Remembering Thompson’s Clam Bar

“Take Rt. 28 to the Clam Bar Sign, for the Happiest Eating from Noon ‘til Nine! Hey! Where ya goin’? I’m goin’ to Thompson’s Clam Bar Because that’s where the Tastiest Clams Are!”

For Cape Codders of a certain age, these words usher in vivid memories of a whirlwind of white shorts, salty sea breezes, and plenty of clams.

Widely regarded as the biggest seasonal joint on the East coast, the former Thompson’s Clam Bar at Wychmere Harbor in Harwich Port served up regional fare and, in the hearts and minds of all who frequented it, so much more.

Although it closed more than 20 years ago, Cape locals and visitors from far and near still talk about their summers spent chewing clams and the ears of fellow recreationists while relaxing over the harbor.

The evolution of Thompson’s begins, like many of the Cape’s legendary establishments, with a humble purchase of property sometime in the late 1800s.

Levi Edric Snow paid $250 for land on the West side of Salt Water Pond in 1891. He built an eight-room cottage there, but quickly added on a 20-room addition and began charging rent.

Levi’s great-grandchildren, the famous Thompson Brothers, grew up at the inn, and even had their own little shack which they tenderly referred to as the “Spit ‘n Whittle.”

After WWII, a newly-established fishing business at the nearby dock attracted onlookers in droves. Those passers-by were hungry, and as a result of supply-and-demand, the brothers knew what they had to do.

The Clam Bar opened in 1950 to rave reviews throughout town. Its success was great enough to put generations of young adults who worked there through college. The sumptuous sights of seafood paired with ships passing by just yards away from the tables was enough to attract the Kennedy family, Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neil, and many others.

College students from Venezuela to Turkey and many of Cape Cod’s towns flocked to work at Thompson’s Clam Bar, working hard to serve up to 2,000 dinners a night.

The hustle and bustle of the business also fostered, for better or worse, 20 marriages between employees, and who knows how many other types of relationships.

Mariners made it their own version of a drive-through, as the Clam Bar allowed boats to be tied-up to the dock for their operators to grab food on the go.

The last sailboats would float softly by around sunset, but the restaurant’s 450 seats would still be full later in the evening. There have been documented reports of those who had a few too many falling into the water.

And who could forget that jingle? Apparently, nobody.

It’s been described as “maddening” by some, but only in the fondest of ways. The owner of Arnold’s in Eastham loved it so much that he entered into an agreement with the family who used to own Thompsons, but still own the jingle, which allowed him to use an altered version for his own establishment. So even if it doesn’t have to do with the beloved piece of Harwich history, the nostalgic can still hear an old favorite on the radio from time to time.

Although no one has had a taste of true Thompson’s since before the new millennium, those with an unshakable sense of gustatory nostalgia can still relive some of the memories.

A film was shot at Thompson’s in the summer of 1983 which, thanks to the Harwich Historical Society, has been transferred to DVD and is available for purchase. Visit the Society’s website to learn how to purchase it.

By CapeCod.com Staff

Comments

  1. Lynne Zalesak says

    I grew up on that dock. My dad was the clam shocker from 1962-1984 or 5. My mother shared head hostess duties with Mrs. Arsenault from 1961-1983. The people who came there were from all walks of life – politicians, movie stars, Broadway actors, to regular folk on a summer vacation and neighbors. I worked next to guys who would become major league ball players, the children of the rich and powerful, to future politicians. People came from every college all over the country to work there’s well as Ireland. The tips I made at The Clam Bar paid for college for me and hundreds of others. Many lifelong friendships were made there. And amazingly so many years and miles later, I still run into people across the country who remember The Clam Bar and my dad, the clam shocker.

  2. Lynne Zalesak says

    That’s shucker, not shocker!

  3. Love the Clam Bar!

  4. Loved taking all the family there where visiting or just hungry! When the boats came in too fast the splash would come up thru the floorboards. And of course you had to fight off the seagulls if you sat too close to the railings. Loved it!

  5. Janet w egan says

    Awesome tribute to Thompson’s, it’s family, friends and patrons. My family grew up eating at Thompson’s arriving by car and or boat. Will never forget the good times there.

