As Durgin Park Closes, We Look at 6 Authentically Old New England Restaurants in Boston

Last Updated: March 6, 2024By
Durgin Park Boston, MA

As unexpected word hits the streets that Durgin Park – a centuries-old Boston dining institution long-known for their prime rib, Indian pudding, baked beans, clam chowder, and surly service – has announced that they will be closing up shop on January 12th, 2019 (unless a buyer comes forward); we thought it was high-time to take a look at a few of the most authentically-old restaurants in this New England city that just happens to be positively teeming with them.

1. Durgin Park

It will be sad to see Durgin Park go…

Over the past two centuries, untold legions of restaurants opened and closed in Boston. Sometimes they updated their menus. Sometimes they redesigned the interior. Sometimes they changed the concept.

Then, there was Durgin-Park.

As some of their printed material states: “Your Grandfather and perhaps your Great Grandfather dined with us too! Established before you were born.‘

Time moved on and Durgin-Park stayed pretty much the same as it was when it first opened in 1827.

The restaurant has occupied a space that already had a history reaching back to 1742 as a dining hall serving food to merchants, fishermen, and businessmen.

Three gentlemen finally showed up one day – Eldridge Park, John Durgin, and John Chandler – and decided to throw in their funds and purchase this dining room ‘in the shadow of Faneuil Hall’.

As timing would have it – both Park and Durgin died shortly after the purchase. To honor their memory, Chandler decided to name the restaurant Durgin-Park.

A pretty great legacy when you consider that we’re still talking about these two dead guys almost 200 years later!

The Chandler family continued ownership of Durgin-Park for the next 63 years – until John’s grandson (Jerry) was killed in World War II. At that point, Durgin-Park was sold to James Hallett.

Hallett made his lasting impact on Durgin-Park by having the poem ‘Just A Boy’ printed on the back of each menu – as a way of honoring John’s grandson (in addition to the many other fallen soldiers of the current war). To this day, the poem continues to be printed on the back of each menu.

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Somewhere along the way, Durgin-Park also picked up a reputation for surly waitresses always ready and willing to sass a diner into submission.

Local legend states that the restaurant became a hotbed of employment for older widows who didn’t exactly need the additional income – but just happened to be looking for something social to do. During this era, the clientele tended to primarily be men who had just gotten off from long days at work and often spoke down to the waitstaff – up until the point where the waitresses decided they had enough and began giving it right back. Something clicked into place and this Boston tradition of stern service continued at Durgin-Park until the Keller family purchased the restaurant in the early 1970s and asked the servers to get back to the basics of New England hospitality.

Under the ownership of the Ark Restaurant Corporation, Durgin Park continued preserving this storied piece of Boston’s culinary history – that is, until the announcement today that, after nearly 200 years, the iconic restaurant will be closing within the tight timeline of the next two weeks. Long-time employees at the restaurant point towards increasing maintenance costs, changing industry trends, and competition from recently vibrant and bustling dining scene in Boston’s nearby Seaport District.

Even though the clock is rapidly ticking as I write this, you can still head down to a spot at one of the long communal banquet tables at Durgin-Park for some of their famous Clam Chowder, Yankee Pot Roast, a Crock of Homemade Boston Baked Beans, or a generous serving of Indian Pudding topped with ice cream (and there aren’t too many other places you’ll be able to find that specific (and amazing) type of Yankee deliciousness) – until they serve their final guest sometime later this month!

Here’s to furiously hoping that a true Boston hero rapidly steps up, purchases Durgin-Park, makes it a profitable venture; and that foodies (and historians) will still be enjoying the food – and writing about how this, yet to emerge, hero saved this piece of Boston’s soul – over two-hundred more years into the future.

Maybe one of you could give Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, or Matt Damon a call?

UPDATE: The last day of service at Durgin Park was January 12, 2019. It is now permanently closed.

2. Union Oyster House

Just a quick walk from Boston’s Faneuil Hall is where you’ll find America’s Oldest Restaurant – The Union Oyster House!

This restaurant opened its doors during an oyster craze which started in the early 1800s — and hasn’t ever stopped!

It’s fun to look across the the downstairs dining area, with its tight-quarter wooden stalls and storied oyster bar — and think back to the days when Daniel Webster was a regular customer who always ordered at least six plates of oysters along with a tall tumbler of brandy and a glass of water with each plate.

Or you could head to the equally atmospheric upstairs dining areas and try to get a seat in John F. Kennedy’s favorite booth – where he would commonly read his Sunday newspaper over a solitary lunch of lobster soup.

There is history in every nook and cranny of this building, which was originally a dry-goods store, and a place where the wives of the Founding Fathers met to sew and mend clothes for colonists during the revolution, PLUS a place where exiled Frenchman (and future king of France) Louis Philippe lived and taught French to many of Boston’s fashionable young ladies.

Did we mention that The Union Oyster House also lays claim to being the restaurant where the first toothpick was used AND ALSO where Boston’s first female waitress worked?

Stop in and enjoy selections from a menu which includes many Yankee Classics including sweet cornbread, clam chowder, broiled fresh Boston scrod, boiled lobster, and some of those freshly shucked oysters they’ve been famously serving since 1826!

3. Amrheins

Amrheins has been a cornerstone of South Boston for over a century.

How about stopping in at a legendary South Boston restaurant which boasts the oldest hand carved bar in America and the first draft beer pump in Boston…

Opened in 1890, Amrheins Restaurant is Southies oldest restaurant – and if these walls could talk, they’d certainly have some stories to tell. Including one about the dining room that used to be a funeral parlor!

