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The Nimrod Falmouth, Massachusetts:  The Place with a Hole in the Wall

Some fascinating American history comes along with the baked Chatham cod, the New England clam chowder, and the filet mignon-scallop-and-shrimp mixed grill at Nimrod, the popular Falmouth dining destination on Cape Cod. For one thing, there’s the nearly 200-year old hole in the wall of the men’s bathroom.

The hole in the wall of the men’s bathroom - click to enlarge
The hole in the wall of the men’s bathroom

“It was made by a cannon ball fired by the British frigate, the HMS Nimrod during the War of 1812,” Nimrod’s owner Jim Murray will tell you. “The ship’s captain demanded the people of Falmouth hand over their guns. When they refused, he had the cannons fire on the town, and a cannon ball penetrated this part of the building. The ball has since disappeared, but the hole remains.”

With Jim standing guard, we both went into the men’s room to take a peek. And there it was, decidedly out of place behind a little door set into the blank white bathroom wall. But the wall could hardly have belonged to a bathroom back in 1812 when the building was a small 17th century harbor-front house. Some time later, it was picked up, hole and all, and moved to Main Street beside a larger 18th century house. And in 1922, both buildings were put on rollers and pulled by a team of eight horses to a bucolic two-acre site on Dillingham Avenue where they were combined into a single private dwelling which subsequently served as guest house and semi-private club before being converted some time in the 1970’s into a restaurant named for the infamous frigate that fired on the brave citizens of Falmouth.

Jim bought the place in 1995. Today the l-shaped shingled structure trimmed in white with a bright red door and windows and bracketed with black shutters is an attractive Cape Cod landmark. But at the time Jim took it over, the Nimrod was in a sorry state, run down and deeply in debt. Yet somehow, the youthful restaurateur saw the future and had the imagination and energy to make it happen.

That he succeeded is evident the moment you enter the low ceilinged-tavern part of the restaurant with its deep fireplaces and original posts and beams – this is the 17th century house and contains the famous men’s (as well as ladies’) room -- and take in the active bar scene enlivened by a live jazz band. A proficient harmonica player who straddles the spectrum from bluegrass to classical to jazz, Jim believes in the power of good music to enhance the Nimrod experience.

The comfortable colonial atmosphere of a dining area - click to enlarge
The comfortable colonial atmosphere of a dining area
The restaurant has a good-sized catering component run by Jim’s wife Gwyn (who had just graduated from culinary school and whose specialty is desserts like fruit tarts with macadamia crust and Triple Sec glaze). But its main focus is feeding a clientele of loyal locals and Cape visitors. The place can accommodate as many as 300 although, Jim told us, he prefers to keep the crowd down to 200 in the cheerful, expansive dining areas furnished in comfortable colonial décor and enlivened by gauzy curtains on the windows and pink napkins on the table. The single exception is the Key West room which provides an alternate tropical ambience.

and the tropical ambience of the Key West Room - click to enlarge
and the tropical ambience of the Key West Room

A wealth of choices appears on the Nimrod menu to feed its many diners: an ample raw bar (oysters on the half shell were briny and succulent), a healthy selection of starters, soups, and salads, and a choice of nine entrees in both fish and meat categories. Our selections: tender and tasty grilled swordfish finished with a lemon shallot butter, and garlicky mussels sautéed in white wine and served with pasta were excellent. Pretty waitresses in black dresses and strands of oversized pearls were informed, charming and anxious to please.

In a mood of rare indulgence, we decided to have the “Decadent Fallen Chocolate Cake,” a dessert so labor intensive, it must be ordered along with the starter and entrée at the beginning of the meal. It is also so delicious that any consideration of calories proved irrelevant. We told Jim as much when he stopped by our table soon after we had eaten every last morsel. Over coffee, we asked how he came to this business.

Jim Murray and daughter Livia - click to enlarge
Jim Murray and daughter Livia

“I was in high school when my family suffered some financial reversals and I had to go to work,” Jim began. “I found a job in a restaurant at the lowest, entry level. That first week someone got fired, and everyone in the place moved up the rung. And I thought boy this is the business where you can move up quickly. Three years later I was chef of the Red Coach in Wayland, near Boston.
“From there, I don’t know how many restaurants I worked in,” he continued. “I followed some great chefs in New Orleans, worked in many places on the Cape until I finally got here. When I was a kid, I thought I would become a marine biologist. But I think deep down, I always wanted to be a chef.”

And chef he is, as well as musician, owner of a big, thriving dining establishment, socially conscious entrepreneur who patronizes local farms and fishermen, and -- lest we forget -- Falmouth historian whose favorite story is about a certain hole in the wall.

The Nimrod Restaurant and Jazz Lounge
100 Dillingham Avenue
Falmouth, MA 02540

Phone: 508-540-4132

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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