Looking back to the early years when the Bull & Finch Pub on Beacon Street was just a neat, little corner bar across from the Public Gardens, there was a wonderful camaraderie enjoyed by its loyal patrons. There were parties, fishing trips, golf tournaments, and softball teams that most of the regulars embraced. But the highlight of this bar scene were the casual evenings that were spent just having a few pints with good friends and shooting some darts.
In 1982, Hollywood knocked on the Pub’s door and a year later the little Beacon Hill establishment became known around the world as the model for the setting of TV’s newest sitcom, “Cheers.” It didn’t take long for tourists and souvenir hunters to flood the peaceful basement domain, thus driving out the angered regulars who lost their favorite bar stool or found themselves standing in line outside. To most of the Pub’s staff who loved the regular customers it was a cultural change that we never thought would happen. But the place became so busy we didn’t have much time to dwell on our loss.
The TV show gave its last call in 1993 and the constant barrage of media attention came to an abrupt end. However, that didn’t stop the hordes of tourists from swarming through the Pub and the Hampshire House (a.k.a. Melville’s Fine Seafood). For the 28 Cheers years that I was privy to there was only a handful of staunch regulars who remained faithful to our Pub. For a few of these souls it was the convenience of living or working in the neighborhood.
But for each of them it was a fondness they shared for the Bull & Finch and for each other. There was Rick, Sandi, Bruce, “The Commander” and “Brooksie.” Time has taken its toll as a few have moved on and others we’ve lost.
Billy Brooks was a welcomed addition to our tiny band of regulars who gathered in the usual corner of the bar after work each week. He was an “old-school” Dorchester guy who worked hard all his life and owned a thriving seafood business on the waterfront. Billy and his wife Donna moved back to the City after their kids grew up, and they enjoyed everything Boston had to offer. A few nights a week “Brooksie,” as he was known to his pals, got his weekly exercise by walking from his office on the waterfront to his residence on the outskirts of Beacon Hill. Of course, he could not pass up the opportunity to stop in at Cheers to wet his whistle and chat with the staff and regulars. Once in a while he would share his list of favorite places to dine in Beantown with some of the tourists and tell them about the historic USS Constitution or the shops at Faneuil Hall.
One subject that Billy and I enjoyed yakking about was our love for Bruins Hockey, especially when it touched on the Old Time Bruins. We both recalled the cheap seats in the “heavens” at the old Boston Garden, holding on to the ceiling pipes as we stood on the backs of our chairs, leaning forward to get a better perspective of the game. One slip and the Zamboni would be scraping our splattered remains from the Garden ice. Our reminiscing brought back names like Flaman, Pierson, LaBine, Kennedy, Hodge, Cashman, Neely, Bourque, O’Reilly and our favorite, Bobby Orr. Billy shared a fun anecdote with us about how he would prepare platters of jumbo shrimp at work and bring his youngsters to the airport to greet the Bruins team as they came back from a long road trip. He let the kids serve the shrimp to the players as they got off the plane. He loved to tell that great story about his kids, and we enjoyed listening each and every time. That was so typical of Billy Brooks.
There was a very generous side to the man when it came time to make a donation to charities such as the Globe Santa Fund or our Pub’s annual Holiday Auction, or in recent years, the annual Falmouth Walk on Cape Cod. It was a given that Billy always made sure to leave a good tip for his bartenders and servers, and buy a few rounds for his fellow regulars. On occasion, one of the patrons would ask for their tab and the bartender would tell them that Bill Brooks took care of their check. Stunned would not fully describe the looks on their faces. But the part of “Brooksie” we all enjoyed was his friendship. If one of the Pub gang was sick, he’d make it a point to stop in and ask about their condition. He loved the Pub and cared about his friends.
This past year, we lost Billy after he put up a hard fought battle with Cancer. His wife Donna said he remained as upbeat as possible as he went through his treatments at Dana Farber. His kids, Christine, Julie and Billy Jr. will always remember their family Christmas gatherings that Billy loved and the fun summers in Hingham, Scituate and Marshfield. Bill Brooks’ legacy is that he was a hard-working family man who provided a good life for his wife Donna and his kids. His generosity was boundless as were his many friends. For the small group of regulars who gathered each week at the old Bull & Finch, we’ll remember his laughter and fun stories of Boston sports and politics that lit up the room. It was only fitting that his favorite Boston team, the Bruins, won the Stanley Cup as Billy was saying farewell. He was a gentleman and one of a kind. Slainte’ Billy.
“The Spirited Bostonians” will present their 2011 donation to the Globe Santa Fund in memory of Billy Brooks.