Within minutes, the gatherings began. In bars across the city, people crowded in for a drink, for company, and to watch the horror replay on the television screens.
For much of the afternoon, after the explosions rocked the city, the bar inside The Gallows in the South End was full, but silent. People came in, sat down, and stared at the television coverage of the explosions.
“No one said anything,” said assistant manager Kathy Chang, “because no one knew what to say.”
But as night fell, the mood in the city shifted, shock gave way to solace, and bars and restaurants filled up with people who just wanted to talk, to be around others, to reflect on the horror of this Marathon Monday.
“It’s human nature to want to get together and talk,” said Patty Ma, who had come to The Gallows with friends who had run the marathon.
“We should be celebrating their accomplishment, but instead we’re just trying to process.”
All over the city, watering holes became a refuge, a place where Bostonians and Marathon visitors could come together to make sense of an attack that bloodied the city on one of its proudest days.
“You just want to hear what people are talking about,” said Sarah Stowell, 32, who met a high school friend for a drink at The Sevens in Beacon Hill, to get perspective on the tragedy apart from TV news.
Many of those were just emerging from locked-down offices and hotels downtown.
With cellphone coverage sparse, many could not phone friends to find out if they were safe. So social media became their lifeline to the outside world.
Kevin Long, 30, of Boston, finished running the Marathon about eight minutes before the explosion.
Afterward he posted on his Facebook page that he was OK, and Long said he promptly “got 130 ‘likes’ on my Facebook status.”
Long was at The Gallows with his friend Jonathan Lashley, who had been standing on Boylston Street, trying to catch a glimpse of Long, when he found himself caught between the two explosions. He ran to the Charles River, shaking and nauseous. Hours later, his ears were still ringing.
“In that split second between the first explosion and when I turned around, I was trying to make excuses,’’ Lashley said.
“I thought, ‘It’s a transformer.’ Then I heard the second explosion, and we just started running.”
They had planned to meet up for a celebratory drink, but both men said that felt wrong with the explosion.
The entire day felt wrong.
When a stranger passed and congratulated Long for finishing — he was wearing a medal around his neck — they said it felt different, bigger than just finishing a marathon.
Down the bar, Tom Green was finishing a beer. A 28-year-old from Portland, Ore., he and his wife had finished their first Boston Marathon just before the explosions.
“I’m glad we were together when we finished,” he said.
There was one bright spot, he said. Everywhere he went after the explosion, there were Bostonians offering to help. “People keep asking me if I need a shower or a place to stay,” he said. A brief flash of humanity in a day of horror.Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at