Eulogy For an Old Alehouse

The great Billy Park’s chophouse in Boston, the house that waived the flag for old English (?) drink and the honest sheepmeat of Albion and other specialties of the auld land, forever closed its doors in 1895. Even with Prohibition marching relentless upon the nation, a few brave souls rued the passing of an institution. An example appears below from The Sun in New York.

Perhaps as America’s melting pot deepened, there was no room for an Anglophile refuge, one which in its modest way stood as a monument to the culture and foodways of the first (white) settlers of America.

Or maybe Billy’s simply had its run. All things must pass, as George Harrison mournfully sung.

The Sun in New York laid out poetically what was lost.

 

We print this morning a melancholy bit of news from Boston. Billy Parks is going to close next Monday. Who that knows Boston knows not Billy Park’s? The broiled live lobsters that have been eaten there would make a red cravat of their own width around the world. The musty ale that has kissed pewter there would be an adequate and improving substitute for the Gulf of Mexico. All the fowls of the air and the coop, every aligerent edible from roe to reedbird, was to be had at Billy’s. Oliver Wendell Holmes used to live on the street since made more memorable by Billy’s. In later days the pious pilgrim visited Montgomery place, as it used to be called, then went to Billy’s and sat there reflective, dipping his beard in the musty ale. The traveller came from Bunker Hill full of patriotism and sallied down to Billy’s and put down one or two red-coats. A rather shabby place perhaps but with lobsters too good for the gods – the old heathen! – and musty ale that recalled some jovial October or stout stingo preserved miraculously from English thirsts of the eighteenth century.

It must be that the world is nearing the last of its lobsters, and that hops are to grow no more, otherwise Billy Park wouldn’t be willing to shut up his estimable and ancient establishment.

“Ave”, Gulielme Parce, “dolituri te salutamas”.

The last line translated from Latin is, “Hail, William Park, we in our dolor salute you”. It is a slight alteration of the Roman gladiators’ salute recorded by Suetonius: “Hail, Emperor, we who are about to die salute you”. That was their beau geste, and above you read The Sun‘s in regard to a Boston watering hole valued by some, not least the journalistic fraternity.

The romance extends to likening musty ale to some antique British style miraculously preserved thousands of miles from origin. But I think it is safe to say the writer had no idea what musty ale was, whence it came. We are in the realm of the bardic here, not historic.

Note how skilfully the writer marries fondness for British tradition with a lingering revolutionary pride, especially that use of “red-coat”. It’s called having it both ways, something only possible 100 years after the Colonies rose up.

To the elegant formulations of the 19th century press: I salute you.

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