Friday Flashback #65

Today, there are plenty of places in Westport to buy great hamburgers. From Matt Storch’s Burger Lobster in Saugatuck to Shake Shack near Southport, we’re awash in meat.

Once upon a time, there were 2 places to go: Big Top, and Chubby Lane’s.

Big Top — which drew a great lunchtime crowd ranging from lawyers to bikers — was at the corner of the Post Road and Roseville. Today it’s McDonald’s, which basically says everything you need to know about America.

Chubby’s, meanwhile, was more of a dinner place. It was located next to the New Englander Motel (now the Westport Inn). Across the street was Charpentier’s (now Border Grill), a butcher shop that was the reason Chubby’s burgers were so good. (They were also the first place in town that charged the astronomical price of $1 for one.)

I don’t have any photos of Chubby Lane’s. Long ago, it was replaced by the Willows Pediatrics Group. But its predecessor was called the Bantam. And it looked like this:

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

 

52 responses to “Friday Flashback #65

  1. Wendy Kramer Posner

    Wasn’t that place in one iteration (late 50’s) called the Crest Drive In?

  2. Chubby Lane’s was the “in” place for Staples student employment in the 60’s and 70’s. Blue shirts and shorts with knee socks identified a Chubby’s server. Great food and service from a great Westport family!

  3. And of course, Chubby ran the beach pavillion long ago, before it was Joey’s – and when it was out by the entrance to the beach and not on the boardwalk.

  4. How about the Crest Drive-in. Great hot dogs 🌭

  5. These were great and Prill talks about both all the time. I spoke to Coach Lane at the beach who said his brother Chubby was still alive and living in FL. However that conversation may have been about a year ago. Hahahaha. Mike

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  6. Jill Turner-Odice

    Chubbies had the nest onion rings

  7. I remember the Big Top as a nighttime hangout. All sorts of ad hoc mid-1960s adventures began in that parking lot…

  8. Dorrie Barlow Thomas

    I can’t believe my father didn’t mention this in his comment: We lived on Crescent Road, which has one entrance right next to The Big Top…as we turned into the road, you could clearly see the grill guys through the big windows, at the corner of the building…they were always sweating away over that grill and my father would always comment something to the effect of, “I wonder how well people like having sweat in their burgers?!” Surprise, surprise, we never ate there 🙂

  9. Big Top was the absolute BEST! I still miss it today.

  10. I do miss the char burgers from big top……

  11. Big Top Shoppe (two Ps!) also had fried whole clams, which was a nice break from the usual fare. Won’t even mention the other things one could procure at Big Top, as legend has it. Jay Leno has also mentioned Big Top a few times, as I think you have picked up on the past.

    And nice shout out to Charpentiers, which, in my opinion, had the BEST hamburgers in town, which they cooked up right there for you (good grab and go spot during lunch period @ Staples HS)

  12. One of Jay Leno’s mentions of the Big Top was in an interview with Michael Douglas, who was a wheel with the Downshifters club back in the day (60’s) when the Big Top was their hang.

  13. Michael Friedman

    I could be wrong, but the way I remember it, The Crest was the big hangout for the Downshifters and Downshifter wannabees. Classic 60’s drive-in.

  14. The Crest was the Best!

  15. Loved to take my children to Chubby Lane’s with other mothers and their children, to eat the best hamburgers in town.. Times have changed; my children are no longer children and I no longer eat beef. But the happy memories remain. Nina Streitfeld

  16. All these years later I can still recall exactly how Chubby Lane’s smelled inside. In my family it was considered kind of a big deal to go there for lunch. Thanks for the memories, Dan. It’s like finding a postcard from an era that has utterly vanished.

  17. I worked at the Big Top in high school in the ’70s (I also worked at Mark’s Place and the old Westport Diner – stories for another time) – and I will always remember the Big Top as the perfect goofy teenage summer job. Jeff Ferguson was the manager (he wouldn’t become Westport’s only mass murderer until years later) and the kids who worked there pretty much ran the place. Jim Saxe, the owner, showed up between shifts to pick up the cash, but as soon as he was out the door, the beers came out of the cooler. Wilder things went on in the parking lot, but inside, it was all work – it had to be. The place was always packed. Years later, I wrote a screenplay about working there, and hanging out at the Players Tavern when Johnny and Edgar Winter were warming up for one of their tours. What a great time to grow up in Westport! Thanks, Dan, for keeping the history alive.

  18. Thanks for the memories Dan

  19. I went to Big Top a number of times and naturally have fond memories of their burgers and fries. I remember heading there for lunch one time late spring of senior year when, in theory, we weren’t supposed to be going off campus for lunch–but it was a beautiful day and, quite frankly, the Big Top lunch was much more appealing than what the Staples cafeteria was serving that day.

    As for Chubby Lane’s: it too was a great place but it will forever be associated in my mind with the only loss we suffered–and only goals the Staples soccer team surrendered–senior year. We had our only night game that season in Nyack, NY and, as a sign of the times, had our pregame meal at Chubby’s. An early dinner of prime beef burgers was considered the right meal choice back then to maximize one’s energy and strength. (I’m pretty sure we had French fries and soda too.)

    Now, I’m not blaming our 2-1 loss on Chubby’s; after all, I have no idea what the Nyack players were eating at home prior to the game. But I am thankful nutrition knowledge has come a long way since then.

    • In those days we were also given salt pills in hot weather.

    • Great story, Fred! I, too, remember our team being told what to eat before a rowing championship — was it “No Pancakes!”, or was it “No Eggs!”?
      It really didn’t matter since lightweight crews have to be weighed in before the race, so little was eaten. If taller, we could have enjoyed rowing as a heavyweight, with no weight constrictions. Crazy.