Long known as a beloved neighborhood spot which brings in an eclectic mixture of locals, families, politicking campaign staffers, influence peddlers, and tourists; Amhreins embraces a mission of providing their guests with exceptional cuisine, superior hospitality, and a unique experience.

The restaurant recently received a major facelift which brought in some elements of ‘new’ and ‘upscale’ to stay competitive in the evolving atmosphere of Southie – but the core character remains intact and the comfort food classics like Shepard’s Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, and Turkey Tips with Risotto are still on the menu!

ANOTHER PLUS: If you know South Boston, then you know that parking can be expensive to nonexistent. But no worries at Amhreins – they have their own FREE on-site lot for guests to their legendary establishment!

UPDATE: As of early 2023, the official Amrheins social media accounts continue making references that this is their final year in business. We will update if/when we hear more.

4. Parker’s Restaurant (at Omni Parker House)

It’s difficult not to name-drop when speaking about Parker’s Restaurant in Boston.

It’s where Charles Dickens gave his first American reading of “A Christmas Carol”. Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, and Thoreau are also counted among the long list of intellectuals who frequented the restaurant. It’s where Ho Chi Minh worked as a baker. It’s where Malcolm X bussed tables. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams could often be found unwinding at this place.

It’s where a 6-year-old JFK made his first public speech during a party in honor of his grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. It’s where JFK announced his bid for Congress in 1946. And table 40 is held up as the spot where, in 1953, JFK asked Jackie Bouvier to marry him.

It was the restaurant that helped launch the culinary careers of Emeril Lagasse, Lydia Shire and Jasper White. It’s the birthplace of the Parker House Roll as well as the original Boston Cream Pie.

Sadly, as of 2023, Parker’s Restaurant is only serving breakfast and lunch. Dinner seems to have been phased out sometime during the COVID era. Still, even for lunch, this is place where the nostalgic air of an increasingly-faded formality still staunchly holds court daily. Mahogany panels. Hand-carved woodwork. Opulent Waterford crystal chandeliers. White tablecloths. Leather chairs. Starched linen napkins. Servers with ties beneath their buttoned down vests. New England Clam Chowder. French Onion Soup. Baked Brie. Classic Caesar Salad. Baked Boston Schrod.

Getting lost in a dreamy and nostalgic meal at Parker’s Restaurant is like time-traveling back to a rich atmosphere of curiously bygone grandeur — and upon leaving the dining room and heading back out into the fast-paced Boston Streets, you may find yourself longing for the genteel, slower-paced luxuries this dining destination still effortlessly evokes.

5. Bell in Hand Tavern

Originally established in 1795 by Jimmy Wilson, Boston’s last town crier; The Bell in Hand Tavern is widely-respected as America’s oldest continuously operating tavern.

Though the Bell in Hand’s 1795 location was a few tenths-of-a-mile away (at a site near the current-day’s Government Center T station) – it’s been housed in it’s present-day, character-laden building on one of the most “historic-feeling” streets of Boston since 1844. AND they still serve drinks over their original bar, which they brought along with them from their 1795 site.

Through the years, the Bell in Hand has had it’s fair-share of the seemingly omnipresent, historical, celebrity guests (Daniel Webster and Paul Revere, as starters); and also became a popular gathering place for printers and politicians, sailors and students.

Now, modern upgrades to their historic building have morphed the Bell in Hand into a multi-level venue (with 2 floors, 5 bars, and bunches of flat-screen televisions), able to satisfy experience-tourists seeking to imbibe spirits (alongside a full slate of modern-era pub grub) in an historic tavern – as well as college students and modern-day fun-seekers looking for a place to have a drink and watch some Boston sports, take in a live musical performance, show their skills at an alcohol-fueled karaoke session, dance their asses off to DJ music, or click mimosa glasses at one of the cities best Drag Queen Brunches!

HINT: If you want to get the historic Boston bar experience – your best bet is to make it a lunch-time (or early evening) visit.

6. Warren Tavern

Just a quick walk from Boston’s Faneuil Hall is where you’ll find America’s Oldest Restaurant – The Union Oyster House!

Charlestown is one of the oldest parts of Boston, a picturesque neighborhood packed with a high density of Revolutionary history and period architecture; and that’s where you’ll find Warren Tavern.

In this city positively filled historic bars, restaurants, and taverns — Warren Tavern, which opened in 1780, is noteworthy for being the oldest still in its original building and locations.

Warren Tavern was one of the first buildings erected in Charlestown after the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, when British forces left the town in ruins. Captain Eliphelet Newell, who built the Federal-style tavern with wooden beams salvaged from old boats at the Charlestown Navy Yard, named it after his close friend Dr. Joseph Warren, the Sons of Liberty leader and fervent patriot killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

This tavern was frequented by many American Revolutionary War heroes such as Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington.

Today, Warren Tavern primarily caters to Charlestown locals and professionals who work nearby – along with a slow, steady stream of history-minded visitors to Boston wondering what it might be like to drink a beer and eat some victuals beneath the low beamed ceilings and alongside the same large fireplace where some of our most important founding fathers did exactly the same thing.

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Disclaimer: Information is harvested (at time of publication) from publicly available sources and is deemed reliable at time of original publication, but not guaranteed – any editorial content is solely opinion-based – status of businesses, availability, prices, dates, times, details, and etc are subject to change or withdrawal at any time and for any reason. All dimensions are approximate and have not been verified. All data should be independently verified from official sources.

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