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.

As the stock market recovered in the middle of the decade, Boston’s luxury shops and restaurants bounced back. “We did have our own little bit of wretched excess as we approached 2007. There was a lot of gluttony,” he says. At the same time, midprice restaurants like Petit Robert Bistro and Rocca began to multiply. Baby boomers started to move back into town. And young urban couples were deciding to raise their own children in the city, thus creating a new generation of neighborhood types.

The next recession (the one we’re barely out of) changed everything again. “The marketplace took a hard turn,” Lyons says. “It forcedus to say, ‘Wait, let’s really think about what people want,’ and we believe there’s a need for creative culinary expression by masters at reasonable prices.”

THE LESSON: “Boston is like a rubber band. It’s always going to snap back to what it is: political, tribal, local.”

THE ERA: Today
 
A.K.A. The New Austerity

LYONS’S VENUES: Towne, the Back Bay Social Club

THE PLAYERS: Everyone

THE SCENE: And so Towne will open with two floors, great views, and a menu that’ll cover wide swaths of flavor territory in the way that only Shire can. It’ll be bold and ambitious and a little bit of everything, because the goal is to lure both tourists and locals.   

Bostonians today aren’t intimidated by fine dining, and aren’t impressed by $40 entrées. “It’s not so much that people don’t have money to spend. They just don’t feel comfortable spending for show. It’s not cool to go in and have a display of conspicuous consumption,” he says.

Thus, the challenge for his business now is to offer solid value to a more sophisticated audience. In the decades that Lyons has lived here, he’s seen the city shed its parochialism, then embrace all things gourmet and grand. Now it boasts a mature market — one in which diners demand high quality, regardless of price point. “You have to be on your game,” he says. “People now have tools like Yelp and Chowhound. Their habits are dictated by social media, and they know about exotic foods and wines. These things used to be a big mystery.”

This makes the stakes even higher, and the work even harder. Lyons has no illusions about coasting on previous success. The next phase is as great a challenge as he’s ever faced — which is why he’s sweating every detail.

  • 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.