A regular this morning has brought his dog, Bella, a tiny and tremulous Italian greyhound. She sits in Phil’s burly arms as he strokes her sleek head.
Phil is hardly the only lawyer to patronize this place. It was here that Jan Schlichtmann devised the legal strategy he used to go after toxic polluters in Woburn, the case made famous in A Civil Action . It was here that Barry Reed, author of The Verdict , used to drink. O’Shea remembers when the novel was optioned for a screen treatment directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring Paul Newman. “The day he sold the rights for a million-two, he was in here and everybody in the place bought him drinks. I said, ‘Barry, you’re the fuckin’ one that made all the money! Why don’t you break out once in a while?’”
Other famous names have made cameo appearances. Paddy remembers Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor (and scourge of Sox fans everywhere for his interminable versions of “God Bless America” at Yankee Stadium), standing in the middle of a beery crowd and singing an impromptu ballad.
“Ah, Tynan is more of a baritone,” says Phil. “See, Irish tenors aren’t like Italian tenors.”
“But the good ones, they go to Milan to study,” says Paddy.
"At least he’s not like that other guy ," Phil says with a snort, not divulging of whom he speaks. "He was a saloon singer."
You don’t hear many conversations like these in bars these days. Pretty soon, you’ll hear even fewer.
Phil, for one, isn’t planning to find a new place to spend his mornings. “My wife says, ‘What are you gonna do when the Littlest closes?’ And I said, ‘Drink less.’ The other places don’t have an appeal for me.... Part of my drinking is camaraderie. I don’t drink at home, to speak of. Drinking by yourself is just pouring booze.”
“I’m thinking the other day: I work one day a week here, and this is gonna cut my social life in half,” says O’Shea. “Sure, when I leave here, I’m walking on stumps. But I have so much fun coming in here and giving these guys shit.”
All blacks, all Irish
There’s a famous sign in the Littlest, appropriately tiny. It’s a brass plaque, tacked to the front of the loo:
SEAMUS HEANEY PEED HERE
Yes, Heaney, the Nobel Laureate, the greatest Irish poet of the second half of the 20th century (and probably the first half of the 21st) drank here — and micturated too. There’s something very Irish about the plaque’s mock-heroic proclamation, its commingling of the lyrical and the scatological, its good-natured debasing of an important figure.
The Littlest, after all, is a very Irish bar. Inside that bathroom, graffiti are scratched messily into the blue paint: FRANKIE — STILLl ON TOUR 2004 YEE HA CELTIC FC ... DONAL ’04 — FERMANAGH ... DINGO OWNS THIS TOWN ... UP GALWAY! They’re the fleeting mementos of the legions of Irish youth who’ve used the Littlest as a locus and a meeting place as they spend their summers here or overstay their J1 visas.