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American Eats: Massachusetts. Durgin-Park
It was a landmark within a landmark. Located within the historic Faneuil Hall, Durgin-Park was a Boston institution.
Durgin-Park was an experience that, if you had it, you will never forget. The historic restaurant first opened in 1742, reopening as Durgin-Park in 1827.
I went to Durgin-Park for the first time in 1999. It was a college trip, with our Harvard Model United Nations team dispatching to the restaurant as a group. This was good for us, as Durgin-Park had nothing but communal seating; a throwback to colonial times where every restaurant had nothing but long tables for you to sit at, grabbing a seat where you could.
If you didn’t like New England-style food, you were out of luck. The entire menu was based around New England staples like seafood, chowder, and boiled steak. Was the food good? Yes. But the experience was even wilder. Because not only were you sitting at a communal table with people you may not even know, you were also verbally sparring with the waitresses:
Up until the restaurant was sold in the early 1970s to the Kelley family, Durgin-Park had developed quite a reputation for having sassy and surly waitresses. As the story goes, the restaurant tended to have a strong hire of older widows who didn't necessarily need the income but were looking for something to do, and they found working at Durgin-Park to be very social. At that time, the people who came in, for the most part, were men getting off of long shifts who would tend to be rude to them, and it got to the point that they started to give it right back. When the Kelley family bought the restaurant, they toned down the surliness just a bit. A restaurant group, Ark Restaurant Corporation, now owns Durgin-Park but has tried to maintain its historical tone.
It was all in good fun, and the waitresses got as well as they gave.
Durgin-Park closed in 2019 because it was no longer profitable for the owners at the time. It also had basically become a tourist traps for goofs like me; not a place that was frequented by the locals.
It was, however, an iconic part of Boston history. I’m glad that I got to experience it.