How Boston Has Started to Lose Its Iconic Eateries- a Crisis Exacerbated by COVID 19

This old charming city has seen its considerable restaurant legacy diminish.. even before COVID Photo by Tiffany Chan on Unsplash

Boston, a relatively small but historic and culturally rich city by the bay, has long been blessed with a fertile culinary tradition. Just as Chicago has deep dish pizza, and the San Francisco dining experience is defined by the iconic dungeness crab, Boston has New England Clam Chowder (Chowdah, as pronounced in the distinctive local accent). Nevertheless, the coastal town has a lot more than fresh seafood to offer, from the authentic Italian eateries in its storied little Italy the North End (the original home of the Prince Spaghetti company and their legendary commercial), to its bustling Chinatown and plentiful Irish pubs, Boston is a foodie paradise to rival bigger East Coast metropolises like New York and Philadelphia.

In recent years, however, as Boston rents have skyrocketed, and it finds itself in the upper echelon among the nation´s most prohibitively expensive cities, alongside New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Seattle, some of the city´s most durable institutions have shockingly closed. For many years, Beantown could boast three of the oldest active restaurants in America- Union Oyster House and Durgin Park, which specialized in seafood and Ÿankee Cooking¨ respectively, and Jacob Wirth, a German restaurant and bar. These restaurants go back nearly two centuries and were all true historical landmarks, not merely eating establishments.

Boston Closings Pre-Corona

In the last couple years, even before Coronavirus reared its ugly head and started to endanger a plethora of long-running businesses across the globe, two of the three restaurants found themselves shuttered. Durgin Park, located smack dab in the center of Faneuil Hall, Boston´s infinitely smaller, more humble equivalent of Times Square or Hollywood Boulevard, served up old-fashioned comfort food like prime rib and Indian pudding, literally during a time span of several lifetimes, as the infamously surly waitresses curtly attended customers who were forced to socialize due to the communal seating. Before the eatery´s sudden closing in the winter of 2019, a New York company had bought it out, and it focused solely on the bottom line, rather than the irreparable damage that removing such an indispensable part of the city´s fabric would surely cause.

A year earlier, Jacob Wirth was severely damaged in a fire, and due to economic restraints in repairing and maintaining a building in such a costly city, it has yet to reopen. The COVID 19 pandemic naturally has only made the prospects of re-opening in the near future that much more improbable. With all these ominous signs, it was clear that Boston was becoming like its flashier rival New York, which has lost such cultural institutions as the Carnegie Deli and the Greenwich Village mecca of music Bleeker Bob Records in recent years, also due to greedy landlords and the impossible rent demands that contemporary urban America has faced in the 21st century.

The Unique Vulnerabilities Possessed by Boston Restaurants in a Pandemic

Boston´s foodie paradise the North End has tried hard to adapt to the new Corona-induced normal by Akhil Dakinedi on Unsplash

As Coronavirus began to hit with a vengeance in the U.S. in early March, the entire Boston restaurant industry soon found itself under siege. Boston as a city boasts some peculiarities that have truly worsened the economic crisis experienced by restaurants throughout the metropolitan area. Boston, more than perhaps any city in the United States, is deeply linked to its student population, as thousands of young people descend upon BU and BC, Harvard and MIT, Northeastern, Brandeis, and Tufts every year. As students were forced to return home, and restaurants needed to rely on take out and delivery to survive, a huge void was created. There are few demographics more well-suited to take out than college students, and in a flash, hundreds of desperate restaurants lost their most reliable client base.

Some neighborhoods, likewise, are simply not well-equipped for the new normality. The high-end avenue of Newbury Street and the previously mentioned North End have long offered iconic outdoor spots, and for that reason these areas have been able to adapt to the new emphasis on open-air seating. Chinatown, with tiny, cramped restaurants lining out-of-the way streets, has been hammered during these atypical times. As university-related clusters have tainted attempted re-openings at local schools like BU, it is highly likely that these unique challenges will continue to hinder the ability of countless local dining establishments to stay afloat.

Entertainment and Restaurants, Going Down Together

Just as Boston´s reliance on university students as avid customers has been severely compromised this year, the city´s recreation and entertainment venues´ prolonged closing has also inevitably impacted the financial viability of adjacent restaurants and pubs. As the Celtics play in Orlando´s bubble, the Bruins are off in Canada, and the Red Sox play socially distanced games at Fenway Park without fans, the multitude of sports-centric bars and eateries in the city perhaps have born the biggest burden. Just this week, The Fours, a Boston Garden institution visited by personnel of the Bruins and Celtics, and once named the best sports bar in America by none other than Sports Illustrated, announced its closure. With the Garden closed to sporting events until further notice, there has been less and less reason to gather at the memorabilia decked-pub.

Similarly, as operas, theater companies, and similarly highbrow cultural institutions have also been on hiatus, restaurants surrounding the city´s entertainment district have always found themselves in a significant financial hole. Concerts and plays are likely to be on an indefinite hiatus as the pandemic rages on with no end in sight

What´s Next for City Landmarks?

A more than 100 year landmark- will it always remain? by Robert F. on Unsplash

In trendy coastal cities like Boston and San Francisco, or New York and Los Angeles, the exponential increase in cost of living and a newfound focus on flashy trends have pushed out historic landmarks with storied histories. As previously noted in an earlier article, San Francisco´s legendary paperback shrine City Lights has been endangered due to COVID, while Hollywood´s towering mecca of music Amoeba has been forced to abandon its Sunset Boulevard location. The crisis of landlords dictating what should be preserved and what can be considered expendable will only deepen as the pandemic ruins the economy, and in future years, it is likely that even the most vaunted cultural institutions will disappear one by one.

It is difficult to imagine the United States without Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, the 42nd Street Library or Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Space Needle or The Liberty Bell. But in these days where money and technology are king, and history is taken for granted, every iconic site and monument is at risk, even if the Pandemic ends earlier than expected.

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