After walking past three dive-looking bars between my place and Doyle’s for many years, I visited them this week. I have one son of drinking age, but two at home of pizza eating age. So, while the trio of dark and virtually windowless joints was not that foreboding, they did suffer in contrast.
My fellow lover of IPAs, John, agreed to join me in a Washington Street/Hyde Park Avenue stumble one late afternoon. Two are across the avenue from the Forest Hills station. Like being on a moving sidewalk in an airport, Washington Street pulls a Z around the top of Forest Hills Station, for that one block becoming New Washington, while Washington inexplicably dips a full block below the 203 overpass. Stay on the street and it suddenly becomes Hyde Park Avenue — another Boston trick.
On the map, the three run from the top, the Drinking Fountain (3520 Washington), Griffin’s (3698 Washington), and J.J. Foley’s Fireside (30 Hyde Park). None calls out or even whispers, “Enter, yuppies!” Of course, that’s a major point, eh? From external, and as we found, internal, appearance, this are purposeful potable places. Drinkers welcome.
Like all good drinkers, I planned logistics while sober. We’d meet at Green on the Orange line and go from a block below Doyle’s south. We’d end up less than a mile walk to my house and across from the T so he could head back to North Station and Winchester. That would also give us the option of a known quantity to finish the session. Dogwood has a decent bar with a couple of really good beers on tap amongst their ordinary ones. If we still had it together and could feign thirst, we could end the afternoon there.
With its stone fortress exterior, the Drinking Fountain was simultaneously the cleanest and coldest looking for the trio. Across from the lower corner of the English High track field, it is cluttered. It is on a corner with a huge laundromat and car wash. Its block has a motorcycle shop, bodega, the Midway Cafe (a music dive in its own right), and a take-out BBQ joint.
Its sign almost disappears in traffic lights. Yet, it has small American flags left and right.
Inside is both plain as dirt and excellent of its type. First, you have a great shot at a seat at the bar, which runs 35 or 40 feet. Plus, the southern wall has some seats and the middle of the room has a long table with many chairs running nearly the length of the bar. They clearly want you to be comfortable enough for a beer or two or more.
The eastern end of the room has two full-sized pool tables, clearly lit. We didn’t shoot, but this looks like a good place to play. In that vein, they are also set up for petty gamblers, with lottery terminal and vending machine, and multiple keno screens.
Now, to the matter at hand, they offer an adequate but uninspired tap selection. A sign read that they had ‘gansett for $2.25 a pint. The drafts we saw included Bass, PRB, Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Sam seasonal (that summer lemony junk this time), and Blue Moon wheat. We got a Blue Moon and a Bass pint for $7.25 — not bad and quite a bargain over downtown or Cambridge prices.
We didn’t want to geek out with questions, but we did find out a few things, like:
- The robust bartender looks like she can knock most men down easily
- The silver helmet above the bar is an artifact of her boyfriend, who recently retired from the Boston Panthers
- The brothers who own the place live a block or two away and have run it for 30 years or so
- Despite the LUNCHEON on their sign, food is limited to bags of chips and nuts, but apparently they don’t mind if you bring in some BBQ from the other end of the block
At a little after 3 p.m., there were six stool sitters. Most seemed to know each other casually. We fell right in and were welcome.
My snootiness in walking past these bars cost me and experience, albeit perhaps an unpleasant one.
On the way up to Green Street, I had snapped the bar exteriors. The open door at Griffin’s was not inviting. It was dark inside, with the light on the bar stools coming from the open door out the back. A single patron sat bent to his task. It looked like a tough joint.
Moreover, it played to my childhood memories with its glass block on the front. We always called that VFW brick for the common decor of the vets’ and men’s animal bars. They favor dim, diffused light and drinking early, long and in private.
Apparently that Griffin’s of my imagination is gone. The place is fairly bright once you sit inside. The bar, maybe 15 feet, is a newly refinished wood. The long mirror is a pretty impressive Art Deco piece with rounded corners on top.
Griffin’s smelled strongly of shellac. We asked the bartender, Jerry, and sure enough, it had recently gotten an overhaul, which was still in the works. The owner had died last October and the place was closed for several months, just reopening a few weeks ago.
“If you’d come in here before,” Jerry told us, “you wouldn’t have come in a second time.”
When the work finishes, the plans include a working kitchen to spit out meals. There are six round, tall tables away from the bar.
On tap were only a few good brews. We each got a pint of Smithwick’s Irish ale. John pronounced it much better than the bottled version. It was $8 for the pints, still a relative bargain.
The inside didn’t offer much yet, no games, for example. Also, like the other two, it has a fairly sparse selection of basic booze beyond beer.
Customers were mildly remarkable. There were four, including two Black men, who weren’t together. I hadn’t thought of it, but as it turns out the other bars didn’t have any Black patrons. The Drinking Fountain got a couple of Latinos while we were there. The Fireside appeared to be middle-aged Irish American men. I suspect the demographics of the bar had to do mostly with the local mix and the fact that we were drinking about the time when blue-collar workers end their days. Sociology may require evening visits to all three.
I seem to have missed Griffin’s in its bad times.
As the other two Foley’s bars, the Fireside has its fans, lots of them. It also looks like a real dive outside, but is modestly better behind the door.
The exterior is in the class that the Irish American realtor who sold us our house called Irishized. That’s vinyl siding and a stark exterior with fake wood paneling as required.
The substantial horseshoe bar was the busiest of the afternoon. There were eight to start and they kept arriving. The guys knew the barkeep and each other by name. It was not their first visit. You can’t say they were jolly, but this clearly was a socially important part of their day.
A little visual joke is the Fireside’s fireplace. The tiny electric fake fire is a non-functional symbol. It’s been a lot of years since the clean bricks have felt any flames.
The bar had an odd frieze. I thought it was some fancy wallpaper, but John figures it was hand-painted bad Western art. We’ll have to ask on the next visit.
Another question will be why there’s a cuspidor on the counter next to the cash register in the well of the horseshoe. Maybe I don’t need to know that story.
No one was playing the single game, Silver Strike Bowling. That must be what substitutes for pinball nowadays.
To the important business, we found Guinness, Harp, Bass, PBR, Bud and Bud Light on tap. We had pints of Bass and Guinness. The latter was a well drawn and slow pint of the right temperature. That was in the right price range again, $7.75.
This was the most clannish of the three, but still a pleasant enough experience. The other bartenders chatted us up and made up welcome, as did some of the patrons. These guys knew each other and let that color the intrusion of newcomers. That’s fair enough. It’s their local.
We certainly had no harm from our slight broadening experience. For me particularly, I don’t have to wonder what’s behind the doors and feel vaguely bad about not trying local places. I think I’ve been to every bar and restaurant on Centre Street. Now my mental map includes more from home to Doyle’s.
I suspect there’s more reason to visit the Drinking Fountain in particular. After all, it’s in the Mutiny (oops, consolidated into the Boston Militia) season and it will be the Panthers‘. Both play at the English field. I suspect the barkeep has good stories for both.
We did end up at Dogwood for a final. It has a lot more taps and two pints ran $9, more typical. The bartender was also inventing, so she gave us samples of her raspberry/latte cocktail she was refining. It was surprisingly not too sweet and fairly good, the sort of soft drink that could sneak up on you.
So, when the boys want pizza or burgers, none of this week’s visits to new-to-me bars will do it. Then again, all three are for real drinkers.