By Dan Murphy and Lauren Bennett
While the Red Sox’s home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park is set for April 1, it’s still unclear whether fans will be allowed back in stands in a limited capacity this season, and now, with last week’s news that the venerable Eastern Standard won’t reopen in Kenmore Square, the future of the restaurant scene in that neighborhood is even more of a lingering question.
“We anticipate a busy summer,” Ryan Jones, vice president of the Lyons Group, which operates Lansdowne Pub, Bleacher Bar, Game On!, Loretta’s Last Call and Bill’s Bar, said optimistically. “This year, we hope and expect fans will be back in Fenway Park at some point.”
Even though no fans were allowed in the ballpark last year, area restaurants convinced the city to close down Lansdowne Street to vehicular traffic and allow them to create new outdoor patio space, said Woods, and fans flocked there on game days.
“If you can’t be in Fenway Park, it’s closest you’ll get to the Red Sox,” Jones said of the experience.
Jones also predicts more diners would be willing to eat inside as vaccinations become more readily available.
“We have this outdoor space now, and as people get vaccinated and feel more comfortable, they’ll begin coming inside more [to dine],” Jones said. “By the fall and winter, nearly everyone will have had access to the vaccine, so hopefully [the coronavirus will be] 95 percent gone by the that time.”
District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok said that the “question of fans in the ballpark” this season is going to be “decided by public health data.” With more vaccine becoming available, she said that the “number one thing that people can do” is to get the vaccine and ensure that their loved ones get it, too.
“It’s ultimately the power of numbers,” she said, and that will have a “huge ripple effect for the ballpark and all of our restaurants.”
Bok said that she does believe people are optimistic heading into this summer, but “we have to own the fact that it’s been really hard for small businesses,” and that “unfortunately,” some of them have been lost.
She said one solution is to strengthen the outdoor patio program established by the city last summer, and “really take advantage of those outdoor dining opportunities” to draw people to restaurants in a safer way. This could lead to more indoor dining as well if the numbers continue to improve, she said.
“The vaccine has made us all really hopeful,” Bok said. “No matter what, it’s a banner year for supporting our local restaurants as they try to come back from this.”
Meanwhile, Pam Beale, president of the Kenmore Association, co-founder of the Charlesgate Alliance, described the news of Eastern Standard’s decision not to reopen as something of a formality.
“It was the culmination of all the negotiations ending in a private business agreement that parties put together as part of the breakup,” said Beale, who is also the owner of Cornwell’s Tavern, a longstanding Kenmore Square pub. “It’s a transfer of licenses based on an agreement, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. It feels like you’re losing a friend a great operator and a wonderful neighbor.”
But despite the loss of Eastern Standard, Beale remains optimistic that Garrett Harker, the restaurateur behind Eastern Standard, as well as to its shuttered sister establishments at the Hotel Commonwealth – The Hawthorne and Island Creek Oyster Bar – would find a new home in Kenmore Square.
“Hopefully, this isn’t the end of the story for Garrett and this community,” Beale said. “We have already made Garrett aware of all the opportunities with all the new development that’s coming to Kenmore Square, so hopefully an opportunity will emerge for him to start again in this neighborhood because he knows he has the neighborhood’s support.”