Celebrating Boston’s Black History: Slade’s Bar & Grill

BOSTON — It hosted jazz greats, civil rights leaders, legends in the ring and on the basketball court, and thousands of black Bostonians since 1928, all while serving some of the best soul food in the city.

Slade’s Bar and Grill has been a South End institution. It has changed ownership over the years, from the Slade family itself to Celtics legend Bill Russell, to retired Celtics assistant executive director of basketball operations Leo Papile and his daughter Britney Kyle Papile. Papile tells Boston 25 News it felt like a huge task at first. Her background is coaching basketball and real estate management.

“In the beginning, I thought, yes, and it was the beginning of the pandemic. So it was really a slow time and so a great opportunity to learn,” says Papile

She learned quickly, and Papile had the entire neighborhood behind her. Her family roots go back to her great grandfather who was a pastor at a local church.

“And my father bought a property and met my mom on Columbus Ave, another two blocks right where the Martin Luther King, the Lyons Stones are. And the Harriet Tubman House is my first after-school program where I learned to build a computer, you know, the streets of the South End, it’s been my life for the past 35 years.”

Neighborhood ties make Slade’s what it is. When Mattapan native, manager, and co-owner Jay Howard left his career in juvenile corrections, he says Slade’s became his passion.

“Malcolm X, being a server here, you know, people being able to come here for safe haven and NAACP meetings to be able to be there even when they couldn’t be anywhere else,” says Howard. “To provide somewhere for people to go when they feel loved and they feel safe is important.”

He says it was a place where Muhammad Ali, Ted Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. all could hang out and feel that love. For decades, Slade’s was listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book” as a safe place for black travelers.

“We feel like gatekeepers. You know, it always will be here whether I’m here or not,” says Papile.

Papile notes, it hasn’t always been easy. The pandemic, the rising cost of food and supplies, and the changing demographic of the neighborhoods require them to have one foot in the future and another in the past.

“It’s just all about the music and the food and the love. And so using those things to, you know, continue to build the relationships with everybody in the community,” says Howard.

“The intention that I have here and what we’re really trying to do is tell the story of Slade’s to the community, to Boston, to the world, really get people excited about the food here, get excited about the events, get excited about the experience that you will have when you come in,” says Papile.

Their message to young people looking to continue Boston’s business legacy: keep their eye on the prize.

“I would say financial literacy is extremely important,” says Papile.

“I’m encouraging young people to get close to what you want. You know, I mean, when I was young, the things that I wanted, I got close to what I wanted.,” says Howard.

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