The last time I went to Doyle’s Cafe was on a Saturday night, 22 years ago, when I gathered a couple dozen friends for my 30th birthday. The governor at the time, William Weld, was there. Not for my party, though he was kind enough to wish me a happy birthday, but because it was Doyle’s. That’s the kind of place it has always been.
"It's a resource for a lot of different people, for a lot of different things," said Michael Weinstein, a Jamaica Plain neighbor and faithful Doyle's patron. "People have all kinds of parties. We've had parties in the back for our family and stuff. Organizations have parties back there. I mean ... there's no place that can replicate what they do here."
Now the place is going away. No one at Doyle's could say exactly when the cafe will close, though they expect it will be by the end of this month. In fact, none of the staff wanted to talk at all, pointing out that not only was Boston losing an institution, but they were all losing their jobs.
Doyle's owner, Gerry Burke Jr., is selling the cafe's liquor license to the local steakhouse chain Davio's, which is planning a massive 15,000-square-foot restaurant in the Seaport, where another Boston institution, Anthony's Pier 4 restaurant, used to be. The license is expected to fetch around $450,000. The transfer was approved last month by the city.
A Facebook group has been set up, called Save Doyle's Cafe. But that's unlikely to happen.
"Will there be development? Yes, the answer to that is yes. We are selling the property with the potential for development of some sort," said Peter Gori, a spokesman for the building's owner. "We are open to discussing anything. I have been asked to entertain any and all discussion about, frankly, anything."
Gori said the family would love to be able to keep the place going, but the restaurant business has changed, and Doyle's as it is now just isn't viable.
"The restaurant is an institution, the bar is an institution, but it needs many hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades," Gori said. "In terms of things like handicapped accessibility ... the aesthetics don't lend themselves to how people dine today. The layout is obsolete, the kitchen needs a complete overhaul."
Gori said that doesn't mean there won't continue to be a Doyle's of some sort. The name can be sold with the building, and he expects whoever buys the property will see the name as a selling point. He said he could envision someone setting up another Irish pub in addition to housing.
"We've been coming every Friday night — every Friday night — for 40 years after basketball," said Weinstein. "So we're distraught. We have our own table in the back. The waitresses all know you're the guy who drinks Corona, you're the guy who drinks Jameson ... They know who we are."
It was a place open to everyone, townies, tourists and Hollywood celebs when they were in town filming. But Doyle's may be best known as a spot where politicians went to press the flesh.
"It was the closest thing Boston had to a city-wide living room because everyone was welcome there," said WGBH News' political analyst Peter Kadzis. "Other political watering holes were, well, more tribal."
Audrey Fannon has lived a few minutes away from Doyle's for about 60 years, since third grade. She called the closing the end of an era and wondered if there's any place in the area that could ever match the ambiance. She also expressed the concerns of many that the building will be turned into yet another boxy brick and steel condo building, unaffordable to most of the people who live here now.
"It definitely feels like JP is changing a lot in the past few months, accelerating from the past few years," said 28-year-old Sophia Silverglass, who grew up in the neighborhood. "All these old places that I remember from my childhood, everything's disappearing."
Silverglass said she grew up at Doyle's, going with her mother's group of friends who played softball together.
In addition to being a famed gathering place, Doyle's is home to a treasure trove of memorabilia — pictures, photographs, ephemera — reflecting the 137 years the bar has been in business. It's a history that neighbors would like to see preserved.
"There is an unbelievable trove of history in this place — all the photos, newspaper clipping, paintings and so forth," said Richard Youngstrom, an artist who lives about five minutes away. "And it would be a shame if something couldn't be done with that, you know, that was useful."
Youngstrom was part of a group who met at Doyle's this week to figure if they could petition the Burke family to save the memorabilia, though Youngstrom said he's not sure what would happen to it all. He suggested someone could set up a museum or another kind of repository where people could view the history, since the walls of Doyle's Cafe won't be available for much longer.
"At the very least," Youngstrom said, "there's gotta be some kind of farewell party where people get to tell their stories."