We’ve had weeks to process the news that our beloved Doyle’s is dying of Stage IV Capitalism, but the passing of time hasn’t made it any easier. Every moment that we can, we crawl inside the warm body, knowing this will be one of the last times we feel the familiar comfort of a place we’ve come to know as home and cherish like family. As the days and hours run out, we watch the giant clock on the wall of Doyle’s tick forward with dread. The beloved staff do what they’ve always done, though they’re grieving just the same. They take care of us.
When we moved back into the neighborhood behind Doyle’s 10 years ago, my older daughter was two and a half years old. Although it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when, somewhere along the way we began going to Doyle’s every Friday night. Two tired parents after one long week, we’d spend the first evening of each weekend hoping no one would mind that our picky eater was still refining her inside voice.
When one daughter became two daughters, I apologized to the waitstaff with my eyes. I tried to clean up after them as best I could. From the chaos of working and raising a family, we were building a scaffold of traditions to create some structure in our messy lives. Doyle’s was a break from the neverending cycle of work and parenting.
When I went back to college a few years ago, each semester I would carefully avoid Friday night classes until I couldn’t anymore. Last fall, my History of Boston class met every Friday from 5 to 9 pm. Although the professor was the best one I ever had, my heart was always with my family and I knew there was an empty seat in our booth. I did my best to honor the time away from my beloved Doyle’s. I wrote my final paper on it.
Owner Gerry Burke, Sr. sat down with me in his favorite booth next to the coffeemaker in the barroom to provide an interview for my paper. With boyish playfulness and sparkling Irish eyes, he recounted tales of shoot-outs and immigrants and politicians and his own family. I’m so grateful I was able to spend this time with him and I hope I was able to capture his stories accurately.
Last winter, as we sat in the shadow of Michael Collins in the middle room, legendary Boston rocker and veteran server Rick Berlin asked us if our band would represent Doyle’s Café with him in the JP Bar Wars. “Sure!” we chirped, and then hoped he didn’t hear us squeal with glee as he passed through the swinging doors into the kitchen.
From there the stars aligned for us. Joined by Doyle’s waitresses Erin and Emily Keane and our good friend Mike Allen, we won the JP Bar Wars (yes, we know that having Rick Berlin in the band tipped the scales in our favor). Throughout the whole experience, I couldn’t help but think of the movie “The Commitments” where a scrappy group of misfits somehow pulls off something beautiful together.
As a prize, we got to open up the JP Music Fest last month. It was a magical day. The hurricane that had threatened to ruin the festival couldn’t even land a punch, and the sun got brighter and hotter as the day went on. I’ll always be grateful that this day lives in my mind – I know I’ll go back to it again and again. I wish I had known how heavy Rick Berlin’s burden was that day; he had learned that Doyle’s was going to close the night before.
Over the past 10 years, Friday nights have changed. My daughters, now 12 and 8, have fairly reasonable inside voices. Their childhood friends have come and gone, sharing crayons and playing in the phone booth together until they fade away like a Polaroid picture developing in reverse. My nephews keep getting bigger and bigger, but some things have remained constant. My sister always lets me eat off her plate.
As our family tries to wrap our brains around what life will be like when Doyle’s is no longer a part of it, I struggle to teach my children lessons that will prepare them for the next time they lose something they love with all their heart. We talk about gratitude and living in the moment. Tonight, as we visit this hospice we once called home, I realize we’ll have to talk about death too.
Rest easy Doyle’s, and thank you.