CAMBRIDGE — As a painter worked to make the beat-up facade the perfect shade of dingy, Carol Kelley did a double take. Back in the day, she had spent many a night at Triple O’s Lounge, a legendary South Boston dive where gangster Whitey Bulger held court.
But Wednesday, the old barroom had traveled through time somehow. And found itself not in Southie, but across the river in Cambridge, a bit outside Inman Square.
“Oh my God!” Kelley exclaimed, her eyes wide with disbelief. “It’s Triple O’s!”
On Tuesday, crews installed a replica of the bar’s facade at the Polish-American Club in preparation for the filming of a Bulger movie called “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp. It looked the part, passersby said. But for some, it didn’t ring true.
“How are you gonna take Triple O’s and put it in Cambridge?” said Michael Ripley, 37. “This has no legitimacy.”
For Ripley, who used to visit Triple O’s before it closed about a decade ago, it was a personal slight. Movies don’t have to get everything right, he said. But Triple O’s was a Southie landmark, a crucial backdrop to the Bulger story. In Cambridge, it looked hopelessly out of place, no matter how authentic the sign looked.
“That’s not Triple O’s,” he said, frowning as he studied the facade. “Those shamrocks should be in Southie.”
Across the street at a pastry shop, Vicki McHugh said she had looked up the Triple O’s sign online, and that the set “looked pretty close.” Maybe Cambridge Street was a decent stand-in, too.
“I guess we look older than South Boston does,” she said. Not a far-fetched notion — the old Triple O’s on West Broadway is now a Japanese bistro, across the street from a Starbucks.
Filming, which will take place at night, is slated to begin next week, movie representatives have told McHugh.
The retro facade turned many heads as crews worked on it Wednesday. Was it a new bar, some wondered. No, just a movie set.
When told the movie was about Bulger, most figured it was the one in the works by locals Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. That’s why they were shooting in Cambridge.
Nope, it was the other Bulger movie, the one with Depp.
“Ooh, Johnny Depp,” exclaimed one woman. “When are they filming?”
Maureen Flynn, 47, said the movie should have at least stuck to the right neighborhood.
“That’s not right,” she said of the faux bar. “It’s fake. And not for nothing, but it’s going to mess up traffic.”
For Kelley, who grew up in South Boston, the sign brought on a rush of nostalgia, of weekend nights out with friends.
Despite its association with Bulger and his crew, the bar held a lot of fond memories.
“Dancing, laughing, singing,” she said. “Triple O’s was for everybody, and people had a great time.”
She was amazed to see the old place, after all these years. And it looked just like she remembered.
“Darn close, I’ll tell you,” she said. “The sign is perfect, and the front can pass.”