Arlin Smith of Hugo’s and Eventide Oyster Co. on finding William S. Burroughs in the walls


Hanging on the wall on the way to the restroom at Eventide Oyster Co. is a framed picture of famed writer, beat poet and deranged genius William S. Burroughs. In the photograph, Burroughs appears to be sitting stern-faced at a bar. An inscription on the frame reads “Photo of William S. Burroughs found in the walls of Eventide Oyster Co. during renovations, Spring, 2012.” I asked Arlin Smith, one of the owners at Eventide, the story behind the photograph.

[Full Disclosure: Smith and his and his partners’ restaurants Eventide Oyster Co. and Hugo’s are all clients of Knack Factory, a content firm at which I am a partner. In fact, my partner Zack Bowen took the photograph of said photograph. Nonetheless, this story is a fun one.]

Smith: Rabelais Portland location was where Eventide is now. When [Eventide Oyster Co. Co-Owner] Andrew [Taylor] and I started into renovating the Eventide space, the first thing we did without having a building permit was rip up all the carpets, pull the ceiling out and then demo the whole place ourselves. We demoed the back walls, which was back to where [Rabelais’] back office and storage room was. As we pulled those walls out, we found this photo.

If it had been just a picture of someone without any character we probably would have just thrown it away, but it was really intriguing. We’re looking at it and asking, “Who is this guy? That looks like someone.” So it was floating around our office for a little while until finally Edward, a sever of ours, walked in and said, “That’s William S. Burroughs.” So immediately we did the Google image search and it was the spitting image. There are a few photos out there of him at a bar smoking a cigarette. That’s a classic shot, him sitting at a bar and staring at the camera.

So I wondered if Don [an owner of Rabelais] knew anything about it, and I threw it out there to him and he got right back to me. He goes, “Yup, that was not in the wall. I have been missing that picture. That was in a book from way back in the day. I found that picture and that is Burroughs.” Rabelais is a used bookstore and he buys used books, you know. He said, “I could never find it. It must have fallen and slipped underneath the wall and got wedged in there.”

We had gotten confirmation that it was him and we just had it up in our office and another server, Patrick, stole it. We didn’t even know it was missing. He went out and got it framed for opening day of the restaurant. He then had to get it re-framed because the framer actually wrote “Williams Burroughs” instead of “William S. Burroughs.” It was so priceless that I almost wanted to keep it up just like that, but we got it fixed.

We never wanted to have kitschy shit in Eventide, no buoys or nautical stuff. We did want to find a fish head, a big, obnoxious tuna head coming out of the wall, and some maps. So we did the maps and got them beautifully framed, and that picture is the kitschiest thing because it’s so out of place. But it’s perfect for where it is, on the way to the bathroom. You’re standing there squinting your eyes trying to figure it out. When people get it, they’ll look at me and exclaim, “Are you shitting me?”

But it’s awesome. It’s the perfect story for Eventide.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.