I always wanted to be a regular somewhere. To walk into a place, know the waiter by name, and simply order the usual. To have my favorite pink drink appear from out of nowhere. Like Norm and Cliff on Cheers, Rachel and her Friends at Central Perk, or Seinfeld and his coffee shop, I wanted my own hangout. Somehow, it eluded me. Sure, I have my pizza guy the other man in my life on speed dial, but its not the same.
So I decided to ask people where they went regularly and why. What brought them back again and again and again? And, being a former waitress myself, I wanted to ask establishment owners how they viewed regulars. Is there a downside? Do they expect special treatment? Freebies? (Some of my old customers sure did.)
Heres what I learned at four places.
Dunn Gaherins 344 Elliot St., Newton Upper Falls. 617-527-6271. dunngaherins.com
This is the ultimate neighborhood spot, nestled right in the middle of a residential area. Its run by Seana Gaherin and her husband, Robert Dunn, and they take their regulars seriously. Theres the woman with multiple allergies who asks for (and gets) all her meals specially fixed, sometimes gluten-free, dairy-free, or meat-free. (I dont think shed ask at the Capital Grille, says Gaherin).
There are the weddings, births, and funerals that have been celebrated at the bar. The informal political polling during campaigns. The regulars who bring their kids regularly. Those kids who grew up and now work there.
There are also the Nathansons: Stefan and Carole and their children, Leah, 10, and Lucas, 6. Theyve been coming to Dunn Gaherins for their Friday night Shabbat dinner for a decade, bringing Leah, then Lucas, in infant seats. When Stefan, a lawyer, started Room to Dream Foundation, a nonprofit for sick children, he asked Seana to sit on the board. She happily complied.
On a recent Friday night, their waitress, Lily, approaches the table: Leah, are you going to have a Shirley Temple tonight? When she brings their meals, she calls each by name. Lucas, heres your pasta, Leah, your chicken fingers ...
Seana is everywhere, checking on customers, catching up with her regulars. We know it all husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, she says. We know their incomes. We know their wills. We know their politics. Weve watched their kids grow up.
Carole Nathanson nods over her veggie wrap. There are things that people say here that they cant say at home or work. The Nathansons say the food and the folks keep them coming back. (They always order a killer dessert aptly named chocolate decadence.)
Once, when a nearby party was tossing the F-bomb around, Seana pounced quickly, asking the men to please watch their language around the kids.
Its the best place in the world to be a regular, says Stefan, happily spooning dessert into his mouth. His daughter adds the highest compliment a 10-year-old can give: This place is off the hook!
The Paramount 44 Charles St., Boston. 617-720-1152. paramountboston.com
Stephen and Barbara Roop are exactly a seven-minute walk from their Beacon Hill home to the Paramount. They know this because for years, they have gone there nearly every day of the work week to eat. Sometimes, more than once a day. Sometimes, for all three meals.
Im embarrassed to admit it, but well sometimes go for the hat trick, says Stephen Roop, an environmental consultant who is president of Beacon Hill Village. Barbara is currently running a ballot initiative that would provide affordable healthcare to all Massachusetts residents.
Were here rain and shine, says Stephen.
And dark of night, adds Barbara.
Their golden lab, Max, was a regular, too, and his picture hangs prominently on a wall over the counter. Hed sit patiently, tied to a meter, while his owners ate. (The staff often gave him water and treats.)
For breakfast, its always the same: eggs over easy, toast, ham for Barbara, and sausage for Stephen. For lunch, its the Greek salad: The best in the world, says Stephen. For dinner, theyre more adventurous: Theyve tried most everything on the menu.
Along with the food, its the familiarity that keeps them coming back, say the Roops. Its the Cheers factor: Everybody knows your name, says Barbara.
Though they rarely ask for special treatment they wait in line like everyone else they have called ahead for a table if theyre bringing friends. They dont take reservations, but Michael says, Im happy to do it, says Stephen.
Michael Bissanti is the Paramounts managing partner. Regulars define a place; they are the personality of a place, he says. When times are tough, you can always count on them. And when they go on vacation, we notice.
He denies that his regulars are demanding. But he goes out of his way to make sure they get seated when its busy. And for them no one else hell cater. We give them a really good deal, and well deliver. Its kind of a way of thanking them.
The Blarney Stone 1505 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester. 617-436-8223. blarneystoneboston.com
For the past five years, since the Blarney Stone was renovated, Louis Ashman has come in several times a week.
Im in a bad mood, I come here, he explains. If Im feeling great, I come here. If I want to celebrate, I come here. If I want to be alone, I come here.
He was the only customer invited to this years staff holiday party at the restaurant. Ashman is a proprietors dream, a regular who comes in and brings his friends. And to Ashman, the Blarney Stone is a second living room, the staff his family.
Its also a second office. If I have work to do and a big booth is empty, theyll give it to me so I can spread my papers out, says Ashman, a construction designer who lives nearby. He knows about the private lives of the waitstaff, and vice versa: Theyve seen our Tuesday night fall-down-drunk-dont-go-to-work-the-next-day, he says with a laugh.
On a recent night, hes in there with his sister Diana and a group of friends who are also regulars. Theyve hired waitresses Jessica and Sinead to work private parties theyve thrown. We know about their boyfriends, the ones that made it and the ones that didnt, says Ashman. As a gay man, Ashman appreciates the mix of people who frequent the Blarney: gay and straight, all races and incomes. I think everyone feels welcome here, he says.
Ben Johnson, the managing partner, loves his regulars. Theyre your bread and butter; they keep you going through the quiet times, he says. He gives them preferences on seating and will hold tables for them, even though reservations are only for parties of eight or more. They expect extra attention and theyve earned it, he says. You know their drink and have it ready for them; you know when to leave the pickle off the plate.
And, adds Ashman, his voice dropping conspiratorially, You can get your fries custom-made here. Ask for them extra crispy. Spoken like a true regular.
Bukowskis Tavern 50 Dalton St., Boston. 617-437-9999.
Named for the late author Charles Bukowski, this tavern honors its regulars by inducting them into The Dead Authors Club. There are about 325 members so far, each with a large beer mug inscribed with the name of their favorite author, from William Faulkner to Richard Pryor, as managing partner Susie Samowski says.
You have to order all 99 different bottles of beer within six months to qualify, and from then on, you get your mug, which hangs over the bar; 25 ounces of beer for the price of a pint. If they know you, your mug will often be filled with a draft before you can get your coat off.
Within this regulars paradise, Will Pitt stands out. A writer who works out of his nearby apartment, Pitt uses Bukowskis as the epicenter of his social life.
Some of my best friends Ive met there, he says. If I spend a long day writing, I know when I walk through the door Ill know at least five people. His group sits in the right corner, just as you enter. The staff is wonderful and the food is great, he says. The people who go there, the stories that have come out of there, the friendships that have developed. ... The place manufactures regulars. His mug? It was H.L. Mencken, but a writer friend died recently, and the bar inscribed another mug for Pitt in his friends name.
Pitt recently helped Ian the bartender move a bookcase into a new apartment on a fifth-floor walkup. And if some drunken idiot got belligerent, the door guys would suddenly see 15 regulars around them, ready to help, he adds.
Samowski agrees: Theyre friends as well as customers. Theyll card people for me, theyll bus tables, theyll pitch in. Theyre so awesome. Absolutely, I go out of my way for them. Is there any downside? Sometimes they feel a little bit like they own the place, she says.
And, given the amount of beer and food that Pitt and his friends have consumed over the years, they probably do own a piece.