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CHANGE & HOSPITALITY: T.C.’s Lounge: Last Call

DISCLOSURE:  This is the original version of the article I authored for submission to the FENWAY NEWS which was published in edited form in the print editions of November and December of 2012 respectively.

The printed editions separated the closing of T.C.’s and the historical background of the bar. 

While the edited versions met the space limitations of the FENWAY NEWS the flavor of Tony Consalvi Jr’s and Tony III’s remarks is best served in the original context.

The elder Tony Consalvi is referred to here as ‘Tony’ and Tony III is referred to here as ‘Jr.’ as this is what their guests usually called them.

Furthermore I am not naming various folks both in the interest of their privacy and because their claims are not verified.

Finally these remarks were redacted from a 1 1/2 hour talk.  I took 9 pages of notes.

T.C.’S LOUNGE: LAST CALL

On Thursday, September 6, 2012 the Mackin Group,property manger for the First Fenway Coop at 141-151 Mass. Ave. informed Tony Consalvi, the proprietor of T.C’s lounge that he would have to vacate the 1 Haviland St. slot by Friday, 9/14, putting an end to T.C.’s 42 years at that address.

I sat down with Tony and Tony Jr. in an emptied out T.C.’s to talk about T.C.’s history, the Fenway and the 3/13/2012 fire which ended the 42 year run of one of Boston’s premier dive bars.

Once upon a time Mass. Ave. was home to a trifecta of dive bars.

The Back Bay Lounge, which wasn’t in the Back Bay and wasn’t a lounge,  anchored the Mass. Ave. and Haviland St.  where Dunkin’ Donuts now stands.

Bill’s Bar occupied  175 Mass. Ave.  Today its Mid Century Modern signage is affixed to the Pat Lyons club of the same name on Lansdowne St.

“Yeah, I used to kick people out and tell them to take a hike up the street,” laughed Tony as he recalled his early days on Haviland st.

Bars run in Tony’s blood.  His father, Tony 1, ran bars in the Fenway, Roxbury and the South End.

All of those bars wound up closing because the Boston Redevelopment Authority/BRA took over those buildings by eminent domain.  Back then you didn’t have to compensate any business for anything.  It was very tough,” said Tony.

In 1974 Tony, who was employed as a butcher at the time, took over 1 Haviland St.

“This used to be Marie’s Spaghetti a cheap Italian place that ran all the way to the front where Starbucks now is.  The front was replaced by an adult book store.  This space was Marie’s Keyboard.  It was a pretty nice place with a U-shaped bar and a small bandstand.  Right here, [the upper level of T.C.’s] there were couches and club chairs.  They had waitresses.

This was the 70’s.  Mass. Ave. was bad.  There were a lot of hookers and pimps hanging around.  The street was very dirty.  A lot of the storefronts were empty.  I got held up here [T.C.’s] when I was 23.”

Marie’s Keyboard piano area was opened up to be replaced by pinball machines.  The upper level of the lounge sported deuce tables and a “fireplace” that consisted of a plastic stencil rotating over a log lit by a 100 watt bulb.

“You see this was a dive bar and I don’t mean that in a bad way.  Back then you had a lot more drinking.  We used to have people lining up at 8  in the morning, I had an 8 A.M. license; telephone workers and people who worked overnights in hotels came here all the time.

We also had a lot of the neighborhood old-timers and the Berklee crowd”.

Indeed during my initial residence in the East Fens from 78-85 I used to see many uniformed folks from the Bell/AT&T building on Dalton St.  T.C.’s was also known as an after shift watering hole for the hospitality workers who toiled on Boylston St.

In 1980 the 141-151 Mass. Ave. building was spared the wrecker’s ball as part of the BRA Parcel 13 Eminent Domain and became First Fenway Cooperative, a Limited Equity Cooperative.

“I signed a 10 year lease.  I would have wanted a 20 year lease but there was never any trouble renewing the lease until this fire,” said Tony. 

In the 1980’s the Fenway began the gentrification process that continues to this day.  The neighborhood old-timers who had lived through the years of abandonment and arson passed away.  Community policing brought back the cop on the beat.  AIDS and female cops rolled back the tide of prostitution and the Mass. Ave. storefronts filled up.  Bill’s Bar became a facade on Lansdowne St. and the Berkeley became history.  The Back Bay Lounge became a Dunkin’ Donuts. 

Back Bay apartments became condos in the 1980s.  This priced out many of the younger, less prosperous renters.  The pre-Yuppie demographic found the Fenway a convenient off-price domicile for their pre-professional years. 

“You see, I tried to be a good neighbor.  I received workers doing work in the building.  I always had a doorman on.  My day bartender swept outside the door and the sidewalk was cleaned with a high pressure hose.  I even removed graffiti from the wall,” said Tony.

I asked, “Whose responsibility was removing the graffiti”?

“Mackins,” said Tony Jr.  Indeed at this writing a plastic clad sign urging guests to be quiet and courteous is still hanging upon the door.  Along that line T.C.’s had a policy of last admittance at 1:50.  Even after the 2003 legislation barring smoking in taverns went into effect T.C.’s did not allow re-admittance after 1:50.  

“Yeah I had a lot of characters in here.   I knew [a nameless woman], was a hooker but I never had that business here.  She bought her daughter her first legal drink here,” Tony chuckled as he rubbed his eyes. 

