Doyle’s Cafe, the shuttered Jamaica Plain landmark, let former patrons and employees in one last time Wednesday to auction off whatever memorabilia could be pried from its storied walls. But the event, which drew hundreds of people, felt more like a wake.
The only thing missing was a body.
“I came to close out a chapter of history. I don’t think I could afford any of this,” said Sally Johnson, who was a patron of Doyle’s for about 40 years. Both of her sons had their first legal drinks there.
She said if the price was reasonable, she might try to obtain Doyle’s Boston Magazine Best of Boston awards for 1986 and 1989 — the years her children were born.
Some people came to look around and reminisce; others were there to put in bids for wall art, photographs, furniture, and even kitchen gear. Several objects went for significant sums of money.
Jerry O’Connor won a hot round of bidding for a framed plan of Franklin Park that hung high on the wall in one of the tavern’s dining rooms. The Jamaica Plain resident wound up paying $600 to take the relic to his home, which is near the park.
“It‘s going to be a good, new long-term home for an important piece of neighborhood memorabilia,” he said.
Doyle’s stopped pouring beers and serving food on Oct. 26, breaking the hearts of many around Boston. The institution, which opened in 1882, had long been a popular gathering place, especially for the Boston political set.
The walls were lined with political posters (heavy on the Kennedys), headshots (every Boston mayor you can think of), news clippings (including multiple Globe features), and Irish cultural references (such as a chalk portrait of statesman Michael Collins). All of the items were for sale.
Many visitors Wednesday had some kind of personal connection to the objects they were seeking.
Andy Murphy lingered before the bidding began in a corner where there was a black-and-white photo of his grandfather — also named Andrew Murphy — standing behind the bar he tended down the street years ago.
The picture was part of a set of seven, so even if he didn’t win the bidding, Murphy said he would try to at least get the one picture from the eventual buyer. He said he was sorry to see Doyle’s go. But given how redevelopment is causing neighborhood property values to skyrocket, Murphy said, it seemed inevitable.
“When you see all the changes Forest Hills is going through, it’s time for something different,” he said. “Whether it’s a good change, we’ll see in a few years.”
When owner Gerry Burke Jr. announced in September that Doyle’s was closing, he said it was a difficult decision but the right one given the economics.
“The real estate in JP is as high as it’s going to get, and I can’t afford to stay here any more,” he said at the time, referring to the high price the property is likely to fetch from a developer. Doyle’s sold its liquor license, too — to Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in the Seaport District.
Outside the bar Wednesday, a few hard-core former patrons sought to offer a thread of hope for keeping Doyle’s alive in some firm.
Allan Ihrer, who lives nearby, was circulating a petition asking the city to find a way to keep the location as a restaurant and community gathering place. By morning, more than 2,200 people had signed onto an online version of the request.
Nearby, representatives from the Boston Public Library were asking people to leave behind whatever they bought so the library could digitize the historical items being taken away.
Someday, Ihrer hopes, reproductions of the memorabilia might resume their places on the wall of a reborn tavern. But he said the importance of the institution goes well beyond its decor.
“It’s the spirit of the place,” he said. “It’s not just the things on the walls.”