Here’s a hope for a Donovan's comeback

There was a sad story that emerged from Savin Hill last week. Early last Thursday morning, the news began to pass around that C.F. Donovan’s, the popular Dorchester neighborhood restaurant and bar on Savin Hill Ave., was shuttered and appeared to be out of business.

A quick phone call to the restaurant went unanswered; owner Arthur Donovan could not be reached; and the website was suspended. An on-site visit found the windows covered in brown paper, and the front doors locked tight. Unusual, since the place many of us have come to call “Arthur’s” and “Donnie’s” was always open at midmorning, and it was common to find the owner himself sitting in the dining room, a cell phone in his ear, a morning newspaper spread across the table. His friends understood that this place was his life, and if you wanted to see your friend, you just stopped by – at any hour – for a quick hello.

But last Thursday was different. Just after 11 a.m., a regular walked up to the front door and was puzzled to find it locked. At the storefront, there were no signs of life, but at the rear, just off Sidney Street, two vehicles were parked at a rear door, and workers could be seen removing kitchen equipment from the building. It quickly became clear that there would be no meals served at C F Donovan’s, certainly not that day, nor likely any day soon.

Slowly, inexorably, the realization came that one of Dorchester’s favorite neighborhood places was closed, out of business.
C. F. Donovan’s was no more.

Once the site of a popular saloon called the Rock Hill Café, the Savin Hill Avenue site had been vacant and boarded up for years until Arthur Donovan bought and redeveloped the property, turning it into a restaurant and bar that routinely drew high ratings from food reviewers and every-day customers as well. It is one of Boston’s “hidden jewels,” one reviewer wrote. “You will find a restaurant that is absolutely charming, with an almost upscale feel to it, though the clientele is mostly close-knit and working-class, as much of this old-fashioned Boston neighborhood still is. The menu at C.F. Donovan’s has everything from a hearty turkey dinner to a delicious baked haddock to fantastic steak tips (one of the best items here) to the oddly-appealing fried pumpkin ravioli to the thin-crust pizza.”

As word of the closing spread, many were surprised, most were disappointed. Typical were the comments on the popular blog Universal Hub: “This site has been suspended – Oh no!” said one person. “This is a sad day for Savin Hill! Many good memories and meals were had by the Girls of PLY / Tuttle at Donnies. We will miss you, Arthur, and your great staff. Best of luck and hope to see you back soon!” “This is awful news,” someone wrote. Said another: “We have loved going out to CF Donovan’s.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact that the business failure of a place like Donovan’s has on the psyche of a neighborhood. In its short life, it had become a community institution, a magnet that drew patrons from near and far. Arthur Donovan himself was regarded as a generous and caring business owner who supported all sort of good causes. Together with the revamped T Red line station across the street, and the growing popularity of the small business district tucked away on Savin Hill Ave., C.F. Donovan’s quite simply made our neighborhood all the more livable.

It is sad to see it gone; we hope someday to see it return.

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