“There’s a time and a place for everything,” Etiquetteer’s Dear Mother used to say.* And though Dear Mother would not say there’s a time and a place for rudeness, Boston’s fabled Durgin-Park restaurant made itself the Place for Rudeness. But its Time has now passed. Yesterday night the unthinkable happened; Durgin-Park closed for good after 192 (!) years of slinging traditional Yankee cooking and traditional Yankee sass. “Then let us drown an eye, unus’d to flow,” and all that, but in spite of all the hand-wringing, perhaps D-P’s time really had come.
On a whim one night last week, Etiquetteer headed over for one Last Supper (much as last year at the closing of Brasserie JO, but more out of curiosity than sadness). Since a last visit in 2007, everything was reassuringly the same, but the line to go upstairs to the market dining rooms stretched all the way from the front door back to the bar. Durgin-Park is not the sort of place to go for Those Who Expect Deference, so Etiquetteer was by turns amused and frustrated by a Family Man getting testy about a reservation (a reservation! at Durgin-Park!) not being honored and having to wait in line, blah blah blah. Another patron not quite quietly told him off by saying “Y’know, they’re closing on Saturday. Do you really think they’re gonna worry about it?” Sometimes the most important part of Perfect Propriety is knowing When to Let It Go.**
After about 20 minutes in a chilly line overhearing both Fond Reminiscence and Mounting Impatience, Etiquetteer was finally admitted up the steep staircase to the market dining room and shown a seat at one of the tables. All these new restaurants with their community tables . . . people, the idea is not a new one! It got started at pretension-free eating places like D-P 200 years ago and more. Diners talk among themselves, or generally, or keep apart, as they choose. It’s bad form to be too exclusive in such surroundings, but Perfectly Proper to be on one’s own if that’s your preference.
Amidst the hubbub one saw pairs of diners able to have quiet conversations, family groups that somehow all got to sit together, and mountains of down jackets. Let’s talk about the dress code, such as it is. In a market dining room or any community table setting, you take what you get - all are welcome regardless of dress. And while Etiquetteer witnessed lots of down jackets and jeans, one gentleman stood out in a shiny brocade dinner jacket with pink ruffled shirt and extravagant cowboy boots. Etiquetteer felt practically incognito without a bow tie, but then recalled a time in the dining room when a crabby waitress called out “Hey Einstein!” to Collegiate Etiquetteer . . . there are ways and ways one’s clothes call attention. Sometimes it’s best to stand out by blending in.
And speaking of dress, it’s worth noting that almost all of the waitresses wore the traditional white uniform dress that used to be standard for waitresses and nurses. Often accessorized (by necessity) with a black sweater, it was an important reminder that that overused word “authentic” is not synonymous with “precious.”
Etiquetteer saw fresh pink-and-red tablecloths being laid over soiled pink-and-red tablecloths to keep the service going swiftly. At D-P, you get a knife, a fork, a napkin, and a tumbler; there’s a communal water pitcher on the table. Don’t ask for lemon. Etiquetteer’s favorite meal at D-P has ever been the Yankee pot roast and strawberry shortcake. Alas, the half-tub of non-dairy whipped topping that came with Etiquetteer’s shortcake was still partially frozen. Which begs the question: if D-P had upped its game in the kitchen, by continuing to turn out traditional Yankee favorites but at truly top quality, would the doors be closing?
Etiquetteer’s waitress, and several others, expressed hope that a buyer would come along at the last minute, to save this iconic institution. Hope, as they say, springs eternal. If so, let’s hope they keep Durgin-Park just as it’s always been, but with a better kitchen.
*She still does, too.
**That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much should pay attention to that . . .