By Pete Stidman
Jamaica Plain Gazette
HYDE-SQUARE “If ever there was an essence of a bar owner,” said Carl Goldman, a retired schoolteacher and devoted Triple D’s patron, “an essence of a solid neighborhood bartender, a publican, it’s that man right there.” He pointed to Joe Devlin, who poured a draft behind the bar. “There’s a man who knows how to pour a Guinness. Look at how he does it,” said Goldman.
Devlin has poured drafts for his customers at the corner of S. Huntington Avenue and Moraine Street for 27 years. Dick Watson, the other bartender on duty, has worked with him since the beginning. The rest of the staff has an average tenure of about 15 years.
But at 73, Devlin is ready to retire. “If I was in my 50’s I wouldn’t go anywhere,” said Devlin. “I’m at the end of the road here. I can see what’s coming.” He plans to head for Florida with his wife and soak up some sun among a group of lifelong friends who have also set up shop there.
The sale of the bar to Lyndon Fuller and Relena Erskine has yet to be completed as the JP couple scrambles to raise funds for the $1.4 Million asking price plus enough to renovate, but Devlin said he will sell to someone else if the deal falls through. Rumors abound that if the couple does buy, the transformation of the bar will not be as dramatic as they had previously proposed. Instead of a completely new interior, they may just be fixing it up along the lines of what already exists.
“It’s been since June,” said Devlin. “I’m just on that edge of wanting to be done with it. I get that check in my hand, and I’m out of here.” There’s no doubt the man has earned the pay-out for what he has done for people in the neighborhood, supporting several baseball, softball, football, and basketball teams, paying for the funerals of those who could not afford it, serving free Thanksgiving dinner every year and donating the money from St. Patrick’s day dinners to the Jimmy Fund. He also deserves it for how hard he has worked to support his own family over the years.
Devlin was the eldest of five brothers and two sisters growing up on Chestnut Avenue in Jamaica Plain. After his father was laid off from his job in the Charlestown shipyards, Devlin dropped out of 9th grade and went to work in a lumberyard to help support the family. “I wasn’t a grade-getter in school, so I went to work,” he said.
After fighting in the Korean War in the early 50’s, he came back to Boston and landed a job as a prison guard in Walpole. As a trainee at Camp Edwards he had improved boxing skills he had worked on as a kid. In Boston again, he ran to work in the mornings to get his calisthenics in and trained the evenings.
“Between professional fighting and prison work, I really learned how to deal with people,” said Devlin. “If you don’t like me, I punch you out,” he joked. But most of his patrons place him closer to a saint than a lover of violence. His former professional life came in handy at the bar only once, he said, and, “Once we got outside it was over pretty quick. I can usually sense stuff and make sure it’s over before it starts.”
Nevertheless, if it weren’t for Devlin’s controlled violent streak the bar might never have fallen into his hands. Devlin’s record was 12 wins, no losses with eight knock outs in 1958 when he matched up with Welterweight Armand Savoie in front of 6,000 people at the old Mechanic’s Hall formerly on Huntington Avenue in Boston. Savoie was a three-time Canadian champ who had taken a shot at the world lightweight title in ‘53. The fight was brutal. Devlin knocked Savoie down in the first round, but the more experienced fighter stood back up and eventually knocked down Devlin in the fifth. The two hung on for 10 rounds, and Devlin won by decision.
Devlin’s nose was broken in two places, convincing him to stay out of the ring for a while, but he had received $1,000 for his efforts. Later that month, a co-worker at the prison invited him over to his Marshfield home to see his flock of racing pigeons. While his friend demonstrated the speed with which his birds could carry their little messages abroad, his wife Helen snuck off with the woman of the house to view a home for sale down the street.
“When she got back her eyes were as big as dinner plates, and I knew I was in for it,” said Devlin. He put $500 down on a 1.7 acre property with a house big enough for his six kids. He got a second job as a bartender to afford his $78 mortgage and food for his growing army of young ones, eventually totaling nine.
