The only photos I have of the place are of the patio, on March 13, 2012, after diners abandoned their meals when the neighborhood's main transformer caught fire and was believed to be spewing toxic smoke into the air. I shot this about 15 minutes before the power went out across Back Bay:
It's strange to remember those days without power, but it's
even stranger to realize that it was already warm enough in
March for outdoor dining to seem routine. Usually, that
doesn't happen until sometime in May, if we're lucky.
Charley's was part of the Back Bay Restaurant Group's chain, which also includes Abe & Louie's, Atlantic Fish, Joe's, and Pappa-Razzi, among others. These places are designed to appeal to the average, upscale Bostonian or tourist, with menus varied enough to give vegetarians as well as traditional meat-and-potatoes types some choice. This means they're also reliable neighborhood joints, where locals can go when they're too lazy to cook and want a meal their grandparents would recognize.
The best thing about Charley's, besides its tall, perfect wedges of Boston Creme Pie, was the brick patio facing Newbury Street. On warm spring and summer nights, one could sit under the kousa dogwoods, and their blossoms glowed in the lights strung on the trees. No matter how the food was — and it was always fine, at least, beginning with the round loaf of hot, soft bread and a pot of butter —the atmosphere was charming, with some of the best people-watching in Boston. We liked to go after 9:30, to just order dessert — that Boston Creme Pie. The crowd on the patio would have thinned by that hour and the lighted trees seemed even more romantic.
I expected to hear about another restaurant replacing Charley's, and hoped we might enjoy the patio and the dogwoods again. As long as it wasn't another sushi place, I figured we'd be able to find our way back to a table under the trees. But the rumor is that the Frye Boot Company is leasing the building to open an enormous store. This would be a terrible shame: the restaurant's interior was handsome, with two sprawling levels of dark woodwork, cozy booths, and fine antique chandeliers, plus a glass solarium with an old-fashioned tile floor. It's likely that all of this will end up in a series of dumpsters soon. I doubt they'll be permitted to remove the trees, at least.
Frye boots are beautiful, made in America. They cost around $400 a pair. They are also have stiff, slippery leather soles, requiring a longer breaking-in period than I'm willing to suffer. (I'm willing to suffer less than 2 minutes, so I buy Børn boots that let me walk for miles in them right out of the box.) Frye boots are sold at three locations in the neighborhood that I can name off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are others. We're over-saturated with Frye boots as it is. I can't think of any restaurant that serves superb Boston Creme Pie under twinkle-lit dogwoods, so I'm convinced that we need one, rather than more Frye boots. Unfortunately, I have not been designated to rule the world, or even Newbury Street.
And, yes, I know I should be grateful that Charley's isn't going to become another bank. Although, these days, you never know.