Doyle's in Jamaica Plain closes and leaves us with more Old School Boston memories

Doyle's Cafe, Jamaica, Plain, Mass. Photo source: Wikipedia.
Some of the saddest news in Old School Boston restaurant history happened on Oct. 26, 2019 as Doyle's Cafe in Jamaica Plain, Mass. closed its doors after 137 years in business.

Doyle's Cafe seemed to be as much as part of the traditional neighborhood landscape as the thick Boston accents, two-family, triple-decker and brownstone homes, one-way streets and love of family and local sports. Many from the hood have forever considered Doyle's a go-to bar and restaurant for food, drink, conversation and maybe the chance to see a famous politician dining out there. Elected and appointed officials have always loved dining out at Doyle's but now have to find other working-class platforms for dining out in the city. Those places still exist, however, and hopefully will not go the route of Doyle's.

Suburbanites like me always enjoyed going to Doyle's as a means of finding a way to instantly get into the spirit of enjoying the real Boston. By real, Boston I mean people of all races, colors and creeds working hard to make a living, loving their neighborhoods and enjoying the art of conversation -- especially local talk. Bostonians generally have a keen sense of telling the difference between authentic and phony in Boston and knew of Doyle's to be 100 percent genuine. That's why they have come here from the days of being a one-room bar to, eventually, a three-room, family-friendly bar and restaurant!

Growing up in nearby Arlington and attending Boston and Suffolk Universities in Boston, Doyle's always seemed like coming to a second home with a welcoming staff, good food and an unpretentious atmosphere that seemed like a respite from the changing, increasingly upscale face of Boston. Often, while some talked loudly and let off some steam from the hard work or school week, I made sure to set aside some quiet moments at Doyle's. Like one of those movies with a new-to-town person gazing and being mesmerized at the beauty of a small town through the lens of a revolving 360-degree camera and epiphany-moment background music, I felt spellbound by this community in the form of a neighborhood bar and restaurant. It was almost like going into a hallowed museum of Boston history without the admission fee and lunch or dinner prices that didn't overcharge like many tourist attractions.

Most called Doyle's by its name, but others like me would always say, "Hey, let's go to Braddock's!" That was its formal name dating back to the 1930s as the result of a collaboration with a whiskey company called Braddock's. I still call it Braddock's, much as it annoys some people.

I liked to look at every nook and cranny of the building -- the weathered parts combined with renovations, the walls lined with pictures of famous and some infamous politicians -- and listen to the local talk that all blended together like one likeminded conversation. I could hear those conversations going on and, at times, would imagine the stories told from the past centering on birth, school, work and death. Before the advent of the cell phone and other technologies, people had this ritual called conversation and there were few better places to talk about life in the Boston area than Doyle's Cafe.

Although many people have traditionally arrived at Doyle's Cafe to drink, the staff never made me, a non-drinker, feel out of place by ordering, say, a club soda with lemon. Yes, a few people I knew would put me in the Mr. Wuss category for not imbibing at a place to drink but the staff was just glad that I liked Doyle's fantastic nachos, pizzas, clam chowder, burgers, fries, tuna melts, club sandwiches and scrod.

Notice I didn't mention any trendy dishes there? Well, Doyles, to this very day, has stuck to the basics, rarely offering anything remotely fashionable or precious in a culinary sense. Its idea of going international: knockwurst, quesadillas and Irish nachos. Anything close to deviating from the no-frills menu today would include quiche, broiled Alaskan citrus salmon and veggie burgers.  But that's not exactly serving avacado toast and brie at outrageous prices.

Boston has become so gentrified, as of late, and expensive, too. From the sounds of it, the owner didn't want to continue operating Doyle's Cafe because things were getting too expensive to continue. What a shame. That's not the Boston we once knew that could accommodate all classes of people working hard to earn a living.

Yes, all good things have to come to an end. Doyle's was not immune to that. Keep in mind, however, that no matter how sad it will be to see Doyle's Cafe close, the memories can never be taken away. As Ringo Starr once said, "All I have is a photograph," in his aply named song "Photograph" from 1973. We do, too, with Doyle's at the forefront of our old school Boston restaurant memory banks. From politicians like Albert "Dapper O'Neil and Tom Menino (they have a Thomas Menino function room here where banquets are held!) to us working-class people, Doyle's became a legend in our own minds and rightfully so.

