The masses arrived with coolers overflowing with Miller High Lifes and Sam Adams. At the nearby docks, fishermen unloaded their catch and fended off wailing sea gulls. The air smelled of salt and fish. Inside the No Name Restaurant, tons of seafood were broiled and fried and peddled at bargain prices.
“This place was a destination,” remembered Pam Roberts, who graduated from Simmons College in 1980 and flocked to the seafood joint each summer after exams. “Half the fun was standing outside with a six-pack. If the wait was over an hour, you just got two six-packs. A whole mess of friends. Pure chaos. And it was wonderful.”
The restaurant on South Boston’s Fish Pier shook some of its rough-and-ready charms over the years, but it remained a hot spot — until Monday night.
The No Name announced Monday that it would be shuttered immediately. Bankruptcy documents show it owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to creditors including the Massachusetts Port Authority, the City of Boston, and several seafood companies.
What’s more, the No Name stopped paying property taxes in 2013, and Boston has put a lien on the property. No Name owes the city close to $700,000 in back taxes including interest, according to city records.
“It’s a significant sum of money. We don’t take it lightly,” said Emme Handy, chief financial officer for Boston.
Handy said the city has a “99 percent collection rate” because it is first in line to be paid. Asked why the city hasn’t taken further action to collect taxes, Handy said it can take several years and can involve pursuing a foreclosure proceeding.
While the dollar amount is sizable, that is not what is unusual about the No Name situation, said Handy.
“To me what stands out a little more is zero dollars of payment from 2014 to 2020. That is striking to me,” she added.
A lawyer for No Name did not return e-mails seeking comment Tuesday. The restaurant thanked its customers and employees on its Facebook page Monday night and said that, “After over 100 years, we had to make the difficult decision to close the No Name Restaurant.’’
The establishment filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which provides for the liquidation of property and the distribution of assets to creditors. Staffers learned of their looming unemployment only 24 hours prior, during a management meeting Sunday night.
The sudden closure — on the day before New Year’s Eve, no less — was an unceremonious end to a storied 102-year-old Boston establishment that manifested the American dream and served a diverse cast of locals and tourists over the years.
The oldest continuous family-owned restaurant in Boston, the No Name traces its history back to a small hole-in-the-wall eatery founded in 1917 by John Contos. He’d arrived from Greece as a penniless 16-year-old, then worked 80 to 90 hour weeks to keep his new restaurant afloat. The no-frills, cheap seafood joint was aimed at the fishermen and warehouse workers toiling away in the neighboring businesses.
“Originally, the place was supposed to be called Deluxe Diner,” Contos’s son Nick told the Globe in 1997. “My father planned to cater to all the men who worked on the Fish Pier. But word got around about the restaurant, and soon people were coming from all over. There wasn’t any sign out front. That’s how the place got its name. Since it didn’t have a sign, customers started calling it the No Name.”
Rick O’Connor secured a summer job at the restaurant in the 1960s and recalls a boiling hot kitchen full of chowder cauldrons, scalding dishwashers, and hard workers who never complained.
“Papa John [Contos] would send me down to the boats for haddock and I’d bring them up in a basket. He’d send me back down, and by the time I returned he’d have all the previous haddock seared fileted and frying,” said O’Connor.
In the spring of 1967, the restaurant renovated to become a mere 40 inches wider and serve five dozen (rather than three dozen) customers. Three years later, back when the chowder sold for 95 cents, Globe staffer Anthony Spinazzola called the No Name “one of those places about which people say, ‘Don’t write about it, you’ll spoil it.’ ”
But for the next half-century, people kept writing about it. The Tampa Bay Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, and The New York Times all sent correspondents to cover the No Name. The restaurant cemented its place alongside other Boston seafood staples like Anthony’s Pier 4, Legal Sea Foods, and the Union Oyster House. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse stopped by in 2002. Politicians like Michael Dukakis and Mitt Romney gave it a shoutout during their campaigns. Cambridge-born comedian Lenny Clarke told the Globe in 2009 he took all out-of-towners to the No Name, calling it “the best buy in town.”
Jessica Nazario, 30, ate what turned out to be her final meal at the restaurant a couple months back. She estimated she’d been there more than 50 times.
“It’s the staff and the familiarity that makes it a staple of Boston. Everything is changing so much, but No Name has always been there, and we’ve always felt comfortable going,” she said.
Her father Jose Perez immigrated from El Salvador in 1980 and began driving a cab shortly thereafter. For a decade, passengers pointed him to the No Name and he ate there himself. Every weekend. And nearly every weekday. The restaurant offered a discount for cabbies, and the staff served him extra shrimp on his already towering broiled shrimp sautee plate.
“Every time I was there, I felt like I was at home,” said Perez.
Within 15 hours of the management’s Monday night announcement, more than 450 people had commented online with messages of shock and nostalgia. Some like, Perez, had eaten there recently. But most, like Pam Roberts, recalled memories and meals from bygone eras and a Seaport without sleek skyscrapers, sky lounges, and Sweetgreen.
Despite the fond memories of its patrons, though, it was clear that the No Name was struggling.
“When places like this go, people argue to save them for nostalgia’s sake, but they haven’t patronized them in decades,” said Patrick Maguire, a hospitality consultant and advocate for service industry workers. “Nostalgia doesn’t pay the rent in a competitive environment.”
After John Contos’ death, his son Nick took over the No Name’s management. Since Nick’s death in 2004, the restaurant has remained in the family. Members of the Contos family did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Globe regarding the sudden closure and bankruptcy filing.
In a farewell Facebook post Monday night, the family wrote: “To our employees, many of whom have been with us for decades, we cannot thank you enough — we thank you for your tireless dedication and hard working service.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a message taped to the restaurant’s front door read, “We will be closed today for a management meeting. Happy Holidays.” By then, staffers — old and young — had worked their last shift at the No Name. And the century-old haunt had turned off its fryers, stopped its shipments, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.