Bring Back the Dunkin’ Donuts Counter Service and Let Us Vibe
Back in the ’80s, you could sidle up to the bar, sip coffee in a ceramic mug, and chill.
If you aren’t already, you simply have to follow the GBH archive account on Twitter. It’s a time machine, a portal back to a time when cars weighed 9,000 pounds, had no seatbelts and people somehow drove worse. Importantly, it’s also a means of eavesdropping on people shit-talking “the asshole in the credit department” at Jordan Marsh exactly 39 years ago.
It’s amazing. There is just something illuminating about the version of Boston you see in a few fleeting moments of news station B-roll that you cannot get anywhere else. And what I’m here to tell you about today is that this indispensable internet resource has once again gifted us a precious gem: A view inside a Dunkin’ Donuts in 1984.
Yes, 1984, when a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee. And Dunkin’ Donuts was a diner.
At least that’s the impression one gets from this clip, courtesy of my favorite Twitter account, which is rapidly going viral online.
Dunkin’ Donuts in January 1984. pic.twitter.com/DHnFE8HmMP
— GBH Archives (@GBHArchives) December 16, 2021
The footage, captured for purposes unknown and at a Dunkin’ location GBH can’t even recall, shows a group of definitively 1980s Bostonians enjoying freshly brewed cups of joe inside a certainly-in-the-’80s coffee shop. There are ceramic Dunkin’ mugs, and metal spoons. A man in a bowler hat is casually smoking a butt. The servers, decked out in frilly sweaters and wearing these incredible pink hats, are taking orders and delivering items from the then-pastry-only menu. A woman in a fabulous but road-weary fur coat is aiming a vicious side eye at a GBH camera operator.
I relate to her pic.twitter.com/AyKl6flAPT
— TOMMY (@tommypisani) December 16, 2021
And all of the action is coalescing around a long, winding wooden counter, the kind you’ll only find these days at either vintage diners or bars.
Take a look at those folks. Are they grabbing turbo shot-spiked, whipped cream-topped seasonal beverages, ordered on an app, picked up wordlessly in a furious hurry—you know, the way we enjoy coffee here in 2021? No! They have shown up at Dunkin’ Donuts and sidled up to the counter to simply take a load off, pick at a coffee cake muffin, and vibe.
A beautiful concept, really. And frankly, one I believe in my bones we could recreate here in the future if we really wanted to. As you’ve surely noticed, every Dunkin’ in Massachusetts comes pre-fabricated with a table of retirees shooting the shit in the corner over senior discount small black coffees. They remember these days lost to time. If you built them a linoleum bartop, they would happily take their conversations bar-side once again. While the thought of doing WFH work on a laptop at a Dunks feels, I don’t know, unseemly, couldn’t you picture yourself tapping away at a MacBook on a curved countertop as a waiter lovingly refills your mug with piping hot Original Blend(tm)?
We have certainly gained plenty in the Dunkin’ going experience in all this time. Cold brew is a game changer for when you’re really dragging ass. Pumpkin spice, if that’s your thing, was not on the menu in 1984, and I respect the preferences of those for whom the arrival of pumpkin flavoring each year is a holiday unto itself. And sure, there are some aspects of this bygone Dunkin’ era that can stay frozen in amber forever as far as I’m concerned, such as the bewildering choice to plunk to-go hot coffees inside paper bags, as a server can be seen doing at the video’s end.
Just tossing the cups of coffee in the bag. The world was a much better place before Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants pic.twitter.com/oNfmAspuM5
— cam (@CamJones0) December 16, 2021
But what, the emergence of this priceless footage from GBH’s treasure trove has forced us to ask ourselves, have we lost?
Update: An earlier version of this story referenced disturbing archival footage of a busing protest in East Boston. While the video can be found in the GBH archives, the archives’ twitter account did not share it.