Support the news

Sharing A Meal, And Memories, At Boston's Closing Durgin-Park04:39
Download

Play
People entering Durgin-Park in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
People entering Durgin-Park in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Durgin-Park, the Faneuil Hall restaurant that dates back to the early 19th century, is slated to close its doors Saturday. Known for its traditional New England fare, and at times surly wait staff, patrons have been coming out in droves to show support, share memories and enjoy a final meal at the Boston institution.

Joyce Monac and her sister Ellen Cosgrove worked at Durgin-Park in the '70s, waiting tables to earn some cash for college. The two saw the news about the restaurant's closing and decided they had to meet for one final meal.

The sisters say they haven't been back to the restaurant in years, even though they both still live in the area. But as soon as they walk in and take a look around the dining room and kitchen, they notice that not much has changed. They both remember some colorful characters and a lot of hard work.

Joyce Monac, left, and her sister Ellen Cosgrove worked at Durgin-Park in the '70s. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Joyce Monac, left, and her sister Ellen Cosgrove worked at Durgin-Park in the '70s. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"Here, we had plate, plate, plate, plate," Monac says, extending her arm. "We would carry up to four plates on your arm. There was no tray, ever. With roast beef on them, a big slab of roast beef, so it was pretty heavy."

Cosgrove chimes in: "And greasy, greasy gravy. I remember I burned my hand once on the grease from the gravy."

The place is bustling during this weekday lunch hour. Strangers share a meal, sitting elbow to elbow at long dining tables covered with red-checkered table cloths. They're digging into specialty dishes like pot roast, clam chowder and baked beans. Wait staff rush back and forth, dropping off cornbread and taking orders. A woman dressed in all black comes to the table, pen and notepad in hand.

The sisters explain they used to work here.

"Did you? When? Who'd you work for?"

Gina Schertzer, the head waitress, pulls up a chair and sits down to reminisce.

Head waitress Gina Schertzer chats with former waitress Joyce Monac. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Head waitress Gina Schertzer chats with former waitress Joyce Monac. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

She says she's seen a few changes in ownership and management over the years. But she wasn't ready for the news of the closing. To her, and so many others, this place is more than a restaurant.

In 2007, Durgin-Park was purchased by New York-based Ark Restaurants. The company has reportedly been experiencing financial strain related to declining customers at Durgin-Park and Massachusetts' increase in minimum wage.

Schertzer, for her part, is hoping there may be a mystery buyer lurking in the wings, someone who can look beyond the dollars and cents. And she's not alone.

Mark White, son of the late Boston Mayor Kevin White, is sitting down for a cup of coffee. He says there aren't many dining establishments like Durgin-Park left in Boston, places that tie us to the city's history.

"When you have an institution that's around this long, I know the business cycles come and go, but you should think twice," White says.

Three generations. Head waitress Gina Schertzer takes an order from her son Steven, his daughter Taylor and Mark White, son of the former Boston mayor. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Three generations. Head waitress Gina Schertzer takes an order from her son Steven, his daughter Taylor and Mark White, son of the former Boston mayor. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

In 1827, John Durgin, Eldridge Park and John Chandler bought what was then a rough and tumble dining hall. Chandler named the place Durgin-Park in 1877 after both his partners passed away. And for the last 192 years, locals and visitors to Boston have dined here.

"There should be a conversation, more than the last dime, when you have something like this that's so unique to the city. There's a thousand restaurants, right? They're all new and they're great. But there aren't too many restaurants like this," White says.

There's an intangible quality to a place like Durgin-Park. Maybe it's the old newspaper articles hanging on the walls or the pictures of wait staff who have come and gone over the restaurant's long history. It feels authentic. And for Monac, the place feels like family. She remembers an old sign that used to read: Your grandfather ate here.

"Your grandfather did eat here, literally. And your grandparents would talk about it, and your parents would take you here and we didn't have any other restaurant we felt that way about," she says.

Monac and her sister step away from the table and poke around the dining room one more time, on the hunt for more memories. Schertzer, the head waitress, continues her rounds, still taking orders and delivering warm meals.

This segment aired on January 11, 2019.

Related:

Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is a reporter representing WBUR on a team of public radio station journalists in the New England News Collaborative.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news