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Old School Boston?

Watching the "Disappearing Manhattan" episode of Tony Bourdain's show this weekend, which featured a bunch of places in NYC where they still do things in an old fashioned way, I was wondering where there might be similar places in the Boston area. You know -- places that have been around for generations, that haven't changed much, that might not be all that great but take you back to the 1940's or even the 1890's and give you a glimpse of history.

The obvious places on the list include Union Oyster House, Locke-Ober, Durgin Park. But I wanted to go beyond the obvious choices to some places that might be nearly forgotten, or tucked away in not-so-obvious neighborhoods. I'm sure there must be some quintessentially old-school Italian places in the North End and elsewhere (Caffe Vittoria notwithstanding). Kowloon's in Saugus comes to mind, but I was hoping for something closer into Boston proper.

So, where are some good (or not so good) Boston places that are still kicking it old school?

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  1. Well Sarge, here are a few but, I wouldn't waste my time with them. Anthony's Pier 4, No Name, Durgin Park. I would go to Regina's Pizza on Prince St in the NE, Santarpio's in Eastie, Jacob Wirths on Stuart St for german.

    1. In the theme of comeback, I'll add Cafe Marliave. .which is a great restoration of a Boston oldtimer, Ida's and Regina's in the NE.

      Charley's Sandwich in the SE. JJ Foley's

      Maybe Brandy Pete's in the Finacial District; though they relocated a few blocks 25 years ago.

      6 Replies
      1. re: 9lives

        I'm very disappointed in Marliave's restoration/preservation. That's not my definition of "old school" at all. In my opinion, there's no sense of the speak easy, old-world charm that a lot of people reference. Locke Ober is quintessential old-school Boston.

        1. re: skylark938

          I'm surprised to hear you say that.

          Cafe Marliave seems to be a good restoration of the restaurant that I went to in the early 70's..with better food;..and an oyster bar replacing the Littlest Bar.. much like Lydia Shire restored Locke Ober, 8 or so years ago while retaining the original decor.

          Speak easy, old world charm didn't characterize many of the old school restaurants mentioned here..to the contrary, Durgin Park, No Name, Jeveli's,Regina's, Santarpios, etc always had their own character..and charm wasn't a part of the picture.

          1. re: 9lives

            The Littlest Bar was not where the Marliave oyster bar is... it was next door in that new monstrous building that houses luxury condos (oh joy, more luxury condos. just in time!)

            1. re: purple bot

              Ms 9 agrees with you.

              I'll have to walk by tomorrow to refresh my memory..maybe stop in for some research..:)

              1. re: purple bot

                After some serious research that included 1/2 dozen oysters and a pastrami sandwich from Sam LaGrassa's, you and Ms. 9 are correct.

                Littlest Bar was a few steps away from the Marliave oyster bar.

                Research is tough work..:)

                1. re: 9lives

                  ...but someone has to do it! Thanks for taking one for the team. ;-)

        2. I think these fit the criteria: Santarpio's in East Boston, Parziale's Bakery in the North End and No Name Restaurant. I know you are looking for Boston proper, I think a shout out to Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus and Kelly's Roasbeef on Revere Beach are in order too(!). Obviously the restaurants are not on the same level as a Locke-Ober, but definite old faithfuls.

          1. if you havent been to Locke-Ober, i think its a must. Its expensive and not the best restaurant in the city, but its like being in a part of history, and its a very nice room.

            1. second all here. i'd also add: amrhein's, doyle's, simco's, jeveli's, tecce's, brown jug, new bridge, s&s, umberto's, paddock, hacienda, mount vernon and kowloon.

              1. To me the quintessential old-school experience is at Mr. Bartley's, the only thing that's changed since 1964 is that Mr. and Mrs. B are quite a bit older.

                1. I know it's not close in to Boston, but that No Reservations episode made me think of the Wursthaus in Methuen. It's a great, cozy little old-school place. Decent German food, great beer, and atmosphere that feels like 1963. I love the complimentary ritz crackers and dip, made with cottage cheese, horseradish, and ketchup.

                  1. Doyle's in JP
                    Jacob Wirth in the Theatre District
                    Mount Vernon, Somerville
                    Cappy's Tavern in Readville
                    JJ Foley's in the South End
                    Jeveli's in East Boston

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hiddenboston

                      ah, Jeveli's. went there a couple weeks ago - absolute time capsule decor in the first room. weirder still was the "white house dining room" we were seated in; we were next to the memorabilia display case.

                    2. Franks Steakhouse (North Cambridge) and the Mount Vernon (Somerville) come to mind.

                      1. Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, and Tony's in West Roxbury. Untouched across the decades.

                        1. Locke Ober fits the bill in its recent recarnation, Jacob Worth was decent unti someone stole the Elephant full of peanuts..

                          Many of lhe old-timers reek of bugspray and bad carpet.

                          There are lots of new and interesting restaurants in Boston, at price ranges that suit everyone.

                          1. Love Locke-Ober..are they still serving lunch?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              I think LO had suspended lunch but they are serving lunch during RW.

                                1. re: skylark938


                                  call them and ask 617 542 1340..

                                  post what they tell you

                                2. re: Beach Chick

                                  Surprising to me, but Locke-Ober is indeed serving lunch during Restaurant Week, and participating for dinner, too: Monday to Friday, both weeks (March 16-20 and 23-27).

