Long live the king!
When we heard about the passing of Boston icon Don Akin, proprietor of South End staple Medieval Manor for more than 40 years until the unique kingdom’s tragic ending two years ago, we knew that we had no choice but to help immortalize the legacy. As some longtime readers are aware, the Dig headquarters were above the Manor for more than a decade at 242 East Berkeley St., way before the Whole Foods moved in right around the corner. And so we hoped to meaningfully acknowledge not just Akin, but everything from the hysterical and raunchy stage show to the hulking slabs of meat that literally hundreds of thousands of visitors—largely sitting side by side with strangers—enjoyed in his kingdom.
We’re not going to lie; we spent a lot of time jousting with the Manor gang over parking spots, and mostly viewed them in the same way they viewed us—as a bunch of artsy weirdos who just happen to live next door. Nevertheless, as Boston changes so dramatically, it’s always sad when a truly original personality leaves us. So in a similar fashion to how we paid homage to our favorite North Shore haunts on Route 1 after the Hilltop Steakhouse shuttered, here’s a salute to the man who, as his family obituary noted, resided over the Medieval Manor “for over 40 years,” and who “along with his cast, received great joy in giving people a reprieve from their daily troubles and a chance to laugh in his kingdom.”
Billed as “a six-course feast eaten during the show without fork, knife or spoon,” the grub had a reputation all its own. Fit for a king fattening up for the winter, the menu featured fare that wouldn’t be considered finger foods in other places, but that no utensils were made available for in the Manor:
- Pepper Cheese Trenchers
- Faux Dragon Soup
- Beef Rib
- Roasted Herbed Chicken with Steamed Carrots
- Half Gallon Pitcher of Michelob Amber or Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Half Litre Carafe of Chablis or Burgundy
- “Virgin Mead” (pomegranate/honey/decaf iced tea)
- Rock Cornish Game Hen
In a day and age when customers are largely fussy pricks with phony gluten allergies and little sense of humor when it comes to the kind of sex jokes and burlesque that the Manor specialized in, a restaurant where patrons are told what they can and can’t do is completely inconceivable. On that note, here are just a few of the not-so-strict regulations that kept diners in line, listed verbatim:
- Sorry, the only way we can guarantee [that your friends who come separately] sit at your table is if you change your deposited reservation or if you buy tickets online and share your reservation code. This is intended to expedite seating to everyone’s benefit as too much time spent at check-in can shorten the show.
- We request 24 hours notice for [food] substitutes. Everyone (including omnivores) gets pepper cheese trenchers (pizza), salad and steamed carrots. A vegan version of the beef based gluten/lactose free faux dragon soup is available. Substitutes for the beef rib and chicken are a vegetable crudite with hummus and a red bean and rice stuffed pepper respectively. Nothing is offered in place of the mussels. Oh well, to shell with ‘em.
- Sorry, no video cameras or audible cell phones.
- Clothes are required but there is no reason to dress up. Shorts are totally acceptable in months without an “r.”
- As at any theatrical event, conversing with others as well as leaving or returning to your seat during the performance is unfair to everyone. Don’t annoy the King!
Don Akin and his brother Mark open Medieval Manor in the cellar of the Eliot Hotel on Comm Ave, setting up shop in the space formerly occupied by Les Tuilleries. The actual show is amateur hour at first, still in short time the comedy act becomes a local dinner theater favorite.
Mark Akin, a Boston University graduate who opened Medieval Manor with his brother Don, dies of a heart attack. He is just 29 years old.
Boston Globe music and nightlife critic Steve Morse, writing about another show that some Medieval Manor regulars are in, reports that the “‘Grand Revue’ is boisterous but not as raunchy as the Medieval Manor show.”
Akin buys the Eliot Lounge, a famous bar hang of great athletes that’s open since the end of prohibition, and turns it into one of the hottest rock clubs in a booming Boston music scene.
Medieval Manor relocates to the first floor of 242 East Berkeley St. in the then-deserted South End, where it would remain until closing more than 30 years later. It’s not long after that Michael Chiklis, later to become the star of TV shows “The Shield” and “The Commish,” comes on board to play court jester.
Two decades in business, Medieval Manor remains a viable operation. Popular restaurant critic Sandy Coleman writes, “in its 20th year of operation, [it] is a theater-restaurant in which a company of players puts on an audience participation show described as ‘vaudeville English castle cabaret.’ Be forewarned, the jokes and musical antics are not for the prudish. Most of the humor springs from below the belt—a song about a chastity belt, jokes about the size of the queen’s butt, references to other parts of the human anatomy … Two ballads by the wenches are particularly lovely.”
After more than 60 years, the Eliot Lounge goes out of business. The joint is known as the most popular spot in the Hub to grab a beer on Marathon Monday. Lamenting in the Hartford Courant on the eve of their last service, columnist Alan Greenberg writes, “The 100th Boston Marathon may have been road racing’s ultimate celebration, but it was a bittersweet one for the race’s most famous watering hole. The Eliot Lounge may be three-quarters of a mile from the marathon finish line, but to most of its patrons, walking in its door is like making it all the way home. But the Eliot’s doors are closing this fall. The landlord, the adjacent Eliot Hotel, is not renewing the lounge’s 15-year lease.”
False rumors that Medieval Manor has closed plague the business. The restaurant remains a somewhat popular tourist trap, but begins to see attendance slip overall.
Akin announces in October that Medieval Manor is slated to shutter. “I’m 65 years old, and I’m running out of enthusiasm,” Akin tells the Globe. “Money is just too tight. I have to confess, my head is kind of spinning with the reality of the situation … I want to thank all of Boston for supporting us for so long … Please accept my apologies for not being able to do it for another 43 years.”
Three former Medieval Manor actors announce potential plans to reopen the restaurant through a crowdfunding campaign, but report five months later: “It is with great sadness that we inform you our efforts to reach a new lease agreement for the space where the Manor has lived for so long were unsuccessful. The price of a castle in Boston has increased significantly. We will continue to search for ways to bring back the king but we may not be seeing you as soon as we had hoped. Thank you for all of your support over the years. Long Live The King!” That disappointment aside, some Medieval Manor alumnae reunite for a show called “Plymouth Rocks” in Plymouth.
Don Akin passes at the age of 67. Meanwhile, while the rest of the Manor’s immediate South End neighborhood becomes overrun with sleek and pricey apartments, the former kingdom is being used for good. More Than Words, a nonprofit that works with young people and runs a impressive used book operation on the second floor of 242 East Berkeley St., announces that it will revitalize the space as an expansion of its retail operation.