Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Newtowne Grille, open in Porter Square since 1966, expects its last day to be Saturday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The Newtowne Grille, a staple of Porter Square back to 1966 famed for its broad menu, takeout window, cheap slices and pitchers, trivia nights and keno, closes permanently Saturday at 1945 Massachusetts Ave.

Its space will be filled by a new Asian concept from its neighbors virtually next door, the Sugar & Spice Thai restaurant at 1933 Massachusetts Ave., said building owner Eric Boyer on Thursday.

The changeover won’t be immediate, because the proprietors of Sugar & Spice are already expanding to an Allston location and a reconstruction of the Newtowne Grille space will have to follow, Boyer said. (He plans to do some roof work first.) Sugar & Spice plans to make use of the Newtowne Grille kitchen even before reconstruction.

“Sugar & Spice is wonderful. They’re just a great family, and the food is great. All of the herbs and spices are brought back from Thailand [by owner and chef Jenny Janburiwong] herself. It’s authentic stuff,” Boyer said.

Though it’s unclear what kind of food will replace Newtowne Grille’s American fare, Boyer said he looks forward to finding out. Sugar & Spice is considered to be among the 15 best Thai restaurants in the area by Boston Magazine, which noted it’s one of only two in the state with a “Thai Select” certification from Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce. The label signals Thai cuisine that is especially authentic.

But Boyer said it brings him no pleasure to see Newtowne Grille go, taking with it the promise of a large cheese pizza and pitcher of beer for $12.

“I wish everything stayed the same. It’s hard to find a dive bar anymore, and my tenants are like my family,” Boyer said. After the pandemic closed the Grille initially, the eatery struggled to get federal Covid-relief loans and was reported as closed forever by television news – and despite a reopening with a “Newtowne Grille Express” concept back in November 2020, the business was never the same. A “ghost kitchen” franchise called Wing SZN operated briefly out of the Grille’s kitchen but also was no solution. (A DoorDash website for the wings seller still directs diners to Newtown Grille for pickup, but the orders can’t be fulfilled there.)

“They put on TV that they were going out of business when they weren’t,” Boyer said. “That’s basically what killed them more than the Covid.”

The potential loss of parking from bike lane changes may also have meant the future wasn’t looking terribly bright, said Ruth Ryals, president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association. “It has a lot of people rattled,” she said.

The understanding from a worker at Newtowne Grille was that the one-story Porter Square property would be redeveloped and was being cleared to make way, but Boyer said that wasn’t the case. Members of the Toulopoulos family who own the restaurant were unreachable for comment Thursday – St. Patrick’s Day, when their Billerica location was too busy for a manager to take a message. On Friday, though, the family posted on Facebook to acknowledge the closing and thank its staff and community for its time in town.

“We are proud to have been a part of the community for 56 years and have always strived to be an affordable, fun restaurant and bar option for the neighborhood families, students and everyone who visits this city. The pandemic has brought about challenges for every business, not just restaurants, and we applaud those who found the ability to pivot and prosper through these most arduous times,” the post said. “We wish the best to Jenny and her team from Sugar & Spice. We know they will do great things here with a fresh look and new concept. Thank you to Eric and the Boyer family for working with us over the years but more so for going above and beyond to accommodate us over the past two most difficult.”

A message was left Thursday with Sugar & Spice’s owners asking about their plans for the nearby space.