(click to enlarge panorama)
Just as the fictional Unexamined Life nightclub is the most prominent alcohol dispensary of fictionalized Enfield, the very real Ryles Jazz Club is the most prominent nightspot in Cambridge’s Inman Square. And like The Life, Ryles is a place where isolated characters and disconnected stories are drawn together.
It’s also among the most authentically described locations of Inman Square, which is otherwise populated by inventions such as the Man O’ War Grille and Antitoi Entertainment. However, following a well-established trend, its name is just slightly modified: though the actual bar unambiguously refers to itself as “Ryles,” throughout the story it is rendered consistently as the possessive “Ryle’s”: as “Ryle’s Jazz Club,” “Ryle’s Tavern” and, in the tangled locution of quadruple agent Quebecois separatist Rémy Marathe, “Ryle’s Inman Square Club of Jazz.”
Ryles—or Ryle’s, considering our purposes—makes its first appearance just one sentence after Gately’s notice of the “Chickens Fresh Killed Daily” sign in his veritable driving tour of Enfield-Allston-Brighton and Cambridge. Ryle’s first mention, in full:
Ryle’s Jazz Club’s upscale pub-type bar, guys in tweed caps and briar pipes in mouths at angles taking all day on a pint of warm stout.
The juxtaposition to the aforementioned sign would seem to imply close proximity, although the two locations are actually separated by more than a kilometer.
Later, Ryle’s is identified as the initial meeting place of the scheming brothers Antitoi and transgendered heroin addict Poor Tony Krause—Ryle’s is said to host “Gender-Dysphoric Night every second Wednesday”—ahead of their serio-comic raid on the nearby Sheraton Commander.
Ryle’s is also a favorite of Marathe, by far the most lovable of the feared wheelchair assassins, who is known for “withdrawing frequently to the jazz nights nearby of Ryle’s restaurant.” In one of the story’s several unexpected late-novel fused storylines, this is where he meets Ennet House resident Kate Gompert for a drink—a bad idea, for sure, though not technically her affliction—to commiserate over their respective claims on depression.
Based on a 2004 Boston Globe profie, Ryles is known, post-publication, for its jazz brunch and barbecue, which sounds a bit sunnier than its Infinite Jest incarnation. But the article’s concluding allusion to the “bohemian atmosphere” and “tired pub fare” of Ryles past sounds more like it.
I’m afraid that I didn’t stop in and pay Ryles (the real one) a visit; I had more locations to scout, and it was too early in the day for a beer. Although I can’t personally comment on its current status, I can direct you to the many interior photos on Flickr—I like this one—which may help the reader imagine Poor Tony and the Antitois rendezvousing in a dark corner, or Gompert and Marathe sitting by the window in the fading afternoon light.