A bastion for New England classics closes its doors

A bastion for New England classics closes its doors

You’ve missed your chance, I’m afraid. You’ve had almost 300 years to do it, and now you’re out of time.

I was quite surprised and saddened to learn over the weekend the well-known, old Boston restaurant Durgin-Park, which I’ve mentioned here before, is closing up for keeps.

Several decades-old places in Boston have shuttered recently, but Durgin-Park seemed as permanent a New England fixture as the sea itself.

Its mid-1700s roots began in the same location, in Faneuil Hall, when our nation’s founders still had acne.

In 1827 John Durgin and Eldridge Park partnered to give the place their names, and little has changed over the years. It has passed from owner to owner and has been kept up all that time. Theodore Roosevelt ate there, so did the other Roosevelt president and Calvin Coolidge and JFK and me.

I got to eat there — yes, it’s very touristy — a few times. The restaurant, situated on the third of four floors the place occupied, had long tables you had to share with strangers, which were covered with red and white checkered, easy-wipe vinyl cloths. The tables just had sugar packets and salt and pepper shakers. On a shelf near the kitchen were the mountainous apple pies, and the decor was simple pine and white paint, reflecting the clientele the place served for most of its two-century run.

They were the dock workers and other local folk who came there for the huge portions of serious food after their shift.

The prime rib with bone attached covered the plate entirely. There was chowder, local fish, boiled dinner, baked beans and for dessert, the best Indian pudding ever served. They claimed it baked some seven hours, and who’s to argue?

The customers were a grumpy lot and harassed the wait staff so much they eventually began giving back the sass, which became one of the place’s trademarks. “All in good fun,” they said, but most of the people who worked there had done so for a very long time.

Having your grandmotherly waitress bring the menu and scold you for elbows on the table was disconcerting at first, especially because I’d done no such tawdry thing, good heavens.

I think those fine ladies were scarier than any looming teacher I’d ever had, and that’s going some. One of the salt shakers disappeared from our long table, and the angry badgering we got made us wonder if we’d get out without a thumping in the back alley.

Durgin-Park passed out of family ownership in 2007, bought up by a holding company with places all over the tourist map. I don’t like to assume the impending closing of the place is the fault of the new owners, but one wonders.

It’s hard to understand the quirks of such a place if you’re running it from Las Vegas. From my reading, the staff said the head count was down considerably in recent years. Younger folks were attracted by other shinier places in swankier parts of town, and apparently the old building was giving too many plumbing and heating problems to be worth it anymore.

Management blamed an increased minimum wage.

I only know the line to get in once took up all of those first two floors underneath with people waiting on stairs to go get a seat at one of those long red and white tables, be chewed out by an enormously bosomed grandmother and eat prime rib with enough left over to take home for soup for the next week.

All things must pass, but I’m sad to see this one go. I’m sorry you’ve missed your chance.

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