There's this restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey called The Clam Broth House. It's not there anymore, but it feels like it's still around - the space had been home to a succession of failed businesses since they'd vacated the premises, but the gaudy neon sign that announced its presence is still there, unlit and probably broken, hanging off the front of the building next door like something skeletal. The Clam Broth House was, the last time it was anything, a dance club you'd have to pay me to spend any amount of time in. Last I checked it was a hole in the landscape, had been condemned by the city for being structurally unsound and destroyed. It had been there for over a century.
It was a seafood restaurant in the finest tradition of the Hudson River - back in the fifties, the crooners and the grifters and the ladies in their minks would hop the ferry across the river from Manhattan for a late dinner, the likes of which would cost three times as much in the city than out of it, and for a view that couldn't be beat - hanging outside the city, you can actually see the city from across the river; it reminds you of where you spend your days. All that sparkle actually means something from a mile away.
Back in the day, radio ads were the thing. "Mention that you heard this ad and get twenty percent off your next order of roofing nails at Harold's Hardware, where every man's a king!" It was good advertising, mostly because of the metrics involved - you could count the people walking in by writing numbers on a piece of paper and didn't have to worry none about demographics or public appeal. It either worked, or it didn't. If it did, you moved those nails that had been sitting in the back for six months and if it didn't, well what the hell.
The Clam Broth House had exactly such an ad - mention the ABC Special (so called because, long before being a shill for crappy TV and long, long before being acquired by Disney, the American Broadcasting Company was one of the big three New York City radio stations) and you'd get one helluva deal: Two lobsters with all the trimmings for the price of one. They must've sold them as fast as they could pull them out of the tank.
I'm not so sure when the special ended, but it must've been decades before I ever poked my head through the door. I was a kid, nine or ten, when I first walked in with my dad and a friend. We had just come from a Mets game with seats so high in the upper deck we could see seagulls winging past below us and we were thrilled at the prospect of, you know, fancy food that hadn't been thrown to us by a guy in a paper hat. Pictures of celebrities with the restaurant's owner lined the walls (real ones, even - this was back before anyone'd ever heard of Photoshop and before that particular style of decorating was found in every diner from 86th street to The Bowery) and italian men in suits lounged at the bar, smoking and yelling at, well, whatever. We were not of that crowd, just two kids in Mets jackets with our souvenir bags and programs, getting shuffled to a table by the wall and provoking grins from the peanut gallery.
Our waitress showed up and took my parents' orders. She looked at me and before I could even open my mouth my dad interjected with "...and the boys'll have the ABC Special."
She had no idea what he was talking about, probably hadn't even been born when it was the the thing to do on a Friday night, so she went to the owner for confirmation. I like to think his jaw made an audible crack upon hitting the tile.
We got the star treatment that night, served by the owner himself. He told stories that I don't remember and probably didn't understand, plied us with oysters and fried zucchini, even pulled up a chair at one point to watch us crack into our first lobsters ever. He made us Shirley Temples and brought us tales of, I imagine, the night The Rat Pack trashed the bar and had to replace every piece of glassware in the joint. He described the lights of the ferry coming in from Manhattan, loaded with dolled up passengers who were loaded themselves and just dying for a fried crab or three. The place was empty that night, but you'd never know it.
We got the deal, two lobsters for twenty bucks. I can only guess at what the actual bill came to, but it had to be less than it was supposed to be.
I went back once more, I think, but that time I don't remember at all - I'd already been taught how to crack into a lobster by a master and was an old hand by then.