The BLOG: Culture

More jazz on the menu at Shirley’s historic Bull Run

The Bull Run Restaurant and Tavern in Shirley

The Bull Run Restaurant and Tavern in Shirley (Courtesy of Bull Run)

The Bull Run Restaurant and Tavern, on Route 2A in Shirley, was the first stop on the Boston-Albany stage coach route back in the early 1800s. It’s roughly 35 miles west of Boston, and roughly where the horses got a little tired and needed to rest.

The Bull Run today is where you can find a good meal and good music, including a new offering – jazz on weeknights – if you don’t mind traveling a few miles from the Hub.

“If the horses could make it this far, I figure people can,” said co-owner Alison Tocci, whose family has owned this rustic restaurant/tavern, concert hall and wedding venue since the 1940s.

Alison met her husband, George, on the premises. The two struck up a friendship, which blossomed into a romance, married and then moved to New York City, where George put together a public concert series in Brooklyn.

The couple moved back to take over management of the restaurant/tavern on New Year’s Eve 2009, and they’ve worked to bring the best in local and national acts to the Bull Run ever since.

“George handles the musical bookings,” Alison said. “When he started the concert series in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, people said he couldn’t make it work – it was hard to get to – too remote. He ran it successfully for 13 years.

“When we started doing more music here, people were wondering the same thing. Shirley’s pretty remote. But we figured that if he did it there, he could do it here.”

Located at 215 Great Road, Bull Run features three music rooms – the Sawtelle Room, which seats 300, the Ballroom (seating for 75), and the Tap Room. Many elements of the Tap Room, including the wide pine floorboards and many of the fixtures, are unchanged since the tavern was built in 1740.

Eric Clough

Eric Clough (

The Sawtelle Room, named after original innkeeper Obadiah Sawtelle, and the Ballroom feature blues, roots rock, rockabilly, country, a cappella, honky tonk, folk, and even comedy. Acts in the coming months include Tom Rush, Karla Bonoff, Jimmy Webb, Lee Ann Womack, John Mayall, Marshall Crenshaw, Blue Oyster Cult (yes, the “needs more cowbell” band is still together and touring), Roomful of Blues, Savoy Brown, Bob Marley (the comedian and not, of course, the deceased reggae star),  and New Orleans vocalist Aaron Neville.

The larger rooms also feature jazz from time to time, including local favorites the Jazz Depot and internationally renowned guitarist and syndicated radio host John Pizzarelli, who does a yearly holiday show at Bull Run. This year, Pizzarelli plays the Sawtelle Room on Dec. 20.

The Toccis recently decided to fine-tune the music on tap in the Tap Room, where there is never a cover charge.

The first Wednesday of the month in the Tap Room is billed as “Lose Your Blues.” It features – wait for it – blues. Beginning Dec. 9, the second Wednesday of each month will be “Stormy Wednesday,” with jazz on the menu from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eric Clough, bass player with the Jazz Depot, will host many of those Wednesday jazz nights, working with a drummer and inviting musicians to fill out the lineup, much like a jazz jam session. Saturday nights will also feature jazz on occasion, including local favorite Molly Flannery, a gifted pianist who was a mainstay at the late lamented Acton Jazz Café just a few miles down the road.

Patrons can sit in either the Tap Room or the adjoining dining room, which is on the other side of two back-to-back Colonial era fireplaces. The combined rooms seat about 130.

The menu in the Tap Room features farm-to-table dishes, with ingredients sourced from local farms whenever possible. The Tap Room is open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday through Sunday, with Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations strongly suggested. Call 978-425-4311 or go to for reservations.

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile can be reached at [email protected].