Like the good conversations at Doyle's, let's keep the talks going here in the comments box by sharing your favorite memories and anything else you can say about this landmark Boston restaurant. We love you, forever, Doyle's Cafe!

The Midget Deli, Cambridge, Mass.

I need your help. People don't believe me when I tell them there was a Midget Deli in Cambridge, Mass.

It's like I am the only one who ever saw this place, Cambridge residents included.

The Midget Deli was located at the current Changsho Chinese restaurant at 1712 Mass. Ave., between Porter and Harvard Square. I remember it best in the late 1960s as the only Jewish deli in Cambridge, although I had not yet been to 90 percent of the rest of Cambridge. So maybe it was the only Jewish deli within the 10 percent of the Cambridge I knew! Maybe even less, as I was often so preoccupied with playing car bingo.

Most delis are small in size, but the Midget was pretty big. How's that for irony?  I loved its pastrami sandwiches and the bustling nature of the place. Having just visited New York City and a few of its then-famous delis (like the Stage Deli), the Midget seemed to have that classic, busy delicatessen vibe.

Could someone please back me up on this -- that there was a Midget Deli in Cambridge? Please feel free to comment below, including stories on your dining experiences at the Midget Deli. Or, maybe someone who worked there can chime in to help me regain my credibility because they think I am joking. Thank you!

6 Businesses I Miss in Downtown Lexington, Mass.

Downtown Lexington, Mass., remains an impressive central district with many outstanding mom and pop shops and restaurants, but I do miss greatly some of the businesses of yesteryear. Ahh, the memories. Here are six Lexington businesses that I wish still existed...

Lexington Drug

Located at the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Waltham, St., where Rancatore's Ice Cream is now situated, Lexington Drug thrived as a cornerstone business in downtown Lexington for many years. Most people went there for prescriptions and the newspaper, but we often went as a family on Sunday mornings for the candy and postcard sections. I loved the Fruito candy bars with real artificial fruit in the middle of a mediocre chocolate bar, as well as twirling the postcard display to receive a mini history lesson on the significant history of Lexington. The gray-haired man behind the counter actually reminded me of a Colonial era politician with wavy locks, a distinct nose, not-from-this generation glasses, a certain old world formality and a gentle diplomacy that endured no matter how crowded Lexington Drug became with locals and tourists. Sorry to see this place close, but not a bad thing that a quality ice cream shop took over!

Bargain Basement

Many remember Decelle's for its discount clothing that, I believe, often surpassed Marshalls, but Bargain Basement might have been ever better at this location. We could always find what we were looking even though the displays were kind of a mess with no rhyme or reason. Bargain Basement truly represented Old School Lexington -- that is, a large downtown space with no pretentiousness and a mission to save locals lots of money on clothing. You would unlikely see this kind of store in downtown Lexington today as the whole central district has become more upscale.

Ingalls Stationery

Generally, stationery stores are about as exciting as a piece of paper (hey, that was a good one!) but Ingalls made the experience a wonderful one -- "willing and label" to go the extra distance (hey, that was a good one, too!). With well-organized isles, an always fully-stocked supply of the basics and beyond, and knowledgeable, friendly staff to help the customer, Ingalls was certainly a "staple" on our shopping list. Pardon the puns, but those are the "fax!"

Peking Garden

I always loved going here with friends on a half-day (one Wednesday a month at Arlington High School, as I recall) for the huge luncheon buffet. Peking Garden didn't look tacky like some other old school Chinese restaurants, the service was generally more friendly and the food clearly created by a master chef. One thing, however, that irked the staff at Peking Garden: asking for separate checks!
As kids, we were always amused by the response: "NO, NO SEPARATE CHECKS!" We got the message loud and clear time after time, but kept asking the question on virtually every visit because we liked the animated, predictable answer.

