Drinking with family

Conversation and community in the bars of Southie and Dorchester
By LIZA WEISSTUCH  |  May 9, 2011

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When I moved from Cambridge to Southie five years ago, the quality of my barroom conversations immediately skyrocketed. I've talked with a highly sought-after detective who wouldn't tell me what he discovered when he cracked into the laptop of the notorious "Craigslist Killer." I've spoken to an Irish-Catholic nursing-home worker who's popular among the residents for her matzo-ball soup and knishes. I've been told "there used to be a bar on every corner" countless times, and I've been schooled in the history of Blinstrub's, a fancy club on West Broadway where Ray Charles, Wayne Newton, and Nat King Cole played, and that burned down in 1968.

In Southie, and in neighborhoods nearby, I have seen bartenders vanish from their posts during a Red Sox game, only to return with cheese and crackers from a convenience store to nourish the crowd. I have never seen a fight, or a bookie (if I did, he was pretty inconspicuous), or a martini glass. Just before Easter, I was offered a ride to the train in Dorchester by someone who gave up drinking for Lent, because he and his girlfriend felt it was too dark out for me to walk.

The men (and they are all men) who own these bars often inherited them from their fathers. Some of them had intentions of pursuing other careers, but stayed on anyway. A familial sense pervades. When their doors open, heads turn and greetings fly. Conversation is always easy to come by.

In the popular imagination and in Hollywood movies, Southie bars are a collection of stale clichés: spilled-beer-scented enclaves where hollow-eyed men stare vacantly into empty mugs. But that's not the picture I'd paint. In my mind's eye, these unpretentious bars would best be rendered in fine detail by Norman Rockwell.

There are 1025 liquor licenses in the city of Boston. Here are some of the ones I've gotten to know — the places that feel like family.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Cambridge, Dorchester, Anthony Bourdain,  More more >
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