Restaurants: A changing Boston on a plate

The Boston Globe

Restaurants aren’t just places to eat; they’re also a reflection of their times. So when venerable Boston institutions shift locations, as Anthony’s Pier 4 is expected to do eventually, or shut down altogether, as Locke-Ober abruptly did Saturday, changes are afoot in the city — ones that go well beyond a shift in consumer tastes from deep-fried Dover sole to sashimi.

As the Seaport District booms, a famous family-run restaurant on a previously underused waterfront has become a prime redevelopment opportunity. As the Globe recently reported, construction will begin next month on a mixed-use complex in the area where Anthony’s Pier 4 now stands. Within a few years the restaurant will have to move, presumably somewhere else in the Seaport area. This will require some adjustment, both for the restaurant and its customers, but it’s also a sign of a neighborhood reinventing itself as dingy memories of the Central Artery and a filthy Boston Harbor finally disappear.

If the looming relocation of Anthony’s speaks to a physical change in Boston, the demise of Locke-Ober last weekend speaks to a psychological one. In the restaurant’s heyday, the typical high-end eater saw himself — until 1970, Locke-Ober generally wasn’t open to women — as a mover and shaker, and a visitor needed a map to know which regulars claimed which tables. But that kind of clubbiness feels less charming than forbidding to many of today’s restaurant buffs. While Locke-Ober evolved in recent decades, its owner decided in the end to shutter it rather than turn it into something it wasn’t. It was a dignified choice — and a notable moment for a city that increasingly sees fostering innovation, rather than upholding tradition, as the meal ticket for its dining scene and its economy.