I used to hustle street corners for political campaigns in New York City, registering voters and fielding questions about candidates. For a bullshit Picasso like me, canvassing was the ideal summer job; if constituents wanted a city councilor who could fly, I was there to sell them Superman. I did this for years – until I developed a conscience and grabbed a notepad – and the only time I ever hated work was on days when I was dispatched to the Upper East Side. Everywhere else people at least pretended that they cared about civic life; on 86th Street I got nothing but scorn.
Of course, there are some good people on the Upper East Side. Many of my closest friends live there, as does much of New York’s literary aristocracy. Still, the downtown snobs aren’t far off when they say that Woody Allen is the neighborhood’s sole redeeming asset. When I approached people on Upper East Side corners with campaign literature, the two most common excuses for refusing to engage me were “I don’t vote” and “I’m registered in another state.” In other words, “I don’t care about your city – I’m just squatting here for long enough to meet someone who will marry me and move back to the suburban Shangri-La where I grew up.” They’re glorified tourists, and they suck.
If there’s one reliable sanctuary for the crude apathetic souls who populate the Upper East Side, it’s Brother Jimmy’s (or, more specifically, any one of the three in the neighborhood). In short, the joints are outfitted with obnoxiously tacky country kitsch; what with the Christmas lights, rusty license plates, and random sports regalia, they should call the place Ironic Frat Boy Trailer Park Fantasy Camp. That’s how my friends and I have always treated Brother Jimmy’s; you show up, down a few tall boys, grunt, then retreat with a filthy pig to poke on. The food ain’t bad, either, unless you ask Lil Wayne, who, during an interview with me once, hurled a plate of Brother Jimmy’s catering across a table and asked his manager, “Who made this shit, Martha Stewart?”
Despite all those redeeming qualities, Brother Jimmy’s floundered in Cambridge, where it occupied the Harvard Square building that is now Tommy Doyle’s and that used to be the House of Blues. My guess is that the Boston annex had three major impediments conspiring against it: 1 – There are no drink specials in Massachusetts, and Brother Jimmy’s without discount Bud Light is like a one-night-stand without an orgasm; 2 – It was in the wrong location – had they chosen Faneuil Hall, there would have been enough passing meatheads to stock it nightly; and 3 – Area college kids must have figured that if they frequented Brother Jimmy’s in Cambridge they would cheapen the only post-graduation bliss that they had waiting for them in a New York City that otherwise initially promises little more than cubicle careers and $1,500-a-month studio apartments.
One night shortly after I washed up on the shores of Boston – presumably searching for some reassuring hometown discomfort (and BBQ ribs) – I adventured into Harvard Square to visit Boston’s bastard Brother Jimmy’s. My friend Ryan and I enjoyed a standard gluttonous evening, complete with way more brew and chow than anyone should consume on a weeknight. The only problem was a lack of drunk and aggressive yuppies; for kicks, Ryan had to resort to fighting a bouncer who asked him to remove his Yankees jersey. He lost, and we were forcibly removed despite Ryan’s insistence that Brother Jimmy’s is a Yankees bar (not necessarily true, but certainly a possible contributing factor to the Cambridge store’s demise).
This isn’t a Boston-is-better-or-worse-than-New York rant; I just always think about the differences between my two homes every time I go back and forth, like I did this week. It’s amazing how distant the two cities really are – especially considering how many residents they’ve shared through the years. It’s a fascinating dynamic that I’ll never truly understand – sort of like the question of why Brother Jimmy’s failed in Cambridge. Who knows – maybe if the owners called it Legal Sea Foods BBQ they would still be serving hick stereotypes a block away from the finest college in the country. Which leads me to believe that location wasn’t Brother Jimmy’s problem; if it was irony of juxtaposition they desired, then they picked the best damn square in Greater Boston to set up shop.