Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Top Ten Bars around Boston (winter edition with a beer slant)

It’s getting towards the end of the year; a time when writers everywhere are being pestered by their editors to come up with various "best-of" lists. Why provide real content when you can pull a list out of your ass, right?

So here’s my top ten list of bars in Boston – in no particular order and for no obvious reason. Simply put – these are some of my favorite bars. Maybe not the finest and certainly not the fanciest, but they have all found a special place in my beer drenched heart.

Redbones. Located in Davis Square this bbq joint has reasonably priced grub, two bars, and a stellar beer list (and usually one cask beer). I know it’s a cheesy and worn out description, but these old red bones have “character”. It’s a place that has evolved over time, a place where the crazy crap on the walls covers the old crazy crap from twenty years ago. A detail oriented interior designer would probably have a seizure upon first glance of the bar's interior. The eclectic mix of patrons and friendly service keeps me coming back to Redbones long after I moved away from the neighborhood. Redbones' most unique feature: bicycle valet parking. How's that for goin' green?!?! Character, eclectic, bicycles, bbq – I miss living in Davis Square...

Delux. Oh oh – I might have to use the word eclectic again. But really, I mean it this time – the Delux has a shrine to Elvis for chrissakes. It’s also home to the smallest restaurant kitchen I've ever seen. I’m not talking chicken salad sandwiches and chili - I’ve chomped on everything from plump juicy pork chops to tilapia drenched in a mesmerizing tropical sauce. The friggin’ mango salsa with homemade pita chips is a must starter. All this is performed in a closet sized kitchen with four burners and not much else. If you’re allergic to hipsters, tattoo’s and dudes who wear tight pants you might want to slum elsewhere – otherwise pull your ass-crack up to the bar and order a Schlitz tall boy in a can.

James Gate. It makes my list for a very particular reason; a rip-roaring fireplace. It does have other fine attributes mind you, but fire is the reason I plant myself here several times during the winter. This is a bona fide wood burning fireplace where you can walk up, throw down a log and stoke it yourself. This is not some ornate Back Bay gas hole. The Gate is an Irish Bar complete with fresh Guinness (duh) and a few actual Irish people hanging about. Their Bangers and Mashed is my favorite in all of Boston. The barroom is dark and gritty with inviting tables and benches that look like they were chiseled by hand. Bonus points if you’re a lesbian or with one.

Charlie’s Kitchen. These guys make the list because of their jukebox. I despise those top 40 Internet jukeboxes with every Nickelback song ever – god damned good for nuthin' Canadians. Charlie’s jukebox is dominated by local bands, most of which have played this room on a Monday night; their only night for live music. Charlie’s has recently expanded by building out a quaint little patio out back (um, beer garden). With gentrification zombies taking over Harvard Square, Charlie’s stands tall while defending their old school honor.

Grendel’s Den. This is another gentrification killer of Harvard Square. The first time I popped in here 20 years ago they didn’t even ask for my fake i.d. Sweet. Not much has changed since then – hell, it almost seems like the prices are about the same. One a recent visit here I had a perfect dirty vodka martini for $7.50. The bartended did not shake my libation into submission like you see all too often; he agitated it with gentle lovingness. My girlfriend had a spectacular Manhattan style drink for around $8, and then a glass of Chardonnay for $5. And get this – everything on the menu is half price from 5-7pm every day! It’s one of the few places where you’ll find Harvard professors chatting up street musicians. Grendel’s is another fine winter hidey hole, with about five hot/mulled “adult” drinks on the menu. Sweet.

Plough and Stars: Ahh yes…the memories run deep here. From squeezing past Mark Sandman from the band Morphine on route to the bathroom to dancing my ass off to the Ray Corvair Trio. Well, more like jumping up and down in place like a spaz. The Plough is nothing less than legendary. Freaks, the maladjusted, retarded geniuses, poet laureates – ya’ll are welcome here. Don’t make me use the word eclectic again. By the way – this pub has been killin’ it with the food the last couple years. It’s been a while since I’ve strapped on the feed bag here, but I remember other-wordly duck confit and heavenly cheesy grits (might have been two different meals though). Either way – good stuff abounds here my friends.

