May 11, 2017

Pi Alley

Pi Alley Logo

Between the Old State House and the Irish Famine Memorial is a small alley called "Pi Alley."

When you walk down the alley you can learn some history of the Alley from a sign on the wall:

The Pi Alley Story

As downtown Boston evolved from a residential to commercial area by the end of the 19th century, the name of this alley evolved from the names of local landowners to one more descriptive of the area. Many small restaurants set up shop in the alley to serve the area's workers. A staple in many of these places was meat pies (often ordered by colorful names such as "Cat Pie" earning the alley the name "Pie Alley".

In the days when Washington Street was home to most of the city's newspaper printing plants, many of the printer and typesetters frequented a tavern in the alley called the Bell In Hand. In their haste to get refreshment, the newspapermen would often drop pocket full of mixed up loose type (called "pi" in the printing business) on the ground, leading to the current name "Pi Alley".

Today the alley continues the tradition of small businesses serving the people who work in the area.

It's Pi Alley Not Pie Alley

The sign is a bit misleading, locals have always referred the Alley as Pi Alley. The first printed reference to Pi Alley was in the Boston Globe in the early 1890s.

Pi is a terminology used by printers to describe type matter that has been upset or spilled. If a compositor had the misfortune to pi a line of type, they were expected to fix it at their own expense. Fixing the line of type was too much work. So many compositors just threw out the pi out the window into the alley - that is if no one was looking. It was that custom the alley got its name - Pi Alley.

In 1898, there was a restaurant called Dennett's that was located at 241 Washington Street - which is on the southwest corner of Pi Alley. Joseph Gridley food and hospitality was so good, that he was known as the "King of Pi Alley." His pies were good that people did consider changing the Alley to Pie Alley.

Pi Alley View

Things I learned about the Alley

  • Offical name was Williams Court
  • Was once called Savage's Court in the mid 1730s
  • Oldest By way in the City of Boston
  • Officially was recognized by the Boston Public Improvement Commission as Pi Alley on February 16, 1955
  • Locals have been calling it Pi Alley since the 1900s.
  • Alley is 100 feet long next to a 600-car garage.
  • Alley connects Washington Street and Court Square.
  • Pi Garage open for business on December 24, 1969

Newspaper Companies

Every major newspaper company had their offices nearby here, including:

  • Boston Globe
  • Boston Herald
  • Boston Post

Locating Pi Alley

You can find Pi Alley is located at 275 Washington St, Boston, MA 02108. It's located on the Freedom Trail. You can see the entrance to Pi Alley next to the Pi Alley Garage.

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