Feeling blue over the orange roof

  1. Listen NPR: With Nostalgia And A Last Nosh, 1 Of 3 Remaining HoJo’s Closes

    April 1, 2015

After hearing last night’s All Things Considered story on the closing of one of the last Howard Johnson’s, we were a little bummed today when we went searching for an image of the last one with an orange roof.

It’s this one in Lake George, N.Y. Look just beyond the sewage truck, and thanks, Google Maps.


If you’re my age, you probably have a Howard Johnson’s memory. For me, it was halfway between Boston and the city where I grew up. I took my grandmother to Red Sox games and we’d stop in Concord, Mass., at the HoJo. She had a thing for the scallops.

Back in the ’80s, a group of guys who played APBA baseball — cops, state legislators, media types — gathered every third Saturday to play the dice baseball game. Eventually, they shut it down and turned the joint into a Ground Round. You knew Howard Johnson’s was on borrowed time when a Ground Round was how you improved it.

Back in the day, a Howard Johnson’s on the horizon was the only thing that prevented dad from following through on his promise to pull the car over right there. You kids wouldn’t understand.

Colleague Paul Tosto, who today admitted working at a Ground Round (a post for another day, perhaps) reports that the night before the Watergate burglary, the “plumbers” stayed at a Howard Johnson’s across from the Watergate hotel.

The death of Howard Johnson’s is the worst kind: long and slow. It started its decline because of World War II. The company tried to diversify by opening up motels in the 1960s, but the Arab Oil Embargo in the ’70s helped finish off that idea. People stopped driving to get to places far away. Heck, nowadays, few people can recite the nursery rhyme that inspired its signage.

There are only three left now, NPR reported last evening — Lake Placid (which is closing), Bangor, Maine, and Lake George.

“We had one guy who drove all the way from Maine on Friday — nine hours each way — just to have fried clams,” the manager of the Lake Placid Howard Johnson’s said. That’s not good news for the Bangor location.

And in truth, there’ll be only one left. The one behind the sewer truck, and it doesn’t look all that healthy.

The Bangor Daily News reports today that the HoJo restaurant there looks like it’s about to close, too.

Restaurant Manager Julie Jewett said the hotel’s owners may be closing the restaurant in favor of offering a continental breakfast, which is in higher demand from patrons. However, she did not know for sure when or if the doors would be shuttered. The hotel’s owner, David Patel, could not be reached for comment.

“Things are switching over to all continental breakfast. But not only that, there’s a Tim Horton’s across the street. You can just grab and go,” Jewett said.

Opened in 1966, the Howard Johnson Restaurant and Lounge in Bangor harkens back to a bygone era. Maroon bar stools at the high-gloss ice cream bar were filled with families, and patrons would drop in for familiar favorites, including fried clams, frankfurters and all-you-can-eat fried fish.

These days, octogenarians can be seen midday, enjoying slices of pie a la mode and conversations with a lone waitress, who knows nearly everyone who walks in the door by name.

Even if the brand survives in Bangor, the only remaining real Howard Johnson’s will be the only real one left. The one in Maine doesn’t have an orange roof.

“Nostalgia is part sadness and loss, it is part great memories and good change,” reporter Brian Mann said in his story yesterday.

  • BJ

    Can’t say I have ever seen one in my life. I didn’t even know it was a restaurant.

    • There was a HoJo in Bloomington but I don’t know if there was a restaurant with the motel.

      • Gary F

        Hwy 55 and 494

      • BJ

        Clarify: I know about the motel/hotels, not the restaurant.

      • John O.

        Yes there was, Bob. It was on the site of where the current Best Western Plus resides at Cedar Ave. and Killebrew Drive. Back in the days of Metropolitan Stadium, the hotel was just a (relatively) short walk away from the stadium. I found an image of an old-school postcard:

        And there was also a HoJo at 494 and 100. You can see the old Pentagon Office Park in the background.

  • Jeff

    Not sure how this bubbled up from my memory, a line from Frank Zappa’s Billy the Mountain:

    “They left that night, crunchin’ across the Mojave Desert, their voices echoing thru the canyons of your minds… “Ethel, wanna get a cuppa cawfee? Howard Johnson’s, ahhh there’s a Howard Johnson’s! … Wanna eat some clams? …”

    I loved the clam roll too, sigh. Nobody did clams like HJ’s.

  • MrE85

    HoJos were once so common, there was even a mention in the movie “That Touch of Mink,” after data-entry clerk Doris Day unintentionally screws up the computerized accounting at a credit card company:

    Manager: “This man had breakfast at a Howard Johnson drive-in, he’s being billed for $10,000!!”

    Cary Grant (deadpan): “Hm, it’s that second cup of coffee that gets you.”

    • Jack

      That movie was just on cable the other night – love the reference.

      I remember seeing them as a kid while on road trips. Are there any Stuckey’s left? Think they sold some great chocolates.

  • Gary F

    I’m 50. I remember them as a child. Can’t say I’ve ever been to one. File this under “Stuckey’s”.

  • DotWonder

    I remember the hog dog buns, and those toaster corn bread things (blueberry too?) you could buy in the grocery store, w/ the HoJo brand on them. Ate them all the time when visiting relatives in Saugus, MA.

  • boB from WA

    28 flavors was not enough when Baskin-Robbins opened…

    • I made the mistake of invoking the phrase “28 flavors” in a discussion about ice cream or something a few months ago. But as the people I was talking with were under the age of 50, I got only strange looks.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    The Howard Johnson’s I remember was just off Exit 14 of the NY State Thruway. I’m not sure when it closed. (I haven’t lived there in almost 30 years.) But at the risk of hijacking a thread, the place I remember more was Friendly’s. Do they still exist?

    • Friendly’s — home of the 49 cent hot fudge sundae and the Fribble when I was a kid — still exists. But it went all to crud when Hershey’s bought it out. Quite a few of the shops have closed.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        My favorite Friendly’s story is about one in the local mall. One of the few places in the mall you could sit down in and get served. When I was in college I worked in a jewelry store in the mall. One of the other salesman in the store, an older gentleman, went in one day and sat at the counter. When the waitress asked what he wanted he said “An ice cream sundae.” Her response, “What kind?” His answer, “Surprise me.”

        The poor waitress was so flustered she didn’t know what to do. He did get his sundae. I remember him saying it was delicious. (And related to a previous discussion this week, I believe that the waitress received a substantial tip.)

  • KTFoley

    Howard Johnson’s is where I got my special fondness for clam chowder and onion rings.

    There used to be one in Times Square, if memory serves. Maybe not an orange roof, but definitely clam chowder and onion rings. Google serves up some pictures of it at 46, graced by signs for musicals including Chicago and Moving Out.

    There’s a new HoJo hotel in SoHo (say that 3x fast) but it offers continental breakfast, so probably no restaurant.

    • KTFoley

      ^46th and Broadway, that is.

      Also, the exact name of Billy Joel’s musical was Movin’ Out. It ran for three years, ending in December 2005, and by then the HoJo’s had ended its 46-year run just five months before.