If you enjoy your grandma's living room, you'll love this place.
In an uncanny bit of luck, as fate would have it, the repeal of Prohibition coincided with the opening of some of finest dive bars in America. That they were able to prepare so quickly to open after a long-waited repeal of Prohibition is a testament to their fortitude and certainly not a case of operating illegally during those dark years. In keeping with that fine tradition, Paddy’s Lunch in Cambridge just west of downtown Boston opened in 1934, one year after Prohibition’s repeal and has scarcely changed since.
The self-proclaimed oldest family-owned bar in Cambridge, Paddy’s Lunch is about as Boston dive bar as it gets, a hole in the wall on a residential block bordered by exactly zero other businesses. Paddy’s Lunch is a legacy establishment, started by married owners and Irish immigrants Patrick and Margaret Fennell. As noted on the bar’s web site, the chain of ownership now rests with Patrick & Margaret’s granddaughter, the kind of unbroken ownership chain that makes complete sense with one glance at the unchanged nature of the dive bar’s interior.
Unsurprisingly with a name like Paddy’s Lunch and a Cambridge location, there’s a shamrock here and a splash of green there, and while that’s definitely the overarching theme, the vibe inside isn’t faux Irish bar but rather authentic neighborhood haunt, the kind of place that attracts generation after generation of locals and regulars. The bar’s social accounts and reviews echo that point, a long string of images devoted to customers that have been making Paddy’s Lunch a part of their neighborhood routine for 5, 10, 20 years.
Outside, the exterior of the building melts into the neighborhood around it, the same siding outside seen on countless nearby homes. Paddy’s Lunch is a short, square building set close to the sidewalk with a quintessential dive bar sign out front and a pair of front doors to make a first time visit just the right amount of confusing. “Paddy’s” and a green shamrock adorn the sign, the number 34 in the heart of the shamrock to mark the opening year of the bar. A pair of windows let in a bit of light, the smaller of the two illuminating the Boston dive bar’s main room.
There are dive bars that feel deceptively large once you walk inside. Paddy’s Lunch is not one of them, a footprint very much in keeping with the modest exterior look of the building. The front room could easily be a vintage living room retrofitted circa 1934 to host a short bar along one wall instead of a recliner and couch. The bar is only a handful of stools long, a classic construction with the arched top behind the bar over a mirrored assortment of liquor bottles. Local police patches dot the wood above the mirror, sitting just below a pair of framed family photos.
On this reviewer’s first visit, multiple sets of kickball teams were found inside, filling up the small space and celebrating the night’s games during happy hour. And there was really nothing surprising about the clientele. This is exactly the neighborhood dive bar ripe for playing host to local rec sports teams having a beer after a loss. A handful of tall tables run along the wall opposite the bar, providing the seating needed for kickball teams and beyond. This entire front room is just over four ceiling tiles wide, making for snug quarters and a warm environment when the locals pile in.
A very, very green room in back, just around the corner from the end of the bar provides some overflow seating and hosts the Cambridge dive bar’s dart board. Short wooden slats run halfway up the wall in this back room, also painted bright green. This back area provides a pretty stark contrast to the low light and intimate surroundings of the front room, a brightened up alternative option on busy nights.
And though this evidence is certainly anecdotal, my dive bar trip through Boston featured a classic New England accent here and there, but Paddy’s Lunch is where they seemed to feel most at home. From the bartender that night to a handful of locals arriving late on a weekday evening, it was clear that these were local drinkers visiting their neighborhood pub. That they would pick Paddy’s Lunch is no surprise, a post-Prohibition living room of a dive bar that feels as authentically Cambridge, as authentically Boston as it gets.