There has been a lot of talk lately about Boston-area dive bars closing at an alarming rate. And while this is certainly true, the same can be said (though perhaps to a slightly lesser degree) of old-school dining and drinking spots that lean more toward being neighborhood joints than true dives, which are often seen as dark, rough-around-the-edges watering holes that you don’t go to for their food. And while many mourn the closings of such stalwarts as Finian’s in Quincy, Salem Wood Cafe in Malden, Sadie’s in Waltham, and the Paddock in Somerville, a good number of similarly old-fashioned spots still exist; one such place is a classic neighborhood spot called Kelley Square Pub, which is hidden away in a densely populated East Boston neighborhood and isn’t all that far from the iconic Santarpio’s Pizza, which may get all the press (and rightly so), but it also gets some serious competition in the pizza category from this eatery.
If you don’t know East Boston all that well, good luck trying to find Kelley Square Pub, as the myriad of one-way streets, twisty highways like Route 1A and Route 90, and lack of landmarks can get you lost in a hurry even though the tunnels and the airport are almost within sight of the restaurant. Once you find it, you will see a parking lot to the right of the building, but unless you have mad parking skills and enjoy doing 15-point turns, it may be a better idea to find a space on the street. The squat exterior of Kelley Square Pub gives off the appearance of a rather small place, but it is actually quite roomy inside, with a strip of booths along the front windows, a long and sometimes raucous bar to the right of the booths that is mostly partitioned off from the dining section, another small dining area beyond the booths and the bar, and, further off to the right, a relatively quiet and spacious dining room that is called the “Andelman Room” after sports radio legend Eddie Andelman.
Much like the aforementioned (and now-closed) Salem Wood Cafe and the terrific Pearl Street Station in Malden, Kelley Square Pub serves up a mix of American classics and Italian-American fare at very reasonable prices, and like those two spots, the red sauce here is outstanding. It’s therefore no surprise that such items as the chicken parmigiana (one of the best in the Boston area, by the way), baked gnocchi, ravioli, eggplant sub, and meatball sub are so popular here, and this extends to the pizza as well, with both the thin-crust and the Sicilian sheet-pan pizza being so tremendous that it is tough to come here and not order one or the other. Among appetizers, the almost comically big bacon-wrapped scallops are a real highlight, while the old-world stuffed peppers and non-greasy garlic bread are also worth getting. Meat lovers will probably enjoy the substantial pork chops, nicely marinated steak tips, and sublime Italian sausages at the Kelley Square Pub, while diners looking for something a bit lighter can choose from such items as a Caesar salad with chicken, a BLT, a tuna sub, and a turkey wrap. Don’t expect to find high-end beers or wines at Kelley Square Pub, but there are decent options for both, and the well-stocked bar allows for a variety of mixed drinks.
Dive bars and neighborhood joints continue to get fewer and farther between with each passing year, and unfortunately there seems to be no stopping the closings of these places. One can only hope that a spot like Kelley Square Pub will remain in operation for years to come, as it serves a real purpose, bringing locals together to enjoy food and drink in an environment that is comfortable and completely unpretentious. It may not be the easiest place to find, but this decades-old hangout in Eastie is one that you definitely won’t want to miss if you yearn for restaurants and bars that have that timeless feel to them. [Ed. note: Another location of Kelley Square Pub can be found on Washington Street in Peabody.]
KELLEY SQUARE PUB. 84 BENNINGTON ST., BOSTON. KELLEYSSQUAREPUB.COM
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.