Personal note: I am a part of a long lineage of journalists. Recently on a trip to the Smithsonian archives in D.C. I searched for past works from my great, great, great grandfather, Atticus Rose. I knew that I wasn’t the first writer in my family, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I wasn’t the first food and culture critic either. I asked the Smithsonian if I could re-publish a piece he wrote over 100 years ago. They happily granted me permission.
June 14, 1895
Tonight was a night of celebration in Boston. My dearest brethren, William Du Bois recently received his Ph. D in History. There is nothing better than smooth, sugary rum or stiff whiskey after an uphill scholastic struggle. The academic and the working Irish man of Boston seem to always see eye-to-eye on this front. Liquor is the bond of all men. It helps me; I become more creative with it in my blood shot eyes.
Du Bois…excuse me; I call him Will for short, created a milestone in the achievement of all mankind. He happened to be the first person of a different race other than my own to earn his postgraduate degree from Harvard. As I watched him receive his recognition, I immediately picked the perfect spot for us to go for a good send-off, the recently built tavern by the dirty Charles River called Cheers.
A Madam who I forbid to give away her name earned a life insurance settlement when her husband and major Johns of political power died in the great fire of ‘72. She built this place from the ground up next to the commotion of all the Union Station streetcars, horse carriages, factory mills, peddlers, and civilians going every which way.
I honestly consider both Cheers and my friend graduating as grandiose events in whatever will be the makeup of Boston’s timeline. Though these are baby steps in progression and it may seem that the US is backtracking as a whole in equality, Boston is treating more people equally. To be frank, they let an African American graduate and a woman not only work, but become an entrepreneur. With money comes power in this town. Cheers is a plain as Jane pub compared to its competitors. New to the playing field, just like the game of football itself, it has received little buzz and if it wasn’t for me, no press at all. But in Boston, a town of drinking that is slowly rising as the drunkest city in America besides Philadelphia, there is always room for another place to help one blush in the cheeks.
It’s a thick brown stone building with a hand carved wooden sign and hand carved wooden tables, chairs, and counter tops inside. The place is clean and quiet. It’s not over crowded or filled with stank of all kinds. The floors and even the sidewalks are swept every few hours by the pub’s staff, workingwomen of class, color, and creed. That being said, there is an upstairs to Cheers, but we will go no further in that matter. At this point of time, I feel Cheers wants to only remain known as a bar rather than an inn of sorts. I hope it stays that way.
When the sun rises, it is still dark inside Cheers. The wax drips from the candles lighting the place barely creating eclipses and silhouettes on even those sitting directly across from you. There are several large originals painted by the great Jan Steen of Puritans getting wasted and behaving like jokers and jesters. I love the hints of irony especially in a nation filled with religious suppression and vices pushed under the rug. It says to me that Cheers wants to be loud and proud for what it is. It’s not trying to disenfranchise a city, state, or country, it just wants to be and have a little fun. I find no shame in that.
Boston needs a place like Cheers. It has needed a place like Cheers prior to the Revolution. It welcomes any one here as long as they have an open mind and have some common decency and wits about themselves. I have found many of the large newfound Irish population here get kicked out of places. Same with the Jewish people, Negroes, and women with or without men by their side. Not at Cheers.
Will and I visited on the day Cheers received their first batch of Coca Cola. This bottled drink was new to us, so we figured, “When in Rome.” It sent a slight rush through the blood streams like I’ve never experienced. It is rather addicting. The crowd is mostly older, in their 50s and almost 60s. Many seem like they’re going to kick the buck at any minute and want to go out with one last sweet adieu to life. The Irish women gravitate to what the good gods of Ireland gave them, stout. I personally find it to be fulfilling. One does not need a meal when drinking this remedy of sorts. It is thicker than stew and seems to have a chocolate bittersweet taste to it. The Irish men tend to be a little more acceptable to the other brews poured. Cheers features what is called a lager. It’s a lighter watered down, German beer. The main lager served at Cheers is Samuel Adams. It’s just as new as Cheers itself and though I don’t like to give endorsements I feel this fledgling deserves a righteous welcome. It is divine and I only wish I was nursed off of this liquid rather than the milk my mama gave me. There already are some established brew masters in the US now: Adolph Coors, Jacob Leinenkuge, and Frederick John Miller. I have nothing against them but what they produce is nothing as hearty as the elements put together in this stronghold that I’m holding.
