The announcement that Durgin-Park, a restaurant in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, would close on January 12 came as no surprise, despite its more than 190 years of existence. For many years, the food had not been the attraction in the venerable institution, known for its long tables and sometimes surly waitstaff. The closing did prompt some notable life flashbacks, beginning at age 12, with accompanying sadness.
Our first family trip to Boston in 1961 followed both a summer at camp and a stop for a first-time visit to New York City. Among the things I remember from the trip were my first game at Fenway Park and dinners at Locke-Ober (a fancy restaurant that operated from 1875 to 2012) and Durgin-Park. I’m not sure what I ate other than sampling somebody’s Indian pudding but was impressed by the setting not seen back home.
Durgin-Park (Eric Hurwitz photo)
Durgin-Park became a popular spot for family and pregame dining after I transferred to Boston University in September 1968. My parents paid a visit that fall and took my brother Frank (up from Wesleyan), Richard Friedman (Harvard), Jim Finder and Jim Wolfson (MIT) and me to dinner. My father, a brilliant CPA and company CFO, didn’t realize the restaurant was cash-only and had to borrow from us students to pay the bill. I don’t know if I’d ever seen him so embarrassed. Before a Celtics game on November 22, Frank and I ran into Barbara Fulton, who we’d known since age 6, and her family there. She was very excited that the Beatles White Album had come out that day; it was news to us.
Frank and I during our parents' Boston visit, 1968
During the 1968 – 1969 NBA season, I attended several Celtics games and, with the restaurant a short walk from the Boston Garden, Durgin-Park became a frequent dining spot. A frugal evening consisted of taking the train from Kenmore Square to the Haymarket station (25 cents each way), a plate of fried oysters (99 cents) and water (free) and a ticket in the Garden’s balcony (probably $2.50). I didn’t attend another Celtics game after that season, in which the Celtics won its 11th NBA championship in 13 seasons after finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference behind the Bullets, 76ers and Knicks. My last game was the sixth and final game of the Eastern Conference finals, when a last-minute improbable bank shot from behind the free-throw line by Satch Sanders put the game out of reach.
Another 20+ years would elapse before my next dinner at Durgin-Park, this time with Janet and Marisa. The evening was a disappointment for all. Perhaps I’d built up the experience too much, for all of us found the food mediocre at best. At about the same time, Frank and family made a similar trip to Boston, at which our mother joined them. She too reported that the dinner was less than notable. Frank ordered Indian pudding, which my mother gave a succinct one-word description of the dish based on color and consistency. He didn’t like it either.
Boston Garden during our 1992 visit
My final visit on March 22, 2007, would later produce some bizarre results. I’d flown into Boston that morning to see the evening’s Canadiens - Bruins game for what was expected to be the 34th and last season in the Bruins front office for my friend Nate Greenberg. With time to kill between lunch and the game, I wandered over to the Quincy Market. Spotting Durgin-Park, I climbed the steps to take a look . . . but not to dine, for dinner would be in the Garden’s dining room before the game. My first glimpse was a completely empty room, which was probably used during busy periods and/or parties. The main dining room was sparsely filled, even for the early hour. The whole scene looked rather depressing; a waitress walking by with a plate of frankfurters and baked beans, both of which looked like they’d been heated up in respective pots, only contributed to my sadness.
TD Garden March 22, 2007
After arriving home, I wrote a review, stating up front that I did not dine that evening but had a long history there, in a food blog (possibly Road Food). The subsequent comments fell just short of death threats; evidently Durgin-Park had devotees who would brook no criticism of the establishment. One person went far enough to find out I live in Chicago, then stated that because the property owner, General Growth Properties, was headquartered here that I was probably paid by GGP for the bad review in order to help them get Durgin-Park to leave. Finally, I complained to the blog owners, who blocked further comments and deleted all the others.
Durgin-Park (Katie Chudy photo)
My criticisms aside, it’s sad to see an institution – in this case a rather unique one – pass into history. The tourists will no longer climb the stairs to sample the Yankee pot roast, prime rib or Indian pudding. A plate of fried oysters was $14.95, twice the rate of inflation. Maybe I would have ordered them again anyway; some memories are priceless.