As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2019 by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we’re publishing their responses in these final days of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below, or hop into our Facebook group to discuss.
Keep an eye on the Year in Eater landing page for other stories in this series, rolling out over the next several days.
Up next: What was the saddest closure of 2019? Bonus: Can you recommend an alternative that fills a similar craving? (See the 2018 responses here.)
MC Slim JB, restaurant critic at Boston.com:
“The Improper Bostonian, with the city losing yet another media outlet with great lifestyle, arts and fashion coverage in addition to a wide-ranging food section. A few restaurants I’ll miss:
- Addis Red Sea in the South End, the oldest and most romantic of our Ethiopian restaurants; I’ll head to JP’s Blue Nile instead.
- Doyle’s Cafe in JP was one of Boston’s oldest Irish bars, just dripping with history and color. My local, J.J. Foley’s Cafe, has similar family-run history and ambiance.
- Firenze Trattoria in Salem was my favorite Tuscan restaurant in Greater Boston, a true trattoria; I’d say Fat Hen in East Somerville, though not explicitly Tuscan, comes closest to Firenze’s appeal, with its fine short menu and ingredient focus.
- Maria’s Pastry Shop in the North End did the best sfogliatelle in the North End; I’d send you to Modern Pastry (and away from Mike’s Pastry) as the next best choice.
- Victor’s Italian Cuisine was a teeny place in Saugus I fondly remember for veal parm subs with the scallopini pounded and cooked to order; Café Rosetti’s in Winthrop has a similar old-school vibe and focus on affordable quality.
- Cultivar in the Financial District, one of my favorite newcomers last year, was short-lived; I think Chickadee in the Seaport is a similarly enjoyable, locally owned indie.
- I’m still crying about the January closing of Erbaluce in Bay Village, but you can now taste some of Chuck Draghi’s distinctive cooking at Cinquecento in the South End, where he has seriously upgraded their carbonara, among other dishes.
- L’Espalier in the Back Bay closed last December; I think your best bet for romance and atmosphere in a high-end setting might be the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, or maybe Topper’s at the Wauwinet on Nantucket.”
Erin Kuschner, food writer for Boston.com:
“I know a lot of people, including myself, were bummed about the closure of Doyle’s in October. But that month we also saw the closure of Courtside, Cambridge’s finest karaoke bar, and that hit me just a little harder. The bartenders were surly (I say that with affection), the karaoke space felt like a weird Chuck E. Cheese party room, but I loved it and miss it. If you’re looking for a similar spot, the Jeanie Johnston Pub in Jamaica Plain has karaoke on Saturdays, and the crowd is just as eclectic.”
“Mystic Brewery. One of the first Boston breweries, this was a longtime favorite, but also a purveyor of excellent examples of my favorite kinds of beers: effervescent and floral, spicy or funky, and often low-alcohol. The beer scene will miss Mystic founder Bryan Greenhagen’s expertise. Reasons for its demise — accessibility due in part to traffic, the cost of setting up shop closer to the T — offer unfortunate examples of the realities of doing business within an hour of Boston these days, too. Bonus: Honest Weight Artisan Beer is also great at these types of beers, and I’m psyched they’re beginning to can some now. So far, though, those cans are only available at their low-key lovely but far-away taproom in Orange, Massachusetts. Shoutout to the Sinclair and Vee Vee JP, which often have HW on draft; attention, everybody else: I would absolutely order more Honest Weight if I saw it more at bars, restaurants, and bottle shops.
The rising cost of living in Massachusetts (and people retiring/deciding to move on) took a lot of classics this year; this specific kind of heartbreak will continue. The one that hurt me the most was not in Boston, but Worcester: I discovered the Dive Bar when I was newly 21 and it set the “bar” bar way too high for me. It’s a big reason why I love beer, and bars. It cannot be replaced. Doyle’s was also a heartbreak, on principle, but it had lost some of its charm over the years. Ditto Durgin-Park. They can’t be replaced, so we have to support the businesses we have now that make us feel like we’re at home but with exceptionally better food and drinks.”
“The closing of Doyle’s in JP was crushing for so many reasons, including the fact that it just shows nothing is forever and that there is no restaurant that is above the fray when it comes to closings, no matter how much you think it might be. As far as alternatives, I don’t think any spot can truly be seen as ‘another’ Doyle’s, though JJ Foley’s in the South End does come to mind.”
“The news that Lion’s Tail closes for good on December 30. For years I felt that this scrappy South End cocktail bar, which matched delightful gimmicks with top-notch craft, was criminally underrated (its New York Streets Swizzle deserves to be a modern classic.) I’ll particularly miss the expansive menu, which featured delightful illustrations pulled from old cocktail books. If you need to find me I’ll be across the street at Shore Leave, pouring one out for this gone-too-soon gem. ”
“The saddest closure has to be L’Espalier. With their last service on New Year’s Eve last year, 2019 was the first year we couldn’t watch the Marathon from their second-floor perch above the finish line, which was the most civilized way to enjoy the Marathon. But newcomers such as Rochambeau promise a different type of Marathon experience that I am excited to try next year!”
“As a Jamaica Plain resident, I have to say Doyle’s. And so far I can’t think of anywhere that can quite replace it. It was much more about the atmosphere and the history than the food itself.”
Terrence B. Doyle, Eater Boston reporter:
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor:
“2019 saw quite a lot of closures of decades-old restaurants that I never made it to; I was sad to hear that places like Doyle’s, New Dong Khanh, and L’Espalier were closing, but it was an ‘end of an era’ or ‘sorry I missed them’ type of sadness rather than a personal connection.
Of places I had actually been to, I was really bummed to see Country Mile close after a short run in Watertown (well, it sort of still exists, but without the Sargents and with a totally different concept); quirky/wonderful wine bar Upperwest close in Cambridge (it’ll reopen elsewhere, but I don’t know if anything can beat that strange space in the basement of a veterans club); and Roast Beast go out with a dramatic bang in Allston.
Night Market’s closure also hit me hard; I always found it to be one of the most affordable but still ‘nice’ nights out in Harvard Square — great for date nights, great for out-of-town friend visits. The changes to Harvard Square are years in the making but seem to be accelerating now, and I’m not looking forward to more closures of the area’s most interesting spots.
I’ll also give a shoutout to naughty bakery Sweet-N-Nasty, which thankfully still exists online but closed its Back Bay retail storefront this year. (I walked by the other day, and signs were up for an ATM coming soon. Hooray.) I’m glad I had the chance to write this story about the shop a few years back. Sweet-N-Nasty’s baked goods are not just silly but also good, and I’m glad they still exist, although I’ll miss browsing the store. I appreciated how long it held down the fort, keeping things weird just around the corner from Newbury Street.”