  20. Working at Big Top was a family tradition — my eldest brother Bob worked there in the late 60s, and my brother Fred and I had overlapping stints working there in the mid-70s. It was a terrific first job, and I made some lifelong friends working there.

  21. Does anyone recall when the McDonalds replaced the Big Top Shoppe?

  22. The Chubby Lane’s shown in the picture was, at one point in the late 70’s, the Westport Ocean House which was a wildly popular seafood restaurant during its time. The owner also owned the Chappaqua (NY) Ocean House and a spin-off restaurant was opened in Saybrook, CT.

  23. Big top was awesome. Great burgers and fried clam basket. Was so sad when it had a huge grease fire I believe late 70’s I think there is a photo of the fire at the fire department halls as one of the worst fires in town. As a kid I was crushed.

  24. Wow, just read all the comments … such great tidbits and memories shared here!

    I believe my Dad took me to Big Top a few times as a young tot in the 70’s … fuzzy memories on that. But I do remember The Clam Box down the road during that time. Awesome place!

    All of these Friday Flashbacks make me ache for my childhood in Westport. We had such a fun, eclectic mix of local establishments.

    Anyone remember Grass Roots tavern … next to Fairfield Furniture? (Maybe that joint could become a future flashback topic, lol).

    Thanks Dan … great post!

  25. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Does anyone remember that the Big Top had great ribs? When my mother closed our kitchen for painting we got to have their ribs and I’ll never forget how good they were. Also, I remember more than one Big Top location. Can anyone confirm/identify locations? I’m thinking Darien on the Post Rd.

    • For a long time there was one right off the Wilbur Cross Parkway Exit 59 in New Haven (Dixwell Avenue?). It might still be there.

    • I remember those ribs well – one of our jobs as counter girls included bagging and weighing individual portions of pre-cooked ribs in the back room. Then the grill boys tossed a single portion on the grill when an order came in. I think the order was called an Adam’s Basket, and those ribs were delicious! Does anyone remember the other names on the menu that hung over the counter?

      • I was directed here by my Sis Elyse. We had a long tradition at the Big Top. And most of the things suggested here are true, and then some. When I was in HS, [I was in Dan’s class] a TV special series was broadcast titled ‘Crisis in Suburbia” which was about the rampant drug use circa 67-75 or so in Fairfield county. The show featured an early 20-something standing in line waiting for his burgers (wearing a wire), chatting with the n’er-do-wells on either side of him, asking where he could score some pot. Somehow the person to his left was out of sync, but the one on the other side chimed right in and offered to set him up with a dealer.
        A few weeks later I applied and got a job there. It was one of only two places you could get a job and not have to cut your hair. [Player’s Tavern was the other, with whom we had a symbiotic relationship. We’d give them free food at Big Top, they give us free drinks at the Tavern.] So we were an army of pony-tailed boys behind the grill.
        I seldom saw the menu from the front, but there was fun lingo used to call orders from the register to the grill:
        A burger was simply called ‘beef’
        Cheese burgers were: ‘cheese’
        Add lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing created a ‘Great Beef/Cheese’
        Hot dog was a: ‘frank’
        French fries: ‘tater’
        Onion rings: ‘rings’
        Clams was: ‘bucket’
        Clam roll was: ‘roll’
        Chicken was: ‘bird’
        Ribs were ‘adam’ [yes, the menu had a biblical allusion!]

        Not that these things are burned into my memory…

        Employees would typically make a run to Scalise’s Liquors diagonal across the Post Road for a beer run before it closed at 8pm, expecially on Friday and Saturday nights when we were open until 1am.

        And speaking of allusions, after close we sometimes gathered below one of the large fans towards the back for a burnt offering.

        Jeff Ferguson was the manager who ‘broke me in’. He and Tommy Atkins were the night managers when I started, and they rented a house somewhere back on Crescent, to which we would often retire after work for R & R. It all felt quite normal at the time.

        • Hi Fred! I worked with you at Big Top – I was a year behind you and Dan at Staples – I was in Prill Boyle’s class – lots of great memories (I learned a technique for slicing onions from Frank, the guy who rotisseried the chickens and ribs, that I still use today). I never went to Jeff Ferguson’s after hours –
          think I’m okay about that – but the Tavern was another story. So glad your sister turned you on to Dan’s site – it’s the best! Westport is still a great town – there’s a few of us from the ’70s who came back.

          • Ha ha! Of course! After I posted this and considered the overlapping times with Jeff F, I realized that you were Genie! Of course! Fabulous to see your characters on screen! You were a sweetheart, and I hope life has been and continues to be grand!

  26. I went to Big Top once, shortly after I moved to Westport. It was one of the best hamburgers I had ever had. I was looking forward to many more. Then it closed the next day.

  27. The smell and taste of the Big Top’s steak sandwich is a sense memory that lingers with me to this day. As for Chubby’s, I had one of the briefest employments in the history of the place. I started in the summer, working both at the Post Road spot and at the beach. I was the most recent hire, and on rainy days, of which there were too many then, Chubby would send me home, without pay. I lasted about four weeks.

  28. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Great memories of going to both Big Toppe and Chubby Lane’s..( this was our ‘reward’-Always going for burgers either place
    after our long piano lessons, late weekday afternoons ..:-)

  29. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    I tried but never did get a job at Chubby’s. I do remember Big Top better since it was more of a place to hang out in the side parking lot. My ex-brother-in-law worked there and at one point I repainted the menu items on the large wooden boards for them.

  30. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I worked at Chubby Lane’s too! Started at Compo then moved up to the Post Road location. It was my first job and a really fun one! I worked with great people and just had the best first work experience! Chubby was a big fan of the island of Bermuda and that is why he made us wear what we wore to work!

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