Bostonians Lament Loss Of 137-Year-Old Pub And Its Trove Of History

Originally published on October 7, 2019 4:59 pm

Doyle's Café, which has been serving up drinks and food to locals, famous politicians and Hollywood celebs in Jamaica Plain since 1882, is expected to close its doors by the end of October. Its owner says he can't afford to keep the business running in the Boston neighborhood.

The landmark pub may not be fancy, but Doyle's is the kind of place where you might find a governor hanging out.

"It's a resource for a lot of different people, for a lot of different things," said Michael Weinstein, a Jamaica Plain neighbor and faithful Doyle's patron. "People have all kinds of parties. We've had parties in the back for our family and stuff. Organizations have parties back there. I mean ... there's no place that can replicate what they do here."

Now the place is going away. No one at Doyle's could say exactly when the cafe will close, though they expect it will be by the end of the month. In fact, none of the staff wanted to talk at all, pointing out that not only was Boston losing an institution, but they were all losing their jobs.

Doyle's owner, Gerry Burke Jr., is selling the cafe's liquor license to a local steakhouse chain Davio's, which is planning a massive 15,000-square-foot restaurant in the Seaport, where another Boston institution, Anthony's Pier 4 restaurant, used to be. The license is expected to fetch around $450,000. The transfer was approved last month by the city.

A Facebook group has been set up, called Save Doyle's Cafe, but that's unlikely to happen.

"Will there be development? Yes, the answer to that is yes. We are selling the property with the potential for development of some sort," said Peter Gori, a spokesman for the building's owner. "We are open to discussing anything. I have been asked to entertain any and all discussion about, frankly, anything."

Gori said the family would love to be able to keep the place going, but the restaurant business has changed, and Doyle's as it is now just isn't viable.

Doyle's is a place open to everyone, townies, tourists and Hollywood celebs when they are in town filming. But Doyle's may be best known as a spot where politicians have gone to press the flesh.
Meredith Nierman / WGBH

"The restaurant is an institution, the bar is an institution, but it needs many hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades," Gori said. "In terms of things like handicapped accessibility ... the aesthetics don't lend themselves to how people dine today. The layout is obsolete, the kitchen needs a complete overhaul."

Gori said that doesn't mean there won't continue to be a Doyle's of some sort. The name can be sold with the building, and he expects whoever buys the property will see the name as a selling point. He said he could envision someone setting up another Irish pub in addition to housing.

"We've been coming every Friday night — every Friday night — for 40 years after basketball," said Weinstein. "So we're distraught. We have our own table in the back. The waitresses all know you're the guy who drinks Corona, you're the guy who drinks Jameson ... They know who we are."

Doyle's is a place open to everyone, townies, tourists and Hollywood celebs when they are in town filming. But Doyle's may be best known as a spot where politicians have gone to press the flesh.

"It was the closest thing Boston had to a citywide living room because everyone was welcome there," said WGBH News' political analyst Peter Kadzis. "Other political watering holes were, well, more tribal."

Audrey Fannon has lived a few minutes away from Doyle's for about 60 years, since third grade. She called the closing the end of an era and wondered if there's any place in the area that could ever match the ambiance. She also expressed the concerns of many that the building will be turned into yet another boxy brick and steel condo building, unaffordable to most of the people who live here now.

"It definitely feels like JP is changing a lot in the past few months, accelerating from the past few years," said 28-year-old Sophia Silverglass, who grew up in the neighborhood. "All these old places that I remember from my childhood, everything's disappearing."

Silverglass said she grew up at Doyle's, going with her mother's group of friends who played softball together.

In addition to being a famed gathering place, Doyle's is home to a treasure trove of memorabilia — pictures, photographs, ephemera — reflecting the 137 years the bar has been in business. It's a history that neighbors would like to see preserved.

