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Jul 3, 2009 09:21 AM

The Death of 24hr food in Boston

So, I see in today's Boston Herald that the one lone holdout of 24/7 dining in Boston, the South Street Diner, is being called before the Boston Licensing Board because of complaints from neighbors of rowdy behavior late at night from it's customers. They may be forced to close at midnight. One of the complaints is that there are long lines between 1-4 am and that disturbs the neighbors. Well, of COURSE the lines are long, it's the only darn place open!

The same thing happened in Quincy with the Ihop here, that used to be 24/7 and was forced to close down at midnight now. My favorite 24 hour go-to spot, Bova's Bakery, also was forced to stop serving food after midnight.

What is it about Boston, that we can't manage to have 24 hour restaurants? Other places have 24 hour Waffle Houses, IHop's, Diners of all shapes and sizes. Yet here in Boston, 24 hour dining is equivalent to inciting mob rule. Do other cities just put up with the rowdies who come out late at night? Are Bostonians just incapable of decent behavior when they are tired and cranky and hungry?

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  1. Part of a continuum of things that make Boston less than world class: oppression of street carts, public transit closing before bars do, blue-law early closing times, etc.

    I guess I don't understand the neighbors: there have been 24-hour places on that corner for many years, and as part of a handful of overnight places obviously attracts a lot of overserved customers. Did you not do your homework before you moved there? Because that is not something new on that block. I can understand the objection to a new place getting a late-night license next door, but if it was there before, how can you complain about it now?

    10 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Dollars to doughnuts it's some newer residents with an overly developed sense of entitlement making a big fuss. On such cases, local governments often give in to a vocal minority just to get rid of the constant compaining.

      Though I've lived here more than half my life, as a native of the metropolitan NYC area, I've always found Boston to be something of a bush-league backwater as far as amenities and convenience are concerned.

      1. re: greygarious

        So I guess my question is, in NYC are the late night crowds more well behaved than they are here? The reason that seems to come up all the time for not being open, is that the late night crowds are drunks and rowdies and cause trouble, calls to the police, etc.

        Is it that "regular" Bostonians go to bed early, leaving only college students and punks out late? Or do the places in NYC just deal with the trouble differently? I know when I've been out after 1 or 2 am in NYC, the restaurants all seem to be crowded with calm, rational people and I don't see a lot of the type of behavior that seems to be prevalent with the late crowds here.

        1. re: mwk

          Perhaps the concentration of students is a higher percentage of the Boston/Cambridge area than in larger NYC. I was never a late-nighter in either, so have no first-hand experience. I do remember, maybe 20 yrs ago, going to a performance of The Messiah with a friend. We hadn't had dinner, and were famished at 11 when it ended. We walked past shuttered restaurants for quite some time before finding a bar where we could get a few tidbits. All I remember is the blister on my big toe. My generalization was as much about public transportation and variety of merchandise and restaurants than their hours.

          1. re: mwk

            NYC is louder and the expectations are that there will be noise. Most businesses are located below housing so there's always some noise.

            1. re: lergnom

              it's also much more densely populated, and the mix of residential and retail is quite different than here. no, i do not think new yorkers are inherently better behaved than bostonians.

              certain neighborhoods in manhattan, like the meat-packing district (and the village and soho long before that), are getting the same social pressure from newer, wealthier residents that are being brought to force change in places like the leather district here.

              if you're spending millions on your condo, you don't want drunks tossing cookies on your front steps.

              but with the mbta stopping at midnight and most bars closing between 12 and 2, there really aren't all that many peeps out there looking to eat something that doesn't come off a sausage cart.

              there was an article a while back that interviewed a fair number of owners of late-night eateries (moon villa among them) and they all said they were rolling back their hours because the demand was no longer there. this was well before the crash, so not economy-related.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                My point is that if you don't want drunks tossing their cookies on your front steps, maybe you shouldn't be buying a condo near a 24-hour eatery that has been in the neighborhood decades before you thought about buying there.

