Ode to Davis
"If I could be a place, I would want to be Davis Square." That's what a certain friend said to me several years back, and it was one of those things I wished I had thought of myself. But she got there first, and if the day ever comes that we get to be places, she has dibs.
When I lived in Cambridge ten years ago, Davis Square was just barely up-and-coming. People still talked about the T stop being "new"(it was built in '85) and the few trendy spots were vastly outnumbered by family businesses and storefronts that looked like they'd been there since the '40s. Walking out of the T station was like emerging into the bygone Main Street of some small town whose inhabitants blinked in wonder at the aliens from urban 1990s Boston slowly but surely invading their ranks.
I had a few friends who lived over there. We loved to go to the Someday Cafe, a gallery-like space with spotlit white walls and a rotating art installation. Right next door the movie theater showed second-run art movies on a big screen with a crummy sound system and broken-down seats. One night I went there to see "The Secret of Roan Inish" and saw the infamous feminist philosopher Mary Daly from my alma mater in the ladies room, and my "dangerous" older sort-of boyfriend from when I was 19 sitting alone in the audience. (I didn't speak to him, but took satisfaction that he was on his own.) Where else but Davis Square would these people appear in the same place on the same night?
If you were hungry and could hold out until 11pm, you might mosey over to Dolly's at Kay and Chip's Place, a ramshackle diner that was only open in the wee hours, until 5am. Why not just "Dolly's"? Who were Kay and Chip? Doting parents who financed their daughter's eccentric business, but demanded recognition? I never found out. It was a dimly-lit place with, as I remember it, an '80s era music-themed decor. In keeping with the '80s ambiance, the regular waitress was a dead ringer for Pat Benatar. The clientele consisted of late-night club kids, and cabbies. Visiting the restroom was a bit of an ordeal. You went back into the kitchen, asked the cooks to step aside, and hauled up a trapdoor in the middle of the kitchen floor. Then down the stairs and behind a rickety plastic folding door you reached the kind of bathroom usually found off somebody's basement rec-room, which is basically what this was. Breakfast foods were popular menu items at Dolly's, and the onion rings were also good, especially when dipped in Russian dressing.
Now ten years later a lot is the same about Davis Square, but a lot has changed. Dolly's is gone, but other favorite places are still there, like Redbones southern barbeque restaurant and the candlepin bowling alley Bowl-Haven. (Okay, I've never actually been to Bowl-Haven, but I've always meant to go and would be sad if it closed before I got around to it.) The Someday Cafe, I am sad to say, is but a grubby shadow of its original self, but the excellent Diesel Cafe has stepped in to fill the void: spacious and well-tended with a stylish industrial aesthetic and a varied menu of good stuff. We keep hoping one will open in our neighborhood, too. The Burren pub is new since I lived here before, but feels like it's been there forever, that rare place that feels like an actual Irish pub rather than the glossy American idea of an Irish pub.
Also deserving of special mention is the clothing shop Black & Blues. It doesn't look like much when you first walk in: a stripped-down space without much in the way of decor, just racks of casual clothes, both new and vintage. But whoever picks out the inventory has the touch. Nothing's too expensive or too fussy - it's a T-shirts, sweaters and jeans kind of place - the clothes are just cool. They tend to fit well. The thing you like will probably come in a color that flatters you. It will say to you "I would look great with jeans" or "this would be perfect with your favorite boots." When you envision your ideal weekend, these are the clothes you are wearing. Perhaps this says more about my feelings about jeans and sweaters than it does about Black & Blues, but suffice to say, if you feel the same, Black & Blues should serve you well.
Those are just a few reasons to love Davis Square. (We haven't even gotten into the Minuteman Bike Trail factor.) It's really surprisingly bustling these days, even in the middle of a weekday. Who are all these people? I know why I don't have a job, but shouldn't they be at work? I guess they just can't stay away.
Davis Square, if there's room for me, can I be you someday, too?