Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Like most historic places, Boston has its share of tourist attractions for those of us who love food and drink. Among them are the Green Dragon pub where the Sons of Liberty planned the American Revolution, and the Omni Parker Hotel which not only claims the distinction of having invented Boston Cream Pie and Parker House rolls, but also of housing the restaurant where JFK proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier. For those interested in more recent, possibly less important history, it is also the home of “Cheers”, the bar that provided the inspiration for the long running television series of the same name.

On this, my first visit to Boston, I really did want to eat at Cheers, despite the fact I was expecting it to be a tourist trap. I thought we would find a limited menu, with extremely high prices and fairly mediocre food. I was destined to be pleasantly surprised.

Tour guides are quick to point out that the pub was (and still is) actually called “The Bull and Finch” and that it was not called “Cheers” until after some Hollywood writers on assignment discovered it. They also mention that only the exterior shots for the show were shot there; the interiors were of course all shot on a set in Hollywood. But even without the addition of the actual bar from the set upstairs, the place is so like the location I remember watching on the television show I would not have been at all surprised to see a young Ted Danson pop his head round the bar.

We arrived fairly early on a Sunday evening, walking across Boston Common from our hotel to Beacon Street. I was surprised to find there was no queue for dinner. The bar itself was very full and almost ready to start turning people away, but when I said we wanted to eat, we were immediately shown to a table in “the back room”. Like the rest of the pub, the back room really does resemble the set I remember on television. There is hardly a space on the wall without something stuck on it, and Sam’s baseball jersey hangs in pride of place. Our waitress was really friendly, and I was pleased to be handed a menu that had lots of choices on it. In fact, there was so much choice, it took us quite a while to decide what to eat!

The prices at Cheers are pretty much in line with prices in other restaurants in Boston. I really did not feel that there was any sort of additional mark up. With dinner salads running about eleven dollars and main courses going for between ten and fifteen, it did not feel like we were breaking the bank. In fact, in the end it was one of the least expensive meals we have had so far in Boston. My son chose the Cheers Cheeseburger, which he described as big, juicy and cheesy – and what else do you really want from a cheeseburger? My husband had the seafood platter, a lightly breaded selection of cod, clams, scallops and shrimp served with French fries and coleslaw. I chose Lillith’s Pan Asian Salad, a delicious combination of chicken breast in a soy ginger sauce, lettuce, carrots, oranges and tomatoes in a soy dressing topped with strips of crispy fried wonton wrappers.

All the food was fresh and delicious, beautifully prepared and presented and, in my opinion, offered very good value for money. The servings were really generous as well. In fact, we had very little room for dessert, although we did force ourselves to share a Boston Cream Pie – it seemed almost rude not to.

Yes, there is a souvenir shop upstairs, but no one is forcing you to buy anything, and if you want a souvenir glass, it only costs a couple of dollars on top of the cost of a cocktail (and they serve a nice selection of non-alcoholic cocktails for those who do not drink alcohol). I have to say that Cheers is one of the least “touristy” tourist attractions I have ever visited. And for folks like my husband and I, who grew up watching the television series, it was a real treat to walk into a place that really did seem to have not only the look, but also the feel, of its namesake.

We enjoyed our visit to the Bull and Finch so much that we are hoping to go back before we leave Boston tomorrow, not only for a taste of the famous “Cheers” atmosphere, but also for the very, very delicious food!

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