Cambridge Brewing Company. Yep – it’s a brew pub. And I’ve yet to find one anywhere in the country that makes me happier. There will always be something that resonates with me when the dank sweet smell of hops permeates a room. Maybe in a past life I was a monk who ran an ale house in medieval Europe. I will admit that not every brew I try at CBC is acceptable to my palette. But I keep trying, and I keep learning, and I keep coming back. I’m not a fan of fruit beer, but their Great Pumpkin Ale is like a cold mellow slice of grandma’s pie (and less filling). They have a solid menu for a brew pub with a variety of seasonal dishes that incorporate local produce. Fresh beer, fresh food…mmm, mmm good.

Publick House: Do not call the Publick House an Irish Bar. Never ever do that. It actually used to be called Anam Cara, but I think the owner had an aneurysm after he heard the words Irish Bar muttered one too many times under his roof. Not only did he change the name, but he expanded and added a new section called the Monk Cell which only serves Belgian Beers. It’s a great little back room that envelops you in dark wood and a sky of glassware. This is considered one of the top beer bars in the country, and probably the best Belgian beer bar to be found outside of, well...Belgium. They also specialize in adding beer to their dishes – such as the stout-marinated hanger steak. If you’re a beer guy/geek/aficionado – the Publick house is now your Valhalla. Embrace the funk (of beer).

Middle East: It’s a restaurant, it’s a bar, it’s a nightclub – it’s off the hook, yo! Swoosh in for a falafel sandwich, swagger up to the bar for a jack and coke and end the night watching a band or trying to get digits from that hipster hottie looking all cool in the corner. Lot’s of action going on under one roof here. There’s a main stage downstairs, a medium stage upstairs, free music in the “bakery” and usually DJ’s in Zuzu (which is more of a cocktail lounge). All these spaces share the same kitchen and owners. Cover charges vary from night to night, but it’s not unusual for a dozen or more bands to be rattling the rafters on any given night – from hardcore to hippie. And if you stay until closing time, do check out the drunken shenanigans and hook-ups at Hi-Fi Pizza right across the street. Good times.

Green Street: It may not look fancy from the outside, but don’t let that fool you - this is middle upper low upscale dining. Green Street’s cocktail menu is as extensive and informative as a Farmer’s Almanac. Their liquid concoctions consist of classics like the Moscow Mule to sweet and fruity variations like the Parisian Orchid (with elderflower). The kitchen’s been through some twists and turns with their chefs the past few years – the old Caribbean fusion flavors that first made me a regular have been replaced with creative American, whatever. But any place that serves a fried food of the week is okay in my book (er, blog).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where to Hang my Hat?

I don't need a local tavern where I can comfortably hang my hat every night, but once a week would be nice. I live right outside of Boston in a middle class neighborhood with its fair share of retail, light-industrial and restaurant/pub space. I don't spend a lot of time around here though (as you can tell by reading the rest of this blog) but once a week I like to hit up a neighborhood spot for a combination of beer/sports/food/bonding. The thing is - I just can't find a place where everyone knows my name (one or two people would be fine actually).

First on the list is the local Irish bar. I'm not going to name names so as to protect the guilty. The "Irish" place is the closest to my house...although I've never seen an Irish person anywhere in sight. The food is low grade pub slop, even the french fries are weak. The crowd is a mix of locals, yah-doods, professional drunks and failed musicians. Sunday evening is "leave your mom's basement to play in or listen to bad blues" night. Ugh. This dump doesn't have one redeeming quality.

The next closet establishment is by far the most entertaining. We'll call it the "Chinese food dive". I've popped in a few times and the bartender almost remembered my name last week. I'm surprised she even recognized me because I think blow and oxy has played a prevalent role in her lifestyle. She is a sweetie though, and this is the friendliest place in the area (but it might be the drugs that keep people talking). I've actually bought a drink for someone every time I've been in here, mainly because I think I'm the only one with a full time job (drug dealing doesn't count). The trick is to get here after someone has already played 18 Journey songs in a row on the jukebox - and everyone in the bar sings along. Poorly. Like I said, it's entertaining.

