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. Jan Hull says:

    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!

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