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.

Ever since he arrived in 1976, he’s studied our quirks and habits, our changing mores and fashions. “I’ve had a front-row view of Boston for the past 30 years,” he says. “When I came here, I was an interested observer. I had a voracious appetite for all things Boston.”

He still does, and he still refers to himself as an outsider. And when Lyons talks about his adopted home, he sounds more like a particularly enthusiastic anthropologist than a restaurateur. His memory contains decades’ worth of anecdotes and ephemera, all neatly filed and ready for the recall. All of which is why a trip down memory lane with Lyons offers a natural history of Boston’s iconic nightlife — and an astute assessment of who we are as a city today.

THE ERA: The mid-to-late ’70s

A.K.A. The Wild West

THE MAJOR VENUES: 15 Lansdowne, the Mad Hatter, the Kenmore Club, Jason’s, K-

THE PLAYERS: Neighborhood kids, college kids, disco-lovers

THE SCENE: The Boston that Lyons encountered in 1976 was a town of Balkanized neighborhoods and very little nightlife. “You could count the number of restaurants where people went out for a fine dining experience on one hand,” he says. There were plenty of bars but just a handful of nightclubs, including 15 Lansdowne, where Ian Schrager learned his trade before moving to New York to open Studio 54.

Instead, everyone’s idea of a good time was to head to the Mad Hatter for “Drink and Drown” Wednesdays. This was still a time when kids from Southie stayed in Southie, and Charlestown hadn’t seen a single condo conversion; a time when Saturday Night Fever became a phenomenon, as did the desire to get out and shake your groove thing.

THE LESSON: If you build it, they will come. “Boston was a bare landscape then, and subject to all kinds of possibilities,” Lyons says. “All we needed to do was look around at the world and see what was happening, and then interpret it for Boston.”

  • 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.