February 5, 2015

Cheers in Boston

Sign at Boston's famous Cheers bar.

photo by: Via Tsuji/Flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND-2

The Boston bar that inspired the TV series “Cheers” was originally named the Bull and Finch Pub, and was actually established in 1969.

The Boston pub that inspired the fictional bar in the NBC sitcom “Cheers” is actually a real neighborhood institution that has been serving its Beacon Hill environs for 46 years.

Established in 1969 by Thomas A. Kershaw, the bar where everybody knows your name was originally the Bull & Finch Pub, named after Boston-born architect Charles Bulfinch, who designed the U.S. Capitol as well as the Massachusetts State House (along with many other buildings).

Cheers is located in the basement of the brick and granite Hampshire House, built in 1910 by society architect Ogden Codman. (Also owned by Kershaw, the Georgian Revival townhouse currently functions as a high-end event hall.) Located directly across from Boston Public Garden, the pub served as the establishing shot throughout the show’s eleven seasons on air (from 1982-1993).

Boston's Cheers bar exterior.

photo by: Rene Schwietzke/Flickr/CC-BY-2

Located at 84 Beacon Street across from Boston Public Garden, the bar’s facade served as the establishing shot for all eleven seasons of "Cheers."

In 1981, two writers and a director for the TV show “Taxi” left the series and began discussions for another workplace sitcom in a “more appetizing” environment, according to Dennis Bjorklund in his reference tome, “Toasting Cheers.” Glen and Les Charles (the writers) and James Burrows (the director) opted for a lively bar setting for their new series, and set about finding a suitable locale.

“Boston was chosen partially because only five short-lived television shows claimed the city and the East Coast pubs were real neighborhood hangouts,” says Bjorklund.

After seeing an ad Kershaw put in the Yellow Pages advertising the Bull & Finch Pub, the co-creators sent their set designer to take pictures of the basement haunt. The trio later visited the pub and met bartender Eddie Doyle and Kershaw, inquiring if they could use its exterior for the establishing shots. Kershaw agreed and the deal was sealed for $1, according to Bjorklund. The deal did not include any interior shots however, and patrons visiting the Beacon Hill establishment will be disappointed if they are looking for a replica of the spacious bar where the show is set.

Boston's Cheers bar interior.

photo by: Cheers-Bar-Interior_Michael-Kappel_CC-BY-NC-2

The interior of the original basement pub does not resemble the TV show bar.

Kershaw did later add a ground-floor gift shop and bar to resemble the famous on-screen depiction and take advantage of the Bull & Finch’s new-found popularity with tourists. Under a licensing agreement, T-shirts, mugs, hats, shot glasses, ash trays, Bloody Mary mix, and other memorabilia emblazoned with the “Cheers” logo are available for sale at the pub, with eight percent of those sales going to CBS Studios, the show’s syndicator.

Throughout the show’s run, the Bull & Finch became increasing popular with tourists and decidedly less popular with locals. A report from 1990 reveals that the pub was visited by more than half a million sightseers annually and had become one of Boston’s top three tourist destinations. Kershaw even changed the pub's menu to feature characters from the show, with sections like "Sam's Starters," "Norm's Sandwiches," and "Diane's Entrees."

On May 20, 1993, the night of the show’s series finale, the cast watched from inside the bar, and a special live episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was filmed there, with Leno interviewing the cast.

A replica of the original Cheers Bar on the ground floor.

photo by: Nicholas Erwin/Flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND-2

The bar's ground floor now includes a gift show and replica of the on-screen depiction.

Once the series ended, the bar more than retained its popularity, prompting Kershaw to open a second outpost of the bar nearby at Faneuil Hall in 2001; this time, however, he named the bar “Cheers,” after agreeing to give 2.5 percent of the food and beverage sales to CBS.

“I don’t know why I ever did it, but I did,” Kershaw said of the deal in 2013.

Under the same agreement, he changed the name of Bull & Finch in 2002 to “Cheers Beacon Hill.” Kershaw says before the name change, 95 percent of patrons he surveyed mentioned they had trouble finding the bar. Recent estimates peg the annual number of patrons at the two Cheers-themed bars to be about 750,000.

If you're a "Cheers" fan and you find yourself in Boston, this bar is a must. Here's what you need to know:

Location: 84 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108

Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (All days except Christmas Day)

What to get: Try the mac & cheese, beef chili, or Boston clam chowder to warm up; draft beers are served in the bar's classic souvenir mug, which you can take home for an additional $8.

Best Yelp Review: "We chose to go full frontal tourist and have a couple of beers in the 'set bar,' which is an identical replica of the Cheers set. It was also crowded, but when we were looking for a seat, the person sitting in Cliff Clavin's spot moved, and there I was—sitting at the bar, being Cliff! It was a lot of fun. As I was leaving, a guy asked if the spot was open. I said, 'yes,' and he geeked out over getting to be Cliff."

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