Written on the big mirror behind the bar at Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant is the beer selection, with emphasis on the evening’s special – Jolene American Porter, made by the Lynn-based Bent Water Brewing.
While the description of the beer is enough to warrant a try – its notes of chocolate, coffee, and cashew are perfect for a bitter night in late January – even more interesting is bar manager Rob McCaffrey’s explanation of why Lincoln is featuring that particular beer.
“We like to showcase local small breweries and help them gain traction,” Rob explains, noting that they did the same thing for Night Shift back when the Everett brewery was still getting its feet wet. He says Lincoln is happy to use its influence to help such fledgling breweries, given that the South Boston restaurant has become, in his words, “an institution.”
A Contemporary Institution
That’s a bold way to characterize an establishment that won’t celebrate its fifth anniversary until this coming fall. Lincoln might even seem more like an interloper than an institution in a neighborhood with the long history and cultural heritage of South Boston.
Then again, few areas in Boston have experienced as much upheaval in the past decade as Southie.
What was once a solidly working-class, Irish Catholic enclave has become a trendy destination for young professionals. Luxury condos have replaced triple-deckers. Cherished watering holes like the Quiet Man Pub have closed up shop. A slew of new businesses have moved in; some of them have already moved out.
Amid such fluctuation, keeping your doors open for five years might just qualify you as an elder statesman. But Lincoln didn’t work its way into South Boston’s heart simply by sticking around. It did so by honoring Southie’s roots and embracing its complicated, changing culture.
Respect for Tradition
As colorfully portrayed in movies and books, South Boston has long had its share of humble restaurants and well-worn dives. Without trying to mimic their look and feel, Lincoln deftly captures their spirit. Dark wood, exposed brick, and a tin ceiling give the interior a vintage appearance.
The bar is built for conversation, with 20 seats, cozy booths, and plenty of standing room. A separate dining room in the back of the restaurant allows for a quieter experience.
On top of a respectable beer selection, Lincoln’s cocktail program is balanced and approachable. The Airmail is a classic that dates back at least to the late 1940s. Made with Brugal Anejo rum, prosecco, lime, and honey, it’s surprisingly dry, with the honey flavor becoming increasingly prominent after a few sips.
The Pink Dove is smoky and bright, with Del Maguey mezcal, grapefruit, sage, and lime.
The Lady Lincoln, recommended to me by several bartenders and a fellow patron, is the bar’s flagship cocktail. Combining Ketel One vodka, fresh blackberry, elderflower, mint, and lemon, it’s a fruity, floral drink with a thick texture.
Lincoln’s wood-fired pizzas have garnered near-universal praise, but pizza isn’t the only must-have item on the menu. Spicy chicken wings have plenty of kick, with a rich blend of spices. And they're healthier than fried wings, since they're baked in Lincoln's pizza oven. So, bonus.
The Lincoln Sliders are another crowd-pleaser, and it’s easy to see why. These gloriously thick mini-burgers are slathered with bacon aioli, topped with muenster cheese and a sunny-side-up quail egg, and served on a soft potato bun. They are absolutely delicious, and If I wasn’t committed to having a little variety in my blog posts, I would have ordered another round.
But I pulled myself away long enough to order the burnt-end tacos. Stuffed with coffee-rubbed smoked brisket, ranch slaw, Cotija cheese, charred pineapple and orange salsa, lime crema, and cilantro, they were a blast of sweet and smoky flavors.
A Nod to the Neighborhood
For long-time residents of a community, gentrification can be heartbreaking. The stories, the struggles, the special connections shared through generations – so much of it gets swept away in a wave of modern urban planning.
Many newcomers change the complexion of a neighborhood. But Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant, with its laid-back atmosphere, timeless look, and reasonably priced menu, aims to fit in. It does so with an awareness of its surroundings and an appreciation for Southie’s history.
And nowhere is that more evident than with a cocktail named for a revered local institution that closed its doors nearly 10 years ago.
The Quiet Man is “a nod to the neighborhood,” Rob explains.
This riff on a Manhattan combines Four Roses bourbon with maple liqueur, sweet vermouth, and bitters. The maple notes aren’t too forward, and they nicely round out the bitters.
“We might get someone from the neighborhood who recognizes the name and tries something new,” Rob says. “Maybe it starts a conversation.”
Or sparks a memory.
Address: 425 West Broadway, South Boston
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