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20 Years of Comfort Food Classics at Grafton Street

Owner Patrick Lee discusses the past two decades — and the next two

Patrick Lee
Patrick Lee

On October 25, Grafton Street Pub & Grill, the venerable Harvard Square gastropub and eldest member of the Grafton Group, is turning 20 and celebrating with an anniversary party for staff and guests. Grafton Group owner Patrick Lee discusses Grafton’s Good Will Hunting connection, a collaboration with Harpoon Brewery, what’s in store for the next 20 years, and more.

Do you remember the first night at Grafton Street?

Oh, man. I wish I could. I can’t remember a lot of the details from that night, but I can vividly remember the space and all of the people who were working. Paul Barry, who still works for us, was part of that opening team. One of the guys was Lawrence Hopkins, who has Daedalus and The Boathouse in Harvard Square now. When you open a restaurant, you become very close to people who go on to have great careers. It’s been heartwarming to watch. I remember just really feeling the excitement of the night and feeling like something really special was happening. Grafton used to be at 1280 Mass. Ave., which is now Tatte in Harvard Square.

Is it true that Grafton Street is where the famous "how do you like them apples" scene in Good Will Hunting was filmed?

Yes. If you think back to that scene, that’s the Baskin-Robbins, which is now our window. We weren’t in this space yet; it was still the Bow and Arrow bar, which is where they filmed that scene.

How has the restaurant changed over 20 years?

In addition to the physical space getting larger, we were able to transfer the warmth and charm of the space. The menu has evolved but stayed true to the comfort food roots that we started with. The neighborhood has really made it familiar.

Are there any staples of the menu that will never come off?

All of the dishes that we pinpoint as classics are part of the menu for good. Fish and chips, the burger — those are always on the menu in some form or another. Those dishes will always be there but will be a little different because of seasonality.

How is the Grafton Group’s latest restaurant, The Hourly, similar and different from what the group has already done?

The Hourly is an oyster bar, and it’s kind of connected to the rest of our group because we’ve always done dollar oysters at a lot of our locations. We always thought Harvard Square should have its own fun little oyster bar. One of the things that’s interesting is that it’s the smallest space we’ve done. It’s a departure in terms of size and structure; it’s way smaller.

Speaking of your group, State Street Provisions got a pretty harsh review in the Globe earlier this year. How did your team recover from that?

We get lots of reviews every day for our restaurants from different sites, and we look at all of those. We try and take something from each review and improve from that. It wasn’t a good review, but as long as we feel like we’re moving forward, that’s what’s important and what matters.

To celebrate Grafton’s anniversary, you’ve partnered with Harpoon to create the Crimson Kolsch, a draft beer available at all of the Grafton locations. How did that partnership come about?

It really started with the team thinking about different things to do for our anniversary. It’s not every day that you can celebrate your 20th year in business. We were bouncing around ideas, and someone came up with a commemorative cup. From there it developed into wanting to serve a special beer that night. Our managers (Morgan Carney, Grafton Street; Ashish Mitra, Russell House Tavern and The Hourly) talked to Harpoon and conjured up the Crimson Kolsch. All of our bar managers went up to the Harpoon Brewery in Vermont for the making of the beer.

What are you planning for the next 20 years of Grafton Street?

For all of our restaurants, we just hope to progress. It’s about hopefully using the efficiencies and technology to incorporate those into Grafton and maintain that charm and warmth and hard work from the team. That’s what it’s really about. You can build a space and make it warm through lighting or colors or music, but your team really has to emanate it to your guests. It’s a constant challenge, and it never ends, but that’s what’s top of mind for us. That’s what we hope to do in the future.

On October 25, Grafton Street will host an anniversary party with passed apps and a cash bar benefiting St. Francis House in Boston. No tickets required; it starts at 9 p.m.

Grafton Street

1230 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138 617-497-0400 Visit Website