Bel Canto

Located on the second floor at 1709 Massachusetts Ave., Bel Canto won high praise regionally as a restaurant chain serving outstanding deep dish pizzas and calzones with either regular or whole wheat dough. They also allowed customers to order unbaked calzones to bring home to cook. Bel Canto was unlike any other pizza place and served as a great alternative to traditional local pizza joints like Regina Pizzeria, Santarpio's and The Pleasant Cafe. The ingredients used to make the pizzas and calzones were beyond the norm -- so fresh and bursting with flavor. What's more, Bel Canto  featured a clean-looking atmosphere with spotless surroundings (including the kitchen) and a bright interior with contemporary decor and furniture. Unfortunately, Bel Canto suffered a fire at the Lexington location and the chain eventually started slipping in quality. I wish someone would bring back the Bel Canto name and concept to its original glory.  They would do very well today, I believe!

Battle Green Motor Inn

This intown motel would also never cut it in downtown Lexington today with its basic lodging offerings and affordable prices. Many travelers back in the day needed no more than a carpeted room with television, telephone and individual bathroom and thermostat. That's why the Battle Green Motor Inn lasted from 1959 to 2007!

Because I lived in neighboring Arlington, there was no reason to stay at the motel, but I was continuously curious about the place. I always thought the underground parking was so cool! It didn't take much for me to be happy, as you can see.

The Battle Green Motor Inn gave way to condo development. I suppose that's the way of the world, as Earth, Wind and Fire once said.

Old School Lexington Still Exists!

Yes, downtown Lexington has become more exclusive and expensive, but I am so glad to see so many long-time businesses still thriving like The Crafty Yankee gift shop, Mario's Italian restaurant (try the baked ziti, it's amazing!), Michaelson's Shoes, Spectrum Music and Theater Pharmacy.

Yes, it is sad that so many old-time businesses are no longer with us in Lexington center, but the mix of new and old shops and restaurants comprises one of the more impressive downtowns in all of New England. Shop local, buy local while discovering the wonderful history of this beautiful town!

Related article:
Fond memories of a wonderful Lexington pediatrician

Aku Aku in Cambridge, Mass.

Very few people believe me when I tell them that the former Aku Aku restaurant at Alewife Station was not the first Aku Aku in Cambridge, Mass.

The original Aku Aku was located on Route 2 near the Arlington line, just a few hundred yards from the former Lanes & Games bowling alley.

More specifically, you might remember Faces Nightclub in that region where disco reigned as the ultimate funky town for those who liked to party and get down. You know what? That's where the first Aku Aku was actually located!

I liked the original Aku Aku more than the iconic Alewife location, The dining room and bar were comfortably darker, the multi colored lights brighter and the waterways running through the restaurant lending a nice soothing feel. Why drive 90 miles to Barnacle Billy's in Ogunquit, Maine, for ocean water views when the Aku Aku offered their version of the Hai River three miles from home?

Funny story at the first Aku Aku: My dad and his friends took a lunch break there once and ordered the numbered specials. My dad's friend said, "I'll have number one." My dad said, "Me, too." Guess what meal they served my dad? Number two!

Whether the first and second Aku Aku, the pu pu platters were huge and tasty, the service quicker than competitors in a fast-serve restaurant genre, the Tolstoy-length menu dressed in clear font for reading ease, and the price always right at this old school Polynesian restaurant..

I am not clear on when the first Aku left the premises, but the Alewife location reigned from 1968 to 2000. The dining room seemed larger than Shanghai and the elbow room increased from the former Aku Aku location.  It is here, I believe, that fake news got its start, also -- not from the media but the younger crowd that loved to impress their friends with outlandish stories. Here is the standard story that circulated probably better than the Boston Herald American, at this time: There was this group of young adults that chose not to pay their bill and ran out of the restaurant. Driving fast from the restaurant, the group felt they got away with their plan. Looking in the rear view mirror, however, the driver was horrified to see a maniacal Asian chef with a kitchen knife on the back of their moving car screaming at them to pay the bill. A deliberate fast turn shook the chef off the car and onto the road where the man stumbled back to the restaurant.

You wouldn't believe how many people believed this story. Having an IQ over 40, however, I was skeptical. Turns out my cynicism proved right when, through the years, I heard the same story applied to other restaurants.

