Once Upon a Time in Harvard Square

Thank you, Boston, for not dumping beer on my wife during the Rangers-Bruins game on Saturday at the Boston Garden, even though she wore her blue No. 68 Jagr jersey and was cheering for New York. (A former colleague in Boston points out, “It may have been an oversight rather than a courtesy.”) On Sunday, we stopped in Algiers, a cafe in Harvard Square. I remember Algiers from my years in Boston in the late ’80s, early ’90s. It was one of the two great cafes in the square. The other, Cafe Pamplona, with a problematic bathroom situation, was better for quick trysts. Back then, Algiers was a smoky, subterranean lair; the kind of place Kropotkin might have appreciated.

That building was razed, and the cafe now occupies the first and second floors of an airy, light-filled space. Not really my thing. I did an online search for the history of the Algiers. Nothing, except some self-interested Yelp reviews and the like. (And I say “nothing” on the theory that if it doesn’t show up in the first six screens after an Internet search, it effectively does not exist.) This was surprising. No fond recollections of the Algiers. No literary references that I could see. The Pamplona has its own Wikipedia entry that mentions appearances in a Jhumpa Lahiri novel and a Dresden Dolls song. Did that earlier Algiers ever exist? I’m not so sure anymore.

Well, happiness is fleeting, especially in your 20s. The wheels can’t hit the tarmac at Logan without reminding me of the poem “Just Once,” from “Love Poems,” by Anne Sexton, which seems to be set along the Esplanade (where I once saw, in the flesh, Steven Tyler):