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 Staff


  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.

    • i brought Joe his clams from the fish room, remembering him for his hard work, as a good man and Sergent.

    • I remember you Dad like it was yesterday. He was a big man, had that big rubber apron he had on and always smiled, the clams where like .20 cents. Spent the 60’s -80’s there.
      Spending my 55th year on the Cape this year. And still miss the place.

    • Lynne, I would have been about 8-10 years old and my dad would walk me up to the Clam Bar and I believe it was your dad that would shuck the delicious clams for us. My dad would always say how much he appreciated the work that shucker would do and how amicable he was to the patrons. Now I am nearing 70 years old and still remember this giant of a man talking with my dad. Father told me he the clam shucker was a State Trooper (not sure of that), but it has stuck in my mind all these years! If this was your father…God Bless Him for making our waiting time Fun! Thank you for posting so that I could remember back and Smile! We looked forward to seeing him the moment we walked in the door every summer!

    • JoJo Broan Clarke says

      I worked there for 2 summers (72 and 73) and remember your parents well. They were lovely people. One year I was a dishwasher for about 2 weeks and got promoted to hostess. That summer I occasionally worked with your dad as he shucked clams in the bar area. I rang them up on the cash register. I believe they were 10 cents each! I lived in a house with 10 girls next to the town parking lot. Most worked at the clam bar. A station wagon would pick up workers in the lot and take us to work. We often had it jam packed with workers. Such fun memories

  2. Lynne Zalesak says

    That’s shucker, not shocker!

  3. Love the Clam Bar!

    • sally van says

      we went a few times, it was fabulous! the plate full of steamers, the big ships nearby the salty air! we did not realize how fortunate we were sally and jake

  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?

    • peter hughes says

      Definitely – worked at the Harwich Port Clam Bar in 1972 after 2 summers at the one in North Truro. I did not live at those “huts” that summer – I believe they were called the Ideal Cabins — haha – it was mess with puddles after rain storms. But nice when it was sunny. it was a fun community- everyone was @ 18-22 years of age so there were parties every night after TCB closed down. Great times! Peter H.

  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!

    • Just crossed my mind ..would have been in 1969. We were midwesterners on a camping trip to the cape. Ate there 12 years old….I think I ate a 3 pound lobster!

  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.

    • Mark Nuzzolilo says

      It was 1965. I was around 6 years old.

      • I was a child when I fell in the water. We were allowed to feed the ducks off the dock in the back and somehow I forgot to let go of the bread. A waiter pulled me to safety and the waitresses used napkins to dry me off. I assure you the only thing I drank that night was a shirley temple. Lol

  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.

  22. richard sarabia says

    I was a student at Northeastern University in 1962, and I worked as a busboy at Thompsons that summer. Frank Thompson was a larger than life figure, in more ways than one. He would come into the dining room at breakfast, spot one of his old friends, and greet him laughingly with a string of loud and profane comments, shocking some of the older, more genteel guests sitting for breakfast. Frank didn’t give a damn: HE owned the place. One of the waitresses was Jackie Carlin, a stunningly beautiful girl from New York, who had a heavy New Jersey accent. 15 years later, she married Chevy Chase. Late in the summer, I was caught going out with the daughter of a guest, which was strictly FORBIDDEN by Clam Bar rules. Frank personally fired me the next morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.

  23. I was doing a talk on Wychmere Harbor, years ago now, for the Historical Society and thought it would be neat idea to play the Clam Bar Song as part of my intro. The radio station made a tape for me of the radio commercial, my surprise when I found it had six different versions of the song! Lost that tape when I retired in the confusion of clearing out 40 years of stuff from my office at the Harbor.

  24. Bruce Nightingale says

    Best summer job ever, I worked in the kitchen with Ted Small washing dishes, 1953 and 1954. Jumping off the roof of the clam bar into the channel, Frank Thompson birthday parties, hurricane Carol mess.
    Bruce Nightingale

  25. Boy I remember that place so well! Some of the best memory’s of the Cape. In the 60’s and 70’s.
    We would wait for hours to get in and it was well worth it. I remember the Gentleman that shucked the clams, a big man had that black rubber apron on.
    A plate of clams and the cheese and crackers they gave out when waited. Was the best place nothing has ever come close to it.
    this year will be my 55th year back at the Cape.

  26. I worked there as a dishwasher in 1979, a prep cook in ’80 and a fry cook (aka ‘fry-dog’) in ’81 working for David Zink. Great memories. Great place. Hope it reopens some day.

  27. I remember the excitement of vacationing in Dennisport the same two weeks every year with the family, including many cousins, aunts and uncles. Next to that excitement was laying on the West Dennis Beach, hearing the jingle for Thompson’s Clam Bar and starting to get excited for our yearly visit. I loved being able to eat where it feels like you are on a boat , feeding the gulls and listening to how they would scream bloody murder. The fried clams(whole belly’s of course) were the best. I have such fond memories of Thompson’s Clam Bar with family and food(and gulls).

