Some recent business took me to downtown Boston, and while I know Boston has some important history, nothing interested me more than going to Cheers. For those unfamiliar, Cheers was a sitcom that ran from 1982 to 1993. The show was set in a bar in Boston named, as you might guess, Cheers. Well, I was familiar with the show while it was running, but I never really watched more than the occasional episode. That is until a few months ago when I caught a few episodes on the Hallmark Channel, at which time I found that I really liked the show. I started watching the series from the first episode on Netflix. (I’m at about episode 200 as of this writing.) Even though I wasn’t an original fan of the show, I would say that I like it enough now to call myself a fan. Fan enough that Cheers was my top priority in downtown Boston.
I looked up Cheers on the internet before heading over there. There are two Cheers restaurants in Boston. There is the “The Original” at 85 Beacon Street, and “The Replica” in South Boston. Naturally, I wanted nothing but the original, so I was going to Beacon Street. I narrate my experience in present tense:
I recognize the outside of bar. It looks just like the show. It’s exactly like I’d seen it in the opening credits of the show. The familiar stairs lead down to the bar. The business next door that has an awning stretched out to the street. The awning is a different color, but the feel of the outside is the same. I’m across the street, by the park. As I approach, I see a group of tourists try to go into the building next door. The greeters there tell the group that Cheers is downstairs. These tourists have obviously never seen the show.
I cross Beacon Street, another group of tourists is outside taking pictures. They know that the stairs lead down to the bar. An older gentleman stands by the steps while his wife takes a picture. I’m ready to head down the steps. One of the tourists says, “We better get out of the way, since we’re blocking the stairs.” I tell them, “It’s no problem.”
I head down the steps. The stairs seem to go a lot deeper than the show makes them look. I’m deep underground. There’s a door in front of me. It doesn’t say “Cheers” on it, so I wonder if I’m in the right place. I open the door and walk into the restaurant. It clearly doesn’t look like Cheers. I didn’t expect it to. When I looked it up on the internet I found out that the restaurant is downstairs and the “set” bar is upstairs. I see a shelf full of “Cheers” souvenirs, so I know I’m in the right place.
I’m greeted by a bouncer. He asks me what I want to do. I say, “I want to eat at the bar.” He tells me that they have three bars. One right in the main restaurant, I can see this bar from the entrance, another one on the lower floor as well, and one upstairs. I knew from the website that I want the bar that is upstairs. He asks me for ID. I’m taken aback for a second, but then I realize that it’s a bar, and I look a lot younger than I actually am. I whip out my drivers license. He looks at it, and nods his head a bit. He seems surprised by my age. He hands me back my license, then stamps my hand. I ask him for directions to the bar upstairs. He points in the opposite direction, and says, “Head out into that hallway, then go through the furthest door on the right.”
“Furthest on the right,” I confirm, then head in the direction he pointed.
I have some trouble finding my way. I’m so excited that I confuse right and left. I almost go into another part of the restaurant, but then I realize my mistake and take the right doorway. I see the stairs going up.
At the top of the stairs I see a life sized cardboard cutout of the character Norm. Well, I’m not actually sure it is life size since he seems a little short. This makes me feel comfortable, however. It makes me feel like this really is Cheers. I walk into the room and sit at the bar.
It’s Friday evening, but the bar isn’t crowded. There are maybe eight people around the bar. I had wanted to sit where Norm and Cliff usually sit on the show, but that area of the bar is occupied. I ultimately sit next to where Frazier and Lilith are often seated. The counter actually has a little plaque on it that says, “Frazier”. Not a very nice touch, in my opinion. Tacky. Fans of the show know where the characters sit. I elect not to sit exactly where Frazier sat because I didn’t want to look like too much of a tourist. I look like a tourist. Everything about my demeanor say’s I’m a tourist.
The bar resembles the show, certainly. It looks like it. Hundreds of bottles. Red and white wine glasses. High-grade Naugahyde stool covers. And a brass rail. And a big-city bartender with a joke at the ready. Well, I don’t know if the bartender actually has a joke at the ready. He doesn’t crack one as I sit down. The bar is also smaller than the one on the show, I guess this is okay, since the room is a lot smaller than the one of the show. Other than the bar, nothing really looks or feels like Cheers. There is a television on the wall, in the approximate location where the TV set on the show is located, but it’s an HDTV, and there are two more TVs in opposite corners of the bar. The bar uses it’s own custom mugs, as opposed to the standard beer mug seen on the show, as well.
