The lunchtime crowd was light at the venerable Jamaica Plain pub on Tuesday, but the voice of the storied barroom’s owner was heavy and somber when he confirmed the rumors later in the day: Doyle’s, whose rich and colorful history stretches to the late 1800s, is approaching its last call.
“As of right now, I don’t know when our last day is going to be,’’ Gerry Burke Jr. told me. “But they say this takes time. We’ll probably have a month or two left.”
“It’s been a local melting pot. As far as people can remember this is where they came to find a job and a place to live.’’
In other words, a local touchstone. A Boston institution. A fabled political hangout. A barroom where bankers and lawyers sat next to welders and painters. And loved it.
Soon Doyle’s will take its place in the history books with the old Boston Garden, the elevated Expressway, and a parade of politicians who sipped beer, solicited votes, and shook everyone’s hands.
“It was so much fun to be there,’’ said former mayor Ray Flynn. “It was a real social environment. Everybody was part of this Boston tradition: the old timers and the young people. Journalists and politicians.
“You could learn more about Boston politics in Doyle’s than you could at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.’’
Part of that history lesson is a tough course in economics that Burke has glumly learned to master over the last few years. Lately, he said, business has been quiet. And the cost of business has grown prohibitively expensive.
“It’s very sad,’’ he said. “I grew up here and I’ve had a wonderful childhood. It’s been my identity as long as I can remember. It’s a terrible thing and I’m as sad as I can be. But the real estate in Jamaica Plain is as high as it’s going to get. And I can’t afford to stay here anymore.’’
A purchase-and-sale agreement filed with the city in early August indicates that Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse intends to buy Doyle’s seven-day, all-alcohol license for $455,000, using it for a large restaurant planned in the Seaport District.
Steve DiFillippo, the CEO of Davio’s, said the license deal was set up by a broker.
“I didn’t even know it was Doyle’s,” DiFillippo said Tuesday. “I am a Boston guy. I am a huge Doyle’s fan.”
Burke said he owns the business and the liquor license but not the property, which is owned by his uncle, Eddie.
Burke is 50 years old now. He’s the father of four — two boys and two girls — and his youngest, Mary Ann, turns 8 at the end of the month.
“I’m lucky,’’ he said. “I’m going to get to know my wife and kids a little better. A place like this is always on your mind. I’m going to take a little time off.’’
It’s been a long time coming. And before they turn off the lights — and the taps — there will be plenty of time for old war stories about a place that once upon a time was a front for a bootlegging business.
What kind of stories? Stories like this:
That time in 1964 when three guys rushed in, announced a holdup, and fired a bullet into the wall near a picture of Paul Revere. The bartender was pistol whipped. Billy Doyle, a former cop who was crouched behind the bar, shot and killed one of the robbers. Justifiable homicide, the police report said.
The gradual evolution from workingman’s pub to a coed tavern. “The women started after the First World War when they reluctantly came in to get their husbands out after Mass,’’ Gerry Burke, the current owner’s father, told the Jamaica Plain Historical Society in November 2005. “They became more acceptable in the early 1960s. Remember, this was a tough neck of the woods.’’
Or how the place became a magnet for politicians throughout the decades, including mayors from John “Honey Fitz’’ Fitzgerald and James Michael Curley to Kevin H. White and Thomas M. Menino. Tables and booths have been dedicated in their honor.
Here’s how one Globe columnist described the place in 2005: “Doyle’s is, on any given night, a crazy salad of hacks, Hibernians, women’s softball teams, rugby scrums, Pilates instructors, and Martians sporting tongue studs, along with the locals. . . . It’s the political bar in Boston for those who revel in the art rather than practice it.’’
But plenty of practitioners showed up as Election Day approached. Or faded in the distance.
“I called up Kevin White one day out of the blue,’’ Flynn recalled. “He was retired and I was mayor. I said, ‘Do you want to go for a ride?’ After we rode around for a couple of hours, I said, ‘Come on, we’ll go over to this neighborhood bar in JP.’ So we went over to Doyle’s. Tommy Menino was there. Someone took our picture. Kevin really loved it.’’
You never really knew who you were going to bump into, he said.
“I’ve brought in presidents and prime ministers and cardinals,’’ Flynn said. “And before you knew it, everyone would be coming up talking to them. I brought Bill Clinton over there on a Sunday morning for brunch for a short while. It was a feeling of good will. And that’s what we need more of in our city. Not just some big, high-rise office buildings.’’
There’s nothing big, or high-rise, about Doyle’s.
So you can imagine that a big and long Irish wake will soon take shape in Jamaica Plain. Actually, it’s already beginning.
On Tuesday, Frank Duggan said he was far from surprised to hear about the closing as he walked by the barroom. The 63-year-old Hyde Park resident grew up just a few blocks away, and he took a guess about what would rise in the pub’s place.
“Condos. What else is around here?” Duggan said. “There’s not going to be anyplace to go.”
Word spread quickly among patrons both inside and outside the bar Tuesday afternoon, and many rushed over after hearing that Doyle’s had become the latest casualty of Jamaica Plain’s transformation.
“With all the construction and all the crazy things going on here, I’m not surprised,” said Juan Carlos, who lives nearby. He brought his 3-year-old daughter, Cataleya, for dinner, and said the staff took the time to remember her name after she visited before. “There are a lot of new places opening, but there’s nothing like this. This is history here.”
Burke recalls that his earliest memory is helping his father get ice “when I was still too small to even carry a bucket.’’
“I met Ted Kennedy in here,’’ he said. “I met Ray Flynn in here. Elizabeth Warren. Scott Brown.’’
That list goes on. And it’s a long one. Some of it is written on the walls of the old place on Washington Street that usedto be the old Willow Athletic Club.
Time is running out, but there will still be time to tell stories about the place.
Stories about the days when the Burkes ran the place. Eddie, the nighttime host, living in the family home on Myrtle Street. Gerry, the food manager, and daytime host. And Bill, the drinks manager and chief bartender.
All of that, like the old Garden and the elevated Expressway, soon slipping into lore. And into Boston’s history.
Due to a contributor’s error, a former version of this story mischaracterized the location of the new Davio’s restaurant. It will be in the Seaport district at 50 Liberty St.
Jaclyn Reiss, Travis Andersen, Larry Edelman, and Andy Rosen of the Globe staff contributed, as did Globe correspondents Jeremy C. Fox and Max Jungreis. Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].