The venerable nightlife establishments in the heart of Boylston Street are nearly aligned in a row: McGreevy’s. The Pour House. Lir. Whiskey’s.
On a typical weekend night before the pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to see each place packed with patrons or lines snaking down the block. But as bars without food service remain shuttered under Massachusetts COVID-19 reopening guidelines, all four of the popular spots — beloved among college students, working professionals, bar-hoppers, and out-of-towners alike — have announced they are closing or changing hands.
The bars on Boylston Street are encountering a phenomenon felt in other shopping and tourist meccas around the city: How do you keep up with paying the bills in a pricey neighborhood when state closure orders and decreased foot traffic have slowed business to a crawl?
Restaurant closures might not be a surprise in the pandemic: Nearly one-fifth of eateries in the state reportedly have not reopened since the nonessential business closure order given in March. But the loss of the four busy nightlife spots has generated a number of posts on social media lamenting the ghost town feel of what was Back Bay’s most heavily-trafficked bar block.
There are no bars on Boylston Street anymore.— Josh Zakim (@joshzakim) September 4, 2020
Lir just announced that they too are closing for good— BostonTweet (@BostonTweet) September 3, 2020
In the past few weeks 4 bars on Boylston have announced closures; Pour House, Whiskey's, McGreevy's & Lir. And the Cactus Club has been vacant for 6 years
Boston is in serious trouble. It will take years to recover from this pic.twitter.com/sgxIiENrQ1
Is anything going to be left on Boylston street (Boston) by June 2021?— Phillip Smyth (@PhillipSmyth) September 4, 2020
I’m a little heated they closed damn near half the boylston street bars in Copley— Jay Real Estate (@jrockwel617) September 5, 2020
It's basically last call for upper Boylston Street— William McAdoo (@TheBostonFoodie) September 4, 2020
Is there, like, a single bar left on Boylston Street now that Lir is down for the count, too?! This is crazy.— Kate Lieb (@katelieb1) September 3, 2020
The dominoes began to fall in mid-July, when longtime Whiskey’s manager Becky Caloggero confirmed the roomy sports bar’s closure to the Globe, citing increasing rents.
“It’s not how I wanted this to end,” she said.
Whiskey’s, where food specials were plenty but beer prices still settled in the $6 to $7 range, had closed when nonessential businesses were ordered to shutter. It never reopened. It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to the restaurant’s space at the corner of Boylston and Gloucester streets.
About a month later, McGreevy’s was the next to announce its closure. An Irish pub owned by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys, McGreevy’s was known for its sports bar atmosphere and an alternative music selection of rock, pop-punk, emo, and ska.
“We had 12 great years. It was an honor to be a part of unearthing such an important part of Boston baseball history. In addition to being Boston’s original baseball bar, it was the hangout for Dropkick Murphys fans. The staff, the regulars, the fans are family to us and always will be,” Casey told the Globe in August through representative Jeff Castelaz. “Rest in peace McGreevy’s: another loss at the hands of COVID.”
On Sept. 2, leaders from The Pour House posted online that ownership of the bar — which made headlines in October 2019 when Rihanna stopped by three times — would be “changing hands.” Lir followed suit a day later, saying the bar would be closing after 17 years of business.
The block where Pour House, Lir, and McGreevy’s stood soon might look different.
The owner of the buildings at 903 and 907 Boylston Street, which are the homes of Pour House and Lir, told the Globe Tuesday he is aiming to redevelop the small stretch at the heart of Boylston Street — but is also hoping to reopen Pour House this fall.
Charles M. Talanian, owner of C. Talanian Realty Co., also said he is in the process of separating from two other business partners, who had run Whiskey’s while he was in charge of Pour House.
Talanian said the leases for both Pour House and Lir would have been up in 2024, “in which case I was going to do a project,” such as an office tower or a residential mixed use development. He said he bought the Lir building about four years ago “with the idea of developing those two pieces of property.”
Talanian also said he heard that the building that housed McGreevy’s might be put up for sale soon and that it would “be worth my while to take a look at it for development.”
However, Talanian noted that the pandemic was “definitely to blame for the closures” and said that the current economic climate sped along his development plans.
“These are barrooms, not necessarily fine dining — there’s a difference,” he said of the Boylston Street spots. “They used to be congested. They used to be a drinking establishment first, and a food establishment second. They’re not the type of places that would do a big to-go menu.”
Talanian said he is interviewing architects and will soon start his project proposal, even though he doesn’t know if it will include one, two, or three buildings.
Talanian said he was unsure of what would become of the Whiskey’s space, since the building is not owned by his firm, but noted that the bar “will definitely not be reopening again.” He said he and his business partners had reached an agreement with the landlord to exit the property and close the restaurant down.
“That’s another location that has been slotted for development for many years now,” he said.
Kara Baskin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.