I’m greeted by a bartender. He’s wearing a uniform. Clearly this guy is no Sam Malone or Woody Boyd. He asks what I want. I ask for a menu. After a few minutes he gets around to getting me one. I’m not particularly picky about what I want. It’s my dinner, sure, but the excitement of being in Cheers is all I really care about. I had read on the internet about the “Norm Burger Hall of Fame” and had thought that if I was feeling the spirit of the moment I would ask about that, but I’m not feeling any kind of vibe. I decide on the Cheeseburger.
A different bartender comes around. He asks me if I decided what I want. I tell him I want the Cheeseburger and a root beer. He takes the menu and gets me my drink right away. I figure it will be a while before I get my burger, so I sit, hunched over the bar, and look around. There is a group of what look like business men to my right (where Norm and Cliff sit). I wonder what they are doing here. They look local, and this doesn’t really seem to be the kind of bar that would attract locals. It’s meant to be for tourists, at least that’s what I think. Across the bar from me are a few more people. I can’t really see them.
Behind me, at one of the tables, is the only other person that looks my age. He is with what I assume is his mother. I guess this because the lady he is with is much older than he is. There are plenty of people around, at the tables, but, like I said, the bar is mostly empty. I sit silently, waiting for my order.
Eventually my burger arrives. There’s really not much ketchup in the bottle that the bartender gave me. I wonder if I should ask him for more, but he seems busy. He’s bouncing around an awful lot. Going back and forth. I don’t really know what he’s doing since no one is really ordering anything. Just trying to make himself look busy, I guess. I have enough ketchup, and I don’t want to bother him.
The Cheeseburger isn’t great. Applebee’s Cowboy Burger is a lot better. Of course, I think this is an unfair comparison since I do consider the Cowboy Burger to be one of the greatest sandwiches ever invented. After I’m about half way through the burger, the bartender asks me how it is. I say that it’s fine. It is fine. I didn’t expect it to be great.
As I’m eating, some tourists walk in. A couple. The man, and older guy, sits down next to me, and says to his wife, “It says this is where Frazier sits!” He’s excited. He has his wife take a picture of him. I’m in the picture, at least my back is. They don’t order anything. They leave.
As I finish my burger another couple sits at the bar, around the corner from me. The bartender asks the lady if she wants a lager. He is acting somewhat flirty with her. I almost think that I might see a Sam Malone moment. I almost expect the bartender to slide over the counter and drop a cheesy pickup line. What actually happens is that she asks if he can make a certain drink. He says that he can. That’s it. That was his chance to shine, to be the Sam Malone that he was meant to be. He failed miserably. Why did he fail? I don’t know. Maybe it was because he was wearing a uniform. Maybe it was because this lady was older than him. Maybe it was because this lady was with another man. Maybe he just didn’t care.
I finish my burger. The bartender takes my plate and asks if I want anything else. I tell him I want a couple of souvenir mugs. He says that will be fine and collects some mugs out from a cardboard box under the counter and starts putting them in bubble wrap. He takes forever to do this, longer than he should have. This confirms my suspicions that he was acting busier than he really was. He prints me a bill and disappears around the bar. I’m ready to pay right then, so I don’t know why he didn’t take my credit card which I already had out.
Before getting back to me the bartender approaches the lady to my left. I’m thinking to myself, ”He’s got another chance to be a Sam Malone.” He seems to be flirting with her, but I can’t hear a thing. So I don’t know what he’s saying for sure. The bar is too loud to hear anything. It’s nothing like the show. If someone was cracking a joke, there is no way anyone else would hear it. I couldn’t hear more than two feet away. Sill I wonder how he is talking to this woman without upsetting the man she is with. Maybe they know each other.
Eventually the bartender takes my credit card. I had to bug him a couple times to get him to take it. I tip the recommended amount on the receipt, selecting 20%. I realize that the 20% includes the cost of the souvenir mugs. I don’t care. I had my cheers experience, and a few more dollars for it is nothing to me. Anyway, I want to be generous. The bartender was friendly enough. I finish my drink and leave the barroom.
I have a little trouble finding my way out. There are a lot of stairs to follow and hallways to walk through. I almost leave through an emergency exit, but eventually find my way back to the main restaurant. As I’m leaving, the bouncer is asking another group of tourists what they want to do. I head up the stairs. As I climb up the stairs I have a genuine feeling of leaving Cheers. I find myself on Beacon Street.