                It seems like very poor planning at best (failure to investigate the neighborhood thoroughly before you plunk down millions to buy a condo), and at worst a grossly exaggerated sense of entitlement, that a neighborhood must morph to suit the needs of a few well-heeled newcomers, and the whole city lose one its few 24-hour eateries in the process.


                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  mc-- i don't disagree, but from what i've seen living in boston so many years, we are in the minority. i bought a pricey condo a few years back. a storefront that had been vacant and dilapidated got approved to house a burger king. people in my building went insane -- like a triple x theater was opening up, for pete's sake. (btw, that bk is a 10-minute walk from my building. not next door.)

                  i LIKE that i live in a very mixed neighborhood. not everybody is that open-minded.

                  you've seen it in the north end and the south end. the new money pushes out the quirky old standards. yes, i hate it. it's the malling of america. but it's hardly a new phenomenon.

          2. re: greygarious

            the population and demographic of a place like the north end was stable for a very long time. i wonder how many people who now live within earshot of bova's lived there 5 or 10 years ago? it had been open 24 hours for like 80 years.

            1. re: greygarious

              Similarly, as someone who grew up along the Pacific but has lived much elsewhere, I have found every other body of water to be small by comparison.

              1. re: greygarious

                I totally agree with greygarious. Ten or 15 years ago it wasn't so chic to live in the Leather District area. Now that they've developed high-end loft condos, rich people moved in and expect it to be silent at night, just as it was for them when they lived in the suburbs.

                The exact same thing happened to Bova's.

                It's totally asinine that we can't have 24-hour options in the city. Let alone for the partying crowd, what about 3rd-shifters who want to be able to get something to eat in public?

                The only place Bostonians will allow to be open 24 hours is Dunkin-freakin-Donuts. And that's a sad state of affairs.

            2. As a recent import (circa yesterday) this is distressing news. Does Boston not at least have the usual complement of greasy diners and Korean BBQ joints?

              30 Replies
              1. re: Dmnkly


                Boston has long been a city of larks, not owls, and is still biased towards larks - it's hard to overcome centuries of local culture quickly. I recall working as a lawyer in the 1980s where at least half of my colleagues were in the office by 7AM, trying to leave by 7 or 8PM. Meanwhile, our counterparts on deals in NY would not start work until some time after 10AM, and try to impress us that they were still working 12 hours later. We were not impressed, but they were impressed with themselves. Also, while Boston has its own local bar culture, whatever dance club culture it had around the time of World War 2 withered relatively quickly - going out for extended drinks and dancing is viewed largely as something students and those who are resisting adulthood do, so the needs surrounding that are not cultivated. This is probably reinforced by the fact that ice and snow make life unpredictable here from December through March.

                When I started a new job 4 years ago, I was getting up at by 4 to go for a 2 mile walk before going for a 2K swim before getting into the office, and I was not alone walking around my local park after 4AM in the morning.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Beantown after dark has been downhill since Buzzy's Roast Beef on Storrow Drive closed. Wher else could one get a great potato knish and RB sandwich in the middle of the night?

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Hey, I still miss Mondo's. Now THAT was a classic all-night diner!

                    1. re: BobB

                      Bob, I was trying to remember that name! Was there is everything from wet swim suits to formal attire.

                      1. re: BobB

                        Was that the place on Essex Street that served the turkey dinners all day long - or am I mixing it up with another joint that was truly unique..?

                        1. re: Northender

                          No, Mondo's was down in Haymarket, nestled in among the butcher shops, before the area was cleaned up and turned into Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

                          You might be thinking of the Essex Deli, at the corner of Essex and Washington. My mother used to take me there for lunch after we went shopping at Jordan Marsh - about 50 years ago.

                          1. re: BobB

                            Thanks, I now remember Mondo's. The place I was thinking about was sometimes referred to as "The hole in the wall deli". It was on Essex Street but probalbly down from Kingston Street. It looked more like a kitchen than anything else - but they would serve fresh turkey dinners for " as long as they lasted" for very short money. This dates back to the late 1970's or very early 1980's.

