As icons go, Mul’s Diner won’t win any beauty contests. The 64-year-old South Boston landmark is small, squat, and wrapped in showy, silver metal on the front and weathered, broken shingles on the sides.
But for customers who fill its booths or perch on its stools, the news hit hard this week that Mul’s might be demolished for yet another building project in booming South Boston. In their eyes, the unpretentious diner at West Broadway and A Street has always been a gem.
It’s been a breakfast haven for politicians, union workers, the family down the street, and even neighborhood priests, serving up heaps of low-price comfort food in a setting as comfortable as a three-decker kitchen table.
“It’s like losing part of your town, part of your tradition,” said former mayor Ray Flynn, a lifelong South Boston resident. “It’s very sad.”
The diner is expected to move across the intersection and share space with Amrheins, the 19th-century restaurant and pub owned by Steve Mulrey, who also owns Mul’s. But Amrheins might not have much more than a year remaining on its lease following an agreement to sell the landmark to a development firm, the Globe reported in January.
“I was thinking of standing outside with a picket sign,” said Janet Boudreau, who ate at Mul’s with her daughter Thursday. “This is the place on the corner, you know? It’s a diner with a diner feel. It’s like the food you would cook yourself.”
What happens to Mul’s — or Amrheins, for that matter — is uncertain. But what is certain is that, small piece by large piece, what remains of the old South Boston is disappearing.
“Things are happening like this all the time. It’s too fast,” said Pat Kelley, 83, a South Boston native who has eaten at Mul’s for years.
Michael Moore, a developer, is pursuing a deal for a six-story structure at the Mul’s site, according to the Boston Herald. A public hearing by the city’s Board of Appeals on proposals to demolish Mul’s and build nine residences atop commercial space is scheduled for May 7 at City Hall.
Mul’s sought to assure its patrons that the diner might be moving physically, but that its spirit would remain.
“WE ARE NOT CLOSING WE WILL BE MOVING OVER TO AMRHEINS!!!!” according to a post on the diner’s Facebook page. “SAME GREAT BREAKFAST, SAME GREAT SERVICE! SEE YOU ALL THERE.”
Waitresses at Mul’s said they had been told they could move with the business to the new location, but that the timing remained a mystery.
The Globe reported in January that Mulrey agreed to sell the Amrheins building and parking lot to City Point Capital, a real-estate development firm. The business itself would not be sold, and the restaurant would stay open for at least another 18 months because Amrheins would still have a lease, the Globe reported.
Neither Mulrey nor City Point Capital could be reached for comment Thursday.
Bill Gibbs, a North Andover resident who works in Brighton, stopped at Mul’s for his first visit Thursday after hearing the news.
“I do like history. My grandmother lived in Southie,” Gibbs said. “I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway, and I decided to come in.”
The old Boston dining mainstays are falling like dominoes, patrons said. Locke-Ober closed several years ago. Then Jacob Wirth. Durgin-Park. And now, the ominous news about Amrheins and Mul’s, among others.
Flynn recalled that Boston political heavyweights such as US House Speaker John McCormack, fellow Representative Joe Moakley, and former Mayor Kevin White would take the pulse of the people at Mul’s.
“You’d see all the real people down there, the voters,”
Flynn said. “You’d sit there and have your coffee and your English muffin, and all the people would come up and talk with you. It was like a town meeting.”
Flynn said that White was pleasantly surprised at the difference in price between Mul’s — open from 5 a.m. until early afternoon — and the Ritz-Carlton, where White often had breakfast. At the latter, breakfast might cost $20; at Mul’s, less than half.
The diner has long been a magnet for the working class. Its founder, Joe Mulrey, had been a longshoreman with both Flynn’s father and the former mayor’s father-in-law.
“The waitresses down there are terrific. They’re really the class of the field,” Flynn said.
Peggy Ryan, 90, agreed that Mul’s has been known for its come-on-in welcome.
“This place just makes you feel good,” she said with a big smile, turning toward Pat Kelley at lunch.
South Boston has been transformed over the last decade by sweeping development and the arrival of thousands of millennials and other young professionals. Ryan, Kelley, and Kelley’s daughter Lynda Hosea said they can’t change that dynamic, but they believe a sense of neighborhood has changed, too. Hosea, 53, recalled that the trio recently visited a South Boston coffee shop, where laptops and silence prevailed.
“Not one person would ask them if they would like to sit,” Hosea said, gesturing toward her mother and aunt. “Nobody would look up from their computers.”
City Councilor Ed Flynn, the former mayor’s son, said new residents have become an energizing part of the mix at Mul’s. “It makes it fun,” he said.
His father said change has arrived, and it’s not turning back. But maybe a diner or a throwback-style coffee shop could become part of the new development, the former mayor added.
“You’re not going to stop progress,” Ray Flynn said, “but you can work out a compromise.”