“Where’ll we eat? Where’ll we start?” Jack Kerouac’s 1950 work, The Town and the City, features a character who suggests that they “go to Jacob Wirth’s for beans and brownbread, or knockwurst, or steak, and some of that nice Bock beer.” Though less well known than On the Road, and written before Kerouac’s legendary “spontaneous prose” had been fully developed as a style, The Town and the City was nevertheless the young author’s first success. The novel is largely set in New York and gives a semi-autobiographical account of Kerouac’s introduction to “the City” literary scene, featuring characters inspired by Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. “The Town,” however, is the fictional Galloway, Massachusetts, based on Kerouac’s own hometown of Lowell.
Fortunately for the modern lover of beans and brownbread, little has changed at Jacob Wirth—not only since the 1950s, but since the restaurant’s establishment in 1868. In that year, German immigrant Jacob Wirth founded his beer hall on Eliot Street. Because he had lived in the same town as the Anheuser family in Germany, he was the earliest distributor of Anheuser Busch products. He was also a founder of Narragansett Beer. In 1878, Jacob Wirth moved to the current location on Stuart Street, though the old clock hanging above the sign still bears the original address. It’s the second oldest continuously operating restaurant in Boston, after the Union Oyster House, which is also mentioned by Kerouac as a place for “lobster meat and melted butter.”
Today, there are many legends associated with Jacob Wirth, including that the “Big Dig” was devised in the restaurant, and rumors of a haunting. Famous patrons have included Babe Ruth, Al Pacino, the Rockettes, and authors Tipper Gore and Robert Parker.