                                3. Not exactly IN boston, but i would bet a hundred dollars that most people from this area would add the Hilltop Steak House to the list.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: cornFusion

                                    Undeniably popular, but The Hilltop is pretty wretched. Not a good holdover from the Olden Days.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I disagree. I went to the HT about a month ago. Had a decent Sirloin strip that was cooked perfectly to order, decent iceberg salad, a large baked potato (with sour cream), and excellent grape nut custard and a glass of Merlot, all for under $40.00. Sides were included! It's not Morton's, but I had a very good meal and would back there again no problem.

                                  2. Continental on Route 1 N in Saugus. It is such a blast from the past - those faux red leather seating, the rugs, the food.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: taxi

                                      Do they also still bring along the complementary cottage-cheese/etc thingy to welcome you to the place? Last time i went there it was about 20 years ago - and they were old fashioned quaint even then......

                                    2. Caffe Vittoria's only been around since the 90's, IIRC...

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: galleygirl



                                        They expanded in the 1990s but the right hand side has been around for a long time.

                                        1. re: StriperGuy

                                          Oops, obviously, I did NOT RC!
                                          Is Caffe Dello Sport still there? I remember that from my teens....

                                          1. re: galleygirl

                                            Dello Sport is still there....at least it was a month or two ago.

                                            1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                              We love Dello Sport's cannoli. The filling is really rich...maybe mascarpone mixed with the ricotta?

                                        2. re: galleygirl

                                          Dunno about the management changes, but there has been a caffe in that space since well before. (I used to go to the same gym as one of the waiters and he had been there since at least the 70s.)

                                          That said, I don't think its really all that old school. Caffe Roma was before it closed -- I remember one time doing some shopping in the area and I was being pressured to be quick so we could hit the road for a long drive. I dropped in and ordered an espresso to go. The barrista basically said "its not the same, you should take the time to have it in a proper cup or come back when you can wait." To show me he made a to go shot to taste and one in a cup, then comped me both. We hit the road about a 1/2 hour late. :-) Service wise, I think Caffe Paradiso is more Old School at the bar, even though its obviously a lot newer (since the 80s and the owner passed away 3 years ago). Luiz the barrista remembers faces from years ago, drinks that just about everyone who ever stepped in orders, and can do a lot of twists on espresso which you would never see in a Starbucks or 1369 or .... Although a lot of things come from NYC where they are imported in quantity (Danesi), there still are some little importers locally which bring in coffee, gelato, and buffalo mozzarella on a regular basis providing an old world product which is pretty fresh.

                                        3. Red Hat

                                          The Sevens

                                          Beacon Hill Tavern (shudder)

                                          Polcaris in the NE

                                          Galleria Umberto

                                          There are a couple of awesome places in Roslindale whose names elude me.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                            StriperGuy, one of those would be the Pleasant Cafe on Washington Street. Not sure about the other--maybe the Corrib, which is actually in West Roxbury?

                                            1. re: hiddenboston

                                              That's both of them, WAY old school.

                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                The Pleasant Cafe in particular is one of those "WHADDYA WANT, HONEY?" type joints. Love the pizza there!

                                                  1. re: hiddenboston

                                                    Pleasant Cafe for sure, but moving a little south, try Denly's Garden in east Weymouth..pizza very similar. Mt Vernon roast beef sandwich at the bar. Steak tips at New Bridge Chelsea, almost into Everett.

                                            2. Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe in the South End has been around since 1927. Definitely an Old School lunch joint.

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: MarsGirl

                                                I would not include Amrhein's in this list. It's been around for years but has changed significantly in all areas......decor, menus, staff and prices.

                                                Neither of these places are in Boston but I would add The Wayside Inn in Sudbury and The Castle in Leicester.

                                                1. re: edgewater

                                                  I didn't mean to say prices. Of course, the prices have changed over the years.

                                                  1. re: edgewater

                                                    I agree. I still like Amrheins, but it is no longer old-school. Definitely more trendy and chic now...

                                                    1. re: hiddenboston

                                                      I agree it has changed but doesn't it still have the oldest actual bar in Boston?

                                                      1. re: ChickenBrocandZiti

                                                        They did keep that bar, yes.

                                                        I guess if I were to go there and wanted to get a hint of the old Amrheins, I'd hit it for the Sunday brunch. No loud music, not as much of a trendy scene, etc.

                                                        1. re: hiddenboston

                                                          Does Mul's still exist, in that vicinity? That place was a blast from the past back when I frequented it in the 90s.

                                                          1. re: nsenada

                                                            It sure does. I've been to Mul's a couple of times over the past year or two. Excellent pancakes there!

                                                            1. re: hiddenboston

                                                              Not sure I'd go for the brunch at Amrhein's. I was very underwhelmed the one time I tried it. Mini muffins and pastries that tasted like they came out of a box, the breakfast meats were cold etc. Hopefully it's improved since then.

                                                              1. re: hiddenboston

                                                                Mul's does exist but not in it's former state. The space has been chopped up and the electric train which ran around the ceiling has dissappeaared. So an old name but not an old place.

                                                  2. Parker House Restaurant & the last hurrah.

                                                    1. Verna's in north Cambridge. ;)

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. betty ann's in east boston and bova's in the north end.