Next up - the "fireman's bar". This joint used to have some character and a pretty decent menu, then a local fireman bought it and dressed (er messed) it up. It's pretty much filled with, ya know - firemen, cops and chicks who want to sleep with firemen and cops. I'm all set with this place...for I am neither. And what's up with firemen who smoke? Am I the only one who sees the irony here?

That's all there is within walking distance of my house. There are a couple more spots in the area and on the way home from work, like the "wing place", which is always packed after 6pm. It seems to be migrating grounds for every softball team within a three mile radius. This place does have the best set-up for watching sports, and what goes well with sports on TV...friggin' wings baby. The main drawback with this wing slinger (besides getting jostled around) are the silver-spoon townies mucking up the joint. The unemployed druggies at the other place are much more bearable. There's also the pizza chain (the one that serves booze) next door where I see the same two guys every time I pop in. There's the lonely divorced guy who hits everyone up for a job, and the crazy genius dude who's always frantically circling statistics in the sports section. I get my pizza to go.

Finally, last night I scoped out a new place (that's been around forever). It's a mini local restaurant/bar chain. Holy crap is this place affordable, but you get what you pay for - or maybe a little bit more. Huge portions were flying out the kitchen doors and there was a decent wait to sit in the dining area. I'm a pretty decent sized guy, but I felt like Slim Pickins in here - fatties, fatties everywhere. They sure know where to go for a big cheap foodbag of fatty fried vittles. And then trivia night started up - I must be some type of freakin' genius because I knew the answer to every question they posed. I didn't spend much time getting to know everyone, got my five pounds of heart attack fried chicken and headed home. The search goes on...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bar Etiquette

Even a sloppy drunk can have some class. And just to be clear – I’m usually not the sloppy drunk. Maybe that’s the first rule of bar etiquette; know when to go home! But let’s be honest – plenty of people are assholes long before the sweet nectar of alcohol hit’s their lips. Here’s to not being one of them.

A little tact can go a long way on a busy night in pubtown. First of all, wait your friggin’ turn. A bartender should serve one group of patrons at a time (you aren't at a keg party). Get a feel for the place and find a spot that will get you noticed without barging in between other patron’s. Don’t be the monkey-boy who screams for an order of four beers and four shots between a quiet couple holding hands. Once you find a spot your next step should be to make direct eye contact with the bartender. Do not raise a 20 dollah bill in the air and waive it around like a stripper who just peeled off her stockings. Don’t flail or yell like you fell down a well. Stare that bartender down until they know you are there, you’ll get a slight nod, and then you can go back to watching the game or working on your pick-up lines. When the bartender does get to you, know exactly what you want. Bars are actually pretty good about displaying all of what they serve right there in front of your face. Check the taps, see what bottles they have and scan the top shelf for your mistresses favorite gin. There’s nothing wrong with asking a question or two, but don’t leave the bartender hanging if other people are waiting. See what you’re doing – you are telling the bartender “I’m a good customer and you’ll probably get a nice tip from me”. I also like to throw the bartender a bigger than normal tip after the first round (even if I’m using a credit card, I always have some cash when I go into a bar). I tip well, but I don’t go overboard, I don’t want the bartender thinking I’m mister money bags the next time I show up.

Congratulations…you’ve got your drink. Now where are you going to enjoy that tasty libation? No, no no…not right there in front of the bar, seriously now, move away from the bar after you have received your cocktail. If you want to drink at the bar get there earlier or patiently wait for a seat. Otherwise – find a cozy corner if you’re with a date or stake out a big piece of real estate if you’re with a group of people. Respect other people’s space. I have a tendency to hold my ground when things get busy, and if your glass of wine hits my elbow I could care less, hope you like stains.

