Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
Walking into The Railside Lounge and restaurant in the ‘70s was not like walking into one of the bars/restaurants in Davis Square today. You were met with a blast of cigarette smoke that stayed on your clothes and your hair. If you weren’t supposed to be there, your pungent scent ratted you out! The clientele was a lot different, too, because Somerville back then was different. Salt of the earth, slice of life, work with your hands, shot and a draft beer different. They called that drink a boilermaker, and you could get a good one at The Railside.
The jukebox was filled with classic oldies, but for some reason Mack The Knife got more play than any other song. The Railside was always filled with classic Somerville blue-collar workers in the old-school tradition. Everyone knew each other, and it was like hanging around with family members. The Railside had it all … the tough guys, the bookies and the wise guys. They were honest folks who worked hard and played hard. The manager lived upstairs, and the patrons lived close by.
A former Railside customer recalls, “During the blizzard of 1978 we all got snowed in at the Railside. We ate (and drank) for two days straight, and we all slept in the booths. Lol — good times!”
You can see in the picture that The Railside was across from Johnny D’s on Holland Street. Au Bon Pain occupies the space where The Railside was. I remember two guys who at one time or another ran or owned The Railside. They were Jimmy and Billy.
Someone with a great memory who lived right around the corner (within stumbling distance!) shares this gem: “The Railside … wow! A mixed crowd, everyone from underage kids to old timers, and everyone in between. I remember the back room. You could play darts (for money), get your drinks in a “to go” cup, so you could enjoy it while you walked around the square. College kids would open the door, look in, and turn right around and leave. I remember going in there one Sunday afternoon, and the place was trashed. Some rowdy guys from a bar on Somerville Ave. went in there and went crazy (some bars didn’t get along with others back then), squirting mustard and ketchup all over the walls, tipping over tables, roughed up a couple of old guys. I spent many a night in there.” Today, it would be just the opposite: A blue-collar guy coming off of an eight-hour shift may open the door of one of those bars in Davis Square today, look around, see the tattoos, brightly colored hair and piercings and turn around and leave. What goes around…
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, every bar in Somerville had a bouncer and a bookie. Some bookies would go from bar to bar, but some would be “stationed” at one particular joint. They took action on sports teams, horses and the dogs (or “the puppies” as they were called!) Everyone knew the bookies, and the ones I knew were all good guys. When there was a death in one particular customer’s family, one of the most popular bookies was the one who started up a collection for the person’s daughter. Bookies would also lend you money if you needed it. Also in The Railside’s heyday there was always merchandise available for sale that “fell off the truck.” It wasn’t uncommon to pick up a few pounds of cheese, a TV or a car battery at a very low price. The patrons of the old clubs and bars of Somerville were at the very least colorful. The daily (and nightly) goings on would have made a great TV show. Oh, by the way, my cousin wasn’t allowed to walk past The Railside. Geez, I can’t imagine why!
It seems like only yesterday that you’d be sitting at the bar at The Railside and your glass would start shaking because of the freight train rolling through the square. After all, why do you think they named it The Railside?