Even though he now owns The Galway House in Jamaica Plain, Ed Lanzillo considers himself the longest-tenured regular of the bar, a local institution since 1962. “Before I was old enough to drink I was hanging around here,” says the 62-year-old, who grew up in the neighborhood. Lanzillo started managing the food operation in 1980 and then six years ago he became sole owner. “The previous owner, he was Italian, as am I, and he just named it [The Galway House] because back then all the bars had an Irish name and it just stuck,” he says. “So when I took it over, someone said, ‘Are you going to change the name?’ And I said, ‘Of course I’m not. We’re pretty famous.’ ”
Q. Do any regulars go as far back as you?
A. I’ve been through all of it so I’ve seen generations. We had the parents here and now their kids are here. There’s almost two different kinds of businesses. We have the blue hairs in the afternoons — the older people, working class — and then at night we have the neon blue kids with the [tattoos], hipsters if they want to call them that. The jukebox goes on and it’s like two different worlds.
Q. How do those crowds interact?
A. It’s fine because the bartenders cross it over. Everybody gets along just fine. It’s Jamaica Plain, you either accept it or you’re gone, know what I mean? It’s always been a pretty tight neighborhood. They’re just different neighbors now. There’s the ink kids and the non-ink kids and the rap kids, and they all just seem to get along. It probably ends up being what you allow. I tell them, here, this is the United Nations. There’s no trouble in here. There’s no fights, there’s no [problems], we stop it right off the bat. Everybody just seems to get along. They’ll be dancing at the end of the night with the jukebox going.
Q. Do you see a difference in what the younger crowd drinks as opposed to your older regulars?
A. Oh yeah, [Pabst Blue Ribbon] is a generational thing. It’s a gimmick thing, no advertising but merchandising. You don’t see them on TV and they came from a dead company to being pretty big. It’s certainly my biggest selling draft beer and while it’s the cheapest beer, [younger customers] drink shots of Patron later or Fernet, high-end liquor. So it isn’t the price, I think it’s just their way of saying, “[Screw] Budweiser and the big corporations.” But some of the real beer foodies know every draft, we have some high-end draft beers, and they know everything about them.
Q. Since you’re friends with your regulars, how do you gently cut someone off you’re close with?
A. Oh, just tell them, you’ve had enough, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll give you a ride home. I’ll drive anybody home from my bar. I’m not going to let anybody fall or get jumped. I mean, this ain’t Disneyland out here. You’re walking down the street alone, you’re a target anywhere. But absolutely, one of my customers, I’ll drive anybody home, anytime.
Q. You’re also the original sponsor of the Jamaica Plain Music Festival, which draws thousands each summer. How do you stay connected with the neighborhood as it changes?
A. The [festival] guys were sitting here going, “Oh, we’d like to get a music thing going,” and I just threw them a blank check and said, here, go get it. It was certainly my pleasure. You got to give it back. That’s just my way of thinking. A lot of people throw that out there just for mouth service, but I don’t. I take care of what charities I do. I’ll go around and pick up somebody’s dinner that I don’t know and those people will come back forever. Times are tough, people are hurting. I grew up with these people. I grew up with their parents. I’m here for the long haul and that’s good. I like hanging out, it keeps me young. I’m 62 and I feel 61.