If things are a little slower please remember that the place is not your own private Idaho (unless you are the owner). That whole thing with bartender’s being your therapist – that was before everyone had therapists. It’s not wrong to have a conversation with your bartender; you just have to know when to let go, man. Maybe the person next to you needs to get something off their chest too, that way the bartender can stock the coolers and do their job before it gets too late. If the bartender is being really nice to you and you think you’re going to get lucky, before you embarrass everyone involved please try internet dating, or at least start with a waitress or busboy. Bartenders work on tips, the nicer they are the more tips they get (theoretically) – please refrain from trying to get in their pants just because one smiled at you.

And one last thing: when it’s last call and you are done with your drink – go home (or at least someone else’s home).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Dive, or not a Dive (bar)

I’m sitting at the bar in Allston’s Deep Ellum attempting to describe to my girlfriend what this joint used to look like. I think it was called Murphy’s, a Bud bottle kinda place - I don’t believe they even had a tap line. What I do remember were the naked women tiles circa 1946 in the men’s room. Classy. Do I miss the place? – not really. The old man bartender/owner was nice and all, but I’ll take the current owner's cocktail mastery over the dreariness that once stood in the same spot. Not to mention that the Model Cafe is right next door and I think this place is/was/used to be a dive. See – this is where I’m confused. Can a bar still be considered a dive if it’s had some remodeling or recently or added big-ass flat screens? And what about food – can a dive serve food, even if it’s just fried crap?

Down the street a little sits O’Brien’s – a couple years ago it was simply a dirty rock and roll club. Today it’s a clean rock club filled with dirty rockers. My first visit to this dump was spectacular. A couple buddies and I went out for a Saturday afternoon bike ride and rolled into O’Brien’s mid afternoon for a thirst quencher. Everyone in the place was lookin’ good and tight, including the staff. A small argument began between the cocktail waitress and a female patron. We weren’t paying much attention – trying not to look the beast in the eye, so to speak. When I did look over I saw the first roundhouse making its way to the waitress’s throat. She retaliated with a right hook and a full on brawl was engaged smack dab in the middle of the bar. We didn’t get involved for obvious reasons, but were a little stunned that no one else did either. The two battling Betty’s must have traded blows for a full ninety seconds before they hit the ground and the bartender finally came over and pulled them apart. We were speechless, but no one else seemed to care – like it was a daily occurrence and a simple nuisance. The waitress went back to work like nothing happened, the patron went back to her gin and tonic and we got the hell out of there. That’s what I expect from a dive bar.

If I had to pick a dive in Allston today I’d have to give the nod to the Silhouette Lounge. No fancy new interior design here – the joint’s most prominent feature is a sticky popcorn machine. Which is nice, ‘cause I’m not sure I’d want to know what the place smells like without it. But who cares – it’s about pitchers of beer, mixed drinks in pint glasses, darts and pool in here. This “lounge” is often filled with Brazilians at 5pm and replaced by hipsters at 10pm.

Where have all the dive bars gone…maybe we just need a good recession (ha), let a few neighborhoods go to shit and reap the divey rewards. Although even the toniest of neighborhoods, Beacon Hill, still has a place where you can drink during the day and not feel guilty – or know that it’s daytime. The Beacon Hill pub just won’t ever go away. Smothered between antique shops and European style bistros – I don’t think the Beacon Hill Association wants this place to have windows. The BHP has somehow managed to maintain the same stale beer smell for the last 15 years. It’s cheap, dark and overall is great place to do something you might later regret.

I will say this about dive bars – they’re the best place to watch a game on TV. I don’t want to watch a sox game next to a couple pink hats drinking mudslides. Know what I’m saying? I want to be sitting next to a guy that picked up Carl Yazstremski in a cab one night after a bender still wearing his cleats. Remember what the bleachers in Fenway Park were like 20 years ago – you can still get that kind of look and feel at a couple places near the Garden. The Penalty Box is a good place to go if you’ve been bad. It features cheap beer and is right across from the Garden on Causeway – and that’s pretty much it. Rumor had it they went for years without a liquor license. Don’t go in there and try and be a tough guy - it’s just not worth it. Baseball bats and heads have collided in this place. The other neighborhood dive is Sullivan’s. It’s a place where green clover tattoos and bud bottles never go out of style. A plain white wife beater is year round attire for boys and girls.

