Sunday, July 07, 2013

Remembering Thad's Steak House.

"The men wore suits and the ladies wore dresses. The ambiance was elegant and the roast prime rib was famous." These are the opening words of an article published in today's edition of the New Bedford Standard-Times profiling 89-year-old Thaddeus "Ted" Irzyk, owner of Thad's Steak and Seafood House, a landmark New Bedford restaurant that closed just over a decade ago. What kind of place was Thad's? It was a place where "[t]he men wore suits and the ladies wore dresses," but it was more than that, as the Standard-Times noted around the time of the restaurant's closing:
In its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Thad's was arguably New Bedford's most elegant restaurant, the venue of choice for family functions and political fund-raisers. Baseball legend Ted Williams once ate there, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy made several visits, governors and other dignitaries spoke at grand functions. Nearly every mayor since the 1960s held gatherings there. When the tall ships came to New Bedford in 1976, Thad's was where the crew of a Polish ship ate many a meal.
Despite being a New Bedford fixture for nearly four decades, Thad's was done in by changing demographics (at the time of the closing, the owner's son commented that customers had "been dying off or moving away") and changing tastes (as Ted Irzyk says in today's Standard-Times, "People don't dine anymore... They eat. They're two very different things"). I recall trying to go to Thad's for lunch not long after the restaurant's imminent closing had been announced and being told that they weren't serving that day because the manager and the cook had not come in. In other words, it seemed, they had given up.

I was sad to see Thad's go, and reading the profile of Ted Irzyk in today's paper inclines me to wax nostalgic. Thad's was a restaurant where I dined frequently with my family as I was growing up, and I can affirm that the place exuded a sort of mid-century luxury that spoke to the Greatest Generation's idea of the good life; as I once wrote on my old blog, the decor, music, and people that one found there "made a trip to Thad's feel vaguely like a visit to the set of The Lawrence Welk Show." Remembering Thad's now, I find that what stands out in my mind are small details, like the wall of framed reviews, awards, and commendations by the entrance, or the fact that they sold sets of postcards with views of the restaurant's exterior and interior (how many eateries would do that today, I wonder?). I remember members of the staff who worked there for years, some of whom my family and I still reminisce about. I also recall that it was not uncommon to see groups of priests dressed in clerics having dinner together at Thad's; I have a suspicion that Thad's may have offered the Catholic clergy some kind of discount or even free meals, which reminds me that the American Catholic culture which seems largely to have vanished still retained something of a foothold during my youth.

As I remember Thad's, I also think of other restaurants and businesses that my family and I used to visit, many opened in the same era and with a similar time-warped ambiance. I think, too, of places that I never visited but often went by, places that somehow comforted me with their enduring presence and that I strangely miss now that they're gone. Remembering Thad's in particular, part of me wonders whether the place might have enjoyed a kind of revival had its owners hung on for a few more years: I can imagine Thad's having an appeal for the local hipsters who now patronize other old-timey establishments like Gilda's Stone Rooster. Everything has its time and place, yet it seems that what was once popular often becomes popular again. AMDG.


At 8/12/2013 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this the same New Bedford I just read about in Moby Dick?

At 8/12/2013 11:51 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

The very same, Artur.


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