Small Wonders

Tiny Footprints, Fewer Seats — the Cool Bars Just ‘Round the Corner Connect with Guests in a Big Way

In 1981, producers Les Charles, Glen Charles and Jim Burrows were looking for a neighborhood bar in Boston to model for a proposed television series. Dozens of bars, lounges and pubs were considered and rejected. The stream of places referred to them by friends and associates was quickly exhausted. Some establishments were engaging, others raucous, but none had that certain “it.”

Their fortune changed when out of frustration they resorted to leafing through the Boston phone book. Near the top of a page was a small ad for the Bull & Finch. What they found when they went there was an English-style pub located under a small neighborhood restaurant. While long in the tooth, the pub had a warm, inviting feel — the kind of place where it’s easy to spend time, relax and share a pint with friends. The trio had found their bar.

The Bull & Finch soon became America’s favorite bar, the place “where everybody knows your name and you’re always glad you came.” While a dash of luck and good timing helped, the success of the bar on which the famed television show “Cheers” was based was actually the product of a precise and orderly mind.

“When I started in this business, my partner and I toured Europe studying pubs and bars,” says Bull & Finch owner Tom Kershaw. “We looked at scores of places. Over there, pubs have real staying power and don’t fall out of style or fashion. They have significance as meeting places and are central to people’s social lives. We incorporated what we learned into the Bull & Finch. Apparently those efforts paid off.”

And, according to Kershaw, size does matter. In an arena-sized venue, it’s hard to create a place to which people feel connected. In this case, small is beautiful and proves to be the shared characteristic of our most cherished watering holes. While much is said, written and celebrated about large-format bars, restaurants and clubs, many of the most well-run and longstanding establishments occupy considerably less space but own a large portion of our souls.

Case in point is Marcus’ Martini Heaven in Seattle. The subterranean haunt is located under Pioneer Square in what was once the lobby of a 19th century hotel at the city’s original street level. The bar has the timeworn look of a speakeasy with exposed brick and stone walls, wood beam ceilings, demur lighting and the occasional waft of dank, stagnant air. While some may perceive the place as sketchy, the steady stream of people pouring through Heaven’s door come for the ambience and its impressive roster of cocktails.