  6. Nancy Tallman says

    I remember guests too near the end of the bench, then other person on bench standing up…oops guest overboard!

  7. Does anyone remember the worker huts located behind main street in across from Bianttis (sp) donuts?

  8. Bonatt’s Bakery.. vaguely remember those “cottages” ..behind the church and bakery parking lot? The Clam Bar was the best on the water restaurant the Cape had to offer. I don’t think anything could compare then or now. Arriving by boat and climbing up the wooden ladder over the ropes …the best!

  9. Susan Fleming says

    Worked there in the early 90’s,
    Loads of fun! Memorizing that keyboard!
    Great memories! The friends we made!
    Cooks were so great! Fun after hours and made lots of money!
    Thompson’s Fudge Cake withBrenna!

  10. Fabulous memories of Thompson’s every summer with our family in Cape cod. Such a great place!

  11. Marion Forsberg says

    Mark Nuzz. (Helmi Thompson’s grandson) was one of them who fell overboard when he spit out his coffee jello. His mother, the late Janet Anderson Nuzzolilo (she died Sept 29, 2018) jumped in to save him, and they both had to be rescued. This was around 1969 or 1970.

  12. Jonathan Saunders says

    Anyone remember when Tap waterskied naked by the clambar on a busy summer afternoon? We laughed about that stunt for years.

  13. I remember Thompson’s well. We went there as a family since 1962 or earlier. The hostess gave us kids extra oyster crackers to feed the fish/gulls dockside.

  14. Michael sobon says

    I also have the pleasure of frequenting the clam bar from the early 70s to mid 80s
    Best memories I have were the clam bar in the summers when I was a little boy .
    Well I have some good news …
    I dine with Edrick Thompson a few nights a week at spinnakers which is located in Brewster….. just sitting at the bar with him brings back wonderful memories of my childhood …

  15. Bill Bowen says

    I worked at the clam bar the summer of 1962. I was a junior at Shepherd College in WV. and lived in Hagerstown, MD. I lived in the dorm on the second floor of the clam bar. It was a great summer. I remember the Chef was Al Peeler. I started as a dish washer. I could not believe the other dish washers would eat the food off of the dirty dishes. Gross. It took me about 2 days before I saw an untouched shrimp cocktail and devoured it. I was a good worker so I was promoted to pot washer. The pot station was beside the cook line. One of the chefs got hurt so I became a chef. I remember that one of the Thompson brothers drove a honey wagon. the first day we had Heineken on tap, a bunch of us broke in to the clam bar after hours. The next day management said we are welcome to it anytime no charge. I could go on and on but enough for now.

  16. Betty Wilson says

    Hi Mark. I wan’t there but I remember your mother telling me about this. I had been there a few times with you and your mother, and my son. Those were good days. I think of you mother often and the fun that we used to have. Betty Wilson.

  17. Susan Forgette says

    I would give anything to have a new Clam Bar built just like Thompsons….So many wonderful memories with my family especially the raw bar and those great oysters…went there for over 20 years and never regretted one single visit…it was over the top for me!!

  18. Steve Raffuel says

    Was Thompson’s actually a barge tied to the dock?

  19. Mimi , now Sarah Merrick says

    Hello, I didn’t work at the Clam Bar, but I am sure many employees remember me as Mimi Thompson, daughter of Biddle and Mary Thompson. I sailed by the dock sometimes daily from age 6 to17. I thank all of you for serving me with the usual large group of friends I brought in with me. You were patient, and I know how hard you worked. It was a time to be remembered, some of the best years of life.

  20. Kellyjeanne says

    I grew up spending 2 weeks on the Cape every summer, and of course we went to Thompsons! We still laugh about how you had to memorize how to get to and locate your server. “Head down the hall, go down the stairs, make a left and look for Julie” 😂. Great memories and food

  21. “Come by boat or car….come the way you are….to Thompson’s Clam Bar. In Harwichport! At Wychmere Harbor”. Radio station WOCB 1240 (at the time the Cape’s only (!) radio station) played this ad continuously.

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