Once an a-hole, always an a-hole is my philosophy.  I had this guy come in a few years ago and I wouldn’t serve him because I had barred him. 

He said, ‘That was 30 years ago!’, 

“I still wouldn’t serve him!” 

“Diversity” is a word often bandied about in Boston.  T.C.’s had…

“…Y’know I probably had more black customers than any bar in town.  [Boston proper].  Today they make a big thing out of serving gays but we’ve always had gays around here.  It was never a big thing to me,” said Tony. 

Jr. chipped in, “You know we even offered to pay for soundproofing just to make the place quieter but Mackin and the First wouldn’t even listen.  I even took out two of the speakers from the jukebox,” Jr. emphasized with an incredulous shake of his head. 

T.C.’s proximity to Berklee brought in a steady stream of celebrity guests.  Herbie Hancock, Aimee Mann, UFC’s chuck Lidell and George Benson among others.  Model Mia Tyler, Red Sox alumni and Jimmy Fund fundraiser Mike Andrews, Kiefer Sutherland and local culinary stars Michael Schlow and Jaime Bisonette imbibed at BOSTON’S BEST HOLE IN THE WALL per the 2010 BOSTON DIG. 

Tony Jr. was T.C.’s main bartender from 1990.  After graduating from Stonehill College he worked in construction and landscaping before landing a bartending gig at the Harvard Club.  Jr. was ready to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps.  During Jr’s time behind the bar Direct TV finally came to T.C.’s with 2 monitors behind the bar.  Soup and chowder became available.  The vinyl jukebox became a CD jukebox. 

The 21st. Century brought Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter to the game area and the new jukebox was an Internet box that enabled Berklee folks to play Miles Davis in the same set as Metallica and Lady Gaga.  The inevitable Facebook page. 

Not all of the changes were upscale.  The claw game still offered takers the opportunity to snatch porn DVDs.  The Women’s Room was still porn pink.  Oxycontin and Death Wish shots were available. 

Most importantly a Polaroid of your celebratory author wearing a cowboy hat and groping 2 Jager girls was on display. 

On March 13, 2012 at 4:37 P.M. a fire swept through T.C.’s sparked by a faulty beer cooler.  By 5:16 P.M. the flames had been quelled.  For the remainder of the day a charred, gaseous stench hung over Haviland St. 

“Y’know my heart was broken because I’ve been around here so long and I’ve seen customers get married.  There are very few independently owned bars left in the city.  Many, many folks came by to wish us well as we were cleaning out the place,” said Tony. 

Jr. chipped in “Our Facebook page got so many hits.  It’s moving to know that the place meant so much to so many.” 

Tony continued, “We had the place inspected and there was no structural damage.  There was a lot of smoke and water damage and of course all of the posters and pictures we’d collected over the years were too damaged to be used.  But we could have done a quick job for $8000 in 6 weeks.  We also could have spent $25,000 for something nicer that would have taken about 8 weeks or so.” 

T.C.’s lease had already specified that T.C.’s was responsible for “Extraordinary Expenses”.  T.C.’s contribution to First Fenway amounted to about $6000 in 2011. 

The 141-151 building housing T.C.’s was built in 1894, long before contemporary fire, egress and Americans with Disability Act/ADA existed.  Upon becoming First Fenway the building was “grandfathered”. 

Indeed the 3 levels of T.C.’s predate ADA and the means of egress are archaic. 

Tony continued,  “We never heard from anyone upstairs.  What little communication there was was with Mackin.  I spent $1400 to get a permit in order to get a permit to do painting and cosmetic work. 

Now Mackin claimed that now is the time to install sprinklers on every floor, widen my front and back door and pay for all of the ADA work.” 

I asked, “Is that your responsibility?” 

Jr. broke in, “If you go down into the basement you would expect to find Freddy Krueger hanging out.  There are hissing pipes, mold and water everywhere and it has always been that way.” 

I asked, “So let me see if I understand this.  Mackin wanted you guys to foot the bill for all of the upgrading?”  Both Tonys nodded in the affirmative. 

“Meanwhile no one from upstairs will even look me in the eye.  None of the [Here Tony mentioned several well known politicians, activists and neighborhood groups],  stepped forward.  I have it on pretty good authority that First Fenway and Mackin had the money to do the work without even resorting to a loan,” Tony growled. 

On Friday, September 14 I called Mackin’s Brookline office at 617-277-1166 in an attempt to verify the Tonys’ story. 

“Hi, my name is Steve Gallanter and I am a freelance journalist doing research for a story on the closing of T.C.’s Lounge.” 

A woman’s voice responded, “Mackin has no public comments regarding any of its properties.” 

“May I ask your name,” I queried. 

“No”. 

I repeated this inquiry on September 17 and 18 with identical results. 

On September 24 I sent emails to residents of First Fenway to get their side of the story in order to contrast it to the Consalvis’.  I received no reply.  On September 26 I again sent out emails to several residents of First Fenway, once again there was no reply. 

“So just this past Thursday, [September 6] Mackin told me I had to be out by Friday,” Tony mumbled through teary eyes.  Jr. sat bolt upright, his arms folded across his chest with fists clenched.

“Let me see if I get this straight, Mackin used the fire as a pretext to get out of a lease that wouldn’t have expired until 2013 and now you are without a business,” I asked. 

Both Tonys nodded. 

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bitter are you?”

“11”

    T.C.’s Lounge: Last Call

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