I’ll keep doing my painstaking research for you, my dedicated reader.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bites at the Bar

In my opinion, if a restaurant doesn’t have a serviceable bar area that’s comfortable for dining – it might as well be a Chucky Cheese. Granted, many restaurants just aren’t interested in providing a comfortable atmosphere for this type of dining, with the bar area being more of a holding cell for waiting patrons.

If I could be promised a big comfortable booth in a dark and secluded corner every time I dined out I wouldn’t be writing this. My girlfriend and I live busy lives and have our own apartments. When we get together, especially during the work week, we need time to debrief. For the most part I don’t want to look at the menu until I’m done with my first martini and have spent some quality time with my sweetie. I also don’t want a waitperson all up in my face looking for an order as soon as I sit down. At the bar – there’s an implied “take your time” mentality for those who have chosen to saddle up. I also have mucho respecto for bartenders (well, the good ones) – knowing that for many of them this is a career or a way to support a not so well paying career. Mind you, I’m not here to disrespect wait-people, but you find far fewer wait-professionals and lots of transients.

On a not too recent visit to Ivy in Downtown Crossing (er, um…Ladder District) we were placed smack dab in the middle of the upstairs dining area on a tight two-topper table. The room was packed and included a large rambunctious group of pre-theatre goers. I immediately started getting anxious and the walls began closing in around us. We bailed and headed for the bar before our water glasses were filled. We had the bar to ourselves and we made that bartender our beotch (in a nice way). Ivy prides itself on having the largest variety or wines by the bottle for under $40 in Boston. The bartender must have spent a good twelve minutes offering samples, letting us each try three or four styles before we made a decision. I had a nice glass of spicy red zinfandel and she had a crisp un-oaked chardonnay. We indulged in few tidbits from their menu – the arancini ($9) was airy and cheesy but were about the size of a marble (I’ve been spoiled by Galleria Umberto I guess), but what could have been a miserable experience turned into a great night. Thanks bartender!

Our most recent dine-at-the-bar experience was at Tangierino in Charlestown. It’s a Mediterranean restaurant with a hookah bar in an old traditional Irish neighborhood, and from what I’ve been told the “locals” ain’t too happy about it. If you know Charlestown you know what I’m saying. We weren’t planning on going downstairs, our last experience there was upstairs and pleasant enough. But after hearing about the hookahs we had to take a look-see in the basement. We could have opted for a cozy corner (plenty of ‘em down there), but the bar was empty and we moved right in. There was a hint of spring in the air and I noticed a funky sangria on the menu. It was a North African version using figs and the bartender offered up a tasting. Man, you could really taste the fig and it wasn’t that bad: sweetness up front with an earthy figtastic finish, but not my thing. We opted for a variety of red wines and a couple of tapas. I really enjoyed the chicken phylo dish with cinnamon accompanied by a mint yogurt dipping sauce. This is surprising because I’m not a huge fan of either spice, but together they created happy little party in my mouth. At the end of the meal I took advantage of Tangierino’s grandfathered smoking license and puffed a fine cigar. I was told it was of the mild variety and it put me back $18. As I’m thoroughly enjoying my stogie the bartender poured about a half shot of cognac in a short stubby glass. Before I could reach over and suck it back (I was going for it) he explained that it was for dipping. Dipping the butt-end of the cigar I tell you…crazy shit huh! I’ve smoked maybe 20 cigars in my life, and I don’t ever want to smoke another one unless I follow this flavor procedure. It was a beautiful thing that could make smoking sexy again. Thanks bartender!

