Porter Square landmark Newtowne Grille will close this weekend, March 19, after over 50 years of providing the neighborhood some of the best affordable pizza in town alongside friendly dive bar vibes. The team behind neighboring Thai restaurant Sugar & Spice will reportedly open a new Asian restaurant in its place.
While Newtowne underwent some modernization during the pandemic, up until that point, it had been largely unchanged since opening in 1966, aside from some adjustments when Massachusetts banned smoking in restaurants in 2004. It was a longtime staple for watching sports at the bar, for participating in trivia nights, and for spending just $12 on a large cheese pizza and a pitcher of beer. At a price like that, Newtowne could have gotten away with serving mediocre pizza, but the New York-ish-style pizza with its bubbly thin crust was a crowd-pleaser.
Adjacent to the bar space, Newtowne had a small, bustling takeout counter. Callers would be greeted by a gruff “Newtowne” on the other end of the phone line — gruff but not rude. The hospitality was always there under the rough exterior, and Newtowne cultivated many regulars over the years.
“It’s the type of bar that every neighborhood should have, and we’re very, very lucky to have it,” one regular, Kevin Tyler, told Eater in 2021.
“I could go by myself, and I knew I’d find somebody to have a great conversation with,” said another regular, Jackie Miller. “I knew I’d learn something. All the bartenders knew our names. As soon as I sat down, they had my drink in front of me. It’s just such a welcoming environment.”
Various COVID challenges — and especially false reports that the restaurant had closed permanently during the pandemic — were the final nails in the coffin for the business, as building owner Eric Boyer tells Cambridge Day. “I wish everything stayed the same,” he told the publication. “It’s hard to find a dive bar anymore, and my tenants are like my family.”
In early 2021, Newtowne Grille owner Michael Toulopoulos, whose grandfather and uncle owned the business before him, detailed his pandemic pivots to Eater, describing POS system upgrades to make the restaurant more takeout- and delivery-friendly and bringing on a new chef to revamp the menu. “Every time I turned around, I was making an investment, just waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel,” said Toulopoulos. “But it gets harder and harder when it keeps getting further and further away.”
UPDATE, MARCH 22, 2022: On March 18, Newtowne Grille shared a farewell message on social media, attributed to the Toulopoulos family:
Sadly, we will in fact be closing the doors to Newtowne Grille in Cambridge. We are proud to have been a part of the community for 56 years and have always strived to be an affordable, fun restaurant and bar option for the neighborhood families, students and everyone who visits this city. The pandemic has brought about challenges for every business not just restaurants and we applaud those who found the ability to pivot and prosper through these most arduous times. Newtowne has always been a place to gather, a place to debate politics and economics, a place for first dates, a place for last dates and of course a place to share a pitcher of beer and a pizza with an old friend or new friend. Between shut-downs, restrictions, mandates and lack of government support the business has fallen too far behind financially and cannot continue to operate. We want to thank all of our loyal staff and guests throughout the years who will always be considered part of our Newtowne family. Together we have created some unforgettable memories, built lifelong relationships and had a few laughs along the way. We wish the best to Jenny and her team from Sugar & Spice. We know they will do great things here with a fresh look and new concept. Thank you to Eric and the Boyer family for working with us over the years but more so for going above and beyond to accommodate us over the past two most difficult. Hope to see you again someday Cambridge!