Do you miss the Aku Aku? I sure do, and was delighted to find out that its successor, Jasper White's Summer Shack, kept many Aku elements including a wall mural (see photo above) and the plastic Tiki God from back in the day, as well as a commemorative plaque, at its restaurant.

As seen on the plaque, Summer Shack even features, on its drinks menu, the legendary Aku Aku scorpion bowl that uses the original recipe!

The scorpion bowl at Jasper White's Summer Shack
 in Cambridge, uses the original Aku Aku recipe.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook page.
I highly recommend you check out the Summer Shack for these wonderful remnants of a once great Chinese restaurant, but, more importantly, as a fabulous place to dine on some amazing seafood in a comfortable atmosphere. It's one of the best seafood restaurants I have been to in all of New England.

The Aku Aku surely gained its most fame from the Alewife location, but let's not forget, also, the Boston Aku near Fenway Park and the Worcester spot. All were great examples of a classic old school Polynesian restaurant -- you really couldn't go wrong at any of the locations.

Too bad they all closed, but isn't that the way of the restaurant industry? Just when you think you've found a restaurant for life, they close on you.

Hundreds of thousands surely enjoyed the Aku Aku through the years and with good reason: They took the most beloved aspects of Americanized Chinese restaurants -- food, restaurant design, reliability and consistency-- and put it all under one roof.

Many miss the Aku Aku. Me, too!

What are some of your memories of the Aku Aku?

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5 Old School Boston Area Restaurants That Are Still Thriving Today

The sepia-tinted memories of going out to eat with family and friends back in the day conjure up warm memories at wonderful places that, unfortunately, are no longer with us. We can never get that back, but, on the other hand, those special memories can never be taken away.

Fortunately. many old school-style restaurants in the Boston area remain thriving, thus allowing us to connect to the past while creating new traditions and instant memories now and, hopefully, long into the the future. It's like the best of both worlds!  Here are a few old school Boston area restaurants that, thankfully, seem stuck in the past...

Pleasant Cafe, Roslindale

Not much has changed at the Pleasant Cafe since its opening in 1937, keeping many of the same recipes and going through only one ownership change since FDR served as U.S. president. Specializing in Italian and American dishes with delicious thin-crust pizza as one of the signature dishes, the Pleasant Cafe remains true to old school Boston form. The leather green booth seats, the long bar with green stools and the wood-paneled walls lend a feel that seems more like part of our childhood than that of the 21st century.  Plus, Owner John Morgan is a true gentleman -- like a kind neighbor I knew when growing up in the 70s!

Woodman's of Essex

Woodman's stands as the gold standard for fried clams in the Boston area. It was after all, the birthplace of the fried clam in 1914. The Woodman family still owns the landmark clam shack, now in its fifth generation.  Although a tourist destination, Woodman's never let it go to their heads, favoring the plain, traditional no-frills clam shack atmosphere and continuing to specialize in fried clams, lobsters and steamers.

The Woodmans are very nice people -- truly humble and seemingly unaffected by all the success. I had the chance to sit down with Steve and Rhonda Woodman earlier in the year and they treated me like family. What was scheduled to be an hour interview went much longer. The societal lost art of conversation became revived when chatting with the Woodmans, taking center stage alongside the wonderful comfort foods that, to this day, continue to make Woodman's one of the best old school Boston area restaurants.

Bliss Family Restaurant, Attleboro

Bliss started as an ice cream stand in 1930, grew into an ice cream parlor in 1952 and then into a family restaurant in 1978.  Similar to the former Brigham's and to a lesser extend, Friendly's, Bliss epitomizes the classic ice cream restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner items and a fabulous choice of ice cream flavors in a counter and booth restaurant format. Although New England Ice Cream in Norton, Mass., bought Bliss out a few years ago and the restaurant was updated, Bliss still looks every bit the part of old school with families out for a good meal and a wholesome, unpretentious feel that made it so appealing in the first place. My favorite ice cream dish: the Dusty Glacier with two fudge brownies, three scoops of vanilla ice cream saturated with hot fudge and topped with whipped cream, a smattering of cocoa and a cherry on top. Yum!

