Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Brother Junipers restaurant–a longtime fixture on Massachusetts Avenue–has closed its doors. For many of us, it was a devastating loss.

Brother Junipers restaurant—a longtime fixture on Massachusetts Avenue—has closed its doors. For many of us, it was a devastating loss.

Brother Junipers occupied large, rather dingy premises in one of those buildings where “historic restoration” means the owner once repainted the exterior. The ancient heating and cooling system wheezed loudly and didn’t do a very good job. The booths and tables were nicked and wobbly from years of use. The menu hadn’t changed in years, and few of the patrons chose Junipers for the quality of the food. As one regular was fond of saying, “This would be a great place for a restaurant.”

So why are people so upset by the closing?  Indianapolis has seen a real explosion in eating options over the years—surely those who frequented Junipers can find other spots for breakfast or lunch. If the décor was tacky and the food ordinary, why do so many people feel so bereaved?

The answer is that—like the bar in the television sitcom “Cheers”—Junipers was a place where everybody knew your name. Its virtues were those of neighborhood and family, not ambiance and cuisine.

My husband and I ate breakfast at Junipers most weekdays for well over fifteen years. During that time, we got to know the other “regulars”—businesspeople, police officers, lawyers, clergy and many others. Like Cheers’ Norm, who always sat on the same bar stool, the regulars had their own routines and booths. Indeed, if one of us wasn’t in his or her usual spot, someone would remark that we were messing up the seating chart. (My husband and I were so predictable that people who needed to get in touch with one of us would often just come to Junipers at breakfast time, confident that we’d be there.)

Steve, the owner, knew all of us by name. At Christmas, he would hang stockings on the booths with the names of those who sat there. If a regular became ill, or lost a family member, he would circulate a card and we would all sign it, or pitch in for flowers. Whatever seemed appropriate. 

Junipers was a really good place for breakfast meetings. The booths might be old and nicked, but they were nice and big so you could spread out papers. Tables could be pushed together if you had more people, and there was easy parking out in front. It was also a great place for gossip. If you had breakfast at Junipers regularly, you would eventually see lots of people you knew—people you liked, but somehow never got around to calling—and hear lots of news about local politics and business. 

One of the best things about living downtown is that in so many ways, downtown Indianapolis is like a small town. We have the amenities that only a larger urban area can offer, but we also see neighbors at the grocery or the neighborhood cleaners. When Junipers closed, we lost a place where everyone knew our names.