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This article first appeared in the February 25, 2009 edition of The Somerville News.
Today there are plenty of places in Somerville where you can go to have a meal and an adult beverage. From one end of the city to the other, these mid to up-scale eateries offer an enticing menu and a wide array of inebriates. There was a time, not too long ago, when local barrooms were just that, barrooms. If you wanted to see what food was served, it was usually right in front of you, in a large glass jar or hanging on a display rack. The fare was simple, including bags of chips, peanuts, slim-jims and pickled eggs. The upscale joints offered beer nuts to their customers – bon apétit!
Now, most establishments offer a slew of fancy beers and ales in bottles and on tap. The transformation from gin-mill to hip–spot seems to have happened rather quickly. As usual, my area of expertise is the Davis Square area, so most of my first-hand information comes from there. Thankfully, Sligo’s, Redbones (formerly The Coronet, then Barnaby’s) and Johnny D’s have kept the traditional bar set-up alive. These places haven’t changed that much, except for the addition of what seems to be countless new brews including lights, darks, ambers, wheats, summers, winters etc. Back in my heyday we didn’t have so many choices. My favorites were Bud, Rolling Rock and once in a while a nice dark Guinness. In the older days, some of the preferred brews were these: Heffenreffer, Rheingold, Pabst, Schlitz, Schaeffer, Carling Black Label, Narragansett Lager and Knickerbocker. Just saying those names brings back memories, fogged as they are.
Can you believe that in just Davis Square alone, there are about 32 restaurants and roughly 7 bars? To get into some of these places you are required to have an ID and a piercing of some kind. As usual my timing is impeccable. I quit drinking and there are now endless places and countless choices. My liver is very grateful that those days are behind me. And just my luck, I have three piercings, one on one ear, and two in the other. What a waste! I am the infinite designated driver, which is a very good thing. A cold O’Doul’s is fine for me these days.
I happened to have seen a packed to the gills Tufts shuttle bus heading to Davis Square at around 6:30 Saturday night. I’m sure not all the students were heading for Joshua Tree and The Burren, but you can bet a lot were. The standing room only bus occupants were decked out in their trendiest Saturday night best (I know because I pass them while walking the dog on College Avenue).
Now that St Patrick’s Day is in sight, memories of The Blarney Stone Pub start filling me’ head. How many of us actually drank green beer? I think of the Stone whenever I walk past Ciampa Manor on College Ave.
I had the pleasure of recently talking with a gentleman who served about 8 years on Somerville’s Licensing Board. He had some interesting stories for sure. He felt that Somerville had enough bars and he tried to only give liquor licenses to restaurants. Under his watch, Pal Joey’s (aka El Cids, and Steppin’ Out) lost their license due to too much trouble. He gave them the option to sell their license. The Jumbo in Teele Square was also a trouble spot (I don’t recall any brouhahas when I played in bands up there). He was in charge when Bertucci’s first opened in Davis Square, happy to see a new restaurant open. Too bad he didn’t get in on buying some Bertucci’s stock!
As I’ve said, I don’t drink alcohol (anymore), but I still love the smell of these old, seasoned (or fermented I should say) joints. Back when I was imbibing, you could still smoke your brains out while you drank your mind away. Two or three hours in the barroom was easily detectable by the smell of cigarette smoke that saturated your body and clothes. Imagine what it did to our insides.
There are a few places in Ball Square that we used to frequent for an ale or two as well – The Willow was where I would go if I was in that area. You may have memories of the joints that lined Somerville Ave., Broadway and in East Somerville. There were plenty of bars, with plenty of stories. So while you may be craving an ice cold Aventinus wheat Doppelbock and an omelet with red peppers and goat cheese, I’d rather have a frosty Pabst Blue Ribbon and a pickled egg.