Mug N' Muffin, Norwood

Yes, there still is a Mug N' Muffin around from the days when this chain competed against the Pewter Pot for a place to enjoy coffee and muffins in a Colonial-style atmosphere. Downtown Norwood is so lucky to have this blast from the past gem that remains true-to-form, thanks to owner Dave Monaghan who first started working at the restaurant chain in 1971. Dave loved working at the Mug N' Muffin so much that he wanted to continue owing one despite the demise of the chain. He and wife Sheila serve up pretty much everything for breakfast and lunch that you remember from the Mug N' Muffin restaurants of yesteryear!

Red Wing Diner, Walpole

The Red Wing Diner first opened in the 1930s and features a classic 1920s dining car embedded into the restaurant. Old school in every sense of the word, the Red Wing Diner specializes in traditional Italian-American specialties (fried seafood and pizza are most popular), a plain-looking dining room, the diner that now serves as a bar and staff that has been there forever. Once stepping into the Red Wing, you definitely feel like going back in time -- this despite upgrades to the dining room. It's especially popular with local families and townies who love the nostalgic vibe.

What are some of your favorite old school Boston restaurants still open today?

The Old Oaken Bucket, Westford, Mass.

Growing up in Arlington, Mass., during the 60s, 70s and 80s, I was country before country was cool.

I loved watching The Andy Griffith Show and thought Goober was one of the best characters in the series. My impressions of Hee Haw was that it was a brilliant show, realizing better than anyone east of Route 495 the genius of Roy Clark and Buck Owens. I listed to WCOP-AM 1150 radio for country music and often thought of Merle Haggard as the Shakespeare of twang. What's more, I had no Boston accent, thus making some wonder if I lived in Podunk and commuted 1,000 miles daily to attend Arlington High School.

So, it came of no surprise to anyone that I loved The Old Oaken Bucket in Westford, Mass. The rustic country style atmosphere and food felt close to my suburban Boston rural heart and so far removed from the confines of the densely-populated community I called home.

I read that The Old Oaken Bucket went through a few fires in the 1970s and 1980s, but, fortunately, rebounded quite well. In the latter years, The Old Oaken Bucket's menu became a bit more refined with higher quality offerings

The 99, a local chain restaurant, took over The Old Oaken Bucket in 2002. Nothing against The 99, but what a shame that The Old Oaken Bucket's great run starting in the 1930s had to come to an end. To me, the closing was equal to the saddest country songs of all time.

You can see some of The Old Oaken Bucket menus at The Westford Historical Society Society and Museum on Wednesdays in 2019.

Does Anyone Remember the General Glover House in Swampscott?

The General Glover House was the only restaurant I knew of named after a local Revolutionary War general (John Glover) born in Salem and raised in Marblehead. So, why was the restaurant located in Swampscott? Maybe it was a good "general" location. Sorry for the bad joke.

Anthony Athanas, of legendary Anthony's Pier 4 fame in Boston, opened the General Glover House in 1957 with the charming Essex Room at the forefront of the classic memories here. The Essex Room was definitely charming because they said so in the promotions. The huge room came across with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink colonial stagecoach stop scenes including the big fireplace, post-and-beam ceilings and lanterns and copper pots all over the place. The waitresses were such good sports, having to dress up in those long colonial-style dresses and the goofy frilled white caps that concealed 60s and 70s hairstyles.

 As kids, we thought George Washington would walk in the room at any moment, especially at night where it was known that he couldn't sleep. How do I know this? Well, he couldn't lie. The General Glover House was good but not great, in my opinion. Down the road in Saugus, the Hilltop Steakhouse served better steaks, and the Continental better popovers. Plus, it was more fun trying to drive 90 MPH out of the parking lot at the Hilltop to try to break into the insane Route 1 southbound traffic.

I believe the General Glover House closed in the 1990s and its presence is definitely missed even if it wasn't my favorite North Shore restaurant. I miss most the really neat colonial theme (well there's a "Leave it to Beaver"-type phrase for you!) and the kind waitresses that were enough to make the dining experience worthwhile!

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