Live and Let Dive at the Delux Café

Take a peek inside this gentrification-defying South End watering hole.

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Photographs by Jared Kuzia

While the insatiable forces of gentrification rob Boston of such charmingly seedy landmarks as Southie’s Williams Tavern, a handful of dive bars remain to shield us from the sun and swaddle us in the musk of cheap beer and eternal dusk. The Delux Café, for one, continues to give the corner of Clarendon and Chandler a taste of rumpled camaraderie in the South End. After all, where else can you slurp down a $5 brown-bagged mystery shot? Or watch reruns of The French Chef next to an Elvis shrine?

Mustachioed mixologists and handsculpted ice cubes do not a great bar make. No, it’s a particular ambiance that draws together both townie weirdoes and grit-seeking hipsters—like Delux husband-and-wife team Laura Hafner and Kyle Yanney, who started out as neighborhood regulars before purchasing the space in 2013. Now the duo is doing God’s work, bringing nearly six decades of publican history to a new generation of devoted barflies. Here are just a few of the reasons we can’t wait to go back again. And again.

100 Chandler St., Boston, 617-338-5258.

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Schlitz lights, tackers, and the homemade “Schlitzmas Tree” are a nod to the Delux house beer. “That’s the only beer paraphernalia we allow,” Hafner says. “It’s just Schlitz and a bunch of other weird crap.”

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In 1994, former owner Kevin Sheehan trimmed the walls in tinsel and vintage string lights for the holidays. Two decades later, the décor remains, giving the space a Christmas feel year round.

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Hafner displays memorabilia from other Boston institutions, such as a signed photo from the family behind Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe and the 180-pound cash register from the old Rosebud Diner.

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Despite the cheek-by-jowl dimensions of the kitchen (5 by 8 feet), Yanney still manages to make almost everything from scratch: cheese, juices for cocktails, even condiments.

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To keep things interesting for its loyal customers, Delux changes the menu every day or two. “We have people that eat here three or four nights a week,” Hafner says. “I’m not exaggerating.”

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The names scratched into the bar’s glossy veneer date to the 1960s. These days, further tagging is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged.

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The server pictured on the album art for Willie Sordill’s Please Tip Your Waitress just so happens to be related to a neighborhood regular. After noticing it hanging behind the bar, she started dropping by to “drink with Grandma.”

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Local photographer Henry Horenstein gifted Hafner this 1969 shot of Dolly Parton performing at Symphony Hall.