A telephone booth from 1882, which could only be used for receiving calls, is pictured at Doyle's Cafe in Boston, July 21, 2016. It is one of three telephone booths in the restaurant.
Boston Globe / Boston Globe via Getty Images

"There is an unbelievable trove of history in this place — all the photos, newspaper clippings, paintings and so forth," said Richard Youngstrom, an artist who lives about five minutes away. "And it would be a shame if something couldn't be done with that, you know, that was useful."

Youngstrom was part of a group who met at Doyle's this week to figure if they could petition the Burke family to save the memorabilia, though Youngstrom said he's not sure what would happen to it all. He suggested someone could set up a museum or another kind of repository where people could view the history, since the walls of Doyle's Cafe won't be available for much longer.

"At the very least," Youngstrom said, "there's gotta be some kind of farewell party where people get to tell their stories."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A Boston landmark is expected to close its doors by the end of the month. Doyle's Cafe has been serving up drinks and food to locals, famous politicians and Hollywood celebs since 1882, but owners say the neighborhood is just too expensive. From WGBH radio in Boston, Aaron Schachter has this remembrance.

AARON SCHACHTER, BYLINE: The last time I went to Doyle's Cafe was on a Saturday night 22 years ago with a few dozen friends. It was my 30th birthday party. The then-governor and now-presidential candidate William Weld was there - not for my party, though he was kind enough to wish me a happy birthday, but because it was Doyle's. Michael Weinstein says that's the kind of place it has always been.

MICHAEL WEINSTEIN: We've been coming every Friday night after basketball for almost 40 years now here, so we're distraught.

SCHACHTER: The Doyle's staff seems distraught, too. No one would talk to me, and they asked me not to record people in the bar. You're talking about losing a landmark, one of them said, but we're losing our jobs. Outside, though, patrons were happy to reminisce about as quintessential an Irish pub as could be - dark wood, well-worn creaky floorboards, a good-sized bar. Weinstein says unlike that TV version of a Boston bar, Doyle's really is a place where everybody knew your name, and its closing isn't just about losing a drinking spot.

WEINSTEIN: It's a resource for a lot of people for a lot of different things. People have all kinds of parties. We've had parties in the back for our family and stuff. Organizations have parties back there. So many times, this place has just been used for people in the community. There's no place that can replicate what they do here.

SCHACHTER: There is a Facebook group dedicated to saving the iconic bar, but that's increasingly unlikely. The bar's owner has already sold the liquor license for around $450,000. Ironically, it's going to a 15,000-square-foot upscale steakhouse rising on the ashes of another Boston landmark, a restaurant called Anthony's Pier 4. Audrey Fannon, another Doyle's regular, says this neighborhood, this city, is losing one thing after another.

AUDREY FANNON: It's sad. It's very sad. It's like the end of an era. I don't know if there's any place around that matches the ambience of this place. I really don't. I hope it's not going to be another condo building. I bet it will be.

SCHACHTER: That is a definite possibility, though a spokesman for the family that owns the building says they hope whoever buys the place can maintain a bar of some sort, potentially even one named Doyle's. He says it's increasingly expensive to run a restaurant these days, and the pub needs a major upgrade to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to remain viable. Also lost when Doyle's closes is a major spot for politicians to press the flesh. My colleague Peter Kadzis is WGBH Radio's longtime politics guy.

PETER KADZIS, BYLINE: It's not as if there weren't or aren't other political watering holes in the city. It's just that they're more tribal.

SCHACHTER: Doyle's is jam-packed with memorabilia reflecting the 137 years the bar has been in business. It's a history that Bostonians would like to see preserved. Richard Youngstrom, an artist who lives nearby, met this week at Doyle's with a group of locals trying to figure out how to preserve it all.

RICHARD YOUNGSTROM: There is an unbelievable trove of history in this place - you know, all of the photos, newspaper clippings, paintings and so forth - and it would be a shame if something couldn't be done with that, you know, that was useful.

SCHACHTER: If you've never been to Doyle's and can't get to Boston in the next month or so, the famed watering hole has been memorialized in films like "Mystic River," "The Brink's Job" and "Patriot's Day."

For NPR News, I'm Aaron Schachter in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.