Lights out for Doyle’s

The body is still warm, but the wake has begun for Doyle’s Cafe, the landmark Jamaica Plain saloon where cops, lesbian softball teams, and politicians of every leaning felt at home hoisting a pint. 

Gerry Burke, Jr., who bought the business from his father and uncle, said closing will come in the next month or two. Perhaps fittingly, the bar’s liquor license has been sold to Davio’s, which will slot it for yet another pricey eatery in the glass-towered Seaport district, a neighborhood that is about as yin as you can get to the yang of JP’s Washington Street.  

The closing captures a lot about what’s happening in Boston. Business has been off at Doyle’s, its throwback vibe overtaken by a deluge of new bars and restaurants in the neighborhood. At the same time, the value of its liquor license and real estate (the latter owned by Burke’s uncle, Eddie Burke) has never been higher. 

That mix probably made yesterday’s news inevitable. But it did nothing to hold back the gasps and sighs as Bostonians began to reckon with the imminent end for another fixture that long seemed part of the city’s identity. 

“It brought good people together, and reminded future generations how lucky we were to live in such a remarkable, historic city,” wrote former mayor Ray Flynn, a Doyle’s regular, in his Boston Herald column. “From laborers, teachers, police officers and nurses, to City Council candidates and future US presidents, Boston mayors, governors, Nobel Peace Prize recipients and famous authors — they all came together there.” Flynn recalled bringing then-candidate Bill Clinton to the bar as well as two Irish presidents. 

It became such a fixture of the political scene during Tom Menino’s 20-year reign that a room in the expansive one-floor establishment was named for the teetotaling mayor. Which must have Ray Flynn wondering whether there is any justice in this world. 

The walls are lined with enough political memorabilia to start a local museum, and one room features a wall mural imagining a coming together at Doyle’s that included Flynn, Kevin White, Ted Kennedy, and James M. Curley, among others, with Eddie Burke behind the bar.

Former Boston Globe editorial page editor Renée Loth put out the call yesterday to preserve the mural, even if Doyle’s is disappearing.

Channel 5 anchor Maria Stephanos tweeted out a list of long-gone Boston landmarks that Doyle’s will soon join. Jordan Marsh, Filene’s, Anthony’s Pier 4, and on and on. 

Also depicted in the wall mural is the late, great Globe columnist Alan Lupo, whose 1994 takeout is one of the definitive accounts of Doyle’s storied history. (A framed copy of it is on the wall there.) 

In it, he describes how the three Burke brothers acquired the bar, which dates back to the 1880s, in the early 1970s and oversaw its evolution into the accepting crossroads where Bostonians of various backgrounds meet. 

“Their story is in large part the story of how Boston has changed in the last half-century from an insular town consumed by a history of Yankee-Irish conflict to a more cosmopolitan city, still beset by the tensions of race and class, but coming to terms with the new world,” Lupo wrote.

With yesterday’s news, whether for better or worse, the Burkes’ story continues to reflect how Boston has changed.  



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