I was depressed and I wanted to feel more depressed so I went to Cheers
The following is an excerpt from Welcome to Hell World: Dispatches from the American Dystopia by Luke O’Neil. Luke is a former Dig editor and perhaps the most prolific published writer and reporter in the region, and so we didn’t edit him at all. His writing speaks for itself, right down to his unconventional grammar. -(Current) Dig Editors
The drive into Boston from where my bones live near Mt. Auburn Cemetery winds along the Charles River which is famously gross and we love that about it for some reason. On this particular day it was one of the three to four days of actual spring weather we ever get so the paths were crowded with people jogging and biking and I sped along past Boston University and past Fenway and past the Back Bay where the rich people live although I guess it’s probably more accurate to say anywhere in Boston is where the rich people live. I exited down by the Boston Common where the really rich people live and circled around a few times looking for parking and found a space not far from Cheers a bar you have probably heard of but I’ve never actually been inside of which you may or may not be surprised to hear on account of two things know about me which is that I’m from Boston and I’m a drunk mess.
The other night on the local news they had the owner Tom Kershaw talking about some charity thing or other and naturally they asked him about Cheers and one thing he said was how people would come in over the years and be so excited to see the exterior of the bar that they recognized from the famous TV show and then they would go inside and be like what the fuck is this because it looked nothing like it did on TV. After years of that he finally tried to make a closer replica of the TV bar upstairs in another room. People want things to be like what they think they are like.
There were groups of tourists outside taking photos of the facade of the bar they remember from the TV show that hasn’t been on in thirty years and there was a bouncer asking them not to crowd the entrance. I went downstairs into what is essentially a shitty sports pub like any other and then walked through one of the gift shops and then up some back stairs to another level where there is another gift shop and the bar made to look like the TV bar that still doesn’t really look anything like it.
On yet another level upstairs there is a function hall where a wedding reception was being held and dads in pink shirts and pink faces and women in bad dangling pearls who looked like all my aunts when they would get mad at me walked arm in arm to get into the wedding reception past the paper cutouts of George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. Some day that couple will tell the story about their wedding and they’ll say oh we had it at the place that one TV show Cheers was based on and the other person will say that’s wild.
Have you ever been to Cheers in Boston? It used to be called the Bull & Finch Pub but is now called Cheers like the TV show. There’s a guy’s bones near my house called Charles Bullfinch who was one of the first American-born professional architects but I’m not sure if there’s any relation there.
I used to have classes right down the street from the bar when I was at Emerson and I never went in I think because it always symbolized a sort of resignation to me or maybe it said something about Boston that I was actively trying to pretend wasn’t true for a lot of my life. People want the place they live to be like what they think it is supposed to be like. In any case you do not need to go it’s essentially any chain pub you would go to off the highway exit by the Target in any town you live in in America except instead of being spacious it is cramped. It is basically a money-printing factory for the owner but this is still Beacon Hill where space is at a premium and which is also where all the Boston Brahmins buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery used to live when their bones could still move.
Here’s what happened almost five seconds after I walked into Cheers and I know this is going to sound too good to be true but someone yelled out my name. Luke! the guy said and I don’t know if he was trying to do it like they did for the guy on the TV show but I didn’t realize it was actually happening so I ignored it but then the guy came over and turned out it was someone I sort of know and he said I wouldn’t expect to see you here and I was like that is a fair assumption. What are you doing here are you writing a review or something he said and I said uh sort of because you can’t say the truth to people you don’t know that well which is something like I was depressed and I wanted to feel more depressed so I went to Cheers and guess what it worked.
So I drank my Harpoon IPA and ate some baked beans to really lean into the whole thing while You Dropped a Bomb On Me by the Gap Band was playing on the radio and the people around me all stared emptily at the bar that was retroactively made to look more like a fictional bar that was based on a real bar none of which are now or were ever even real. There is a picture of Lord Byron on the wall over there near where the young father was squirting ketchup onto his french fries while his children waved their arms around like little bugs turned over onto their backs and I don’t know what the fuck Byron has to do with any of this it should be a portrait of Borges.
So the guy says to me he goes my sister was visiting so I brought her here and I said that’s wild and then someone messaged me on Twitter to say she had worked at Cheers fifteen years ago and I was like what was that all about and she said most of the customers were European tourists or people from the midwest or Yankees fans who came to see a game at Fenway and this is what they thought Boston was supposed to be like.
“It was my first restaurant job,” she said. “You would bust your ass for a full shift and make $100. Like if your section wasn’t full all day you didn’t make shit.”
What else I said and she said “Everyone complained it didn’t look like the show.”
“It’s on in Europe, they fucking love it,” she said about the show Cheers.
“It was the weirdest restaurant job I’ve ever had. People would ask ‘Instead of lettuce and tomato on my burger can I get a cup of chowder?’ like they had never eaten in a restaurant before.”
Then another guy messaged me to say he had just been in earlier that same day. He had moved from Chicago to New York recently and was visiting Boston for the first time. “It felt like something that needed to be checked off the list,” he said.
“It was kitschy,” which was expected, he said, “but well done for a kitschy place. Our bartender was really friendly, which I always appreciate.”
Then I asked him if he went over to the Boston Common to see the flags they set up to remember the dead troops and he said he had and so I went over to look at the flags too but not before the bartender asked me if I wanted to take my mug home for an additional eight dollars and I told him no thank you not at this time.
The flags looked beautiful I have to admit but I don’t know why we make war memorials look good they should look terrible. A war memorial should be a guy with his guts hanging out crying for his mother or a guy without a leg getting denied mental health services at the VA. People want things to be like what they think they are like unless it’s war in which case they want it to look like a TV show.