It’s not all that often you hear someone say “Hey, let’s head to the Theater District for drinks!” With all due respect to the epicenter of the city’s most highbrow culture, it’s not exactly a hotbed of Boston nightlife. But that doesn’t mean you have to don your finest duds and be holding a theater ticket to have a few drinks in this neighborhood. And for that, I give you the Intermission Tavern.
My first encounter with the Intermission Tavern was with my friend Brian (who also accompanied me on one of my most recent visits). We came here because we were headed to the Boston Common Loews for a movie and needed a change of scenery from our usual pre-movie haunt, the Beantown Pub. I’d never heard of the place and chose it because Google Maps said (correctly) it was near the Loews.
Of all the bars I’ve randomly sought out or stumbled upon, this ranks as one of my favorite discoveries; it feels appropriate to make it the subject of my first official review.
Nestled in between the lower edge of Boston Common and the Theater District, the Intermission Tavern clearly caters to entertainment lovers. With its name, décor, and cleverly titled menu selections, they play up the theater theme without managing to shove it in your face.
From the outside, this is an unassuming little place. It looks amusingly diminutive, flanked as it is by two taller buildings, and its pointed roof gives it the appearance of a Swiss chalet. You might walk right by it en route to one of the theaters in the area, never pausing to give it a second glance.
The interior, as a friend of mine so deftly described it, is almost like an upscale dive bar. That sounds contradictory, I know. But it is this shaky balance between upscale and casual that, for me, distinguishes the Intermission Tavern.
In fact, of the Intermission Tavern is rife with contradictions. The bar gives off a dark, cozy, tucked-away away vibe, but it’s a beautifully renovated space with cherry-toned hardwood flooring and brick walls. It offers elegant cocktails…and gut-busting burgers. Its patrons range from fresh-faced college students drinking cheap beer to an elderly couple that I saw at a corner table sipping what looked like very serious martinis.
But nowhere is that balance more evident than in the bar’s décor, which wavers between sophistication and kitsch. Wall hangings paying homage to classic Broadway productions are offset by an MTV Moonman statue and a lightsaber mounted above the bar. Bizarrely, front and center behind the bar is a huge painting reproduction of a nude woman, which always elicits a few sophomoric giggles from Brian and me.
My guess is that the owners of the Intermission Tavern were hoping to lure the well-heeled theater-going crowd, but figured they should also be accessible to the jean-and-sneakers movie-going crowd. Smart move, in my opinion.
Regardless, you don’t need to be going to a show to enjoy a few pints and a decent meal at this place.
Their draft beer selection is pretty standard – a couple of offerings each from Sam Adams and Harpoon, along with Guinness, Bass, Blue Moon, Bud, and Stella. But they have an impressive array of martinis, including a revolving specialty martini created by the staff. To me, that sounded like an excellent place to start.
February’s martini specialty was the Boston Harbor, likely named for its wholly unappealing, cloudy green hue. But don’t judge this drink by its color – it’s a rich, whiskey-based cocktail with a smooth, honey finish.
I also tried the bar’s namesake martini, The Intermission. It’s a concoction of Kahlua, Jameson’s, Crème de Menthe, and whipped cream that strongly tastes like a Peppermint Patty. They also make a respectable, very traditional Manhattan.
Potent concoctions notwithstanding, what truly sets this bar apart from so many others is its menu. First off, it’s big. The menu is divided into sections for deli sandwiches (you can create your own – watch out, Subway), offerings from the grill, and a dinner menu that’s only available after 5 p.m. Secondly, when a bar mentions an executive chef on their website, you know they mean business.
I’ve stuck mostly to the burgers, which, in and of themselves, are generously sized but unremarkable. Yet they soar to impressive comfort-food heights with their rich and varied toppings. The Red, White, and Bleu Burger, my customary selection, comes with roasted red peppers and bleu cheese, and makes me feel mildly patriotic. The Texas Burger, complete with onion rings, bacon, and barbecue sauce, is pure burger decadence (and requires a lot of napkins).
But the real showstopper is the “It’s Always Sunny in Boston” Burger. This bad boy is topped with a sunny-side-up egg, bacon, cheddar cheese, and siracha mayo. I’d contemplated ordering it on past visits, but in honor of my inaugural Boston BarHopper review, I decided the time was finally right.
Uhhmm….wow. If you have an appetite, this baby doesn’t disappoint. Crisp bacon, perfectly cooked egg with a runny yolk…it was like dinner and breakfast rolled into one (and probably had as many calories). I can’t say I noticed the siracha mayo, but with that much going on, I suppose it’s easy for a flavor to get a little lost. It was accompanied by sweet potato waffle fries with a vanilla bourbon dipping sauce, as if I needed any more food.
My friend Brian got the meatloaf sandwich, which was one of the weekly specials. He boldly proclaimed it “wicked good.” If you’re interested in lighter fare, I’ve heard high praise for the hummus platter.
Most of the times I’ve been to the Intermission Tavern, I’ve found it fairly quiet. Recently, though, that’s been changing. Last Friday, it was packed by 6; my friend and I snagged the last available table. I went back the following Wednesday around 5:30, and while it was much quieter, I found about half the seats at the bar taken and maybe a third of the tables occupied. A pretty decent midweek crowd!
Considering its distance from downtown and the Financial District, and with so many bars in between, I’m guessing the Intermission Tavern will never be a huge draw for the after-work crowd. But things always seem to pick up when the pre-theater crowd converges (accordingly, the crowd thins when the nearby shows get going). Even during those peak times, the place is spacious enough to assure you a seat at the bar or some standing room that doesn’t require you to keep your elbows pinned to your side.
The Intermission Tavern isn’t the kind of place you’re going to plan your Saturday night around, but there are plenty of reasons to check it out and to keep coming back. Obviously, if you’re seeing a show or a movie, the location can’t be beat. Its menu is big enough to accommodate most tastes, and the prices are reasonable -- $9.95 for sandwiches and burgers. The cocktails are imaginative and well made. And it’s generally quieter than the nearby Tam, so it’s a good spot when you’re craving conversation at a comfortable decibel level.
Even if you don’t have plans in the Theater District, the Intermission Tavern is a viable alternative to the downtown and Financial District bars, and worth an extra few minutes’ walk. Bring a friend, bring your appetite, and enjoy the décor. And try not to stare too much at that picture (you know the one I mean).
Address: 228 Tremont Street, Boston