US: An iconic Boston Irish pub closes after 137 years. Residents fear for the city's soul - - PressFrom - US
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US An iconic Boston Irish pub closes after 137 years. Residents fear for the city's soul

20:15  17 november  2019
20:15  17 november  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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The closing of 137 - year -old Irish pub Doyle's Café comes as other longtime Boston institutions have shut down. Residents fear for the city ' s soul . Joey Garrison. Like many U.S. cities , rent and housing prices have skyrocketed as young professionals turn parts of working-class neighborhoods

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BOSTON — Out of nowhere, the sound of bagpipes filled Doyle's Café.

A young boy stopped by the old Irish pub in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood after his music lesson. His dad gave him the go-ahead to start playing.

Patrons from the bar's three main rooms soon converged, and for 10 minutes, they listened, pints in hand, to a concert from the youngest person in the tavern.

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"The crowd erupted," said Tom McAuliffe, one of the customers that night more than a decade ago. "And then everybody went back."

While the made-for-movies Boston tableau was not an everyday occurrence at Doyle's — a go-to spot for local politicians with hundreds of vintage photographs and other artifacts adorning the walls — it captured what made the place special.

For nearly 140 years, spanning three centuries, Doyle's Cafe held down the corner at Washington and Williams streets — a true neighborhood bar. But longevity couldn't save the onetime rough joint turned community gathering place from the pressures of a red-hot real estate market and climbing operating costs.

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People of Irish descent form the largest single ethnic group in Boston , Massachusetts. Once a Puritan stronghold, Boston changed dramatically in the 19th century with the arrival of European immigrants. The Irish dominated the first wave of newcomers during this period

The Irish pub is a prevalent style of watering hole in cities that aren’t made up of majority Irish descendants, so it’ s no surprise that the Boston Come for the fish and chips, stay for everything else. Whether it’ s Irish music sessions on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the small-but-mighty draft list, the

Its closing last month after 137 years hit regulars like a death in the family.

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"That was one of the special ones. It really was," said McAuliffe, a 51-year-old Milton radio station executive, recounting the bagpipe story. "You don't see that at TGIFriday's. You really don't see it anywhere. And unfortunately, with this being gone, I don't know that you will see it anymore."

Doyle's Cafe, one of this historic city's longest-operating Irish bars, was the latest in a series of community institutions to buckle under the strain of growth, gentrification and a changing economy that long-time residents fear is eroding the city's identity and authenticity.

Like many U.S. cities, rent and housing prices have skyrocketed as young professionals turn parts of working-class neighborhoods into upscale enclaves. New condominium projects consume many street corners, attracting a new clientele with different tastes. The changes complicate the financial viability of longtime family-owned bars and restaurants.

Some say losing Doyle's was the most striking example yet of "old Boston" fading away. Neighborhood activists, under the banner "Save Doyle's Cafe," are petitioning to preserve the property and historic building as a tavern or restaurant under new owners. But its future remains unclear.

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"So many places are getting sold in Boston," said Lori DeSantis, a 57-year-old  photographer who frequented Doyle's for more than 30 years dating back to her college days.

She often took black and white photos from inside Doyle's, sometimes capturing out the window the above-ground train that was moved underground in the 1980s.

"You know, in Ireland there's so many neighborhood pubs, and it's like a family thing to go," she said. "In Boston, there's only so many left. It won't feel like Jamaica Plain without Doyle's."

'A uniquely Bostonian place to be'

Word of Doyle's closure leaked when owner Gerry Burke Jr. agreed to sell the bar's coveted liquor license to a mega-steakhouse planned for the trendy Seaport neighborhood for $455,000.

Burke leased the building from his uncle, Eddie Burke, who is now selling the property.

Gerry Burke Jr. declined to be interviewed by USA TODAY. He told the Boston Globe in September, "It’s a terrible thing and I’m as sad as I can be. But the real estate in JP is as high as it’s going to get and I can’t afford to stay here any more.’’

Jamaica Plain, home to Irish and German immigrants in the late 1800s, evolved into one of Boston’s most diverse communities, attracting black and Latino families and later a music and arts scene that sprouted after a period of decline in the 1970s. Today, coffee shops, a popular ice cream shop and restaurants line Centre Street, the neighborhood's central hub.

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Doyle's is not the only beloved Boston establishment to shut down in recent years. James's Gate, another Irish bar in Jamaica Plain, closed in 2015. The nearby Drinking Fountain, a dive bar that dates back to the 1940s, closed in 2017. The next year came the closing of Jacob Wirth Restaurant, a family-owned German restaurant that opened in the Theatre District in 1868.

In January, the city also lost Durgin-Park, an iconic restaurant near Faneuil Hall that opened in 1827 and was known for its New England cuisine. But the impact of Doyle's closure was seismic.

"It's like losing a room in my house," said Robert Dimmick, a writer at Etiquetteer.com who previously worked at MIT. He guessed he went to Doyle's about twice a week since moving to the neighborhood 16 years ago.

"You look at places like Durgin-Park, which just closed. They had only been cooking for the tourists for years. Boston's going to get along without that just fine. Doyle's is where actual Bostonians go."

Dimmick was among the last customers to raise a glass at Doyle

's on its final night.

"This really is going to be a loss," he said. "We'll have to figure out where to go next and what can be a uniquely Boston kind of a place."