  28. We ate at Thompson’s on our first visit to the Cape in July, 1981. It was so good that we returned for two more nights out of four. Is the building still on the site? What occupies the space now?

  29. Emily Cummins Skiff says

    I worked at Thompsons the summer of 1973. Best summer of my life! We had so much fun and worked hard. My partner quit after the 2nd week so I waitressed by myself. Worked double. shifts and made lots of monry.
    I remember all the people from Ireland and England. So many nice people.
    I remember the night they reached their goal of serving a certain# off dinners( not sure the #) but then after closing it was open bar for all staff.
    Wish I could remember the managers name. Loved the guy.
    Went back the following New Years to work. Stayed at a rooming house up the street run by a women named Ruth Gsrdner. Went back in the lste 70’s and visited her and st at TCB! Great memories!!!!

    • Emily ,I was there at the same time! My name is Martha Cary (Shuster.) I share your wonderful memories of the Clam Bar. The Manager’s name was John Powers. I was a bit afraid of him, I’m not sure why. I also remember the night we sold over some, huge number of dinners. and John rewarded us some how. also remember one night a customer jumped into the water from his table….( w/clothes on!) I worked at the Calm Bar the summers of “73 and ’74, after my junior and senior years in college.

  30. Scott Thrashef says

    I was there in the 70’s fished off shore lobster ing on The Foxy Lady and we tied up in front of the Thompson clam bar, and they had lobster tanks there that we filled regularly, what good times
    Loved coming in in heavy weather and jumping on the pier moving tables to get the boat tied up !!!

  31. Mary Ann Latter says

    Was just thinking of the memories there as a kid. My parent would drive our family there once every summer. We would choose our lobster and had the best time. We simmered in Sippewissett West Falmouth so the ride on 28 is still historic for me.

  32. Debbie Hauck says

    Thompsons Clam bar- my grandparents used to take me there every summer at least twice. i miss the old place.

  33. Chris Christie's Belt says

    The locals made fun of this tourist trap, they would never be caught dead there.

  34. Mark Lavallee says

    It’s great to hear about how this place touched so many people’s lives!

    Curious if anyone remembers either Gilbert (Gil) Lavallee or Beverly (Bev) Seaver who met and worked there the summers of ‘60 and ‘61. If so, I would like to know what you remember about them. Gil’s friend (who worked there as well) was named John Flowers. Gil and Bev got married and had 3 other kids in addition to me…

  35. John O’Keefe says

    Great memories of Thompson’s.
    Younger people vacationing here today, don’t know what they missed.
    There were actually 2 Thompson’s Clam Bar jingles.
    The more famous one everyone remembers started off with, “where ya going…”
    The second one only us old timers remember started with, “where are we, where are we, by the great big beautiful sea at Thompson ‘s yes siree.”
    Really miss the place.

  36. martha cary shuster says

    I worked at Thompson’s the summers of ’73 and 74. I was a waitress ( my FIRST waitressing job. I was petrified I wou;dmake some awful faux pas.). I did not, and LOVED my job, making almost $100.00 a night in tips alone. My boyfriend from Vt. worked at the Wychmere Harbor Club as a waiter. He called my red and white unifor the my “clam suit.” I’m now’71 and several times a week ( especially in summer) I recall my days in my clam suit. I feel SO fortunate to have experienced two summers in beautiful Harwichport on Snow Inn Rd. making good money for college weekends and clothes, working with kids just like me..BTW I still remember the manager and my boss’s name…John Power.

  37. Tony Price says

    We always knew when we had arrived on Nantucket by this commercial. The “8 To The Bar” Style and its song is ingrained in my memory as a kid. Back in the day we found shortwave radio and the AM band always advertised this. “Hey where u Going? oh that is such a song.

  38. Jim Fenner says

    When the weather was just right my grandfather (Jim Margeson) would bring us from Herring River to the dock at TCB. The most exciting thing to ever happen to a young boy! I didn’t even like seafood then. 17′ white Lyman inboard “Margie” 160s and 70s. Still my favorite thing to do is go to a restaurant by boat!

  39. Melissa Marquis Audier says

    I worked there from ’84-’87, salad girl where Charlie ruled the kitchen then as a waitress. Met my husband there who worked in the commissary. Great memories, wish it was still around.

  40. My mom passed away in February and going through her things, I found a matchbook from this place. There are pictures of her with her family in Cape Cod and she talked about loving family vacations there, but nothing specific about Thompson Bros. The comments help me to imagine it a bit better. Thanks for all the shares, folks.

  41. Lillian Spelman Murray says

    I’m Irish and a gang of us students in 1970 got working visas and spent 2/3 months of summer working in Thompson’s Clam bar. Had the time of my life. I was employed as an entertainer,I sang Irish songs and danced Irish jigs and I waitressed. My speciality was Irish Coffees. I painstakingly prepared these coffees presenting them proudly to the customers who to my horror stirred the bejesus out of the glass. I have such happy memories of that summer.

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