OPINION: Nights on the prowl often ended at the old Hambone

The Hambone, centre, behind the couple, seen here in the mid-1950s, was a late-night haunt on Christina Street renowned for its chilli and 15 cent hamburgers. John Rochon Collection, Sarnia Historical Society.

When I was a young guy in my teens and early 20s the Hambone Restaurant was my favourite spot to eat – usually late at night, when other places had closed.

The famous and, to many, beloved diner was located on the east side of Christina Street, between Lochiel and Davis streets. It was the very definition of a “greasy spoon,” which I use as an affectionate description and not pejorative in any way.

You could sit at stools along a counter facing south, or you could sit at stools facing north and read the newspapers. Pages were mounted on the wall facing customers — London Free Press in the morning, Sarnia Observer in the afternoon.

The Hambone was celebrated for its tiny 15-cent hamburgers, its chilli and its pastrami on rye sandwiches, served up by smiling waitresses who called you “hon.”

I discovered the Hambone at age 13, after my family made our final change of address into a big old home on London Road.

I had staked out my own bedroom at the extreme south end of the house, calculating I could easily sneak out a hallway window just steps away and clamber down the back side of the house to the ground undetected.

Many nights, my best friend James used the same route to climb up the back of the house and in through a window. I’d wake up to find him standing at the foot of my bed, announcing it was time to go for a night prowl.

We’d climb down the back of the house together and strike out downtown to explore the late-night city.

Before dawn’s early light we were back in our beds, eyes heavy with sleep and our bellies full of Hambone fare.

Later, I tended bar at the old Vendome Hotel between years at university. After closing hours, many of the wait staff from various hotels would congregate at the Hambone – the only late-night establishment still open.

For many of Sarnia’s police officers – those who walked the beat on harsh winter nights – the Hambone Restaurant was a welcoming haven. During the 1950s and ‘60s, the men in blue would enter through a welcoming back door where owner Rose Lewis always had a bowl of steaming chilli and a cup of hot coffee to warm their bones.

So – whether you were a kid on the prowl, a cop patrolling for prowlers, or someone in between – the Hambone Restaurant was a welcome respite in old, long-gone Sarnia.