Patios

Outdoor Seating, Part 4 – Summer in the City

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Statistically speaking, 2013–2014 was not the worst winter New England’s ever seen. There were no real blockbuster storms to speak of. It was a little colder than average, but nothing worthy of the record books. Other parts of the country got it far worse than we did, really.

But the true, insidious character of this past winter can’t be expressed in snowfall totals and thermometer readings. Raw data somehow fails to capture the endurance and pervasiveness of the slate-gray gloom that descended on us in October and lingered through much of May. What this winter lacked in blizzards and nor’easters, it made up for in persistent little storms. A few inches here, a few inches there; just enough snow and ice to be a constant nuisance. Every week, it seemed there was another storm in the forecast, along with a bone-chilling cold that arrived early and refused to let up.

We stumbled, ungracefully, into spring, and while the gray skies were slow to clear, there were signs that Mother Nature was gradually loosening her grip. In my mania for warmer weather, I celebrated every milestone – the first evening I left the office and noticed that the sun had decided to linger. That glorious morning when I left the house without a jacket. The first weekend when I rolled down the windows and opened the sunroof.

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The warm weather may have taken its time getting here, but the first full week of summer hasn’t disappointed. And it seems like everyone in the city has gleefully embraced it. There are sailboats and kayaks on the Charles, sunbathers on Boston Common, and picnic lunches in the Public Garden.

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And with that, it gives me great pleasure to begin the 2014 Boston BarHopper Outdoor Seating Series. I introduced this recurring feature back in 2012, and for whatever reason, never got around to it last summer. This year, I have a renewed sense of urgency and an even greater appreciation for the simple pleasure of eating and drinking al fresco. For the first installment, we’ll hit a few spots in Boston proper.

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Gather

Gather may be best known for its striking interior design, with its wide open spaces, funky hanging light bulbs, and minimalist décor.

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But in the summer months, it’s the front patio that steals the show. Overlooking Boston Harbor, and offering a splendid view of the city at night, Gather’s patio is ideally suited to casual conversation over good drinks and eclectic cuisine.

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While Gather offers a respectable selection of local microbrews, the cocktail list seems especially geared toward summertime drinking. Sangrias, lemonades, and tiki drinks abound, like this tall, refreshing Mai Tai. Made with dark and light rums, orgeat syrup, lime juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine, this potent rendition of the tiki classic is fruity but not too sweet.

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Whiskey smashes are becoming ubiquitous, but Gather’s version is far from typical. Swapping out the traditional bourbon for Bulleit rye gives the Smash a spicy edge, and ginger cognac, combined with lemon and mint, provide an unexpected vibrancy. It’s a slow-sipping cocktail that works well on a warm night.

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Gather’s food menu has won widespread acclaim for its innovative style and use of locally sourced ingredients. And while it deserves much more attention than I can give it here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out one of the highlights of the extensive appetizer list – chicken and waffles. Creating an appetizer version of what is usually a decadent, belt-loosening dish is brilliant. Served with a delicious sausage gravy, each bite-sized piece bursts with flavor.

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Address: 75 Northern Avenue, Boston

Website:http://gatherboston.com/

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Battery Park

From the edge of Boston Harbor, we head to the heart of Boston. In a city blessed with some truly beautiful scenery, the tightly packed Financial District might not be the most obvious place to put an outdoor patio. Imbibing in the shadows of tall, gray buildings simply lacks the more traditional appeal of drinks by the water or lunch on fashionable Newbury Street.

But Battery Park smartly converts a brick-laden alley into a long, comfortable patio that serves as a little oasis amid the banks, law firms, and brokerages of Boston’s commercial epicenter.

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There’s a small service bar along with 15 to 20 tables and plenty of standing room. Surrounding buildings tower over the patio, but they also offer shade, keeping things cool on a hot day.

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Battery Park offers a pretty decent beer selection, with some local favorites on draft and a few harder-to-find craft brews in cans and bottles. (I’d skip the overpriced cocktail menu.) I used the occasion of my recent visit to have my first Harpoon UFO of the season. With its notes of citrus and spice, I’ve always found this crisp, easy-drinking beer to be perfect for the summer months.

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I hadn’t intended to have anything more than the UFO on this particular evening. But as I was perusing the beer list, I was suddenly taken aback by one of the draft options – Natural Light, for a modest $2. “You guys really have Natty Light on draft?” I asked. The waitress assured me it was no joke. “And a lot of people get it,” she added. For $2, I was only too happy to join their ranks. A flood of hazy, college-era memories came rushing back as she presented me with a pale beer in a clear plastic up. I honestly couldn’t recall the last time I had a Natty Light.

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And with one sip, I remembered why.

