Getting to know you

As a regular at your favorite restaurant or bar, you really do want to go where everybody knows your name

Email|Print| Text size + By Bella English
Globe Staff / December 14, 2006

I always wanted to be a regular somewhere. To walk into a place, know the waiter by name, and simply order ‘‘the usual.’’ To have my favorite pink drink appear from out of nowhere. Like Norm and Cliff on ‘‘Cheers,’’ Rachel and her ‘‘Friends’’ at Central Perk, or Seinfeld and his coffee shop, I wanted my own hangout. Somehow, it eluded me. Sure, I have my pizza guy — the ‘‘other man’’ in my life — on speed dial, but it’s not the same.

So I decided to ask people where they went regularly and why. What brought them back again and again and again? And, being a former waitress myself, I wanted to ask establishment owners how they viewed regulars. Is there a downside? Do they expect special treatment? Freebies? (Some of my old customers sure did.)

Here’s what I learned at four places.

Dunn Gaherin’s 344 Elliot St., Newton Upper Falls. 617-527-6271.

This is the ultimate neighborhood spot, nestled right in the middle of a residential area. It’s run by Seana Gaherin and her husband, Robert Dunn, and they take their regulars seriously. There’s the woman with multiple allergies who asks for (and gets) all her meals specially fixed, sometimes gluten-free, dairy-free, or meat-free. (‘‘I don’t think she’d ask at the Capital Grille,’’ says Gaherin).

There are the weddings, births, and funerals that have been celebrated at the bar. The informal political polling during campaigns. The regulars who bring their kids regularly. Those kids who grew up and now work there.

There are also the Nathansons: Stefan and Carole and their children, Leah, 10, and Lucas, 6. They’ve been coming to Dunn Gaherin’s for their Friday night Shabbat dinner for a decade, bringing Leah, then Lucas, in infant seats. When Stefan, a lawyer, started Room to Dream Foundation, a nonprofit for sick children, he asked Seana to sit on the board. She happily complied.

On a recent Friday night, their waitress, Lily, approaches the table: ‘‘Leah, are you going to have a Shirley Temple tonight?’’ When she brings their meals, she calls each by name. ‘‘Lucas, here’s your pasta, Leah, your chicken fingers ...’’

Seana is everywhere, checking on customers, catching up with her regulars. ‘‘We know it all — husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends,’’ she says. ‘‘We know their incomes. We know their wills. We know their politics. We’ve watched their kids grow up.’’

Carole Nathanson nods over her veggie wrap. ‘‘There are things that people say here that they can’t say at home or work.’’ The Nathansons say the food and the folks keep them coming back. (They always order a killer dessert aptly named ‘‘chocolate decadence.’’)

Once, when a nearby party was tossing the F-bomb around, Seana pounced quickly, asking the men to please watch their language around the kids.

‘‘It’s the best place in the world to be a regular,’’ says Stefan, happily spooning dessert into his mouth. His daughter adds the highest compliment a 10-year-old can give: ‘‘This place is off the hook!’’

The Paramount 44 Charles St., Boston. 617-720-1152.

Stephen and Barbara Roop are exactly a seven-minute walk from their Beacon Hill home to the Paramount. They know this because for years, they have gone there nearly every day of the work week to eat. Sometimes, more than once a day. Sometimes, for all three meals.

‘‘I’m embarrassed to admit it, but we’ll sometimes go for the hat trick,’’ says Stephen Roop, an environmental consultant who is president of Beacon Hill Village. Barbara is currently running a ballot initiative that would provide affordable healthcare to all Massachusetts residents.

‘‘We’re here rain and shine,’’ says Stephen.

‘‘And dark of night,’’ adds Barbara.

Their golden lab, Max, was a regular, too, and his picture hangs prominently on a wall over the counter. He’d sit patiently, tied to a meter, while his owners ate. (The staff often gave him water and treats.)

For breakfast, it’s always the same: eggs over easy, toast, ham for Barbara, and sausage for Stephen. For lunch, it’s the Greek salad: ‘‘The best in the world,’’ says Stephen. For dinner, they’re more adventurous: They’ve tried most everything on the menu.

Along with the food, it’s the familiarity that keeps them coming back, say the Roops. ‘‘It’s the ‘Cheers’ factor: Everybody knows your name,’’ says Barbara.

