August 20th, 2008

Doyle’s Café – Best Boston bars

Doyle’s Café

Established: 1882
Specialty: Beer
Prices: Low to moderate
Atmosphere: The oldest Irish pub in Boston, established long before Irish pubs became cute. Jamaica Plain inhabitants of various stripes drink Guinness and Sam surrounded by a living timeline of WWII-era artifacts and shrines to Boston pols from Mayor Curley to Mayor Menino. See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

“Authentic” is mostly an empty buzzword these days, but it’s the best word to describe Doyle’s Café, which celebrated its 125th birthday last year. The only way this neighborhood saloon could be more authentic is if people could still smoke in there. The Olde Tyme Kitsch that some pubs pile on to make it look like they’ve been around for a while is so commonplace that, when you go to Doyle’s, you have to remind yourself: ‘Hey, that’s a real WWII Buy a Bond poster. That linoleum has been eroding from the hardwood floor since the mid-’50s. And that portrait of JFK has been hanging there since ’61.’ It’s understandable why scenes from several Boston-themed movies and TV shows have been filmed here.

And then there’s the political memorabilia. That began to appear around 1971, when the brothers of Gerry Burke, who was working for Boston Mayor (and Doyle’s patron) Kevin White, bought the bar from the Doyle brothers. The Burke and Doyle families had long been acquainted, most notably when Gerry’s grandfather supplied Doyle’s with bootleg liquor during its speakeasy days. Now owned by Gerry Burke, Jr., Doyle’s has expanded over the years, and two of its dining areas are named after John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and Mayor Thomas “Mumbles” Menino, the latter of whom was a Doyle’s customer before his days on Beacon Hill. In fact, Doyle’s is so passionate a custodian of Boston politicians’ legacies that it has actually put out a series of historical pamphlets on the city’s mayors from Honey Fitz onward.

Doyle’s boasts of having a wide variety of draft beer, including sample kegs of new brews from the nearby Sam Adams pilot brewery (Boston Beer Co.), plus cask ale. However, the last couple of times I visited, there was no experimental Sam and nothing on cask. And I found the overall selection of domestic craft beers pretty underwhelming compared to what’s available in Boston’s better beer bars. A Guinness and a shot of Irish whiskey is your best bet. I have never eaten here, but the fact that they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner every day (brunch on Saturdays and Sundays) is remarkable given that few neighborhood pubs do that anymore. Doyle’s is about a mile across town from JP’s newer, hipper drinking establishments. Start here and work your way there. Or vice versa.

Check out two Jamaica Plain Historical Society articles on Doyle’s.

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6 Responses to “Doyle’s Café – Best Boston bars”

  1. Br. Cleve

    Doyle’s is a classic, one of those ‘let me show you this place’ joints you like to bring out of town ‘holics to. Did you know they had live music in the ’70’s? Mostly blues, rockabilly. And I believe they were the first local gin mill to have an extensive collection of single malt Scotch, back in the early 80’s. The food is good there, especially the steak tips, which are a staple at inner city Irish places like this; Doyle’s serves one of the best. Brunch is really good, too. In a world where we’re surrounded by faux this and fake that, it’s nice to still have the real thing around.

  2. ljclark

    Jeez, Josey, I figured I’d be asking *you* about cool joints in JP! I realize my post makes it sound like everything’s on Washington St. Wrong — I’ll fix that. When I say “newer” I don’t necessarily mean brand-new — just more recent than 1882, when Doyle’s opened. The Alchemist, Zon’s and the Milky Way are all a stone’s throw from one another. There’s also VeeVee, the new bistro on Centre St. And, of course, nearby Doyle’s is the Midway. Doyle’s and the Midway apparently had some disagreements a few years back: Hopefully, they’ve patched things up.

    Cleve, what would I do without you to provide the modern history of all the bars I write about?

  3. Josey Packard

    This is not a test; I’m genuinely interested: what are these “JP’s newer, hipper drinking establishments”?

  4. Br. Cleve

    Let’s not forget the fabulously named Drinking Fountain (uh..not a ‘newer, hipper, joint by any stretch), down the street a block or so from Doyle’s and the Midway. For years it was one of those places where you’d most likely get, in the local parlance, “a beer and a beating”, but, similar to what happened at Somerville’s (Sh)abby Lounge, some fearless local hipsters started drinking there, paving the way for more trepidatious folks to check it out. Best appreciated by those who enjoy a *real* dive bar. There are so few left.

  5. k.

    drinking fountain (which i refer to as luncheonette, but either way) is fine but at all costs avoid the tap beer. really and truly. i’m fairly certain the lines have never, ever been cleaned.

    older school dive bars populated with locals along washington street also include the white stag tavern (towards egleston from doyles) and the seedy irish place across the street from forest hill T (a few doors down from the dogwood). neither have the cachet that luncheonette has but both should be included on any bar hop down washington.

    sadly, drinking in JP is best kept to beer and possibly wine (veevee, for instance, has a fine wine list). cocktails haven’t really caught on here yet.

  6. ljclark

    Yeah, I know what you mean about the tap lines, K. I had a dirty Tremont Ale at Doyle’s recently. I think I could fill a book with the number of times I have experienced off-flavored beer at bars and restaurants. Cleaning tap lines is not as high a priority as it should be at most bars — even beer bars, which is criminal. Thanks for the JP recommendations.

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