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Town Tavern was place to eat for Masters Tournament guests, golfers

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Follow the locals. That’s how Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus knew where to get the best steak in Augusta.

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Edward Heffernan stands in front of a portrait of his grandfather, William J. Heffernan, Town Tavern's original owner.  TODD BENNETT/STAFF
TODD BENNETT/STAFF
Edward Heffernan stands in front of a portrait of his grandfather, William J. Heffernan, Town Tavern's original owner.

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.”

THE EIGHT-PART SERIES

APRIL 7: The Masters Week parade was a short-lived tradition to welcome out-of-town visitors.

MONDAY: A giant hill near Augusta National’s 16th hole was a meeting place for young people from the late 1960s to 1980s.

TODAY: Augusta’s premier fine-dining restaurant, the old Town Tavern, was filled with guests and golfers.

WEDNESDAY: Masters fashion for men and women has evolved from “Sunday best” to more casual styles.

THURSDAY: Winter resorts, such as the Bon Air Vanderbilt, were the place for drinking, dancing, gambling and celebrities.

FRIDAY: The Old South Barbecue at Julian Smith Casino served supper to Augustans and guests.

SATURDAY: Augusta Chronicle readers share their memories of the tournament’s early days.

SUNDAY: Young women from across Georgia and South Carolina competed in the Miss Golf beauty pageant.

Comments (6) Add comment
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prov227
8177
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prov227 04/07/13 - 12:31 am
2
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grinder48
2640
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grinder48 04/09/13 - 10:16 am
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Well I missed it!
Unpublished

Like prov227 wrote, it was tops. Was just talkng yesterday with a friend about how great the Town Tavern was. Very few restaurants today are its equal and certainly none in Augusta.

faithson
7979
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faithson 04/12/13 - 04:14 pm
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fond memories of many a fine dinner

open face roast beef sandwich with fries... have not found a match in all these years.

Quebecavocat
23
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Quebecavocat 07/31/16 - 07:21 am
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1
Town tavern

Back in the mid 70's and early 80's I sold all of the fresh crab meat and fresh Beaufort shrimp to the Tavern that they served to their diners. Ms. Agnes Heffernan was one of the most pleasant, sincere ladies I ever met; McDonald always the perfect gentleman. "Mr. Joe" Heffernan was the door greeter and could not be disturbed when working the door, as he did not want to miss greeting anyone or be distracted. I never heard an unkind word out of any of them. It was my privilege to know and do business with them on a weekly basis, and the article reminded me of them and brought back my memories of these fine people whom I miss.

Sonny Pittman
2014
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Sonny Pittman 08/03/16 - 05:07 pm
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Great story Bill!

I miss the Town Tavern too; especially the fine food that was served by wonderful people, who made you feel welcome - as if you were a member of their family coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

Huska
3506
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Huska 08/29/16 - 09:26 am
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I thought that

The Green Jacket was the place to be. There on Washington Rd and in Daniel Village.

BamaMan
4062
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BamaMan 08/29/16 - 04:12 pm
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The Tavern

It was a very nice restaurant, went many times. But I'm sorry, I have to say the Prime Rib at the Tavern didn't hold a candle to Villa Europa....who is still open. The Tavern's rib was larger, but no where close to as good as Villa Europa. I think it was Pizza something then, but the food was/is the same. Delicious.

The Green Jacket was another great place. Actually was the first restaurant in town of offer a salad bar. Hard to believe, I know. It was difficult not to fill up on salad before your entre came. All entres were superb, their French Onion soup was to die for. Still don't know why they closed. I know they opened a small version in Aiken for awhile. But no more. Sill make the Green Jacket salad dressing, have both cookbooks.

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