Though they rarely ask for special treatment — they wait in line like everyone else — they have called ahead for a table if they’re bringing friends. ‘‘They don’t take reservations, but Michael says, ‘I’m happy to do it,’’’ says Stephen.

Michael Bissanti is the Paramount’s managing partner. ‘‘Regulars define a place; they are the personality of a place,’’ he says. ‘‘When times are tough, you can always count on them. And when they go on vacation, we notice.’’

He denies that his regulars are demanding. But he goes out of his way to make sure they get seated when it’s busy. And for them — no one else — he’ll cater. ‘‘We give them a really good deal, and we’ll deliver. It’s kind of a way of thanking them.’’

The Blarney Stone 1505 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester. 617-436-8223.

For the past five years, since the Blarney Stone was renovated, Louis Ashman has come in several times a week.

‘‘I’m in a bad mood, I come here,’’ he explains. ‘‘If I’m feeling great, I come here. If I want to celebrate, I come here. If I want to be alone, I come here.’’

He was the only customer invited to this year’s staff holiday party at the restaurant. Ashman is a proprietor’s dream, a regular who comes in and brings his friends. And to Ashman, the Blarney Stone is a second living room, the staff his family.

It’s also a second office. ‘‘If I have work to do and a big booth is empty, they’ll give it to me so I can spread my papers out,’’ says Ashman, a construction designer who lives nearby. He knows about the private lives of the waitstaff, and vice versa: ‘‘They’ve seen our Tuesday night fall-down-drunk-don’t-go-to-work-the-next-day,’’ he says with a laugh.

On a recent night, he’s in there with his sister Diana and a group of friends who are also regulars. They’ve hired waitresses Jessica and Sinead to work private parties they’ve thrown. ‘‘We know about their boyfriends, the ones that made it and the ones that didn’t,’’ says Ashman. As a gay man, Ashman appreciates the mix of people who frequent the Blarney: gay and straight, all races and incomes. ‘‘I think everyone feels welcome here,’’ he says.

Ben Johnson, the managing partner, loves his regulars. ‘‘They’re your bread and butter; they keep you going through the quiet times,’’ he says. He gives them preferences on seating and will hold tables for them, even though reservations are only for parties of eight or more. ‘‘They expect extra attention and they’ve earned it,’’ he says. ‘‘You know their drink and have it ready for them; you know when to leave the pickle off the plate.’’

And, adds Ashman, his voice dropping conspiratorially, ‘‘You can get your fries custom-made here. Ask for them extra crispy.’’ Spoken like a true regular.

Bukowski’s Tavern 50 Dalton St., Boston. 617-437-9999.

Named for the late author Charles Bukowski, this tavern honors its regulars by inducting them into ‘‘The Dead Authors Club.’’ There are about 325 members so far, each with a large beer mug inscribed with the name of their favorite author, ‘‘from William Faulkner to Richard Pryor,’’ as managing partner Susie Samowski says.

You have to order all 99 different bottles of beer within six months to qualify, and from then on, you get your mug, which hangs over the bar; 25 ounces of beer for the price of a pint. If they know you, your mug will often be filled with a draft before you can get your coat off.

Within this regular’s paradise, Will Pitt stands out. A writer who works out of his nearby apartment, Pitt uses Bukowski’s as the epicenter of his social life.

‘‘Some of my best friends I’ve met there,’’ he says. ‘‘If I spend a long day writing, I know when I walk through the door I’ll know at least five people.’’ His group sits in the right corner, just as you enter. ‘‘The staff is wonderful and the food is great,’’ he says. ‘‘The people who go there, the stories that have come out of there, the friendships that have developed. ... The place manufactures regulars.’’ His mug? It was H.L. Mencken, but a writer friend died recently, and the bar inscribed another mug for Pitt — in his friend’s name.

Pitt recently helped Ian the bartender move a bookcase into a new apartment on a fifth-floor walkup. And if ‘‘some drunken idiot got belligerent, the door guys would suddenly see 15 regulars around them, ready to help,’’ he adds.

Samowski agrees: ‘‘They’re friends as well as customers. They’ll card people for me, they’ll bus tables, they’ll pitch in. They’re so awesome. Absolutely, I go out of my way for them.’’ Is there any downside? ‘‘Sometimes they feel a little bit like they own the place,’’ she says.

And, given the amount of beer and food that Pitt and his friends have consumed over the years, they probably do own a piece.

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