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May 7, 1998

Landmark restaurant in Cambridge closes

CAMBRIDGE — Bad things do come in threes, at least for Cambridge food-lovers. Still jarred by the departures of both the Tasty and the Rathskeller, restaurant patrons are now facing the loss of yet another beloved eatery. Fritz’s, the intimate cafe which for decades has sat nestled between the Tasty and the Wursthaus, has thrown in the dish towel.

“At first I thought it was a horrible location,” remembered proprietor Fritz Bjornassen. “I mean, we didn’t even have room for a sign out front, and our front door just looked like one of the windows in the wall of the Wursthaus.”

But over the years customers did make it through the inconspicuous ingress, usually by accidentally leaning against it. What they found within was inevitably their new favorite bistro, for Fritz, along with his wife Uta, knew how to make a guest happy.

It wasn’t just the free food, although the bill of fare was the finest of European cuisine. It wasn’t the free booze, although that too was always top shelf. It might have been the topless waitresses, although the sight of ample and perfectly formed Nordic breasts soon lost its novelty in the midst of the smiles and conversation of the perpetually cheery staff.

Having left Europe in the 1960s with a substantial but undisclosed fortune, the Bjornassens’ only dream was to become citizens of the US. Their ignorance of liquor laws and morality codes proved no impediment for the warm and generous couple, despite the fact that some of their first customers included naturalization officials and members of the Cambridge City Council.

“We were just so happy to be in America,” says Uta, “and we just wanted to give something back to this great land that took us in as one of their own.”

Police officers who, to their credit, never partook of the open bar while on duty, seemed to look the other way when Fritz’s nubile, statuesque, ash-blonde and steel-blue-eyed waitresses walked by. “Well, they might’ve peeked, now and then,” Fritz confided with his trademark wink.

A highlight of any meal at Fritz’s was the hourly raffle, where all present were automatically entered and prizes never went below a thousand bucks. This hourly windfall must have reached an astronomical net total, as Fritz’s never closed... at least until now.

Thankfully, patrons who missed out on Fritz’s can look forward to the Bjornassens’ new restaurant, opening this summer in Harvard Square. Exactly where in Harvard Square, though, the pair won’t say.

“The new front door will look even less like a door than THIS one, and we’re leaving everybody in the dark as to where it is,” said Fritz, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “At Fritz’s, we found so many great customers, or rather they found us...why fix it if it ain’t broke?”

Uta, however, couldn’t resist giving a clue: “Think brick,” she said. And then she and her husband went back into the kitchen to whip up yet another splendid, free, Valkyrie-delivered meal. Hopefully it will not be this writer’s last.

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