VisitingNewEngland.com/ Bull Run Small Business Partnership - Local Small Business Stories
The Bull Run Restaurant Still Making History in Shirley,
and photos (unless otherwise noted) by
Eric Hurwitz. Page
created on 10/15/17.
Bull Run Restaurant, Shirley, Mass.
Many historic restaurants in New England have ironically become
"history" by hanging on too much to the past instead of incorporating
the present and future. The Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley, Mass., on
the other hand, takes on a more visionary position, combining the best
of both worlds by marrying its glorious past with a 21st century
relevancy. You can tell that this was the place that men from Shirley
gathered before marching into Concord and Lexington in April of 1775,
while, at the same time, coming here to see live rock, folk, jazz and
blues music, or enjoy an heirloom
tomato caperse salad, panko crusted ocean
perch and one of 19 craft beers.
It's a marriage made to last. Upon first sight, the Bull Run's quaint,
historic exterior and charming post-and-beam, tavern-like interior have
been wonderfully restored and
refreshed to lend a new life to virtually the entire facility without
compromising the beautiful 1741 architectural template. That doesn't
mean that everything is new, however: The wide pine floorboards,
colonial-era fireplaces and many fixtures deliberately remain from
pretty much the beginning as a
reminder of the hundreds of thousands of people who have walked into
this storied restaurant and bar.
Quaint dining room at the Bull Run.
Dining by the fireplace at the Bull Run.
It all first started in this rural neighborhood as Sawtelle's
Tavern -- named after Obadiah Sawtelle, reportedly, the most fun-loving
of the local tavern keepers in Shirley. The fun continues today at the
Bull Run today, just in a different way. Each
twist and turn of the restaurant offers something unique such as this
1940s painting of the perils of alcohol created by locals Nancy Byers
Affleck and husband Myron Affleck -- the grandparents of actors Ben and
The Drunkard's Progress painting at the Bull Run.
There's even a secret toy area at the main dining room
"I have a treasure box of toys in the open space next to the fireplace
because we get lots of families with young kids," said Alison Tocci,
who co-owns the Bull Run with husband George Tocci. "I make a big deal
out of telling them the toys are there for kids only and they like
that. We let them rummage through and play by the fire to keep them
busy while parent dine!
The treasure chest of toys at the Bull Run.
Respecting the glory days of her family's restaurant dating back to
the 1940s in this building born as a tavern, Alison and
have operated the restaurant as innkeepers since New Year's Eve of 2009
(purchasing it from Alison's brother, Chip Guercio and his wife Dolores)
with a clear
resolution to ensure the Bull Run has a great run in its new chapter.
The locals seem to love
it, knowing that Alison is a hometown girl made good having worked 30
in corporate media in New York City, N.Y. (including CEO of a global
media company), before returning to Shirley
peace of mind, small town community values and a chance to carry on the
Guercio family tradition of owning the Bull Run since 1946. The phrase
never go home" clearly doesn't apply here, as, in addition to their
upbringings, George (a Leominster, Mass., native) and Alison first met
at the Bull Run seeing their friendship and then love turn into marriage that remains as solid as
the Bull Run Run's foundation many years later. And along the way, they
have met many friends...
George and Alison Tocci share a special moment with Felix
Cavaliere, former front man of the legendary Young Rascals ("Good
Lovin", "How Can I Be Sure," "Groovin'").
"The Bull Run is one mile from my home in Shirley," said Alison. "I can
ride my bike here. The last job I had to report to a 40-member board.
It's very different, but there's this passion to create a place that
creates a sense of community and escape from pressure -- and to just
Wanting it to be more than just a roadside stop for good grub and
drink, the Toccis have
brought in a renowned local chef in Stephen Barck and resourced food
from small local farms
and providers, en route to offering a farm-to-table dining experience.
Barck, founder and executive chef of Tables of Content Catering in
Boston, Mass. -- and with culinary experience of the Asticou Harborside
in Northeast Harbor, Maine, Mayflower Relais and Chateaux in
Washington, Conn., the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston and Concord's
Colonial Inn in Concord, Mass. -- brings his fabulous background to the
Bull Run where he develops and oversees the seven seasonal menus.
"We source from farms within a 100 miles," said Alison. "We are 98
percent a made-from-scratch business. -- the sauces, the soups, the
bread, the produce. We go with what is in season, too."
