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Let’s Lift One High to the Olde Town

At one time, Charlestown's one square mile was home to more than 50 watering holes. Here's a look back on some of those locals, and what the neighborhood looked like back then.

I will admit that the Charlestown of today is a beautiful neighborhood with million dollar condos and multi-million dollar “town houses.” But the Charlestown I grew up in had its true beauty within the people who called it home.

With a few exceptions, it was a blue-collar, Irish Catholic neighborhood filled with hard working men and women with large families. Employment could be found in the Navy Yard, waterfront, the docks, sugar factories or with the city and state. We had our fair share of friends who entered the priesthood, convent and military, as well. So many shared experiences, our faith in God and love of politics made for a close-knit neighborhood with lasting friendships.

Pooling all these elements together -- hardworking, Irish, politics, and perhaps the noise of their large families, the local men found relief in frequent visits to the local drinking holes. To appease this quest to wet their lips, clever entrepreneurs offered them more than 55 establishments throughout this one square mile.

In our mind’s eye, let’s stroll along the main streets of Charlestown from the 40’s to the early 60’s and reminisce on where some of these bars were located.

Within the City Square, Chelsea Street and Navy Yard Gate 1 area, we’d find the Stock Club (Hollywood Movie Theatre), the Morning Glory Café (the Glories), Murphy’s, Hill Billy, Blue Mirror, O’Neil’s Café, Tony Scalli’s, Rip MacAvoy‘s, and onto Warren Street the Spud (Big Potada), which is now the Ironside Grill.

Bunker Hill Street was home to Kelly’s and the Horseshoe (Wax Museum). Hayes Square had the Old Timers and the Point Tavern. 

Let’s skip over to Medford Street where we’d find Shorty Connolly’s Stage Coach, where a newspaper article once told of finding an alligator in the basement. There was also Scottie’s, Driscoll’s, Doherty’s, Speeds, Golden Anchor, Sports Grill, D & H (Driscoll & Hurley), later owned by Shorty Connolly, and Mystic Lounge.

The old Sullivan Square had its fair share, too, with the Mystic Café (gentlemen’s gym) and later the Town Line, owned by Peter O’Malley, and Celtic Tavern that called itself a "bistro!" 

Main Street had Pat’s Village, Shamrock Village, Old Tavern, Jim’s Tavern, Oak Tavern (corner of Oak & Main) McCarthy’s aka JJ’s, Pilsner Gardens (The German’s), the Greeks and the Alibi. Coming into Thompson Square there was the Thompson Square Tavern and Manhattan Café.

Continuing down Main toward City Square we’d find Murphy’s, the Sea Bar (next to where the new Sully’s is today). The new Sully’s took the place of Vic’s, not a bar, that was located next to Connie McCarthy’s. Back into City Square, there was the Lobster House on the “low bridge,” and at Lynde and Union Streets, (Old) Sully’s, the first “speakeasy” to get a legitimate liquor license after prohibition and Hart‘s at the Prison Point Bridge.

I also found the names of other bars, but don’t know where they were located. 

Being a young girl and later a lady who was not encouraged to enter 98 percent of these locals, I leave it up to you to figure out where they were: Donovan’s Tavern, Charlie’s Grill, Tom Casey’s, Debargo, Glynn’s Tavern, 8 Bells, Danny Kane’s, Jack’s (Jack O’Brien), Speeds, Charlie’s Deli & Café and Munto’s. Then came the Front Page (now the 99) and Warren Tavern. 

Many reasons brought about the demise of these popular spots, all of which were financially successful in their day. Perhaps is was urban renewal that hit Charlestown in the 1960s, the removal of the elevated structure along Main Street or the closing of the Navy Yard in the 1970s.

Or maybe it was that many families followed the American Dream and moved to the “burbs” for that front lawn, back yard and drive way? Speculation is an individual perspective. But, needless to say, another era in Charlestown was gone and placed into the rich historical fabric of our past. 

Let’s lift one high to the olde town.

WD July 06, 2011 at 02:00 PM
In the present day, Charlestown could support at least 5 more bars and restaurants. Nowadays people have to leave the neighborhood just to get a bite or wet their whistle.
Daniel Marcella July 06, 2011 at 02:13 PM
I agree WD. The process of obtaining a liquor license in Boston is bureaucratic. From what I hear, it's easier to obtain a firearms licence.
Anne Mc Carron July 07, 2011 at 10:44 PM
I do not see Pat's Village or the Parker Tavern on the list, The Old and original Parker Tavern was on the corner of Parker and Cambridge Sts. I believe it was owned by Joe Thornton in it's later years and then moved across the St. where the Town Line/now the Tavern at the End of the World! No women were allowed into the tavern and back then men would not swear in front of women, if they did it was cause for battle.
Anne Mc Carron July 07, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Many a Friday--pay night-- night my sister Barbie ans I would be called upon to go and look into all the bars along Main St. to search for my Father and Uncle, they would stop after work for a few beers and on pay nights were apt to get involved in a card game and loose some or all of their pay..We would look into each window and then tap on the window of the bar that we found them in, they would hand us a nickle to tell my Mom that we had not found them, we would let her know and then happily go spend the nickle at Joe Bonnano's Store.
BostonMaggie July 10, 2011 at 09:48 PM
I was friendly with Earl Davis' (Matty's Horseshoe Tavern) daughter. No matter how old we were & what we ordered......we got a Coke & a bag of chips.
Harold(Hank) Sullivan August 30, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Very well known watering hole for the "Gentlemen" was Tippy's at the corner of Main/Baldwin St.. Mother's such as mine would have to dispatch their sons to retrieve the father on pay day before they emptied their pockets.. H Sullivan
Tom Delaney December 10, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I was in the Navy from 1966 to 1970 and spent a considerable amount of time in the yards in Charlestown during that period on four different ships. Consequently, I also spent a considerable amount of time in the Blue Mirror, Jacks, MacAvoys and the Big Potada. If I recall correctly, Jack’s was right outside the main gate on the opposite side of the block from the Blue Mirror. Both places could get pretty rough but the Blue Mirror wasn’t off limits when I was there. The Big Potada was a ridiculous dump. I remember that it had a bare light bulb hanging from a wire as its light fixture. Thanks for the great memories of my misspent youth in your “Town”.
Owen December 11, 2012 at 08:48 AM
I'm fine with that. I have no issues travelling that whole *gasp* mile to hit parts of the city which are defined by restaurants and bars. Seriously, we don't need Back Bay in Charlestown.
Owen December 11, 2012 at 08:57 AM
I love learning the history of wherever I'm living, and I've lived lots of places all over the country. Thanks for the article. I have some stuff to keep me busy researching and reading. I do want add a quick note, however. Charlestown is doing pretty well when it comes to what was vs. what is. My thoughts are drawn back to my old stomping grounds in Philly. If people want to see what an old Irish neighborhood looks like that's been completely destroyed, take a wander down to Kensington, or parts of South Philly. It's heart breaking. That's why I've fallen in love with Boston. It's the city I wish Philly could be.
Juli Finn October 18, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Beautifully written. My heart will always be with the only place I have ever called home, Charlestown. Even when the world looked down at all of it's townspeople because of a certain few I always knew how special the community was. While I realize that change can be good and there are a lot of positive changes there are a lot of negatives, as well. The quaint "Village" feel of the town and the fact that you live in the city without living in a concrete jungle, which was what attracted so many, has been destroyed by over development. If a beam of light hits the ground they will build on it. There are only so many people you can squeeze in to one square mile and only so many cars you can park. Charlestown is a great place with residents old and new. If only we had the elbow room we once had.

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