Friday Flashback #136

A few years ago, Patrick Laffaye remodeled his bathroom.

Behind the shower wall — stuffed behind a soap dish, next to empty cans of Reingold beer — he found this:

Big Top drew everyone from doctors and lawyers to teenagers and motorcyclists. They sat together at a long table, or outside when the weather was good, enjoying some of the best burgers in Westport history.

Big Top is now McDonald’s. If that doesn’t say something about the decline of America, nothing does.

Patrick’s house was built in 1964 — in the midst of Big Top’s heyday.

He doesn’t live there anymore. But, he notes, his new house is closer to Big Top.

20 responses to “Friday Flashback #136

  1. Seth Goltzer

    Still long for a Ring Beef or an order of Adams Ribs….

  2. Barbara Sherburne, '67

    What a surprise to see the name Wallingford in that photo. I’ve only lived here since 1982 and wasn’t aware that there was a Big Top here. I’ll have to ask some Wallingford natives about this.

    • Barbara, I did not remember that either. I had been to the one in New Haven.

      I also did not remember that slogan: “ON THE CROSS ROADS OF THE U.S.A.” I wonder if this was some kind of indication that the owner had much bigger plans for Big Top, i.e., to turn it into a national chain.

  3. Susan Iseman

    The Meadows family owned the franchise, and there was an additional location in Hamden and one in Waterbury. The Waterbury store broke off from the franchise and changed the name in the late 70’s.

  4. Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

    My first real job was slinging burgers, selling Adams Baskets and cleaning that damn rotisserie at Big Top. I don’t think they cared but I lied about my age and started the day after my 13th birthday. Worked off and on for the next 3 years. Met some crazy guys working there and some crazier girls over the counter. For a brief time between 1965 and 1968 it was the center of my teenage universe…

    • Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

      Trivia: Incredibly they changed the name to suit the new owner around 1970 to Hagers Patio… that was the nail in BT’s coffin.

  5. Michael Calise

    Talk about a decline!

  6. Hanne Jeppesen

    I remember Big Top well. I lived in Westport 1967-1968 I was an au pair from Denmark. My girl friends (other au pairs) went there often. It was convenient and reasonable priced. Probably went there with a date as well a few times.

  7. So many memories of spare ribs at The Big Top. My family lived on Fairfield Beach. We would drive down the Post Road antipating them and suddenly we could smell them and knew we were almost there. MacDonalds nay.
    Ed Gerber

  8. Fred Cantor

    According to the May 17, 1962 Town Crier, the Westport Big Top opened that week. “Described as ‘an original idea and new design in dining’ by its originators, the concept of Big Top Shoppes was created in Daytona Beach, Fla. and brought back to Connecticut by H.A. Saxe and Oscar Silverman.”

    According to the article, Saxe was a radio station owner in Florida and CT while Silverman was involved in creating and installing a large number of restaurants in New England. The article also stated that a local resident, Jack Meadow, would operate the Westport Big Top.

  9. Arline Gertzoff

    A portion of ribs was 99 cents to start The whole family ate for $10 with a couple of sides

  10. Wendy Cusick

    Timeline of that street corner…
    Big Top, then Hager’s Patio according to Mr.Fernie, then the restaurant with burgers and the best fried chicken Roy Rogers arrived (’80s to mid ’90s), now currently McDonald’s which is own by a local gentleman from Fairfield who’s very community minded of the town of Westport.

  11. Eugenie Schomer

    Many years ago, at a local tag sale, I found an original plastic sign from the Big Top (I’d post a picture but Dan says it can’t be done in the Comments). I don’t remember what I paid for it – I think there was some haggling involved – but I had to have it.

    Many many years before that, I worked at the Big Top as one of the counter girls. I hope not one of the “crazy” ones mentioned above, but it was high school, and 1972, so yeah, probably…

    We wore red-and-white candy striped shirts over our hot pants, ate too many french fries, worked hard, and had way too much fun. There were beers in the cooler and … other things in the parking lot, where all our friends hung out before heading off to the Tavern (cool nightclub at the Playhouse, for those who remember it).

    Jim Saxe, the owner, must’ve been a pretty tolerant guy, because he usually showed up once a day to pick up the cash, and let us run the place the rest of the time. Everyone came to the Big Top – it was always crowded, and keeping up with the rush really was like a circus – the talented grill guys could juggle spatulas and tongs and take-out orders like pros!

    I don’t think there were many places like this where teenagers could work – certainly not today, but even back then. Big Top was unique!

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  12. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    Big Top had the best hamburgers of any I remember in Westport: Compo Acres, Pal Joey’s, Chubby Lane’s, the Crest – and theirs were all really great to begin with. But the mess of caramelized onions you could put on the burgers at Big Top were equally amazing!

  13. Mark Jacobs

    I believe Paul Newman referred to Big Top in Westport on one of the late-night talk shows. But I could never understand the allure. We went there and to us it was just another burger place.

  14. Carol (pka Candy) Land

    And what about those ice cream cones?!? I remember the “collars “ they had, like the pictures on the Howard Johnson’s ads. And you could get any flavor you wished … as long as it was vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. And … 25 cents!

  15. Dorrie Barlow Thomas

    I can’t believe my father hasn’t written in (yet) about this…so, I’ll chime in for him, in case anyone’s still reading this, two days later. We lived on Crescent Road, one of the two roads that flanked The Big Top (the other being Roseville, of course). As we’d turn onto our road from the Post Road, there was always a good view into the place, with it’s giant windows all around. My father always, always made comments about never wanting to eat there after watching those grill cooks sweating right over/into the burgers they were cooking…ewwwww!