As Will and I spoke into the late evening, new patrons started to flow in and what didn’t alarm me but more so, caught me by the most unexpected surprise was that no one turned an eye when they saw us. We felt safe here just like I’m sure they did too. The townsfolk who came in were from city hall. The fire squad and city police patrol too came in for a swig of the good stuff. Even a few superiors of religious benediction trampled in. Trampling, as in they already had a few too many.
Because of its clientele, Cheers becomes more ironic especially now. There is a demonic marketing “Banned in Boston” ploy going on citywide. I object to any one telling me or my fellow Bostonians to be a certain way. My grandfather would have stayed across the Atlantic if he believed in being the same and trying to be perfect. Cheers is all about imperfections and even the people who are ardent supporters of “Banned in Boston,” loosen up here. This is a haven to let loose and disconnect from the business and onward to the personal and more casual. I use the term loose in strict regard. Those who let loose inside Cheers don’t let their actions and behavior frolic into a downward spiraling direction. A certain level of class and elegance to Cheers remains a constant without ever feeling aristocratic. This is what makes artists, bohemians, and scholars like Will and myself enjoy Cheers.
On the night we drank the great Scott Joplin came to play. He was good friends with Will and knew this was an extraordinary event. I’ve heard whispers that Joplin plays his grand ragtime syncopations once a month. Otherwise the every day customer will hear the normal waltz, Irish gig, or French Quadrille. I relish in the festive old country tunes too, but the essence of the great Joplin puts panache on this pub.
When Will and I started to awaken we knew it was time for one or two more drinks. I spoke with the Madam who assumed we wanted to spend the night in her company. She did so because when we inquired to have more, I said, “May we have your good stuff, please?” What we meant was her whiskey supply from President Washington. The Madam housed his remaining collection from his Mount Vernon distillery. We wanted to know how she came upon these bottles and she quickly shut us up and said, “Darlings, that is a national secret.” Say no more. It was a little too pungent for my taste. Not as sugary as the stuff that comes out of Kentucky. However, it did its job and we nursed many of her rums afterwards.
I finish this review in a room upstairs. Will is in his own. I rang up a large tab that I have insufficient funds to pay for so in order to pay my debt I happily obliged to write this stellar review for the Madam with some strings attached. The bottom line to this review as my candlewick blows out, is that Cheers is in everyway a new tradition to Boston. It doesn’t have the foot traffic or popularity like the owner might like. I hope someday it will, but it might take some time. The liquor is plentiful and the variety is splendid. The clientele is a welcomed collection. The music is fresh and vibrant. And the water is and always will be, the dirtiest ever. Do us all a favor and don’t drink it.
The below remarks are added on in 2014 to the original 1895 review.
ATMOSPHERE: Boston’s city dwellers and well-to-do gang around and chat about their secrets in a roomy, no-frills, wood carved tavern and somewhat “inn” with a variety of musical acts and libations.
SERVICE: Knowledgeable, attentive, and trustworthy. The owner and her female employees serve everyone without turning a blind eye (only if you are under age). At this time, this is an anomaly in the US.
SOUND LEVEL: Quiet. The patrons want the music to be the loudest part so their conversations are not heard or are a distraction from everything else going on. Though there are no walls, you can rest assured that no one will eavesdrop.
RECOMMENDED: The lager and if you’re one of the lucky ones, the last remnants of George Washington’s distillery.
DRINKS: Beer, rum, whiskey, Mead, and cider. Don’t drink the water!
PRICES: The US dollar and US coins are the only forms of currency allowed. No Spanish coins, bank notes, or greenbacks.
OPEN: Only at night when the candles are lit. Closes when the candles blow out.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
Restrooms: There are plenty of outhouses in the back alleys.