Somerville nightclub Johnny D’s was a second home to many


By Sharon Oliver, Contributing Writer

The late blues musician Eddie Kirkland performing at Johnny D’s nightclub in Somerville.Photo/Tom Hazeltine
The late blues musician Eddie Kirkland performing at Johnny D’s nightclub in Somerville.
Photo/Tom Hazeltine

SOMERVILLE – When they opened in 1969, John and Tina DeLellis probably had no idea how their little neighborhood bar, Johnny D’s, would become a crucial part of the lives of musicians far and wide. By the time their daughter Carla and son David had taken over, which followed the death of their father in 1984, Johnny D’s had expanded and included a stage for live bands and a fully operational kitchen. Closed since 2016, the venue served as a launching pad for country music stars the Dixie Chicks and 27-time Grammy winner Alison Krauss.

A second home for local performers

Perhaps more than that, it was like a second home for local talent and all genres of music from Afropop to blues to Cajun were welcomed. Artists from Cambridge’s Rounder Records label also performed there often. Interestingly, Rounder Records album covers were used as menus for a long time. There were even folks who said their wedding vows at Johnny D’s.

In 2016, owner Carla DeLellis told Boston Magazine, “I will miss this extension of my living room, where music fans, bar regulars, staff past and present, and restaurant customers gathered, and we were all able to share in conversations and experiences.” She jokingly added, “I will miss having my dinner cooked for me, too.” Its jazz brunch was enormously popular and is still wistfully spoken about today.

Over its 47-year history the beloved club also offered the community a slate of events, including salsa night, a Sunday night blues jam and a trivia night.


A place in the heart

Johnny D’s will forever hold a place in the hearts of many of its former regulars. “When I moved to Massachusetts as a ‘newly-single’ 30-something man in 1996, I put a personal ad in the now-defunct Boston Phoenix newspaper,” recalled Paul David Mena, who now lives on Cape Cod. “Following some less-than-stellar results, I cancelled my ad. Or at least I thought I did. In May of ’97, I received an encouraging and very much unexpected response. After a brief email correspondence, we spoke via phone and decided to go on a date.”

“As I was living in Teele Square, I was familiar with Johnny D’s since it was across the street from the Davis Square T stop,” Mena explained. “My date Mary was familiar with Eddie Kirkland, a blues musician who would be performing there on the following Sunday, and the stage was set. I walked into a crowd of unfamiliar faces only to find that one of them was smiling at me from the other side of the bar area. That magical moment lives on over 26 years later.”

Mena’s wife Mary added, “After our first date there, we went back many times over the years to see lots of live music: Bim Skala Bim, John Trudell, Johnny Hoy & The Bluefish, Treat Her Right, The Zambonis, The Baseball Project, and Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones, just to name a few. Paul and I have been married 25 years now.”  


Final tribute

Johnny D’s owner Carla DeLellis waves in appreciation at the parade by local musicians when the Somerville nightclub closed on March 13, 2016.Photo/Tom Hazeltine
Johnny D’s owner Carla DeLellis waves in appreciation at the parade by local musicians when the Somerville nightclub closed on March 13, 2016.
Photo/Tom Hazeltine

Son David DeLellis passed away in 1998. When family matriarch Tina died in 2008, the club’s stage briefly went dark in her honor, but the doors remained open for those who wanted to mourn the loss of the woman described as the pulse of Johnny D’s. Sarah Rodman composed a story about the matriarch’s legacy for the front page of the Boston Globe. Remembered for being brutally honest and known for having a hearty laugh, Tina mingled often before returning to “her seat” in the 300-person capacity room. 

Carla DeLellis ran Johnny D’s for another eight years after her mother’s passing. When it closed in 2016, there was a show of appreciation from local musicians. They honored the club with a celebratory New Orleans-style funeral parade on March 13 through Davis Square, as a large crowd came out to bid farewell to Johnny D’s with an instrumental tribute that would make John, Tina, and David proud.



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