Summer is tourist season in Boston. It’s the time of year when you see out-of-towners congregating around various stops along the Freedom Trail, taking pictures of the State House, snapping selfies in front of monuments, and crowding into Faneuil Hall. Ordinarily you just circumvent the masses and hope nobody asks you to explain why and how South Boston and the South End are two entirely different places. While they may clog up the sidewalks a bit, personally I have a great fondness for our city’s visitors. I think about how many times I’ve been traveling and have been eternally grateful for a local’s directions or advice, and I try to pay it forward, so to speak. Plus, I’m proud to live here – Boston’s a beautiful city with a rich history, and it makes me happy when I see people immersing themselves in it.
So, while it was a little outside the scope of my typical blogging assignment, I was only too happy to accept an invitation to “Have a Beer With Paul Revere,” a historical walking tour organized by the folks who oversee the Old North Church. The tour gives participants a chance to stroll through the North End in the early evening hours and relive one of the most thrilling chapters of American history – the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
Having been on innumerable school field trips that exhaustively covered this and similar topics, I admit that the “Have a Beer” side of the equation appealed to me more than the “With Paul Revere” part. But as the organizers were generous enough to offer me a complimentary ticket, I figured a little refresher course wouldn’t hurt.
The tour commences inside the Green Dragon Tavern, named for the very tavern that was known as the “headquarters of the revolution.”
Not that this Green Dragon is the Green Dragon; the actual tavern that hosted secret rebel meetings and served as the launching point for Paul Revere’s legendary ride was about a 100 feet away and was destroyed by a fire during the 1850s. The bar now that bears its name opened in the 1990s but does its best to capture the look and feel of a colonial-era public house. Wooden tables and booths, exposed brick walls, an ancient-looking hardwood floor, and a whole host of lanterns are part of a good-faith effort to make you feel like you might be sipping a brew in the same room where George Washington once sat.
Speaking of beer, your ticket includes a pint of – what else? – Sam Adams. You get a Sam Brick Red, an Irish red ale that’s only available on draft and not sold outside of Massachusetts.
Along with that comes another New England staple – a bowl of clam chowder. Spoon that up while listening to the events Paul Revere’s harrowing journey to Lexington, and you’re fully immersed in the Boston experience.
After beer and chowder, the tour heads toward the North End, passing the spot where the original Green Dragon once stood. After pausing to look at a map of old Boston etched into the side walk, the tour winds through the streets of the North End.
You stop by Paul Revere’s home and a number of other key historical sites, all the while learning about Boston’s involvement in the early days of the American Revolution and the cast of local characters who played critical roles. But it’s not merely a recitation of historical events; the tour seeks to separate fact from fiction and explores mysteries about that night which have never been answered. Much of Paul Revere’s ride has become the stuff of legend, and while the actual events may not be as poetic as “Listen my friends and you will hear,” the truth is more fascinating by half.
The tour culminates at the Old North Church, Boston’s oldest surviving church building and one of the most celebrated landmarks in the city. This is where the famous lanterns hung on that fateful night, signaling to colonists whether British troops, marching to Lexington and Concord to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, would be departing the city by land or by “sea” (actually the Charles River).
As much as I was in this for the beer and chowder, visiting the Old North Church at night was easily the coolest part of the tour. Climbing the narrow stairs to where the lanterns would have hung, it’s hard not to get a sense of the significance and danger of that night. The church’s interior is elegant but somewhat understated, which serves to underscore the fact that Paul Revere and his fellow revolutionaries were ordinary citizens pressed into performing extraordinary deeds in the interest of freedom.
While it’s exceedingly rare that I attend events like this, I can say in all honesty that I was impressed. Our tour guide was positively unflappable – in addition to the vast knowledge he displayed of his subject, he was challenged by dozens of questions and had a quick answer for each one. And it takes a certain personality to don colonial garb and commit to the role; this guy had a comfortable blend of authenticity, humor, and irony.
The tour is a fun way for visitors to explore one of Boston’s most famous neighborhoods and learn the true story behind an episode of American history that’s more daring and dramatic than its countless retellings. And for me, that old saying about being a tourist in one’s own city rings true. When you walk by monuments, statues, and landmarks every day, it’s easy to overlook the risks and sacrifices borne by the individuals they commemorate.
If you're interested in having a beer with Paul Revere, you can get tickets here. For more information about the iconic Old North Church, click here. To everyone visiting Boston this summer, enjoy your trip (and try to avoid driving, it's always a nightmare).
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