                            1. re: Northender

                              I think the Essex Deli was gone by then - I wasn't kidding with the "50 years ago" reference, my memories of the place are from the late '50s and early '60s.

                              1. re: Northender

                                There was an actual deli in that area called The Hole in the Wall. That's what they had - a very large service window that opened directly onto the street. You stood in line, ordered your deli sandwich, and ate it somewhere else. They briefly added an indoor counter and dining room, but it didn't last. It was probably the ultra-low overhead of the take-out window that allowed them to give such fantastic values.

                                1. re: peregrine

                                  There was also a "Hole in the Wall Deli" on Arch part of the space that is now the "back" of Elephant and Castle...very good sandwiches..late 70s-early 80s

                                  They moved to 125 Summer; but didn't succceed there.

                          2. re: BobB

                            Here's a little blurb from the Phoenix about Mondo's: " After midnight, you could get breakfast all night at a colorful spot in the central meat market called Mondo’s. (Mondo’s clientele of night-owl students, taxi drivers, artists, and prostitutes has never been reassembled, but its collection of amateur nude oil paintings was a precursor to the Museum of Bad Art)."

                            1. re: Taralli

                              Sounds like a plaintive wail for a reunion, with body paint.

                              1. re: Taralli

                                I recognize that quote, it's from a great article written a few years ago by Robert Nadeau on the history of the Boston food scene. The complete article is here: (and the first comment posted under it is mine).

                          3. re: Karl S

                            Well said Karl S.

                            To Veggo, Buzzy's was there, and I ate it, but I am not sure it was ever good.

                            To Dmnkly, nope, though other places in Chinatown are open late.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              He he. My view is that many places start with the intention of opening late, and it just doesn't really work, for whatever reason, be it the customers aren't there, or it is dangerous or rowdy. For example, I recall Toscanini's used to be open until 1:00 AM, and now closes at 10:00 or 11:00. Il Panino on Mass Ave in Cambridge used to open until midnight, and now closes at 10:00. Even venerable Pinocchio's in the Square has cut back its hours. At some point it used to open until 4:00 AM.

                              Obligatory Buzzy's story: Back in the mid-80's, I used to go to Buzzy's with my roomate, because we were, well, buzzed, and needed something to give consistency to the upchuck. My roomate, however, really liked Buzzy's (for some still unexplained reason defying logic). So one day he orders his usual roast beef sandwich and he tells the guy behind the counter (if I recall, it was more of a window) that he really likes the food at Buzzy's. And the guy replies, "you like this s**t?"

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                Uncle Yabai, that is just about right. Actually laughed my @... off as I read your post.. You did order through a window. At one point the whole place got a fairly major upgrade, why was a complete mystery.. The key character, was he actually Buzzy? had a huge red handlebar mustache.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  you guys are cruel. Buzzy's RB was rare, buns were not stale at 2 a.m., he had a piquant bbq sauce, knishes were hot and not overly greasy, and all the gunfire was 2 miles away in Chucktown. What more can you ask for?

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Veggo, in the final analysis I defer to you. In all fairness, can't say that actually remember too much about the food ;-) Heck, it WAS open during the day so some normal folks actually had to eat there...

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      The site is now a wing of MGH, where I had a bone graft and a tumor removed, so the location has served me well for different needs :)

                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        Maybe I'm confusing memorable experiences, but wasn't Buzzy's, in a dash of urban poetry, right outside the prison (now the Liberty hotel)?

                                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                          Veggo, hate to say it, but Uncle Yabai is right on this one. Buzzy's was right at the Charles T stop directly in front of the prison. Even today, any MGH site is at least 75 yards away. I am certain of this as a friend live right nearby in a building that was demolished for the MGH expansion. That said, I am glad that MGH has served you well.

                                          I do hope that neither of you spent any time at the Liberty Hotel's former incarnation ;-).

