This Thing Called Courage

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oxbox, Fruitlands, and the Old-Timer Restaurant

I had a very nice great weekend-- yesterday my friend Sean and I visited the Oxbox National Wildlife Refuge, which runs along the once-filthy but now wild and restored Nashua River, a tributary of the Merrimack River. A whole section of that refuge is closed off to any visitors, but a large section remains open. (see pic above, obviously taken in the warmer months.)

On the way we passed by Fruitlands, the utopian community founded by Bronson Alcott (Lousia May's father) and some other of the New England Transcendentalists a century and a half ago-- absolutely beautiful country. Finally we went to The Old-Timers Restaurant, an institution in Clinton, MA, since 1929. It's very hard to describe-- a kind of Irish restaurant/pub, built like a German beer hall, with a singing chef (on Sunday and Wednesday nights, when they have their buffet) as well as 'entertainment' in the form of this old man Irish band of sorts-- but the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts! It's one of those restaurants with the paper placemats boasting the local merchants-- a true sign of authenticity, and the kind of place you just don't find anymore in this strip-malled world. Worth the trip and quite the trip!

This is from their website:

Go anywhere and say you are from Clinton, Massachusetts and the first thing you will hear in response is “I’ve been to the Old Timer.” The Old Timer Restaurant has been the landmark restaurant for two generations of Clintonians. Every politician, sports star and celebrity who has visited Clinton since 1929, has been to the Old Timer, and that includes the Kennedy clan. Started by John and Helen McNally in the 1929, they converted the street-side flower shop into a bar called the “Tap Room.” The name “Old Timer” derived from the old patrons who became daily fixtures when the bar first opened. The greatest honor the ‘Tap Room” can bestow on a patron is to retire their hat above the bar. There are dozens of hats on display and they will be glad to tell you the story behind each one. The dining room was added in 1934 and is virtually unchanged today. Even the murals done by German artist Fred Gentsch are still intact. In 1941, the McNallys opened the Clinton Hotel next door (see opposite page) which was connected to the Old Timer Restaurant. The 33 room hotel has since been converted to condominiums. In the 1930s, diners would be entertained by the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. with the Will Mastin Trio, singer Jim Brown, Shermis Midgets from Germany, orchestras, roller skating acts, dance bands and even trapeze acts. Trapeze acts? The trapeze support rings are still visible in the dining hall support beams. Today, music is still a part of the Old Timer Restaurant. An afternoon buffet is still served every Sunday and includes entertainment ranging from piano music, singing groups or Jim McNally (the singing chef) serenading the patrons.

After our very filling meal we took a little stroll around downtown Clinton, an old factory/mill town, and walked by the Strand Theatre, which earlier in the day, we learned, had a benefit showing "on the bog screen" of the Wizard of Oz. We also walked by a storefront "Jeebus" church, which was playing some mighty funky music and had tons of people inside (the door was open a crack) sitting in rows in metal fold-up chairs, and some of these folks were getting funky with the music. It may have been a Brazilian church. Just outside the center of town is the Museum of Russian Icons...I don't know either, but surely such a place would be worth the trip at some future date.

Today my friend Robbie and I went to the Weir Hill Reservation in North Andover. Many years ago (about ten) I bought this little handbook of "Hikes Around Eastern Massachusetts." This was one of the hikes listed. I'll post those pictures tomorrow, as Fionn wants a walk right now, and I know from experience it doesn't pay to put him off....


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