Not The Fours. Anything but The Fours.
The best Boston sports bar of all time closed for good late Sunday night. The Fours on Canal Street is the latest victim of COVID-19.
Fittingly, the 2020 Boston Bruins expired in the Toronto bubble, one day after the Fours died, losing 3-2 in double OT to the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night. The Bruins for four decades were linked to the Fours like a double-strand of DNA and died appropriately just a few hours after the lights went out in the Fours.
The Closing of the Fours was inevitable. It can’t be easy to pay the rent when you own a neighborhood joint across the street from Boston Garden and you rely on crowds from Bruins games, Celtics games, and rock shows. No gatherings means no games or concerts and that meant nobody bellying up to the bar or sitting in a nice wooden booth at the two-story sports bar/restaurant in the shadow of the Causeway Street barn.
This one hurts. And not just among the thirsty/freeloading sports media crowd. The Fours was a sports bar for fans, players, coaches, owners, and team personnel. It had the greatest collection of sports memorabilia in the region.
When news broke of The Fours’s demise, Richard Johnson, curator of the New England Sports Museum said, “The apocalypse has officially begun. The beloved flagship is closing.”
Amen. Most everyone knows that The Fours was the true New England Sports Museum. It was one of the few bars in town where the daily sports section is fastened to the wall above the urinals in the men’s room.
The Fours is where Ray Bourque and Larry Bird went after games. The Fours is where Rick Pitino (gulp) hosted a giant party on the night his Celtics beat the Michael Jordan Bulls in Pitino’s first game on the Boston bench in October 1997.
It was pure Boston: local owners, local bartenders, and local waiters and waitresses who kept the conversations going, the food hot, and the glasses full.
Gino MacGregor, a part-owner and Fours bartender for 40 years, worked the day shift at the first-floor bar for the last quarter-century and scratch out a daily sports question on a chalkboard behind the bar. There was no free drink for answering correctly. Demonstrating your sports smarts was reward enough.
“I remember in the early days,’' said MacGregor. “The Bruins would practice at the Garden in the morning, come over here for a quick bite, then go off to Logan for a flight to their next game. Ray Bourque would sit over by himself in a corner. Quiet. Just have a bowl of chowder.”
Whom else did MacGregor see and serve at The Fours?
“Just too many to mention,” he said. “Bird, Orr, McHale, Gretzky, Barkley, Walton. All of them. I could start and go through all the teams and then come back and start over and there would be more.
“I remember working the bar one day and a guy comes in and sits. He looks familiar. I start chatting with him and it turns out he’s Guy Lapointe from the Canadiens. You’d never know if you didn’t start talking to him. So many guys came in.”
Nate Greenberg, a former Bruins vice president who worked for the team for 34 years, said, “There were a ton of players in there every day. It was a comfortable place to hang out. Players would connect with the fans and we never had any kind of a problem whatsoever. The NHL officials still have their pregame meal there at 12:30 on the day of the games.”
It was even a love connection. Former Bruins broadcaster Dave Goucher met his wife, Christine, when she was waitressing at The Fours.
“Big Papi was there one night,” remembers MacGregor. “We asked him to do us a favor. We asked him if he’d go into the kitchen and meet the guys back there. So many of them speak Spanish. Well, Papi want back there and spent time with them and took a picture with every one. They were in heaven.”
Paige Renaghan, a waitress at The Fours since 1987, was with 20 or more current and former employees for the final Sunday.
“It was a lot of tears, a lot of reminiscing,” said Renaghan. “Just stories after stories.”
One story from Renaghan:
“When I first started there, Larry Bird would come in and stay late until closing, and then he’d ask a bunch of us if we wanted to go for Chinese food. Of course, we went. Six or eight of us. We’d go to some place in Chinatown at, like, 3 in the morning and walk down the 12 steps and the waiters would come up and say, ‘Mr. Bird, Mr. Bird. We have your lobster.’ And Larry Bird would buy us dinner. It was fabulous.”
The Fours was family-friendly. Veteran Globie Jackie MacMullan, now a big shot at ESPN, texted me Monday and wrote, “I literally raised my kids in that place.”
Same here. Back in 1994, my wife and I took all three kids to The Fours on a weekday afternoon to watch Nancy Kerrigan compete against Oksana Baiul in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. CBS provided only tape delay for that event, and we needed to see it in real time. The Fours, of course, had the live feed from Norway.
Frannie Manganiello, another part-owner who worked at The Fours before it was even The Fours, said, “Our customers were the best. We knew some of them before they were married and later they would come in with their kids.
“We’ve been hearing from so many of them. Some of them wanted to start a GoFundMe and we said no. It was a battle. We tried to keep it going as long as we could, but this was it.”
The demise of The Fours is a death in the Boston sports family — the loss of a friend that can never be replaced. With all due respect to the Bull & Finch Pub on Beacon Street, The Fours was the true Cheers Bar of Boston. It’s where everybody knew your name and knew enough to leave you alone if your name was Larry Bird or Bobby Orr.