I’ve been accused of glorifying the Remarkable Book Shop — making the Main Street store (now Talbot’s) into a symbol for a long-ago unique, mom-and-pop downtown now replaced by faceless, corporate chain stores.
But whether you think I’m a starry-eyed, stuck-in-the-past romantic or a long-time Westporter recalling a funkier community, I dare you to look at this picture and tell me that what’s there now is an improvement.
That was the Big Top, sitting coolly at the corner of the Post Road and Roseville.
Today it’s McDonald’s.
Through the 1960s and ’70s, the Big Top was the place to go for burgers, dogs, fries, onion rings, ribs, chicken and shakes.
An enormous range of people went — teenagers, lawyers, local workers, college kids. Pretty much anyone except mommies with little kids. They hung more at Chubby Lane’s. If burger places were music, Chubby’s was the Beatles. Big Top: the Stones.
(Carrol’s came later. It was the Monkees.)
Ours was not the only Big Top — there were others, with the same funky sign and striped roof, in New Haven, Bridgeport, Monroe and Greenwich. But ours might be the most famous.
Jay Leno has referenced it at least twice. Once, in 2005, his guest was Paul Newman. Almost immediately, the talk turned to the Big Top. Here’s the clip:
A few year’s earlier, Jay’s guest was Michael Douglas. The talk turned to the early ’60s — and the Big Top.
Michael lived almost behind it — down Roseville, left on Whitney, left on Webb Road. Leno said he always stopped there, on his way to and from wherever.
A few years ago, a fan spotted Leno in California. “Greetings from Westport, Connecticut!” he said.
Leno immediately replied: “Big Top hamburgers!”
I don’t think anyone ever felt that way about McDonald’s.
Ours, or any of the other 32,736 on the planet.