Sticking To The Basics

In A Sense of Place, 8. The Vernacular Landscape by John Banksy2 Comments

One of my first jobs growing up was as a bus boy for a restaurant called The Clam Bar. I had gotten the job because the owner was a friend of my family and both my sisters were waitresses there. The Clam Bar or Smitty’s as some locals would call it captures the essence of the traditional vernacular landscape in many ways. The restaurant features some of the best seafood I have ever eaten in my life. The clam chowder and anything on their specials boards is worthy of any foodie’s attention. This hidden gem is set back on a back bay off the Atlantic and has an ambiance of pure tradition. Rather than being caught up in the vicious circle of ornamenting a fashionable décor—Smitty’s keeps is simple. The wallpaper tabletops have been there longer than the owner who bought the restaurant many years ago. The dining room chairs are simple black cushioned seats. The walls feature art from the local artist and have seaside themes. When waiting in line for the bathroom queue members can enjoy candid Polaroid pictures on a bulletin board of past and current employees who may, or may not have been drinking. All things considered, Smitty’s harnesses a nostalgia that keeps locals and tourists coming back year after year.

Aside from the restaurants décor, the vernacular landscape of Smitty’s is predicated on its climate. Smitty’s is a seasonal restaurant and is only open in the summer months. However, there are no air-conditioning units and only small fans placed in the corner of the dining rooms. This keeps the summer vibe inside. On hot days in august, it is particularly amusing, but also frightening when an elderly man orders a burning hot cup of New England Clam chowder for lunch. Moreover, on any night in the summer the wait time for a table at Smitty’s ranges anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours (no reservations). What would usually be considered a drawback is actually a quintessential feature of the place. Because the restaurant acquired a BYOB liquor license patrons are encouraged to enjoy wine or beer while they wait outside for their table. This creates an anticipatory build up and also gives patrons time to socialize with each other, enjoy a drink, and take in the bay view. Outside the restaurant is lined with park benches that give off a summer park vibe. At Smitty’s waiting 3 hours for a table is often the highlight of the night.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post right now, as I am on a stool of a diner in New York. Of course The Clam Bar was not a diner, but I believe that it might evoke the same feelings of tradition and perhaps even nostalgia. I also find it wonderful to hear that a place like that still exists and that it has not entirely turned into a tourist destination. That said, I hope its sense of place is protected rather than exploited.

  2. Hey- interesting post! I definitely hadn’t considered the vernacular in a way that would allow it to encompass elements so recent in time as the ones in The Clam Bar, but our country is actually so young that in a way it makes a lot of sense. I feel like especially the style of seaside structures could be strongly vernacular in that much of it would be designed to deal directly with the storms/flooding/etc that would strongly affect buildings on the shore. The restaurant also sounds so tasty! The ambience seems very charming and I am fully convinced to go now (if only Google would turn up some results for location!!!)

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