That house increased in value, and in 1977 Devlin got a new mortgage and bought Buddy Hanrahan’s bar in JP with his brother Eddie, who has since passed away, and co-worker Tom DeCourcey who invested without taking an active role in the business.
The current décor came into being in the early 80’s. Originally, the layout was smaller, stretching only from the north side of the present rectangular bar to the far wall. That part of the building has been a drinking establishment for around 70 years. It carried a series of monikers still floating on old school JP memories: Buddy Hanrahan’s, The Moran Café and the South Huntington Tavern. Before it was a bar, during the prohibition era, it was a small market.
According to the crew who still works the taps, Triple D’s was the place to be in the 80s, and three bartenders could hardly keep up with the thirst of the crowds on a weekend night. These days, during the week there are only enough people to fill up the bar stools and occupy a few random tables. One bartender says the bar is “coming out of a quiet period.” At Saturday night Gary-oke one can see why he implies that the bar is on an upswing.
On a recent Saturday evening a Johnny Cash song was butchered. Later on, Dolly Parton’s 9-to-5 got the whole crowd singing. Before the night was over, tables and bar-tops were once again dance floors.
It’s Gary-oke, and it’s one way this old school bar has set foot into the hearts of JP’s more recently arrived residents. “There’s a difference between Karaoke and Gary-oke,” said Gary Gifford, the night’s KJ. “I push the envelope in my sense of lewd behavior.”
Gifford, who isn’t what you’d call a slim or athletic individual, gave two lap dances (fully clothed) to two extremely red-faced college-age women during the night while singing happy birthday Marilyn Monroe/JFK style. He was once noted as the rudest KJ in Boston by a short-lived local magazine, which brought in more fans than ever before.
Gifford originally came on to fill-in two years ago while the bar searched for a more permanent KJ. “When I first started there were 12 people in the bar and three singers,” said Gifford. During that two weeks JP’s queer women had begun to discover the place, and there was friction between the old Triple D’s crowd and the new bunch.
“They called and asked me if I would stay and I said: Are you frigging kidding me? That place is going to burst into flames!” said Gifford. “Two weeks later they started accepting each other and the show started taking hold. Now you can’t see a more diverse crowd at any other karaoke night.”
Media attention focused on the Triple D’s sale has brought in even more people from across the city in the past few weeks. Even though other bar owners have been talking to Gifford, he hasn’t truly considered moving the show.
“I don’t want to go away with this,” said Gifford. “I don’t know if we could really pack it up and take it anywhere else, there’s something about this place.”
Karaoke regular Kate Peppard sits at the barstool closest to the front door and catches up with fellow crooners. Occasionally she asks the bartender a question about another regular or the wellbeing of one of the Devlin family, but he’s too busy for small talk.
“It’s like the old days,” he said as he ran around pouring drinks and whipping off bottle caps, “I’ll lose ten pounds tonight.” Peppard has come in enough to know the whole crowd, old and new.
“I’m not into going to shows or dance bars,” she said, “I just want to sit and talk to people.” She met her husband at the bar two years ago and they both occupy stools at least once a week.
“We’re so marketed to in this age group that we can tell the real thing when we see it,” she said. “You know how they have kit Irish bars? In a few years they’ll have kit bars like this, but it won’t be the same.” She and her husband have been looking around at other spots to prepare for the disappearance of Triple D’s.
“We like the Stag,” she said. “The people are nice there and there are pool tables.”Paul Devlin, Joe’s son who works weekend nights, thinks he understands why some people have become so loyal to Triple D’s. “People want to have something that feels like it’s theirs,” he said, “when everything else doesn’t feel like that.”
“It was a great run,” said his dad Joe Devlin. “Everything clicked. All my kids went through college. We had a time-share in Orlando for them to visit when they wanted to. I thank god for this happening to me.”
Reprinted with permission from the October 21, 2005 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.