THE ELIOT LOUNGE
By “Hawk” Brent Hawkins
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I’m not sure if it is from the anticipation of the 100th running of the Boston Marathon, the end of an era at the Eliot Lounge, or gas. But I’m pretty sure it’s over concern of the loss of a home to thousands of us marathon aficionados on Marathon Weekend 1997.
What am I talking about? Well, for the past 18 years, this writer/coach/disc jockey/teacher/bartender/runner has, like lemmings to Mecca (or is that to the sea?), made the pilgrimage from my home to the Boston Marathon.
In 1978 I was a wild-eyed kid on his way to run in his first Boston Marathon. I was a long way from my home, which was then Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a small community south of Pittsburgh. It was my first trip to Boston and I remember my heart was in my throat as these crazed Boston drivers darted each and every which way down the street trying to get an inch advantage on every other vehicle. There seemed to be no rules.
My cousin and her boyfriend, now husband, conveniently lived in Wellesley, the midway point of the marathon. They were my guides to the big city and the marathon after all they lived there and had seen several marathons in years past. So I got into their car, strapped on all the protective equipment needed for riding in a Boston automobile and headed into town.
They told me their was only one place that I absolutely had to see and that was the
Eliot Lounge. The Eliot, or in more familiar terms of today, “The Idiot”, was the unofficial home of all the runners coming to the marathon. It was then as it is now, a shrine of sorts to track and field, but mostly to the Boston Marathon.
I used to read everything printed about running in an effort to learn how to run faster and indeed subscribed to (and later wrote for) Runner’s World magazine. In the articles on the Boston Marathon, the most famous foot race in the world, the Eliot Lounge was often mentioned along with the official greeter of the Boston Marathon, Tommy Leonard. Tommy, at the time of this writing, still is the day bartender at the Eliot and is greatly responsible for the Eliot being the home of distance runners in Boston.
He was a founder of the now celebrated Falmouth Road Race and has spread good cheer and good deeds wherever he has been.
I didn’t know a soul when I made my first appearance at the Eliot, but I was introduced to “T.L.” and he did not disappoint. Tommy is a people person. And as I wrote in my column, “Foot Notes” for the Greensburg Tribune-Review in 1983, “If Santa Claus needs a replacement, Tommy Leonard fits the bill.”
This is just a genuinely nice man! He was an orphan, who grew up with a foster family who he closer to than most real families. He then joined the Marines to further shape his life. Somehow he ended up in Boston tending bar and spouting his love for running and people to whoever would listen. Tommy had plenty of listeners.
To look at him he is surely an understudy for Santa, with his stocky body, ruddy red face, big happy mustache and his twinkling eyes he looks more like an Irish blacksmith than a marathon-loving bartender. He is the heart and soul of the Eliot Lounge.
Like thousands before I was struck by Tommy’s true love for the sport. He said to come back to the Eliot the next time I was in Boston and that he’d remember me. I didn’t believe him. But I did return to the Eliot and to my astonishment he did remember me!
Since my first trip to Boston and the Eliot Lounge, many things have happened. I have moved a few times, had several changes in professions, but some things remained constant. I always ran, and like thousands of others like me, I always returned to the Eliot. Tommy is not my only acquaintance there anymore. I look forward to the Boston Marathon Weekend, even though my running of the marathon may be over, I meet the hundreds of friends I have made over the years at this and other races, at the Eliot. It is a rite of spring. A time to renew old friendships and make new ones. The Eliot is the home for all of that.
In fact, the Eliot in some in-direct way is responsible for me moving to Litchfield, Connecticut. Countless hours of marketing of the Litchfield Hills Road Race has gone on there, and many of the best runners in the world have been attracted to the race because of it. Through the urging of then-race director Rick Evangelisti and his friend Jack Neller, I was pressured into coming to Litchfield to run the road race. I came up, fell in love with the people and the place and eventually moved here.
I’m not the only one influenced to come to run the Litchfield race from the Eliot. The entire staff of the Eliot Lounge comes up to Litchfield for the weekend. The Eliot takes out a full-page ad in the Litchfield Road Race booklet each year. The Eliot has been special place for many. It is indeed our home away from home.
So what’s the big deal, you ask? The Eliot is about to close. This will be its last marathon weekend.
The Eliot Lounge is housed in the Eliot Hotel and in recent years the owners of the hotel have renovated it to the tune of about 10 million dollars. They are forcing the Eliot Lounge out of its sub-let spot. A place where most of the Boston winners of the last 50 years have visited sometime during the day that they were victorious.
Hopefully, the owners of the Eliot Lounge will find another place for their business, but it just won’t be the same. The pictures of our heroes hung on the walls, with their autographs and a short note on why the Eliot is special to them. The world record high jump record painted on the wall, at the exact height of the current world record, complete with the name of the athlete who hurled through the air at that altitude. The numerous pendants from almost every known college or university in the country tacked up on the dusty ceiling. The runner’s competition numbers pinned on the walls…The electric sign that counts down the days until the next running of the Boston Marathon. It will all be gone after this year.
Other than the hard facts about our friends losing their jobs, there are those of us who count on the Eliot to be the meeting place. It’s the place where you see people you ran against or graduated with 20 years ago. You may see these people only a once every couple of years and the place we meet is the Eliot. That will be taken away from us, but we will never forget the kindness and the friendships built over those years by the people we have met at the Eliot Lounge. Their slogan says it all. “Run into friends at the Eliot Lounge!”
I’ve run into thousands. I hope, someday, we’ll run into each other again.