The news of Peter Colton’s death on Sept. 3 came as yet another jarring reminder of the truly dreadful 18 months we’ve all endured since the world changed last March.
For it was here that Peter, a near-twin of movie star Ed Harris, presided over a bar located on the site of the tavern once owned by heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey. Possessed of this pedigree and boasting a decor that made it a virtual museum, The Fours more significantly reigned as a real-life version of the friendly fictional confines of TV’s “Cheers.”
Lines for Bruins and Celtics games started well before 5 and extended to closing time. “Meet me at The Fours” was a common refrain for generations of fans.
For them and legions of tourists, The Fours more than lived up to its billing from Sports Illustrated as America’s greatest sports bar. It was also the nicest and friendliest joint in town, with Peter as its gracious host.
The Fours was where the former UMass quarterback and his ace staff tended two bars, tuned 42 televisions, and knew the names of every regular they directed to their 180 seats.
I was flattered beyond words to not only have reached that status but to have also been informed of the soup of the day before I’d taken off my jacket, as he and his staff knew my lunch of choice was nearly always a bowl of soup (extra crackers), a house salad with blue cheese, and an Arnold Palmer with lemon.
I also suspected they knew that what I really craved was my sometimes selection of the more fattening Johnny Kelley or Doug Flutie sandwich, complete with one of their little trademark crocks of baked beans.
Peter made everyone feel like a big shot, afforded the same convivial greeting as that given Harry Sinden, Jeff Twiss, Amy Latimer, or any of the many regulars drawn from the Bruins, Celtics, and Boston Garden executive offices.
Peter was an early and loyal supporter of The Sports Museum, as he bought a row of tickets to 18 of the 19 Tradition galas we’ve had to date. Peter gladly shared these pricey tickets with his wait staff.
And following each Tradition, the museum and Garden crews would gather at The Fours for a victory celebration where the only clock watching was for the 1 a.m. Garden garage closing time. I’m guessing a few folks bunked in town, as members of our crew always closed the place on our best night of the year.
The Fours was also a place where you needed to be on your toes while taking care regarding what you said about the Boston Garden, Celtics, or Bruins, as the booths on either side of one’s seat were likely occupied by members of management. With my sometimes Foghorn Leghorn voice, I made sure to always look both ways before chowing down.
During Bruins training camp, you’d often see team prospects hunkered down between practice sessions. Ditto members of the visiting media and broadcasting crews, almost always in the quiet confines of the wall booths of the upstairs dining room.
It was the place where I took countless friends, family, and museum appointments, and where my wife’s colleagues had her retirement party after 35 years as a government attorney. It was also a de facto cafeteria for the Garden and many surrounding businesses.
There was never a bad or iffy meal here. It was as consistent as the likes of Legal Seafood or Grille 23 at a fraction of the cost. My son always ordered the Bobby Orr cheese steak.
The Fours was always the accommodating venue for a host of charity events, including several Sports Museum Legendary Lunches, Stand Strong Award ceremonies, Rodman Ride gatherings, Young Leaders Council meet-and-greets, alumni gatherings for my two alma maters of Bancroft School and Lawrence Academy, and a smattering of trivia contests and pregame conclaves.
While talking with his brother Richard at last week’s wake, I learned that Peter was the “quiet one” of nine Colton siblings and that his life’s work was in perfect sync with his affable personality, as he enjoyed nothing better than entertaining and helping his friends.
I also learned that when Peter and his brothers first looked at the vacant space they’d soon transform into a sports landmark, the only items left by the previous tenant were a couple of broken-down pinball machines and a framed photograph of a boxer.
The photograph was of their father, a noted Depression-era amateur whose slightly faded visage bore witness to the Jungian archetype that some things are just simply meant to be.
And for more than a generation of Bostonians, Peter Colton and his Fours staff were family, and his death, coupled with the closure of his beloved flagship on Canal Street, pulls on our heartstrings and rips a shroud from the fabric of America’s most storied sports town.
Richard Johnson is curator of The Sports Museum