from bums to Harvard kids," Tony says.

"There are people who walk through these doors who make nothing in life," Tony says, pointing at a homeless Tasty patron. "There are others who make millions. And they are all welcome here."

The Tasty is one of few locations in Harvard Square whose doors never need the "Sorry, We're Closed" sign (Store 24, Christy's and Kinko's are other notables).

When the bars around town close, people begin trickling into the tiny establishment at 2 JFK St.

"Where else can you get a burger at 2 o'clock in the morning?" laughs Robert Marshall, who works across the street at the Harvard Book and Binding Service.

"If you had $5 left, you could get a hamburger and fries and still go home with $2."

Every morning at 6 a.m., the "Sheriff" (Marshall once worked as a constable) saunters into the Tasty and shouts out his order, "The usual!"

A cup of coffee and a slice of toast--unbuttered--has been Marshall's usual for the past 27 years.

The toast is left unbuttered during his occasional diets.

"The Tasty was the first place I visited in the Square," remembers Marshall. "It's got local character and color and greasy hamburgers. What else can you ask for?"

"You get everything from hippies to punk rockers to police officers to mentally challenged people," Marshall says, jerking his thumb to a buddy standing against the wall.

Behind the man is a world map from the 1960s with hundreds of pins stuck into every corner of the globe. Representing the home towns of the Tasty's many patrons, the pins are scattered across the map from Sacramento to Singapore to Sydney.

The man standing against the wall is Jeremiah Johnson, a 50-year-old street person who has been frequenting the Tasty for 37 years.

As a youngster, Johnson used to sneak out of his house to grab a bite at the Tasty. "My parents wouldn't let me go to the Tasty," he recounts. "They wanted me to be a good Christian boy, a Catholic priest perhaps."

"I discovered the Tasty and it dawned on them that there was no way in hell I was going to the priest-hood."

Stroking his full grey beard, Johnson says wistfully, "I'm going to miss the camaraderie."

Losing a Job

Don Valcovic is going to miss his job. After working the stainless steel grill at the Tasty for over 10 years, Valcovic says he doesn't know what he'll do in the future.

"This has been one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had--spiritually and intellectually," Valcovic says above the drone of National Public Radio's newscast.

"This place is the pulsating heart of Harvard Square."

It is also a place where drunks can sober up with a hot cup of coffee or even urinate on the floor like Johnson once did, Valcovic recalls.

Greg Kinney, 46, knows he will never be able to find another place like the Tasty.

"It's a funky place with a lot of Bohemians and fringe characters," says the Dorchester resident.

"I guess I'm one myself and that's why I like it," Kinney chuckles.

With a menu offering everything from "VE RI TASty" frankfurters to grilled-cheese sandwiches to the "Heart Attack," a double cheeseburger with bacon and an egg, the Tasty attracts a continuously bustling crowd. Patrons who aren't lucky enough to snag one of the 15 bar stools end up having to stand and eat shoulder-to-shoulder.

Since August, Sarmonica Jones, 27, has shot more than 100 rolls of film commemorating the Tasty. Jones, who works at the Harvard International Office, proudly flips her portfolio binder to a black and white photograph and points out Johnson and Valcovic.

Jones, also a part-time student at the Harvard Extension School, eats a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich everyday at 8:30 a.m. before starting work.

"I'm heartbroken that the Tasty is closing," Jones says. "It's a great loss for the Harvard Square community."The Tasty spans the 20th century, comforting night owls from the world over.

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