It was just another gorgeous summer Saturday for sunbathing and swimming at M Street Beach, or “Southie Beach,” as the quarter-mile stretch of South Boston shoreline is known.
Here, dozens of young men and women, mostly taut and tawny, glistened beneath the afternoon sun. The temperature had topped 80 degrees and the sky brimmed with cotton ball clouds. The steady rhythm of reggae from a speaker mingled with a gentle ocean breeze.
Suddenly, the State Police swooped in. For beachgoers who missed the signs that screamed “ALCOHOL PROHIBITED” and “STRICTLY ENFORCED” on Day Boulevard, troopers were ready to remind them with written citations and $100 fines.
“I think it definitely dampens the mood,” said 33-year-old Quang Pham, a Southie resident, as several troopers — some in full uniform, others in neon vests and plainclothes — combed the beach for illicit imbibing.
The operation on Aug. 10 was the State Police’s second “saturation patrol” this summer at M Street Beach, according to spokesman David Procopio. The first occurred on the previous Saturday, with police deploying a “BATmobile” to test suspected offenders’ breath alcohol concentration. On both days, troopers issued more than 30 citations for alcohol violations, Procopio said, and a few beachgoers were arrested on outstanding warrants.
Prompted by community concerns regarding the number of young people at the beach and the amount of alcohol they consume, Procopio said, such “zero-tolerance initiatives” are aimed at enforcing beach rules and curbing loud music, vulgar language, vandalism, littering, and all manner of rowdiness.
The recent crackdown at M Street Beach is the latest salvo in the long-simmering feud between longtime Southie residents and their newer, and often much younger, neighbors.
“I think for ‘old’ versus ‘new,’ the beach is a symbol of how the neighborhood has changed,” said Maureen Dahill, founder and editor of the popular website “Caught in Southie.”
Of course, the Southie of yore (insert obligatory reference to Whitey Bulger and “Good Will Hunting” here) is rapidly disappearing, despite resistance from some Southie natives who have seen their beloved working-class neighborhood transform over the last decade into a playground for newly degreed renters and affluent homebuyers.
Indeed, the share of 20-to-34-year-olds living in South Boston has more than doubled since 1950, according to census data analyzed by the Boston Planning & Development Agency. In 2017, 20-to-34-year-olds made up 45 percent of the neighborhood’s population.
And it’s not just the young flocking to Southie, but the well-to-do, snapping up high-end condos at soaring prices. On the real estate site Zillow, the median list price of a South Boston home is $899,000, up almost 60 percent in the past five years alone. More than 40 percent of the Southie condos are priced at $1 million or more, according to Dan Duval, a managing partner at Elevated Realty.
“The people buying around here either come from money or have made their money,” Duval said. “You can’t pick up a three-family for under $1.5 [million] now.”
Rents, too, have jumped. In the past five years, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Southie rose 23 percent, according to Zillow, from $2,800 in July 2014 to $3,450 this summer.
Dan Lombardo, who is 22, very tan, and works in investment banking, sipped an adult beverage disguised in a stainless steel mug while troopers swarmed M Street Beach.
He said he moved to Southie this summer for the obvious reason: “If you ask anyone who lives in the Boston area where the place is to be when you’re a twentysomething, it’s Southie.”
But Lombardo, who graduated this year from Wesleyan University, and his four roommates know better than most how their presence in the neighborhood has riled some of the longtime residents.
When they moved into their new apartment, his roommate Tanner Fazzino, 23, said, their next-door neighbors put up a fight.
“They weren’t happy about having like, five of us move into what was a three-bedroom apartment,” Fazzino said. “So [our landlord] ended up splitting us up between the second unit and first unit, so it’s three of us in the bottom unit and two of us up top just until the neighbors stop going to the city and complaining about it.”
Lombardo nodded in agreement.
“They hate yuppies moving in and making loud noise, I guess,” Lombardo said. “That’s what our broker said.”
The pace of gentrification in South Boston has left many longtime residents feeling left behind and grasping at memories of the old days when Southie was tight-knit and blue collar, albeit rougher around the edges.
In the war for Southie’s future, there have been several flashpoints: the showdown over the East Broadway Starbucks, the debate over protected bike lanes, and continual opposition to all the fancy new condominiums taking root in the neighborhood like an invasive species.
And M Street Beach is an active battleground.
“It was our hidden secret. Now the whole world knows,” said Chrissy, 56, who grew up in Southie and declined to give her last name because she didn’t want her friends to know she’d spoken to the Globe.
She was lounging on a beach chair near the ocean’s edge on Tuesday , where the crowds were sparse and the troopers noticeably absent.
“It’s a free-for-all on the weekends,” Chrissy said. “I would not come here on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I don’t care how hot it is.”
“I don’t want to baby-sit,” she added.
Ask anyone over a certain age in Southie about the state of M Street Beach and you’ll hear a wildly different perspective from that of the twenty- and thirtysomethings who congregate along its pebble-encrusted shore.
Their complaints run the gamut: They don’t like the boozing and the smoking, the loud music, the overflowing trash bins, the cigarette butts buried in the sand. They don’t like the parade of young women in skimpy bikinis sashaying down the sidewalk or the caravan of Ubers clogging L Street and Day Boulevard.
They deride the beach on the weekends as an untempered fraternity party, or worse, an open-air toilet.
“On the weekend, they stand there with their drinks and their phones and their glasses and they just pee,” said Susy Pilgrim Waters, 57, as she was drying off from a weekday swim. “I hate it.”
She and her husband, Keith, live eight blocks from the beach. They moved to Southie seven years ago from Newton. Now they ride their bikes to the beach during high tide to enjoy the crisp ocean waves.
“It’s chalk and cheese,” she said, of the difference between M Street Beach on the weekends and on weekdays. “They don’t mix.”
She appreciates the heightened police activity. But her biggest complaint is the litter the weekend crowd leaves behind.
“I just saw two pairs of underpants. I was about to pick it up!” she said. Indeed, a twisted, water-logged pair of Skinnygirl underwear had washed up on the shoreline like a message in a bottle.
“Somebody has picked up the blue pair, I hope,” she said.