                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                            Those buildings were demolished (and Buzzys removed) due to the construction of the Yawkey center (I also knew someone that lived in one of those buildings). I could never remember the exact spot that Buzzy's sat on, but I believe it was in one of the paved areas in the nook between the Liberty/Yawkey.

                                            1. re: jgg13

                                              Has anyone ever seen Jay Leno talk about when he was in college (at Emerson, I think) he and his buddies would buy sandwiches at Buzzy's and then chuck them over the wall to give to the prisoners?

                                              Cruel / unusual punishment? I don't know. I'd driven down that stretch of Storrow drive countless times but never stopped at Buzzy's.

                                              1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                                I really miss it being there, although I find myself in that area less and less late at night (daytime is a different story). That being said, they had another one in central square for a bit, an actual store front. That place was no good.

                            2. re: Karl S

                              surely what Karl describes is true, to a degree, but the puritan bent actually didn't extend to drinking. twenty or thirty years ago, when people really drank you could walk into any bar in the city, including the Ritz at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and find the bar lined with people -- not just barflys either. Postwar Boston was a hard-drinking town with few exceptions. Even our politicians were known for being heavy drinkers. Tip O'Neil, Ted Kennedy, and Ray Flynn come to mind. When Ronald Reagan visited Boston he went to the Eire Pub. The most popular television show set in Boston took place in a bar. Sure, Bostonians might not have stayed up as late drinking as New Yorkers but only because they might have started drinking earlier.

                              1. re: mrwhiskers

                                Heck, Scully Square had plenty of hard core carousiing back in the day.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  All the fun stopped when Scollay Square was demolished in 1962 to make way for Government Center.....My uncle had a late night restaurant across the street from the Old Howard. LOL

                                2. re: mrwhiskers

                                  Excuse me, but I specifically noted that Boston did have and retains something of a bar culture. It's the *club* culture that withered and died here. Not with the Cocoanut Grove, perhaps, but club culture here has for a while been restricted to students, immigrants with $$, and some other groups.

                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    restricted? how so? there is still a vibrant music "club" scene here. dance clubs, not so much. i think you have a rather outdated notion of the club scene and undervalue the popularity of the area's hundreds of bars.

                                    1. re: mrwhiskers

                                      The club scene just not as much a part of non-student life as it is in New York. And again, I specifically noted that bars are more vibrant. It's not about what I "undervalue." You misread me.

                            3. What neighbors!! The highway, parking garage, or empty offices next door?? Those high rise condo tenants need to get over it, if it weren't the customers it would be traffic noise.

                              1. This passed weekend I was at this terrible terrible pizza place at 3:30 in the morning. It's right on Mass Ave and a short walk from Newbury Street (I don't recall the name, but its very close to Spike's). I had no idea when they closed but there was line out the door at 3:30 am.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Snoop37

                                  Little Steve's House of Pizza.

                                  1. re: Snoop37

                                    It's not terrible at 3:30am though ...

                                    1. re: jgg13

                                      Haha I was a little drunk, but it didn't matter in this case

                                      1. re: Snoop37

                                        It's a lot like HiFi in Central Square (which I end up near a lot more, but tend to manage to avoid it more these days). It's the sort of thing that you'd never *ever* want to get while sober, but when you're not can (but not always) hit the spot. Of course, I think a lot of things hits the spot when I've intoxicated, so that's not the best judge of things!

                                  2. This place better not suffer the fate the vocal few are trying to impose on it. This is the same kind of crap people who buy a house next to a drag strip or airport try to pull. "OMG.. the realtor didn't tell me what was on the other side of the trees. No wonder they would only show it on a Monday night!" Sorry folks, that diner has been there long before you have been and it should stay that way too.

                                    If the MBTA ever finds a way to operate a limited schedule 24 hours without going 1 trillion in debt I bet we'll see the demand for more 24 hour eating pick up. One can dream...

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: scorp508

                                      People are talking like it's a done deal but hopefully the licensing commission will see there's no reason to limit its hours. When is the meeting?

                                      1. re: Joanie

                                        Per the MenuPages Boston blog, 10am today at City Hall, Room 809A.