It started with Whiskey’s.
Three more watering holes swiftly followed: McGreevy’s owner Ken Casey confirmed with Boston Man Magazine on August 12 that the sports bar would not reopen; on September 2, The Pour House shared it was up for sale; and Lir announced its closing on September 3.
McGreevy’s, The Pour House, Lir — three longtime Boylston Street bars on the same block, with Whiskey’s just one block over. For many, these sports bars and Irish pubs represented a nod to old Boston as more fine-dining establishments and all-day cafes populated the area around them.
“It’s all gone, every single one of them closed,” Demetri Tsolakis said. Tsolakis, a Back Bay resident, owns two restaurants in the neighborhood: Krasi and GreCo. He said the now-shuttered bars helped to offset the “bougie and high-end” feel of Newbury Street.
“They were a place where we all went to at some point, for some reason — a breakup, after-work drinks, or to let loose,” he recalled. “Now it’s quiet and a little sad because of the memories. All of us who are hardcore Bostonians and who live in Boston will remember that strip as being lively. The whole idea of bar hopping is gone now, because there are no bars. So your night out in Back Bay is limited to dinner and then, ‘let’s head to the Seaport’ once bars are allowed [again]. That bar-hopping mentality is gone in the Back Bay.”
Michael Serpa, who owns Select Oyster Bar and Grand Tour in the neighborhood, shared that the closings on Boylston Street — and in other parts of the city — may have been a shock to the public, but not to restaurant operators.
“Those spots had a lot of weekend bar crowds, Red Sox/Fenway crowds, marathon, etc.,” he told Boston.com in an e-mail. “Lir did a ton of events. If all that is gone, you can’t really make it work.”
He said that the neighborhood’s restaurants rely not only on regulars, but also the visitors who flock to Hynes Convention Center or the parents and students who congregate for graduations.
“All this is wiped out, and we have nothing to realistically help us,” Serpa shared. “We can’t be closed for several months, then operate at a hugely reduced rate for six months or a year and have no assistance. If that happens, it’s going to get ugly, and unfortunately everyone will be facing a very different and less diverse dining scene on the other side of this.”
But not everyone thinks the closures are a sign of the Back Bay’s fate. Ryan Jones, director of operations for the Lyons Group, which operates Back Bay Social and Rochambeau, believes that the neighborhood has remained vibrant.
“I would say that, despite the fact that you’ve got four venues that are closed out of probably eight in that [particular] area, there’s still a lot of energy and there’s still a really good vibe in that area,” he said. “I think a lot of residents who spend the summers on the Cape or on the Vineyard are starting to return, and the overall energy and vibe over the last couple of weeks has gotten stronger for sure.”
Jones said that the area where Rochambeau and Back Bay Social are located — near the entrance to the Prudential — still yields plenty of foot traffic.
“I feel fortunate that we are where we are,” said Jones, who has worked in the Back Bay for 15 years and counts the now-closed bars as part of his old stomping grounds. “I don’t think [the bars’ closings] really had much of a negative impact on [our restaurants]. The Back Bay to me is the heart of the city. It’s right in the middle of everything.”
There has been some talk of Pour House returning. Realty firm C. Talanian Realty Co. owns the buildings at 903 and 905 Boylston St., the sites of Lir and The Pour House, respectively. Company president Charles M. Talanian told Boston.com that he has owned the Pour House building for over 40 years, and he bought the Lir building four years ago with the plan to build a development with those two properties.
“I coordinated those leases to expire at the same time, sometime in 2024,” Talanian said. “That was my goal, to start with an architect and a construction management team, but now that the virus is here and these places are closed and not going to reopen, I’m just fast-forwarding my plans.”
He said that he’s planning on reopening Pour House for a period of time to “just get something going with it,” but it might not be permanent.
“The idea would be to take the [Lir] building down and maybe take the Pour House building down, because it’s my understanding that we can build approximately 60,000 square feet in that location,” he said. “The first attempt would be to see if someone wanted to triple net lease the entire building; if that didn’t pan out, we would have done office spaces. But now, with what’s going on, maybe residential is a better use. Time’s have changed.”
Talanian also helped run Whiskey’s with two business partners, who he said he plans to buy out and separate from, and that once the McGreevy’s building is up for sale, he’s interested in purchasing that property. But he also believes that the Back Bay has irrevocably changed.
“I don’t think it’s going to come back the way it was before, to be honest with you,” Talanian said.
Serpa also envisions a neighborhood that looks markedly different than before. The restaurateur predicts a “very corporate and deep-pocketed” pivot, one where independent restaurants will continue to close before getting bought out by bigger entities.
“If we had real economic relief like the RESTAURANTS Act, then we would be able to keep the mom and pops and smaller independent [restaurants] that make the fabric of the dining culture in Boston,” he shared. “The federal government is essentially hanging us out to dry right now, and we are heading into fall and winter with nothing on the table to stabilize the industry.”
With a shaky future on the horizon, Tsolakis also believes the Back Bay as we know it might be gone for good.
“I think [the closures] will open doors for new concepts,” he said. “But it’s very hard to bring back authenticity when it’s been taken away, unfortunately. We’ve lost the working crowd, we’ve lost the industry crowd, we’ve lost the nightlife crowd. We’ve lost a lot of crowds.”