The bartender doesn’t always have to be on the top of their game for us to enjoy ourselves. We’ve dined at the bar at Marliave on more than one occasion and while the bartenders were adept in their mixologist skills - they lacked a certain over-all enthusiasm. You know the type – “too cool for school” or “too good looking for my job”. Whatever - I’m not out there to make friends anyways. What we ended up remembering about Marliave were the cocktails with Bostonian inspired names like the Molasses Flood (rum, molasses, lime, bitters) and the Boston Tea Party (tequila, early grey tea, ginger beer, lemon). They offer some outstanding starters too. The Rarebits is a skillet full of cheesy melted goodness that includes lager and Vermont bacon. Their mussels are served swimming in white wine, roasted tomatoes and garlic – you could dip old socks in this stuff and still crave more.

At the Beehive in Boston’s South End we enjoyed another memorable Zen bartender experience. I love walking into a place for the first time not knowing what to expect, and I’m not going to even try to describe the interior of this place. Let’s call it crazy chic. The bartender was kind of busy yet we found a decent spot for ourselves – it was a late Sunday afternoon and all the action was at the bar. He did a good job of answering our questions without ignoring the other patrons. He’d re-fill a regular’s wine glass with a nod without breaking stride in his conversation with us. We received a little crash course on Willamette wines and embraced ansplendid Pinot Gris from Oregon. We noshed on some small plates like we tend to do at the bar. The short rib grilled cheese didn’t live up to expectations but the blackened shrimp and grits made up for it. I’m still not sure what I think about the crowd in this place – I’d probably be more comfortable hanging out with the bartender and wait-staff than the patrons themselves.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Red Sox on Patriots Day – Life is Good.

Ah yes….there is nothing like an 11:30am start to an April Red Sox game in Fenway Park. Damn right it’s gonna be cold, but at least I’m not running in from Hopkinton like the 50,000 people partaking in the Boston Marathon. The starting gun for the Marathoners blasts off at 10am – I imagine that’s when we’re going to start drinking.

I have to be honest – I’m not going to be cold. I’m going to be sharing a luxury box with 20 other people that we scored at half price. And it comes with all the free beer we can weasel down our collective esophagi. This is all new territory for me – I’ve sat just about everywhere in Fenway except the luxury and monster seats. And with beers topping $7 inside the park you can bet that my buddies and I have our normal watering holes on route to the park.

Here’s a little secret that I hate/have to share: the best place to park is the garage on Dalton Street. Trust me. And it just so happens that the Bukowski Tavern is on the bottom floor. Buk’s is known as a beer bar, I’m a beer guy, and what else would you drink before, during and after a baseball game. Buk’s usually has a couple of my current craft beer draft favorites: Sixpoint, Southern Tier, Mayflower, Green Flash, Troegs, etc. The craft beers are “city prices” – pints usually start around $6 and go up from there. Some of the higher abv (alcohol by volume) beers might be served in 10, 12 or 14 ounce glasses. Any bona fide beer snob who appreciates a good pour in the proper glassware will find plenty of bottled Belgian beers served in goblet or flute form. The affordable food prices bring everything back down to earth – a hotdog and fries is $4. Cheddar cheeseburger with mashed or fires - $8.

If the quest for vittles is from sea rather than land, the Summer Shack shares the bottom floor of the garage with Buk’s. It’s not exactly a chain, it’s not exactly mediocre, it’s neither cheap nor expensive – but if you’re jonesin’ for a fried mollusk it’ll do nicely.

Speaking of fried seafood - The Baseball Tavern was a legendary dive bar on Boylston Street that’s still on Boylston but can no longer live under the “dive” moniker. They took over an old nightclub with a roof deck and a stage for bands in the basement. And here’s the rub – they serve the biggest, fattest plate o’ fried clams in the city! FYI - this is Boylston behind Fenway, not the Back Bay Bolyston that’s a pink hat cluster fuck.

Here’s a quick list of places where the lines are as long to get in as they are to get a drink – but you might meet a cute chica: Cask and Flagon, Jillian’s (and everything else on Lansdowne), Who’s On First, Game On and Copperfield’s. And as with all great places that feature jocks, cute girls and booze – you can probably get in a fight too.

