Harvard Square was once a durable destination with a variety of coffeehouses, bars, diners, boutiques and music venues, as well as being home to new and used book and record shops. Here was the foundation of the "Great American Folk Music Scare," as Martin Mull called it, with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at places like Club 47.
Joan Baez inside Club 47 in the early 60s
Harvard Square's celebrated notoriety grew in the later 60's as hippies, hustlers and happenings became part of the Square's milieu, and street culture spread around the area. In 1970 it culminated in massive protests against the war in Viet Nam.
Through the years, old-timers have always insisted that the Harvard Square of their day was the way it was truly meant to be. "You should have seen Harvard Square when it was a square," goes the gist of the Boomer thesis. "Today it's nothing but a corporate wasteland."
Perhaps the beginning of the end came when the Old MBTA yards were replaced with the then glittering new Charles Hotel, opened following the new MBTA tunnel from Harvard to Alewife.
Eliot Square MBTA Yard
Glittering New Charles Hotel where the Eliot Square Yard once stood
“Beginning in 1968,” Mo Lotman wrote in his 2009 book, Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950, “the Common was transformed every warm Sunday afternoon into a bohemian free-for-all, with drum circles, bead-sellers, tranced-out dancers, and a ton of pot.”
Photo by Nick DeWolf
Boomers love to tell tall tales of the legendary locales of yesteryear: The Idler, the Oxford Ale House, daily double bills for a dollar at the Harvard Square Theatre, foreign films at the Galeria Theater, cool used clothes at the Pennsylvania Company, The Blue Parrot, Bailey’s Ice Cream, sandwiches at Elsie’s. And of course, the venerable Tasty, taken from the Square in 1997. To this day that move peeves off many a Square vet. A perfect symbol, many say, of the perils of gentrification.
Inside the Tasty in the 80s. Photo by David Henry
The Tasty was a one-room diner estimated to be 30 feet long and seven feet wide. Customers ate burgers and dogs on a yellow linoleum counter. With 16 stools, The Tasty on busy nights would be stuffed with 60-80 people at a time. On these nights between 300–400 burgers and doggies were served between the hours of midnight and 4am. Its informal atmosphere and friendly staff drew in long-time residents, college students and working people and became one of the few places where locals and visitors from different social and economic classes easily mixed. Cambridge Savings Bank, the building's owner, eventually saw green as the chain store crawl moved quickly into Harvard Square. Higher rents and changing times forced The Tasty's hand and despite protests from the Harvard Square Defense Fund along with Click and Clack, the guys who hosted Car Talk on NPR, The Tasty shut it's door for good in 1997. Gone was a spot where you could fill up for cheap. Banks and ATMs, here we come. Gone are the idealists and rebels. Gone is the Harvard Square of celebrated nototiety.