Bruce Arthur: Leafs-Bruins not too close to call for a landmark Boston bar

Bruce Arthur: Leafs-Bruins not too close to call for a landmark Boston bar
It’s the phone at the front that rings, because if you call The Fours you’re not calling the guys behind the bar. The Fours is a classic Boston landmark, a half-block from the Garden, with that distinctive black wood and gold script outside. It’s the dignified grandaddy of the bars on Canal Street, just off the Causeway, filled with a museum’s worth of fun, sometimes unpredictable sports pictures and memorabilia. Sports Illustrated named it the best sports bar in America back in 2005. Maybe that’s why people call.

“It’s never creative,” says Chris Galvin, a longtime bartender. “Never.”

Mitch Marner led the Leafs to a Game 1 win in Boston last week, and prompted a couple of fans to join the list of out-of-towners calling The Fours.  (Adam Glanzman / GETTY IMAGES)

For some reason, when Boston sports teams lose big games, the phone rings. It can be football, baseball, basketball or hockey. And it’s the same every time.

“Every time there’s a big game, people will want to call here and trash talk,” says Jim Taggart, the general manager. “And I don’t know why, or what the significance is. It can be as graphic as, ‘Go f--- yourself,’ or it can be, ‘You just got killed.’ It depends on the city. Philadelphia, when Philly won the Super Bowl, it was very graphic and very detailed, telling me where to go. As you can imagine.”

And this past week, after the Toronto Maple Leafs won Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Bruins, history: The Fours got their first calls from Canada. Two young men.

“Always,” says Taggart, bespectacled and cheerful. “I’m not sure that I ve ever had a woman do it.”

Montreal fans never called, not even when the Habs won Game 7 here in 2014. Toronto fans never called, which given the last two Leafs-Bruins playoff series before this one, is for the best.

But Toronto won Game 1. The phone rang.

“The first guy called — and you Canadians are very polite, that s a good thing I suppose — and the first guy asked where the Bruins played, and I said TD Garden,” says Taggart. “And he said, what does the TD stand for? And I knew, OK. And he said, ‘How does it feel that you guys lost in a building named after Toronto?’ And I said, ‘Very funny.’ And he apologized and said he s not even a fan of Toronto, he just wanted to call and say something. But he said he was a huge fan of Bobby Orr, and the Bruins will be back. So if this is trash-talking, it s not very good.”

“So, 10 minutes later, someone calls and asked me if we had leafy vegetables on the menu,” says Taggart. “And you could hear people in the background laughing, giggling, so I didn t know if he was at a bar or had people at his house. And then he said, ‘The Leafs won,’ and hangs up.

“Often times people are looking for a heated response from me, so they can go back and forth. But that was an incredibly polite way of doing that.”

It’s been going on forever. Taggart got his first calls from New York Giants fans when the 18-0 Patriots lost the Super Bowl in 2008. The bar was inundated with calls from Atlanta when the Falcons sprinted out to a 28-3 lead in 2017, and waitress Kasey Fielding remembers getting yelled at “Sucks to suck!” and telling them, distractedly, “Yeah, we’re probably going to lose.”

“But then we didn’t,” says Fielding.

Maybe it’s because it’s Boston’s defining sports bar. Bruins forward Brad Marchand’s parents are in here all the time — “Couldn t be sweeter or nicer people,” says Taggart — often with defenceman Charlie McAvoy’s parents. When Mike Babcock was coaching the Detroit Red Wings he would always order the chowder. He hasn’t been in since he became the coach of the Leafs.

And Charles Barkley came once. He was the best.

“Of the people who have been here, he is among the coolest people I have ever met,” says Taggart. “He had a bunch of time off every night (during the 2008 NBA final), so he came here and he sat upstairs and he d have dinner and he d sit there and let everybody talk to him. We were mobbed, and he would talk to people all night long. Never lost his cool, was funny, witty, charming.”

It’s a friendly place. Sports fans don’t get into real fights here, though Rangers, Flyers and Canadiens fans are accounted to be more aggressive than, say, Leafs, Red Wings or Chicago fans.

And if you come here, the faces often stay the same. Taggart has been the manager for 13 years, and you can still see co-owner Peter Colton working the front desk and wiping down tables, and he’s in seven days a week. As we spoke, fellow co-owner Geno McGregor was wiping down the bar. And on this Thursday, co-owner Fran Manganiello was also there, as several employees who had just started families, and met at The Fours, celebrated the first birthday for one of their daughters. The people who work here tend to stay here. One bartender’s parents worked here before he did.

And yes, there is a picture of former Red Sox reliever Sam McDowell behind the bar, because he’s the guy whose character became the inspiration for Sam Malone. They have regulars here. They really do know your name.

“In a way, yes, we are like the real-world Cheers,” says Taggart.

Of course, even when you’ve affixed history to the walls, things change. They’ve noticed fewer Bruins and Celtics regulars, because as ticket prices go up people sell their seats more often to cover the cost. And the new surrounding apartments aren’t as much for a neighbourhood as they are for the rich: a one-bedroom across the street rents out at about $3,000 (U.S.) a month.

But every year after a Boston team loses in the playoffs, the phone rings. Game 5 is Friday night, and Game 6 will be an elimination game for someone. We’ll see if Canada has the chance to make another call.
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