The comedic television show Cheers left a legacy of not just 28 Emmy Awards but also of a place "where everybody knows your name": a simple bar in Boston, populated by a variety of memorable characters and their antics. When founding cast member Shelley Long first stepped foot on the show's set, she found herself transported to a bar she'd visited in Boston. Sure enough, the faux bar was modeled after an actual one: the Bull & Finch at 84 Beacon Street, on the north border of the Boston Common.
The pub rechristened itself Cheers in 2001, to capitalize on the success of the show. Its owner opened another location in nearby Faneuil Hall, built to closely resemble the television's set, as most Bostonians know by now that the original Bull & Finch has a dramatically different layout from its more popular fictional sibling. Fortunately, my guests for lunch were not like most Bostonians: with four Cheers fans from Melbourne, Australia, and my Missourian girlfriend who'd never seen the show, I figured the pub would be a good place for a quick bite to eat en route to the airport.
We arrived around 12:30 PM on a beautiful Saturday in early October, expecting a long wait for a table at this busy tourist destination. Buzzer in hand, we milled about the top of the stairs that led to the rathskeller, taking turns posing in front of the exterior used in the show's opening shot. After only 15 minutes — half the time the maitre'd had estimated — we were directed to make our way to the rear of the restaurant to the "Back Room." My traveling companions had several unwieldy suitcases with them that made this navigation a chore, but though they surprised our server, she quickly collected herself and showed us to a staff room where the bags could be left while we ate.
Like the layout, the bar's atmosphere was also unique from that of the show. Our corner booth had intimate lighting, but the noisy atmosphere of other diners close enough to touch and several widescreen televisions sometimes made it difficult to be heard. The room was decorated with local mementos, referencing everything from pilgrims to Celtics but with few appearances by Sam Malone, Coach, or its other televised employees.
Serving us was Rachel, who was attentive and friendly but not gregarious — unless provoked. As I quizzed her on the bar's history as it related to Cheers, she confessed, "I don't understand why it's a big deal. It wasn't a great show." She was somewhat placated by my familiarity with the show, separating me from other tourists who think Cheers was actually filmed at the Boston bar.
We dove into the menu of standard pub fare: mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings, soups and salads, burgers and sandwiches, and a bit of pasta. Italian dishes were named for Carla, the show's stereotypical cynic, while other characters' names were slapped almost indiscriminately onto other items: Frasier's chicken panini, Sam's turkey wrap, Rebecca's fish and chips. Of course, the Cheers bar didn't have a kitchen, with the only edibles being peanuts and beer, but we passed on the drinks — Woody's Wonder, Cliff's Cranberry Crush — and went right to the entrees: three burgers, one mug of clam chowder, a bowl of macaroni and cheese, and a grilled cheese sandwich.
Crisp salads were delivered first for those dishes that came with them, followed soon after by the main course. My international guests found New England's seafood lived up to the hype, with chowder that was creamy with a good balance of potatoes and clams that weren't too chewy. My Aussie guests found the "eNormous" burgers, which varied only in portion, to be average, accompanied by warm and well-salted "chips" (what we could call french fries). The macaroni and cheese was topped with bread crumbs that added little crunch to the dish, while the grilled cheese — which consisted of three cheeses, fire-roasted red peppers, olives, and tomatoes — was the better of the two vegetarian choices.
The six of us proceeded to finish the meal with a selection of brownie sundaes and vanilla ice cream. The sundaes were buried beneath a disproportionate amount of whipped cream, obscuring the smaller and only slightly warm brownie beneath. The dish of ice cream was deliciously worth the effort of chipping away spoonfuls of the frozen stuff.
The bill for six meals, three desserts, and assorted drinks amounted to $127.28, roughly a reasonable $21 per person. We chose not to add to that amount with any purchases from the gift shop, which included t-shirts, golf balls, and other memorabilia emblazoned with the Cheers logo.
When adapted for fiction, real life can often seem a letdown by comparison, but it all depends on your expectations. I had no delusions that Cheers would be anything like Cheers, and I did not leave disappointed: a visit to the former Bull & Finch was much like a visit to any other pub. Although the food was enjoyable, the television bar did not succeed on the reputation of its menu, and neither will this one. The best part was sharing the company of friends I'd not seen in a decade, making any destination into one where everybody knows your name.