The Boston restaurant scene, already devastated by the pandemic, was dealt yet another blow Thursday with the news that Kenmore Square’s Eastern Standard will not reopen.
The closure was confirmed by a representative for the restaurant, who said that sister establishments Island Creek Oyster Bar and the Hawthorne are also permanently closed. All three are within the Hotel Commonwealth. The Burlington branch of Island Creek will remain open.
Eastern Standard opened in 2005, run by restaurateur Garrett Harker. He has been locked in negotiations with UrbanMeritage, the real estate group that owns the Hotel Commonwealth’s retail properties, for years. Earlier this month, the restaurant filed a petition to transfer its liquor license to the group, appearing to seal its fate.
Landlords “don’t seem to acknowledge that there’s anything special about these restaurants,” Harker said in an interview in June.
UrbanMeritage did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The charismatic Harker was a constant presence in the bustling Eastern Standard dining room, moving easily among colorful locals, enchanted visitors, and the throngs from nearby Fenway Park. And his career often seemed charmed. Formerly the “G” in Barbara Lynch’s B&G Oysters — the duo were partners for years — he is often credited with single-handedly reviving Kenmore Square with the trio of establishments, as well as being a force in well-regarded restaurants, including Watertown’s Branch Line and the Seaport’s Row 34. But he has also suffered disappointment, including the closure of Les Sablons, a short-lived French restaurant in Harvard Square that closed in 2018.
Amid it all, Eastern Standard was something special.
The brasserie-style space was festooned with cherry-red booths and a long marble bar that held aloft local celebrities, neighborhood characters, and exhausted restaurant industry workers eager for late-night oysters and fernet. Mirrors and low lighting added to the glamour and buzz. An outdoor patio was the perfect spot to make up, break up, or people-watch. Satisfying bone marrow, steak tartare, and baked rigatoni were almost beside the point.
Next door, the 10-year-old Hawthorne was a craft cocktail pioneer, headed up by expert mixologist Jackson Cannon and styled like a proper living room. In a town known for beer bars, it stood out as a sophisticated hideaway. Island Creek Oyster Bar, meanwhile, was a festive, friendly spot for Island Creek oysters (of course), lobster rolls, and a colossal seafood casserole prepared by Jeremy Sewall, known for Brookline’s Lineage.
On a good night, the entire block pulsed with electricity. Now these restaurants join the ranks of beloved local haunts recently lost to time, from high-end landmarks such as Aujourd-Hui, L’Espalier, and Locke-Ober to memory-laced standbys such as the Border Cafe, Deep Ellum, and Gaslight.
In a 2015 appreciation of Eastern Standard, which that year marked its 10-year anniversary, Globe food critic Devra First wrote, “This is the place you come before and after the game, to celebrate a birthday, late at night, in the middle of the day, for a casual dinner, for a nice dinner, for brunch, when you’ve got kids with you, when you’ve got vegetarians with you, when someone in your party has a food allergy, when someone in your party is picky, when your nonagenarian nana and punk-rock niece are going to be celebrating at the same table, when you are by yourself and don’t want to deal with anyone at all except a bartender who will hand you a well-made cocktail and know enough to leave you alone.”
Longtime fans speculated about the business reasons for the closure but mostly expressed dismay at the news. A “Save Eastern Standard” petition is now circulating on Change.org with more than 1,200 signatures.
“In chronological order, I celebrated my 20th, my 21st, my college graduation, my first job, my 25th, my engagement, my bachelorette, my subsequent divorce, my 30th, and every other milestone I can think of here. I will pour out a champagne julep in honor of Eastern tonight,” one affectionate patron recalled.
“Kenmore was the most vibrant area of the city until the end of the ’90s, and now it is lifeless,” lamented regular customer Kenny Jervis.
Eastern Standard partner Andrew Holden even asked a longtime restaurant regular to conduct his marriage ceremony.
“This was a place that, through the staff and the guests, was about community. Staff became family; guests became family,” he said. “You felt like you were part of something bigger, a special part of Boston and beyond.”
As for Harker, he posted what many interpreted as a foreboding farewell message in May, when Eastern Standard officially marked 15 years at the dawn of the pandemic.
“I just never could imagine for a second that I wouldn’t have ES in my life,” he wrote.
However, all might not be lost. Holden is confident that the restaurant could reopen elsewhere, though he didn’t offer specifics.
“I’m optimistic that Eastern Standard would live on, at some point, down the road,” he said.