The Beanpotters loved college hockey and equally loved to dine, and drink a little, and sometimes maybe a touch more if there was time for a second round before the first faceoff. So they convened for decades at Durgin-Park for the start of Boston’s best known hockey tournament.
“Most everyone,” recalled Steve Nazro, among the few ’Potters still alive, “ate that slab of roast beef.”
Indeed, it was all but impossible to separate the restaurant from its signature of prime rib, as well as its checkered table cloths, family-style dining tables, and deliciously surly waitstaff that garnished every meal with a heaping side order of smack talk. The servers’ insults were the kind of value added that couldn’t be found in any arena’s luxury suites.
“It really wasn’t Durgin-Park if Dottie the waitress wasn’t insulting you,” recalled Nate Greenberg, a ’Potter for all of his 30-plus years on the Bruins public relations staff. “Prime rib every time, of course . . . and Dottie was the heartburn.”
Durgin-Park, named after the two men who founded it decades before the Civil War, closed its doors last weekend after a 192-year run on North Market Street aside Faneuil Hall.
The iconic eatery fell victim to rising costs, shrinking patronage, and the behemoth that is the hipper and more happening Seaport District. The Quincy Market area, which in the mid-’70s became the epicenter of downtown’s dramatic facelift, now hangs on like a Phyllis Diller impersonator working the Borscht Belt.
The ’Potters never officially called it quits at Durgin-Park, but as in most traditions, their run came to an end, recalled Nazro, who recently retired after more than a half-century at the Garden, the bulk of his career spent as its director of events.
Nazro’s first boss, beloved Garden president Eddie Powers, first convened the group in the late ’50s. The tourney, which originated in 1953 at the Boston Arena (now owned and operated by Northeastern University), moved to the Garden after its first championship and has remained on Causeway Street ever since. The puck drops Feb. 4 for this year’s Beanpot, with Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern again vying for the coveted trophy.
“Anyone and everyone was invited, Eddie made sure of that,” recalled Nazro, a Dartmouth alum, who joined the Garden staff in 1966 after his military hitch. “No requirement for joining, no dues, nothing. If you liked college hockey, you were a ’Potter. And Eddie usually grabbed the tab.”
Globe hockey scribe Fran Rosa, a Crimson guy, was a regular. Globe sports editor Ernie Roberts, a former Dartmouth sports information director, also was a proud ’Potter.
Quick aside: In February 1973, in an emergency staffing situation, the ever-genial Roberts hired me as a Globe copyboy. I still have his handwritten note, left on the copy desk prior to my arrival, which informed the night crew to offer me a shift only as a “last resort.” Not all careers begin with a bang. Sometimes you just have to outlast the editors.
John Henning, among Boston’s most revered television anchors (and a BU guy), was a loyal Beanpotter, for years only having to walk down the street from the Channel 7 studio to his seat at the table. Tom Johnson, the Hall of Fame defenseman who coached the Bruins to their 1972 Stanley Cup win, rarely missed, particularly during his long tenure as Harry Sinden’s assistant GM.
The much-loved Jack Grinold, Northeastern’s decades-long SID, eagerly attended every year, as did Globe college writer Joe Concannon and his BU classmate Dick Raphael, the larger-than-life (and oft-grumpier-than-all-get-out) Sports Illustrated photographer. These were the days when SI maintained a staff of photographers, as one might think a sports magazine would, at least one that took great pride in the art of illustration and photography.
“I’m pretty sure it was Concannon who gave Jack the nickname ‘6:15 Grinold,’ ” recalled Greenberg, a 1971 BU alum. “All because Northeastern usually lost on opening night, and then had to play the 6:15 consolation game the next week. All good fun, of course . . . unless you were ‘6:15 Grinold.’ ”
Other ’Potters included Cooney Weiland, in the years after he retired as Harvard’s hockey coach; Eddie Miller, the SID at Boston College; Bob Donovan, ex- of the Globe sports department and the WHA Whalers, and today the executive director of the Ouimet Fund; Kevin Walsh, also once a Globe sportswriter and later Donovan’s partner on the Whalers PR staff; and Dana Hennigar, another Dartmouth alum who for years was an ECAC referee.
“Let’s be clear,” said Nazro, “Dottie was the show. She’d spot little traits in all of us and then use them to insult us. I know that sounds odd by today’s standards, but I can tell you, the guys lived for it. Cooney was one of her favorite targets.”
Dottie Ladny began serving up her sauce at Durgin-Park in the early ’60s, just as the Beanpot and the ’Potters were gaining full traction. By the early ’90s, more than 30 years into her gig of standup and serve, even the restaurant’s beloved queen of mean realized her act was wearing thin on some customers.
“Times are changing,” she told the Globe in 1993, when she was 70. “People don’t want any [expletive] at a restaurant, so I gotta tone down.”
Keep in mind, the dear woman in those days still wore a pin on her white uniform that read, “Beyond Bitch.”
For the record, the ’Potters also wore lapel pins, simple Beanpot mementos that Powers doled out to members of the club. Greenberg and Nazro still cherish the keepsakes. And all these years later, Nazro’s signature is on the tournament. The Beanpot’s MVP each year now receives the Steve Nazro Award.
“Good guys, nice memories, it was a fun tradition,” said Greenberg. “But things change and you move on. I mean, imagine putting Dottie on the job today? One shift, and she’d be out on her . . . ”
Fill in the blank. The phrase “end cut” comes to mind, though Dottie probably would have said something else.