BOSTON — Just to be clear: Eddie Contilli loved the old Maverick Square as much as the next guy. But this granite box of a bar he bought was practically a hundred years old. It needed some work. The restrooms seemed like a logical place to start. And then the Saturday crowd weighed in.
“They don’t like change,” said Contilli, a retired Boston police officer and the owner of Eddie C’s, who grew up in a housing project around the corner along with the Saturday crowd. “But common sense and common decency won out.”
At other hours, on other days, Eddie C’s in Maverick Square belongs to the new mix of the neighborhood — the recent immigrants, the yuppies, the people passing through on their way to and from work. But Saturday afternoons are Italian and Irish, looking like they never left.
There’s Ercolino, cooking behind the bar; and Skippy in the corner, playing cards; and Blackie by the front door with Joe D., tracking the races on the TV.
“They’ve been coming here since the get-go,” said Jennie Cherry, 61, a homemaker turned bartender who was raised in East Boston. “Since they were of drinking age, or not of drinking age.”
Back then, it was Vincent’s BBQ. But way back, before anyone in the Saturday crowd was born, it was built as a bank. That was when the Irish were the newest immigrants, pulled into East Boston by the promise of the shipbuilding trades.
The Jews came next, then the Italians and now the Central and South Americans. According to recent census data, about 54 percent of East Boston residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.
“It’s a portal,” said John Iannelli, 65, a retired contractor who plays cards at Eddie C’s on Saturdays. “Who knows who it’ll be next?”
For now, the square is bustling around a Spanish-speaking economy — restaurants, money transfer stations, a bakery, a barbershop. And then there is Eddie C’s, known in some circles as a dive bar, with a cardboard sign in its window that reads: “Eddie’s Italian Kitchen.”
Inside, Contilli’s childhood friend, Eddie “Ercolino” Grieco, 74, is working his pans in a cramped corner by the window. Any other day he may recommend a chicken cutlet. But tripe is his Saturday specialty, an Italian delicacy everyone should try.
“What the people like about my tripe,” he says, “is the gravy.”
Sitting in the corner, a paper napkin at his neck, Albert “Skippy” Brogna, 70, is mopping it up with bread. Most days in Maverick, he feels like it’s someone else’s square. Can’t speak the language. Doesn’t like the food.
But Saturday afternoons, he walks over from Havre Street, sits on the wooden bench by the table in the back and plays cards for five hours. Same players, same seats, same games they grew up with: whist, gin, the occasional round of scopa. Behind him, framed photos of Babe Ruth and Rocky Marciano hang on the dark green wall.
“My whole roots are here,” he says.
It’s hard to imagine now, with tens of thousands of commuters streaming in and out of a renovated Maverick Station every day, but once there was a trolley running from here to Revere Beach, and a chicken yard at the edge of the square, and a man with a team of horses selling rags in the street.
“Remember Joe the crab guy, with the pushcart?” says Angelo “Blackie” Tirone, 78.
Blackie moved out of the neighborhood decades ago, long before young professionals started buying waterfront condos and ethnic restaurants started filling in the square. But every week, after the racetrack, he and Joe D. come back. Their place today is a booth by the door.
All around them, the usual day scene at Eddie C’s is unfolding. The jukebox is playing Frank Sinatra. The bartender is talking to her regulars at the end of the bar.
On any given day, Eddie C’s welcomes all kinds. There are people waiting at the door when the bar opens at 8 a.m., fresh off the T from the night shift: a beer, a shot, a flip through the paper, and off they head to home. And then there are hard-partying people who stumble off the T for last call. They dance; they mix with the locals; they review the whole thing on Yelp as an “adventure.”
The neighborhood has a safer reputation now, and tourists sometimes pass through. A Canadian couple wandered in the other day and called the bar “quaint.” The new black awnings drew them in. Then, something nice happened: a regular abandoned his stool to make room for Eric Billings’ wife.
“It’s like ‘Cheers,’” said Cathy Billings.
Time and again, the bartenders have seen it happen: Someone wanders in, and ends up coming back for years. That’s how it happened for Efrin Rodrigues, 37, of Lynn. Several days a week now, when his shift at an airport hotel is done, he sits at the bar with the other regulars, practicing his English and teaching a few words of Spanish to anyone who wants to learn.
“I feel happy here,” he says. “Happy and safe.”
None of this interests the Saturday crowd much. They see it as a United Nations type of situation, with the Colombians and the Moroccans and the El Salvadorans and the Algerians. As long as they’re good people, who really cares. They’re here at Eddie C’s because this is where their buddy chose to open up a bar, at a time when all the old ones are gone.
At one point, there were nine sitting right on the square. In the mid 1960s, Blackie had one, and he called it Wendy’s Lounge, in honor of his daughter. He handed it over to Joe D., who ran it for a while, until it became what it is today: a Bank of America ATM station.
“That’s what happens with 80 years of change,” he said.
Give him a minute, and Blackie will set his drink aside, walk out of the bar, and down the block just to show you: all the places they used to go, from Bortolo’s to Nuno’s, to Maverick Gardens. Then he’ll walk back inside, to Eddie C’s — the last of them left.