The first house on the plot now known as 96 Winthrop Street was built in 1635. This was when Cambridge was still called Newe Towne and one year before Harvard College (née Newe College) was founded. At the time it was built Cambridge was a safe port set far enough up the Charles River from Boston to be defensible. In fact, Winthrop Square (the park at the intersection of JFK and Winthrop Street) is the oldest inhabited part of Cambridge. Originally the park served as a farmer’s market. The large stone in front of Peet’s marks the spot to this day. At this point in history a salt marsh ran all the way up to Winthrop Street from the Charles River. You can still see the original wall, which protected Cambridge from flooding, behind our new clubhouse and separating the Red House from Charlie’s Beer Garden.
The first house at 96 Winthrop changed hands many times, eventually becoming a blacksmith shop in the mid-1700s. From time to time it also housed the “county gaol”. Mysteriously, the records of the original building end abruptly in 1795.
In 1846, the current house was built by Isaac Hyde in the Greek Revival style. By 1900, George Mendell Taylor had purchased it. He was a local minister and music teacher. He both lived in the house and gave piano lessons there. Taylor began the arts tradition of 96 Winthrop that has continued to this day.
The building took on a new persona in 1950 with the arrival of Geneviève MacMillan, a self-described “GI bride” from France. She opened the first “foreign”, i.e. French, restaurant in the Square. She named it Club Henri IV, after the French monarch famous for his gleeful gluttony. The restaurant’s specialty was poule à la maison and escargot, served up by the imported Pyrenees chef. And while it may have been a niche eatery at the time, it was frequented by the likes of William Faulkner, Thornton, Wilder, and Joan Miró. But Geneviève (or Ginou as she was known) had interests that lay far beyond her restaurant. She dedicated her life to collecting African art, promoting diversity and learning about one another’s cultures, and establishing fellowships and grants to further these goals. She began a legacy of philanthropy and education that, like Taylor’s, has been handed down through the building’s history.
French food was only the beginning for 96 Winthrop Street. In the summer of 1965 a new novelty from France was imported: the discotheque. Opening in the basement of Club Henri IV, La Discotheque Nicole was the area’s first and boasted two turntables as well as a large collection of European rock and roll albums. At the time it was new to have a DJ spinning records of popular songs rather than having a live band play them. The doors of Nicole’s were open to all “as long as they [didn’t] look like beatniks”.
Fast-forwarding to Monday November 23rd, 1992 96 Winthrop Street became home to another first. On this momentous occasion, the doors of the building opened to the world’s first House of Blues. The grand opening was nothing short of spectacular. The night began with former HPT Cast VP and then Governor of Massachusetts William F. Weld ‘66 inaugurating the building and declaring the day “House Of Blues Day” in the state. (N.B. One of his predecessor’s Governor John A. Volpe declared March 5th “Hasty Pudding Day” in the Commonwealth back in 1968). The building was packed with a who’s who of Boston celebrities from Patriots and Bruins players to the members of Aerosmith. But the real greats took the stage that night and launched into a four hour concert, including performances by Dan Aykroyd and the Blues Brothers, Honeyboy Edwards, Paul Shaffer, Paul Rodgers, and Joe Walsh. And while the House of Blues is remembered for its music, it too had a philanthropic side. The building was home to the Massachusetts House of Blues Foundation, which was dedicated to promoting education, which emphasized diversity, and to teaching multiculturalism through art and music. In fact, it’s original co-chair for programming was Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Unfortunately, as the House of Blues grew to national proportions, it became too big for its original home. 96 Winthrop Street had less than a fifth of the capacity of the other Blues locations. In 2003, the House of Blues moved out, eventually relocating to Landsdowne Street in Boston. But the handprints and signatures of the performers from that very first night still remain, set permanently into the cement walk on the east side of the building.
For a brief period, after the House of Blues' move, 96 Winthrop tried to fill another culinary void in Harvard Square: barbecue. Brother Jimmy's opened in 2003, trading in the House of Blues' eclectic folk art for the neon signs and year-round Christmas lights seen at authentic BBQ joints. But despite their imperative slogan, "Put Some South In Yo' Mouth", the low-and-slow eatery never gained a foothold.
While the South may have been out, there was a market for something a bit more Hibernian in 2005. This was the year that 96 Winthrop was painted a deep shade of green and became Tommy Doyle’s. The Irish pub provided a unique place in Harvard Square where students and Cantabridgians could gather for drinks, food, conversation, and live music. Tommy Doyle’s even ventured into previously untapped sources of camaraderie in Harvard Square, such as trivia nights and video game events. Over time, Tommy Doyle’s has expanded to new locations, while inspiring a number of other bars in the Square to offer more unique amenities.
After almost 9 years, it was finally time for Tommy Doyle’s to graduate and move out of Harvard Square. At the end of 2013 the Pudding moved into the historic Hyde-Taylor House. It marks the sixth clubhouse in the Pudding’s 200+ year history. And despite so many previous residents – or, maybe more aptly, because of them – 96 Winthrop couldn’t be more fitting. From the plot’s far reaching history in Cambridge, through Taylor’s musical influence, in respect to Geneviève MacMillan’s dedication to education and charity, along with the House of Blues’ focus on the performing arts and philanthropy, and in respect to the camaraderie Tommy Doyle’s espoused, the Pudding aims to further the great traditions deeply rooted in our new home and to add our own mythos to the centuries-old history of 96 Winthrop Street.