This essay was written in November, 2015, just a few months after the closure of James’s Gate. It was published in the Jamaica Plain Gazette on Nov. 20. 2015.
It has now been several months since we were all shocked to learn that the James’s Gate Pub had closed. And the sadness hasn’t lessened. Why is this, we ask? What made this local pub with peeling paint, faded sign, and not-exceptional pub food land into our collective spirit and take hold? Why is it so hard for us to forget and let go?
Because the Gate was not just a pub – it was a great, “Third Place.” Years ago, I read an excerpt from Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great Good Place (1989) and theory regarding the “Third Place.” This concept contends that we have three major circles in which we travel on a daily basis: the first is your home, the second your job, and the third is a place to get away from the stresses of the first two. A third place is where you go to meet your friends and let your hair down and shake off the daily grind. It can be a coffee shop, a quilting circle, a barbershop. It doesn’t much matter, so long as it is a place that “anchors” the community life and “fosters a broader, more creative interaction.”
James’s Gate was such a place. It was an anchor for the community, a place that brought
people together and bonded them in camaraderie and support. How many friends did I make there? How many kind words and comfortdid I receive when I lost my job or just plain wasn’t having a great day? Hard to calculate. All I know is that it was a place I could go to – any night of the week – and find a familiar face. Someone to raise a glass with and share a laugh.
I have attended weddings at the Gate. Been to somber wakes there as well. Baby showers and bachelor parties. Post softball-game celebrations, trivia nights, and poetry readings by the Carpenter Poets. Art openings, fundraisers, birthday parties, World Cup matches, and Sunday afternoon seisiúns by the fire. And if you ever had the privilege to attend
the annual Christmas night at the Gate, you know the warmth and glow of what true community means. Charles Dickens couldn’t have conceived of a more convivial and generous place where anyone, single or with family in tow, could go and feel a part of something much larger than themselves.
Now, we, the diaspora of the Gate, have been left to wander. Some have gone to one local establishment, others to another. But we are not together now. We have separated.
I miss the bartenders, Bobby, Rory, Peter, Turner, who always knew what IPA I preferred and kept a tab going – even when I might forget to pay it until the next day. I miss Brian who encouraged me and helped me find the strength to finally have my first solo exhibition at the Gate. I miss the cooks in the kitchen, and the warm hugs from José. I miss Christie and his generosity. I miss the waiters and waitresses. I miss the warmth of the fire on a snowy night. But mostly, I miss my community.
I hope that somehow a miracle might happen and the Gate will rise from the ashes of the fireplace, like some sort of slightly tipsy Phoenix, and once again, I can go down and find myself a place at the bar.
–Melissa Maybee Hamel
Loyal patron and JP resident for 30+ years
Post Script, July 11, 2016
We now know the fate of the beloved James’s Gate. After months of speculation and a bitter court case that divided the original owners, the Gate was sold as feared, to developers.
We all knew it was coming but had had hoped against hope that somehow there would be a last minute reprieve or the owners would come to a resolution, but alas, it was not meant to be. The sale was the final nail in the coffin for our local pub.
Shortly after the closure, the pub was left to rot and be vandalized. The parking lot across the street once again became a meeting place for those down on their luck and looking for a fix. Garbage and broken bottles were left to roll about. Another urban wasteland.
Once the sale was announced, “No Trespassing” signs went up and chain strung across the parking lot entrance. Soon, the bulldozers will arrive and lay flat the place we loved so much. Such a great loss to the community. Such sadness.
A few of us managed to salvage old glassware, menus, and beer pulls while it was being cleaned out a few months ago. Chairs, tables , barstools, and cookware were sold to the highest bidder.
We still grieve. We still hope. But our beautiful village of Jamaica Plain is changing rapidly. Every square inch left undeveloped is being sold, reconfigured, and rebuilt. Homes that a few years ago were considered located in too “dangerous” a neighborhood are now being rehabbed and sold as condos for millions of dollars. In fact, I received a cold call from a realtor this morning. She told me she had clients willing to pay “top dollar” for my shabby two-family home. “No, thanks,” I said.
So many people have been tempted, however, and there is no judgement here. We all need to do what we have to in order to survive. But how sad to witness a community change because of the shifting market value.
We hang on to our sense of community in various ways – Wake Up the Earth and JP Music Festival are a few shining examples of how we manage to keep it going. But there are new people in town. Some just as committed to keeping this village an accepting and diverse place to live, but others are coming in for a quick profit and have less high-minded aspirations.
I hope that we can keep this community going. I am almost certain we can. But having lost such a central place, it sometimes feels like a battle lost. I no longer run into the friends I used to see every Thursday at the bar or on Sunday afternoon before the fire. We have dispersed and it is difficult to find place to land.
Life just isn’t the same without James’s Gate.