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Server Jon Erickson places table cloths on the patio of Boston’s Forum restaurant, Friday, April 11, 2014. The second of the Boston Marathon bombs went off outside of the Forum, forcing the restaurant to close for four months. (Gretchen Ertl for the globe and mail)
Server Jon Erickson places table cloths on the patio of Boston’s Forum restaurant, Friday, April 11, 2014. The second of the Boston Marathon bombs went off outside of the Forum, forcing the restaurant to close for four months. (Gretchen Ertl for the globe and mail)

JOANNA SLATER

Marathon bombing, one year later: the long road back for one Boston restaurant Add to ...

All kinds of customers enter the restaurant Chris Loper runs on Boylston Street. One type in particular he has come to recognize. They hesitate as they step inside, or look searchingly at the staff, or stand still as their eyes well with tears.

Ever the host aiming to make his guests comfortable, he approaches them. “I’ll just walk over and say, ‘Hey, I was here too. It looks like it’s probably your first time back in. Let me know if you need anything.’”

Nearly a year ago, on April 15, the second of the two co-ordinated bombings at the Boston Marathon exploded on the sidewalk outside Forum, turning the area into a scene of carnage. An eight-year-old boy, Martin Richard, was killed in front of the restaurant and scores of people were seriously injured.

The bomb shattered windows at Forum and launched shrapnel up into the carpet on its second floor. Closed for four months, it was the last business in the area to reopen after the attacks.

Since then, its staff has tried to move forward from the events of that day, but never leave them behind. Most customers are coming for a drink or a meal; others come for a type of catharsis.

There was the paramedic who recognized Mr. Loper, Forum’s general manager, and remembered him bringing linens and ice during the frantic minutes after the bombings. Another was Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who lost part of her leg in the blast. She came in search of the bartender who had cradled her head as they waited for help to arrive. She found him, and they embraced, weeping.

“Each day, you don’t know who’s going to walk through that door,” says Mr. Loper, a 41-year-old with a low voice and a goatee. It’s a cool, sunny day, one of the first of spring. A group of three is lunching on salads on Forum’s patio under its new striped awning. At the long bar, others eat burgers beneath four large flat-screen televisions.

Forum’s journey – a return to normalcy carrying new scars – echoes the larger dynamic in Boston. On Tuesday, the city will mark the one-year anniversary of the bombings with sombre commemorations and religious services. Then, on April 21, thousands of runners will take to the streets once again for this year’s marathon.

For Forum, the past year has been about rebuilding, reopening and getting customers back into the seats, with the awareness that it is no longer simply a place to eat, but a symbol. “Whether we like it or not, we’ve had some type of identity that has been created for us,” said Mr. Loper. “You have to embrace it to a certain extent.”

From normalcy to chaos

Opened in 2011, the large, two-storey restaurant was the youngest eatery on its strip of Boylston Street, jostling for diners with more established competitors. Marathon Monday, as Bostonians call it, was a major day on its calendar.

Last year, the restaurant was hosting an event downstairs for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, a charity devoted to serving people with cancer, which had a team of runners participating in the marathon. There was a photo booth brought in for the occasion. Upstairs, on the second floor, Forum was selling tables by the window to the public: $100 bought a group of four a bucket of Michelob beer, lunch and a perfect view of the race.

Mr. Loper was on a cigarette break in the alley behind the restaurant when the first blast resounded down the narrow passage. He thought a construction crane had fallen. As he re-entered the back of the restaurant, he saw the flash of an explosion out front. For the next two or three minutes, until emergency personnel arrived, the only help available would come from bystanders and his employees, many of them college students, who were facing “a scene that you don’t see unless you’re at war somewhere.”

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