Ahead of the Beat

As Patrick Lyons prepares to open the doors to two new Back Bay restaurants, the social mogul reflects on the evolution of the city’s dining and nightlife scene.

By Amy Traverso | Boston Magazine |

PATRICK LYONS IS STANDING IN THE vast construction site that will soon become his latest property, an $8 million mega-restaurant in the Hynes Convention Center called Towne Stove and Spirits, scheduled to open next month.

He’s knee-deep in wiring and drywall and architectural renderings, fielding questions from the contractor, juggling two cell phones. Amid this swirl of activity, he’s weighing whether to divulge a small detail about, of all things, a cocktail.

It’s not the formula — classic martini — but the price, which, in its modesty, amounts to a de-escalation in the cocktail arms race. In his view, the era of the $17 drink is over. People have become too smart to overpay for four ounces of liquor. And Lyons knows that aggressive pricing on his part may well force his competitors to dock their own drinks accordingly, so he doesn’t want to show his hand.

“When’s this story running?” he asks.

“June.”

He shakes his head. “No. I can’t. Because if I announce it, they’ll beat us to the game.”

I put down my pen. He smiles, like a kid just released from detention, and names his price.

Alas, the actual revelation inspires a bit of “Yeah, so?” Cheap drinks? This is a shocker? But to Lyons, this detail is as critical to Towne’s success as the location (an oasis in the dining desert of outer Boylston) or the size (360 seats) or the star executive chefs (Lydia Shire and Jasper White). For Patrick Lyons, business is all about the details. Get them right and you win; get them wrong, you lose. And for more than 30 years, he’s gotten most of the details right.

LYONS HAS MADE IT HIS JOB TO observe Boston at close range — to understand what Bostonians want, and when they want it. It’s how he’s built his empire, the Lyons Group, an entertainment investment/advisory firm that includes 29 restaurants, lounges, and bars — places like Scampo, Summer Shack, the Bleacher Bar, and Ultra 88, the would-be South Beach nightclub at Mohegan Sun. This month, even before he sends Towne out of the gate, his team will open yet another property, a casual bar and café called the Back Bay Social Club, just across the street.

Despite his outsized ambitions and famous friends — the Farrelly brothers named a character after him in Fever Pitch — Lyons tries to maintain a low profile. In his early days of running nightclubs, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he courted the press. But he hasn’t done that for years. He’d rather observe the scene than front it.

There is one thing he’s happy to promote: Boston itself. The Buffalo, New York, native loves this city with the zeal of a convert, and he can talk for hours about the changes the past three decades have wrought. “Boston is coming into its own now,” he says. “Give me another 650,000-population place that can thumb their noses at the Yankees. We’re that feisty little brother who grows up to kick your butt.”

  • Joani

    Amazing article. I knew Pat back in 1979, when I was there for the summer and then later when I returned in 1980′s to live and attend school. While there I worked with his brother, Mike, handing out promotional items for RJ Reynolds. Pat, and even Mike, always amazed me with their keen business sense. Kudo’s to them. Pat is your reading this, I think you are one of the brightest most observant business men I know.