Paddy’s Lunch – Where Everyone Knows Your Name
There’s a bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came. No, it’s not Cheers. That’s in Boston and no one knows your name because locals don’t ever go there, only tourists passing through on their way to Paul Revere’s House. Don’t even bother.
No, the bar I’m talking about is Paddy’s Lunch. It’s the oldest family-owned pub in Cambridge, and it first opened its doors in 1934. It’s tucked away on a side street in a residential neighborhood, and used to actually serve lunch back in the day, hence the name. It also has the honor of having been named “Best Dive Bar” by a Boston publication a few years back.
Paddy’s is one of those venerable institutions that is peculiar to big cities where the Irish first settled and never left; a carryover from the pubs of the Emerald Isle, where entire families would eat, drink, play music and just hang out. Accordingly, generations of Cambridge folk think of it as their second home.
My dear friend Kelly became a Paddy’s regular when she met and married David Cotter, a big Cambridge guy with a Paddy’s pedigree. Every weekend, they stop in, as do all of their friends. It’s tradition.
On my recent visit to Boston, I had the opportunity to go there. It’s Labor Day weekend and the weather is glorious, warm and dry. Everyone is in good spirits. The beer is flowing, there’s a game of darts going on in the back room, and a portrait of John F. Kennedy calmly surveys the scene from a place of honor above the bar.
A woman named Ellen is sitting at one of the tables by herself. Unlike most of the regulars, Ellen doesn’t drink. She’s holding a bottle of water. “I live around the corner,” she tells me, when I ask what brings her in. “And that’s my uncle.” She gestures to a black and white photo on the wall behind her head. Sooner or later, I think everyone ends up on Paddy’s wall: kids in hockey gear, girls with cheerleader pom-poms, old-timers wearing Paddy’s sweatshirts. There are Paddy’s softball games, road races, bus trips to the Connecticut casinos, and holiday parties. The tables are still covered with red, white and blue tablecloths. “I think they’re still on from the Fourth of July,” Kelly says.
I talk to more people, and it seems everyone “lives around the corner.” Do they all live with Ellen? I start snapping photos. I’m especially intrigued by the steps leading to the old cellar. I haven’t seen one in ten years, and it reminds me of the cellar beneath my home in East Boston: jutting stone walls, twisting old wooden stairs.
“Are you with the City?” someone asks with a thick Irish accent. “Excuse me?” I’m confused. “Well, you’re takin’ all these photos of the cellar. I just thought maybe you were going to report us for some violation.”
I’m talking to someone called “Irish Mike.” I guess he gets that nickname because he was actually born in Ireland. I ask him how long he’s been here. Is he a citizen yet? What does he do for a living? This elicits more suspicion. “All these questions!” he exclaims. “Are you with the police?” No, just Kelly’s nosy friend.
Every Friday night, a special drawing is held at Paddy’s, called “Chase the Ace.” Tickets are sold for $5 apiece. The winner automatically gets 10 percent of the money that has been collected. From there, you get to pull a card from the deck. If it’s an ace, you then get the whole pot. Since most people don’t pull an ace, the pot builds up every week. Tonight, there was over a thousand dollars to be had. And since I was the out-of-towner, I was elected to pull the winning ticket.
“Pull my name,” says Christine, who is sitting next to me at the bar. I actually do, believe it or not. She doesn’t get the ace, but she does buy a round for the whole bar, which probably ends up costing her more than what she won, but that’s how it’s done at Paddy’s.
I love this place. I can’t wait to go back. Everyone is real, everyone watches out for each other, and it’s one big family. And now, everyone knows my name. And I’m so glad I came.