The Toccis have also added a handsome new bar in the Tap Room, created
an outdoor garden patio, secured a greater diversity of entertainers to
appeal to all generations, added an
ambitious catering program, and fostered better surroundings and
services for special events. And a little innovation goes a long way
like offering weddings and romantic dinners on the beautiful covered
bridge out back. Or the hallway leading to the
concert room where a formerly drab
corridor now features a revised, brighter look and some beautiful art
work on the walls.
What a place for a wedding -- at the Bull Run Restaurant covered bridge! Photo credit: Veronika Patty.
Art in the hallway at the Bull Run.
Alison and George have kept in mind, however, that making the Bull Run
a better place should never prevent anyone from dining here. The
upscale food is smartly balanced with more affordable selections like
pizza, grass fed burgers, fish and chips, New England clam
chowder, a turkey club sandwich, and a veggie wrap. This gives
with all different budgets the chance to eat locally at a landmark
restaurant. On the more ambitious side, menu items like the oven
roasted prime rib beef ("One of the 4 best places for prime rib in New
England," stated the Phantom Gourmet in 2017), farm raised roast
turkey, pan seared Atlantic
salmon, and panko crusted ocean perch give diners a chance to enjoy the
best of traditional and upscale dinners without the need to ever have
to travel to the city.
Salmon dish from the Bull Run. Photo credit: Robin Terhune.
"We are not your standard Yankee meat and
potatoes place anymore," said Alison. "We made a conscious effort to
change that. But we made sure this is still a place for everybody.
You'll see senior citizens, those out on dates, young families. You can
buy a $37 steak or a $14 pizza."
Additionally, the renovated main music venue -- known as the Sawtelle
Supper Room --
seats 300 and stands as one of the best small business
entertainment venues in the United States. The Boston Globe, in a 2015
mention, stated of the Bull Run entertainment offerings: "World-class
entertainment in an
off-the-beaten path club, housed in a beautifully preserved tavern."
It's amazing that a tavern in the middle of nowhere is actually just 35
miles northwest of Boston, offering such a remarkable mix of
entertainment (and food and drink, of course!)
not too far from the city. A look at the current schedule reveals rock,
jazz, folk, country, bluegrass, blues and guitar heroes, soul, southern
rock, singer-songwriters and comedy. Many of the entertainers are quite
well-known including The Yardbirds, the aforementioned Marshall Tucker
Band, The Outlaws, The Larry Carlton Quarter, Dave Alvin and Jimmie
Dale Gilmore, Steve Forbert (remember "Romeo's Tune?"), Tom Rush,
Savoy Brown, Dana Fuchs, Lenny Clarke, The Albert Lee Band and Iris Dement.
Singer/songwriter Dana Fuchs entertains at The Bull Run. Photo credit: Lawrence Libby
The Bull Run also features two other music rooms: The Ballroom and the
Tap Room which provide smaller, more intimate settings for
entertainment (although the Sawtelle Room offers a truly intimate
setting for a larger space!).
George has much to do with the direction of the
concerts as he possesses an impressive music background. He was known
as solo artist Ellsworth Hicks in the 1970s, played country blues as
part of Ellsworth and Hicks, and has original songs played on
terrestrial and internet radio, as well as in features films, including
2001's Ghetto Dawg starring
Drena DeNiro and Gianna Palminteri. He also
produced and booked shows in New York City for many years.
While business is good in the summer, the Bull Run draws in more
significant crowds from September to May. From fall and spring weddings
to a touch of Christmas holiday spirit, the New England weather never
puts a freeze on the beauty of this landmark.
Bull Run at Christmas. Photo credit: Robin Terhune.
Once the first stop on the Boston-Albany stage coach route back in the
early 1800s, the Bull Run Restaurant, in its new life, carries on that
wonderful tradition as a go-to food and entertainment destination on
Route 2A and in north central
Massachusetts. It's a fascinating mix of history repeating itself and
history not repeating itself with its
"The best thing to do is not to put all the eggs
basket," said Alison. "We have full dinners, a la carte, a Sunday
Brunch, entertainment, catering, weddings, functions. It's unique and
we love offering all these things...We are one-of-a-kind."
The Bull Run is
located at 215 Great Rd. Rd., in Shirley MA. Tel. 978-425-4311.
The Bull Run has a great, new web site! Check it out at https://www.bullrunrestaurant.com. Facebook
fan page: https://www.facebook.com/bullrunrestaurant/
Stay at an exceptional New England inn just 30 minutes from The Bull Run: The Amerscot House Inn in Stow, Mass.
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