Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eggs, Pancakes, Bacon, Sausage, Hash Browns and Coffee

Still More New Music

There was this place. It's gone now, so don't bother looking for it. All you'll find is chic clothing boutiques. But once, long ago... it was something.

In Cambridge, across the street from Somerville and a few blocks down from Arlington, there used to be a place called "Vic's, the Breakfast King." Like many breakfast joints, Vic's had specials. And regulars. And ill-tempered cooks who chain-smoked.

But unlike most breakfast places, Vic's was only open from 2am until 8am. They knew their target audience: kids who'd been to clubs and weren't ready to go home. Drifters who had nowhere else to go. The occasional trucker fresh off a haul from points west.

When it opened, there weren't many places to eat in the middle of the night in Boston. Naturally, the hipster crowd flocked there. And the larger wannabe hipster crowd. And then the so-unhip-they-may-actually-be-hip crowd, led by Tip O'Neal, longtime Congressman and Speaker of the House. Whenever he was in town, Tip would show up 15 minutes before closing and buy everyone coffee. (I never saw this happen, but it was in the Boston Phoenix, so it had to be true.)

For months, I wandered by during the day. I peered in the windows at the old banquettes and the wallpaper left over from the Eisenhower administration. And I dreamed of the fascinating conversations that must take place there every night. Surely Vic's was some kind of magical place.

If I could only hang around until 2am (or get up really early), I could experience the magic.

It took months, but I finally made it in. So at 2:30 one morning, a friend and I straggled up the street, drawn by the yellow neon sign with the giant cracked egg on it.

From the street, you couldn't tell anything was happening. But when we walked in, the place was packed. We got the only open booth and tried to drink in the atmosphere. But no one wanted to talk to us. Maybe the magic started later.

So we ordered. Some cholesterol-laden stack of greasy food and syrup. Not gourmet, but great bang for your buck.

And the jukebox was playing something vaguely familiar, but hauntingly hard to identify. Looking around, I realized it could be any time in the past 40 years. The crowds would look the same, the food would be the same, and the decor at Vic's would be the same.

I half expected to step out into the street and find it was 1958. But it wasn't.

And I went home and slept a heavy, carb-laden sleep.

Freddy and Francine, a duo consisting of two people not named Freddy or Francine, makes the type of sweet music that seems to have come unstuck at some point in the past and gently floated down the years until you noticed it.

Bianca Caruso and Lee Ferris began writing and performing together a few years ago, but you could close your eyes and swear these songs date from 1968. Or 1973. Or 1989.

Maybe it was their song playing at Vic's that late night years ago.

But I'll never know. Because a few months after my only visit, Vic's closed for good. The neon sign with the cracked egg came down. Some Yuppie in Lexington bought it and put it in his basement above the original bar the Yuppie had bought when his favorite punk club closed in 1982.

Last year, I was visiting Boston. And I found myself walking down the block, trying to figure out exactly which boutique clothing store had once been Vic's. But I'd waited too long. The memory had faded and the magic was long gone.

I was about to give up when I looked down on the sidewalk and saw a single tile among the concrete. It had a cracked egg on it. I looked around for someone, anyone to tell, but no one was interested.

Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I should wait on that spot. Surely Vic's would reappear at 2am and I could walk through the door, wade into the crowd, and hear that song again on the jukebox.


I had a plane to catch. I had things to do and places to go.

And sometimes maybe it's better to let magical places live on in memory instead of trying to force them into a world where they no longer fit in.


asiangrrl said...

Tasty entry, Alex. Nice mixture of bitter and sweet. The song is catchy, though not really my style.

Connie said...

HMOKeefe was just visiting here and we went out to breakfast several times. We discussed, again, the fact that Boston folks "don't do" breakfast. A cup of coffee (adulterated with all sorts of nonsense) and a doughnut from Dunkin & Donuts serves for what passes as a Boston breakfast. There's a sad, tired IHOP in Worcester where I once ordered biscuits and gravy solely to see what kind of travesty would end up on my plate, but that seems to be it. (And it was a travesty.)

We do breakfast here. Saturdays and Sundays, especially, find the places jumping. I don't close bars anymore, but I expect the Waffle House does quite the bar-closing business.

We're losing our Vic's, as well - those wonderful privately owned places of red banguettes, placemat menus and waitresses with frilly aprons. But our IHOPs have lines waiting to get in and eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, hash browns, biscuits and gravy are still staples and still to be found without having to search.

Alex said...

Thanks, ag!

Connie, even though I don't eat hash browns, I worship before the "Scattered, Smothered, and Covered" altar of the Waffle House. The closest Waffle House is about 500 miles from here, but I love eating there whenever I'm in the south.

(When I was growing up, all I wanted was chain restaurants. Now that I'm old enough to appreciate local places, it seems like they're all disappearing.)

Holly A Hughes said...

I love that Twilight Zone-esque image of the sidewalk tile as portal to the past...

Kinky Paprika said...

When I was going to BU, there were two breakfast places in my life:
A locally owned place called Mal's, just outside Kenmore Square; and the IHOP in Kenmore, which I only went to because my college paper wangled a discount for staffers, and every so often we'd all go down en masse at 3 a.m. after putting the paper to bed.
Both are long gone now.