'City Hall West'

An unassuming, one-story brick structure across the street from soccer fields, Doyle's was steeped in the history Boston and void of any glitz or pretension.

The bar was a center for politics, sometimes called "City Hall West" during Mayor Ray Flynn's time in office, serving Boston mayors, Massachusetts senators and governors, U.S. ambassadors, Catholic cardinals and even President Bill Clinton once for Sunday brunch.

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An Irish immigrant, Dennis Doyle, founded the tavern in 1882 catering to other immigrants who worked at nearby breweries and a gas factory. It was a place where they could cash their checks, look for work and later make telephone calls. During Prohibition, the bar turned into a market with a speakeasy in the back.

It remained in the Doyle family until 1971, when the bar was sold to the Burkes, which operated a candy store nearby and supplied the liquor to the speakeasy. Doyle's was operated by Eddie Burke and his two brothers before it was passed down to the next generation.

In 1988, it was the first bar to start selling Sam Adams beer, brewed nearby, and it became a custom of tourists to spin by Doyle's after visiting the brewery and leave with a pint glass.

Wooden floors stretched across the historic building with a textured tin metal ceiling above. The bar had original light fixtures, antique no-smoking signs and one of its original phone booths.

Photos of the politicians who ruled Boston hung on its walls. New Deal-era murals depicted Pilgrims in America and Paul Revere's storied ride. The Revere painting included a moon at the top that, according to patrons, was added to patch up a bullet hole left from an attempted robbery years ago.

The long walnut bar flanked one side of the building, a middle room had wooden booths for diners and back room served as community space, hosting candidate forums, neighborhood groups, birthday parties and more.

"It had this wonderful heartbeat inside of it which was as strong as the whole neighborhood itself," said Rick Berlin, a musician and longtime Doyle's server, known as the unofficial mayor of Jamacia Plain.

“You walk in there and you feel, 'Oh, I’m OK. This is a fine place for my kids to be. This is OK for my black neighbors to be. This is a good place for lesbian softball teams to feel at home. This is where cops can celebrate the retirement of a friend. This is where politicians feel they have to go to make a pit-stop in Boston.'”

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Days before it closed, the Boston Police Gaelic Bagpipe Column, a band that historically played at the bar on St. Patrick’s Day, gave one last surprise performance.

“I’ve never seen so many people weep in public except at a funeral," Berlin, 74, said. "It was like an Irish wake in there.”

On a recent Wednesday, everything — the photos, paintings and plethora of memorabilia, down to the bar stools, tables and kitchen equipment — were sold to the highest bidder at a public auction that also served as a final goodbye for those who loved Doyle's. Hundreds squeezed inside, some to bid on some of the nearly 300 items, others simply to soak in the place one last time.

"The three small prints of the Kennedy's — Jack, Bob and Ted," veteran auctioneer Ed Smith said, kicking thing off in his deep Boston accent. "$30 each ... twice ... third and last call!"

a man standing in a room: Jimmy Horne, of Avenue Auction Sales, points to a portrait of John F. Fitzgerald before people bid on it.© Joey Garrison/USA Today Jimmy Horne, of Avenue Auction Sales, points to a portrait of John F. Fitzgerald before people bid on it.

Group seeks next chapter of Doyle's

Some 2,500 people have signed a "Save Doyle's" petition to Mayor Marty Walsh and the City Council urging the Doyle's property be retained as a community gathering place "where everyone is welcome."

Supporters acknowledge a new residential component is likely, but they want it to include a tavern, not just condos.

"We know this era of Doyle's is coming to a close," said Ziba Cranmer, who is helping lead the cause. "Our hope is the next era of Doyle's can continue that legacy and that tradition."

The group says their push is "not a quixotic mission to preserve a past that is gone" but rather "a call to action" to ensure their children "have a place to gather like the one we have enjoyed for all these years." They also are seeking a local landmark status.

a group of people in a room: Jimmy Horne points to a Guinness sign at Doyle's Cafe that was auctioned off for $2,000.© Joey Garrison/USA Today Jimmy Horne points to a Guinness sign at Doyle's Cafe that was auctioned off for $2,000.

"It's not just Doyle's," Cranmer said. "It's really a larger conversation about what is the future of our city. What are our values? What do we care about? And how are we going to design a city that has these community centers that create social fabric?"

Peter Gori, a real estate broker selling the Doyle's property on behalf of Eddie Burke, said there's "significant interest" from potential buyers for a residential redevelopment at the site that includes a "re-imagined" pub, but it's too early to discuss specifics.

Any retrofit of the building would require a major investment to upgrade the aging structure.

a group of people sitting at a table: Fans of Doyle's Cafe review a list of items that were auctioned Nov. 6, 2019 from insider the bar, which closed weeks before.© Joey Garrison/USA Today Fans of Doyle's Cafe review a list of items that were auctioned Nov. 6, 2019 from insider the bar, which closed weeks before. "We will sell the property to a local developer that understands the legacy and the value of the location and many of the features of the property," said Gori, who has been meeting with the "Save Doyle's" group.

In a prepared statement, Walsh called Doyle's "a Boston legacy." He did not say whether the city should have a role in finding the text tenant.

"I'm sad to see this chapter of political history close," Walsh said, "but will always be grateful for all Doyle's did for the community, and it will continue to have a place in Boston's heart."

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: An iconic Boston Irish pub closes after 137 years. Residents fear for the city's soul

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