Follow the locals. That’s how Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus knew where to get the best steak in Augusta.
Businessmen and bankers filled the Town Tavern during most of the year. But Masters Week brought a crowd of golfers and guests.
Outside the downtown restaurant, a temporary bar was assembled on the sidewalk to wet the throats of those waiting on a table, many of whom came straight from the golf course.
“People would wait two hours,” said Mcdonald Williams, who worked 44 years at the Town Tavern. “Nobody was in any big hurry.”
Williams, 83, was too busy preparing steaks and seafood in the restaurant’s kitchen to gather autographs.
“We fed all the golfers,” he said. “They’d come back and talk tons and find out about where we got our beef and seafood from.”
William J. Heffernan opened the Town Tavern in 1937. The restaurant closed on Sundays – except for Masters Sunday.
The original building, located at the corner of Broad and Seventh streets, was demolished for the Georgia Railroad Bank building, now Wells Fargo. In 1965, the restaurant moved to a new building on Seventh Street, near the levee.
“Certainly, Masters Week it was well known as the place to go,” said Edward Heffernan, the original owner’s grandson, “especially for the out-of-town people who wanted to be part of the crowd.”
His grandfather kept a green-bound book titled The Masters: Profile of a Tournament in his office. When champions dined, they signed the book.
Palmer and Nicklaus signed pages profiling them. About 20 other signatures fill the inside cover.
Teamwork and preparation helped the staff keep pace during Masters Week, Williams said. On Monday night, the diners numbered about 400. The crowd swelled to 1,000 or more by Saturday night, he said.
“We could serve so many people ’cause we could get the orders out so quick,” said Williams said.
Ferris Dorr, who helped manage the restaurant in the 1970s, said golfers were seated immediately, no matter the line’s length.
“They got the same food as everyone else, but they got it quicker,” Dorr said.
In 1985, the Heffernan family sold the Town Tavern to Joe Campbell. It closed in 1993.
“By the time the tavern closed, there were so many other options that I think it sort of went away,” Heffernan said. “Maybe people, except for the old-timers, didn’t miss it as much.”