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Something Less Upscale

Posted by Jim Botticelli  January 27, 2014 03:11 PM

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Horse walks into a bar. Bartender goes, "Why the long face?"
The long and short answer for many Bostonians in 1996? "The Eliot Lounge is closed".

The Eliot Lounge opened up in the 30s after Prohibition. Those of a certain vintage may even recall an organ suspended above its bar. It was the kind of joint you go in for a beer and end up with a beating. For the longest time. Then in the early 70s, a 1956 Boston Marathoner by the name of Tommy Leonard began tending days. The spot became famous at its accessible location at the corner of Comm. and Mass because of this larger than life barkeep. Sports were a popular topic--after all the guy pouring was a runner--but the place ran on human energy, not a Soma-Tose line of drinkers staring at a screen. Marathoners stopped in after training and after the race. Sox pitcher Bill Lee, after losing Game 7 to the Reds in 75, famously said, "Don Gullett will go to the Hall of Fame and I will go to the Eliot Lounge".

While Tommy Leonard may have been known as a larger than life personality, he was reputed to be less exemplary producing exotic libations. The beer and shot combo favored by many a hard boiled bar stool owner was his specialty. To be fair to him, this was the beverage of choice. Those training for marathon running don't knock back high balls. Nevertheless, in its day, the lounge offered its patrons a variety of concoctions to which this 1947 menu will attest. Were they popular? No, but you could get them. Even the Boston original, the Ward 8, reported on previously in this blog.
The 100th running of the Boston Marathon was the Eliot's swan song. That came nearly 18 years ago in 1996 much to the chagrin of its patrons and friends.

"They wanted something a little more upscale," Eliot manager Doug Brown answered to all the 'whys' shouted in his direction. Upscale. The mantra of the age we live in. A mantra that began when brick was discovered behind plaster walls. When hardwood was found under linoleum and carpets. When restoration was a fresh idea to enhance what we already had and hadn't yet discovered. It started with all the right motives. But it did in Dirty Old Boston. And it killed the Eliot.

The Lounge's legacy is intact. Tommy Leonard has an overpass named after him. There are still many Marathoners, fans and regulars with stories to tell. The suspended organ may be the Greatest Generation's memory but for many Baby Boomers, Busters and Blank Generation types the Eliot Lounge had no match.
EL+match.jpgThanks for filling in the holes to Charles Pierce and Alan Greenberg

Please 'like' us on Facebook as Dirty Old Boston. Dirty Old Boston, the book, coming in 2014

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Jim Botticelli, a 1976 Northeastern University graduate, is a retired Boston Public Schools teacher. In college, he drove a cab and learned the city's cow paths. An avid collector of More »

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