One of my favorite places in all of Boston is Eastern Standard. It’s smack dab in the middle of Kenmore Square in the Commonwealth Hotel – but this is soft leather chair / martini bar territory and it will have to wait for another blog. There’s a beer theme going on here, which brings me to Boston Beer Works. This is a brewpub – please don’t order a Bud Lite here people. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved. This cavernous pub has had it’s ups and downs, but the current brew-master seems to be on the right track. The IPA is sweet and hoppy with a thick foamy head, very drinkable and void of a bitter finish. The menu is extensive – mounds of nachos and a variety of flavored chicken offerings await. It’s right across from the park, so expect to wait in line on game day.

Bukowski’s sister location, the Lower Depths, is located on Comm Ave. just outside of Kenmore Sq. and it features 40’s. Of beer that is. In big brown bags and all, ya’ll. They also have an extensive craft beer menu (ala Buk’s) and cheap hot dogs.

What have I forgot – how about an Irish Bar? An Tua Nua is over on Brookline Street and they will proudly serve you a perfect pint of Guinness. Tua has some crazy popular dance and DJ nights, and the crowds here before a Sox game are definitely more diverse than other bars in the neighborhood. And finally – across the street is Audubon Circle. It’s all modern and fancy with sleek lines and minimalism with a down-tempo soundtrack, but they sure make a fine burger. It’s been called the best in the city, but I wouldn’t go that far. AC is also good for a mojito or a kiwi-cucumber gimlet – if that’s your thing.

Oh, by the way. Enjoy the game!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let's go to Foley's for a Drink

I don’t have a “Norm” type bar where everyone knows my name ala Cheers. That’s probably a good thing. Although, JJ Foley’s in Boston’s South End is where my work compadres and I roll after work – and sometimes during work (we’re dedicated patrons). To use an over-used but appropriate term this place is “old school.” The bartenders wear crisp white dress shirts with ties and call patrons sir, even if they might not qualify. All the historic crazy crap on the walls documenting Boston’s political history, that looks like it’s been there for 100 years, probably has (Foley’s turns 100 this year – Happy Birthday!). When it was respectable for a politician to have a drink and discuss politics (crazy, huh) Foley’s was the place to hop on your soapbox with a Guinness in hand. I’ve chatted up ex-mayor Ray Flynn a few times at the bar. What with all the political correctness in the world today, sadly it now seems a politician can only go to a bar if it’s a media related event (or if he's retired). How pathetic considering that the American Revolution was instigated in the taverns of Massachusetts. The first murmurs of revolt were lubricated with rum doled out by Massachusetts publicans. Why does everyone hate the freedom! But I digress.

Foley’s recently expanded and added a kitchen. The old bar side doesn’t have barstools, a feature that I adore. Patrons stand at the bar or go and sit at one of the tables along the wall. I sit on my butt all day and don’t need a stool to enjoy an IPA. This provides unfettered access to the bartender and a more social environment where real estate along the bar belongs to all.

The new side does have barstools; let’s call it the restaurant side. Food can be purchased in the old side, but I just can’t get used to eating over there. It’s like ordering a lobster roll at Fenway Park instead of a hotdog. I’m a traditionalist, when it works for me. The food can be described as better than average pub grub with an eye on the old country (did I mention that Foley’s is an Irish bar). Corned beef (in March at least), shepherds pie, fish and chips – no surprises here. Although I’d bet that your average person in Ireland eats ten times more Indian and fast food than corned beef. The Foley’s burger is solid; the pizza is decent as are the wings and other appetizers - and it’s all affordable. Burger is $8. Steak tips are $11.50.

Foley’s is as good a place to put a little food in the belly to start the night as it is for last call. With a 2am liquor license and easy to find parking (at 1am), Foley’s can go from stone-dead to raging in a matter 30 minutes. By 1:30am or so things can get a little freaky, but I’ll save some of those stories for another time.