The sun was shining, the door of the bar was open, and Sam Cooke wafted from a jukebox onto I Street in South Boston like a smooth, soft dream.
It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.
And so it will. The Quencher is closing.
The question is not why The Quencher, one of the greatest bars in the world, is closing. The question is how, in yuppified Southie, it lasted this long
It is one of the last blue-collar watering holes in Southie. A fading link to the old Southie, 28 seats stuffed into a discreet house on a quiet residential street.
I Street, near the corner of East Seventh Street, ain’t Broadway. A tall Bud will set you back $3.50. They’re charging considerably more up on Broadway, East and West, because in modern Southie there is no difference between the Lower End and the Point when it comes to prices. It’s all downtown prices.
Davy Hardy is 63 years old and lives across the street. His sister Cathy works the bar.
“I’ve been drinking here since Nino and Dodo bought the place,” Davy Hardy was saying.
Nino is Bobby Sances, Dodo is Joe Nee, and they’ve been running The Quencher since 1982. Nino knew the place because his aunt used to live in the house that became a bar a half-dozen years after Prohibition ended.
Dodo Nee trod a familiar path through Southie: Gatey (only in Southie would Gate of Heaven be reduced to Gatey), Southie High, the Marine Corps, the Post Office, the Boston Fire Department.
Nino was a firefighter, too, and a Marine before that, and he and a dozen other Southie guys, including Dodo, joined the Marines together in the summer of 1968 and left Parris Island for Vietnam.
There is a reason why the words Semper Fi are painted on the small, 4-by-4 window that looks onto I Street. When the door isn’t flung open on beautiful days like Monday, the only light that enters The Quencher enters through that window because it is an old-school bar, the complete opposite of the French door joints on Broadway where the point of being there is being seen.
At The Quencher, the point of being there is not being seen. You had to pay the bartender a buck to say “He’s not here,” when someone called on the phone. If you gave him five bucks, he’d say, “Never heard of him.”
Davy Hardy worked at the Herald and the Globe and you can tell he’s a pressman because he walks around with a folded-up Herald in his back pocket.
“I miss Puggy,” he said.
There was a black pug named Puggy who hung around the bar. Like many a wife who called looking for a tardy husband, Puggy’s owners on East Seventh would call looking for him, and whoever was working told Puggy to go home. Unlike some of the other regulars, Puggy had to be told only once.
The Quencher almost got famous a couple of years ago. The celebrity food writer Anthony Bourdain dropped by and sang its praises on his TV show.
On Monday, Dennis Kamalick and Angela McCarthy were sitting at the bar watching the Oakland A’s inch closer to becoming the Red Sox’s next opponent. They saw Bourdain’s show.
“We’re from Chicago,” Kamalick was saying. “Our daughter’s at Tufts, and we like neighborhood bars. We don’t like the touristy places. That’s why we’re here.”
Diane, the bartender, eyed them warily. People with Midwestern accents swing by The Quencher about as often as Halley’s Comet does.
Davy Hardy told me The Quencher will close Nov. 5. Diane said there’s no official closing date, and that the phone’s ringing off the hook, as everybody wants to know when it’s over. She said there will be a block party to end it all.
As she spoke, Lenny Williams, the singer from Tower of Power, was bursting from the juke box.
So very hard to go...