Next to the Lilliputian Littlest stands the grand but fading Café Marliave, which claims to be the city’s oldest Italian restaurant. (It will survive the wrecking ball when the condos go up.) The two are very different places, but serve, in a way, as twin symbols, hearkening back to Boston’s vanishing Irish/Italian ethnic past.
In days of yore, Province Street was called Governor’s Alley. It ran through gardens behind the Province House mansion, where the governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony lived. The granite Province House steps, historic and protected, are all that exist from that building now. Grace thinks that his bar, which was a barbershop before it opened in 1945, may have been a tool shed for the governor’s gardens in the century or so before that.
Now, the Abbey Group aims to bring a sense of grandeur back to this genially shabby little street. It comes in the form of a 31-story, 150-unit luxury-condominium complex, with sweeping views of the city and top-notch amenities (pool, gym, rooftop terrace) that will replace the dilapidated parking garage next door but, reportedly, will see the basic structure of the Littlest remain intact. One wonders, then, why the bar needs to be evicted.
Abbey Group president David Epstein told the Globe in August that his firm was in the “formative stages” of devising a way to “preserve some semblance of The Littlest Bar.” (Epstein did not return calls from the Phoenix for comment, so there’s no telling what that means exactly, or if it’s still the case.)
These small places
“We haven’t done well in protecting the history of this city,” says Phil, perched in his regular spot. It’s hard to argue with him. This is the town, after all, that has a dingy subway station built into its oldest surviving public building, the 1713 Old State House. A town that bulldozed the West End to appease the gods of urban renewal. A town that demolished Scollay Square and erected the brutalist concrete-bunker City Hall in its stead.
“I would love to see a McSorley’s situation,” says Phil, referring to the 1857 New York City ale house that hunkered down and stayed put, even as soaring office buildings went up above and around it. Boston is one of the oldest cities in America; people from other parts of the country marvel at our treasures, our character, our oldness . Where’s our McSorley’s? Our Pete’s Tavern? Our White Horse?
“It’s a shame that that’s the direction the city is going,” says O’Neill. “There’s so few places like that left. It’s gonna become like those cities down in Texas, where there’s no personality anywhere you go. That’s what I’ve loved about Boston since I came over. The fact that you can find these small places. And there’s so few of them left now.”
On a recent morning a delivery man stopped by, his dolly piled high with cases of Bud and Bud Light.
“There, you got enough beer to last you a year.”
“Ah, we’ve only got a couple weeks left,” said Paddy Grace.
“Well, better get drinkin’.”
On the Web:
The Littlest Bar: http://www.celticweb.com/littlestbar/
Email the author:
Mike Miliard: firstname.lastname@example.org