Boston is indeed expanding like mad. Bars and restaurants are cropping up around the city proper–as well as its tributary neighborhoods–at an impressive rate. That said, there is still a healthy smattering of longstanding, locally-fueled restaurants that haven’t budged, changed, or fled, and don’t intend to. Washington Square Tavern, in the Boston neighborhood of Brookline, is one such haunt.
Nearly 20 years old, Washington Square Tavern has seen the city and the neighborhood change. The restaurant has even been around long enough that regulars have grown up, had children, and now their children are regulars and beginning to bring their children. Throughout its run, though, Washington Square Tavern never lost its mission to serve upscale fare in unpretentious digs.
The bar is big and stocked. The beer taps feature prominently on the back bar next to several wine bottles. Toward the back of the space, tall, broad bookshelves carry unmarked volumes, suggesting both age and agelessness. Boston, in general, has that quality about it.
“Not too many people leave Boston,” David Nugent, head bartender, tells us. “The neighborhood has become more affluent, sure. It used to be students and commuters around here and now it’s professionals and families, but it’s still Boston.”
David’s accent could be out of a movie. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think his talk of “mahtinis” and “Chahtreuse” was put on, but it’s not. It’s, how you say, chahming.
As newer and newer venues compete for a spot on Boston’s small but spotlighted stage, places like Washington Square Tavern know that what they’re doing works. We ask him if the changing bar scene has affected this place at all.
“When I started bartending it was all ‘grape crushes’ and ‘Alabama slammers’ (there’s that accent again)—you know, those drinks from the 80s and 90s that were mostly alcohol,” David says. “Now there’s all sorts of bitters, syrups, infusions, and so many different spirits.”
We ask him if he thinks that’s a good thing, that the scene has become so elaborate, or if it’s overblown.
“To each their own,” he says, without a beat. The lack of judgement in his tone is refreshing. Sure, the cocktail menu here has bitters and syrups, but the bar, and David, are genuinely unpretentious about it, almost nonchalant. When we ask at what point in his career did he make the move from “bartender” to “cocktail bartender”, he looks at us funny.
“A bartender’s a bartender,” he says. “What’s the difference?”
David’s Brockmans cocktail, The Freshmaker, is a delightfully refreshing marriage of blueberries, mint, muddled limes, and bitter lemon soda. It’s a far cry from an Alabama Slammer, but he’s happy to be serving his regulars “a real crusher” all the same.
by David Nugent
- 2 oz/60 ml Brockmans Gin
- .75 oz/22 ml St. Germain
- 1 oz/30 ml blackberry mint puree
- 2 muddled limes
- bitter lemon soda
- Muddle the two limes, cut into quarters, into the bottom of a tin, to release the juice and the oils.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the bitter lemon soda.
- Shake vigourously, strain over fresh ice.
- Top with bitter lemon soda.
- Garnish with a mint sprig.