Address: 33 Batterymarch Street, Boston

Website:http://www.batteryparkboston.com/

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Sterling’s

Few things herald the arrival of summer in Boston like the onslaught of tourists. Inevitably, they flock to Faneuil Hall, the historic marketplace that we locals generally avoid.

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But while out-of-towners are busy drinking at Cheers and taking pictures with Red Auerbach, they might not take notice of a nearby Financial District bar with a patio that overlooks this bustling hive of tourist activity.

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What’s immediately striking about the patio at Sterling’s is its size. While most Boston bars have to make use of limited available space for their outdoor seating areas, Sterling’s has a large section of 60 State Street all to itself. Even better – they have a dedicated patio bar.

Outdoor seating isn’t hard to find in Boston, but freestanding outdoor bars are comparatively rare. Sterling’s’ 20-seat bar even has three flat-screen TVs, making it the ideal spot for whiling away a summer afternoon.

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Along with a solid beer list and some seasonal offerings like sangria, Sterling’s’ regular cocktail menu offers a mix of house drinks and time-honored classics. The Southside Sling combines gin, fresh mint, lemons, and simple syrup, making for a refreshing warm-weather drink.

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And while it wasn’t advertised, the bartender told me about one of Sterling’s’ summer specials – $3 bottles of Red Stripe. I’ve always had a soft spot for this beer; maybe it’s the diminutive bottle, I don’t know. Regardless, it’s a good beer and great deal at $3 (and in terms of quality, makes me think the $2 Natty Light was overpriced by about $1.50).

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If you’re hungry, Sterling’s also offers a small menu of happy hour specials, Monday through Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wings, sliders, and the like are available for $6.

Address: 60 State Street, Boston

Website:http://www.sterlingsboston.com/

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Kinsale Irish Pub & Restaurant

It’s not the hippest or sexiest new spot. The view from the patio isn’t exactly breathtaking, though the massive construction project across the street doesn’t help in that regard. And if, like me, you work anywhere within the vicinity of Government Center, you’ve probably had after-work drinks here often enough to take it for granted. And that’s too bad, because in the past decade-plus of shifting trends and countless bar openings, Kinsale has not only endured but thrived by sticking to a pretty basic formula – an expansive, accessible selection of microbrews and a broad menu of above-average pub food.

But I’m not here to praise Kinsale’s longevity or to examine its bona fides as an Irish pub. In fact, I’m including it mainly for personal reasons. As I mentioned, my office is nearby, and almost every day, I take a walk at lunchtime. On the way back to work, my route typically leads me past Kinsale; and in the summer months, walking by that patio is pure torture.

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As I enjoy the final minutes of fresh air and re-focus my attention to the second half of the workday, I can’t help but notice the droves of people filling up the Kinsale patio. Some are just on their own lunch breaks, of course, but plenty others are in shorts and t-shirts, sipping beers, devouring heaping piles of nachos with friends, enjoying their day off. Ah, what I wouldn’t give, just once, to make a detour and blow off the rest of the day.

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Kinsale’s location in Center Plaza, while convenient, does have a couple of drawbacks. It’s on busy Cambridge Street, so you have to contend with a constant stream of cars, noise, and foot traffic. The view of City Hall Plaza across the street isn’t exactly inspiring, either. But the entirety of the sidewalk is under cover, which means the summer sun won’t roast you and sudden thunderstorms won’t force you inside.

And Kinsale’s beer selection is highly respectable, stocked with plenty of local and regional brews and all the old standbys.

Portland’s Peak Organic Fresh Cut is a crisp, dry-hopped pilsner, but with its pronounced hoppy character, seems more like an IPA.

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Otter Creek Fresh Slice is a white IPA. Its mild citrus notes make it a pleasant, drinkable summer beer, but it’s hoppier than one might expect.

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As with Battery Park, Kinsale’s more of a beer bar than a cocktail destination. But their white sangria, an occasional summertime special, is a big hit. And if you do want a classic drink, of course they can whip one up for you.

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Given its proximity to my office, I tend to think of Kinsale as little more than a place to have lunch or an after-work drink. But nighttime visits to the patio can be surprisingly charming. Eventually the traffic dies down and the crowds thin out, making the general atmosphere a little mellower. And when the bar’s floor-to-ceiling windows are open, you can watch the Sox or World Cup from your outdoor vantage point and hear the live music emanating from inside the bar.

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Honestly, not a bad way to spend an evening.

Address: 2 Center Plaza, Cambridge Street, Boston

Website:http://www.classicirish.com/

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You know what’s worse than walking by Kinsale’s busy patio on a summer day? Walking past it in the fall. In September, I notice the crowds starting to dwindle. By October, most people are eating indoors. And then, one day, without ceremony or fanfare…the patio’s gone. The chairs and tables are put into storage for the winter, just as they are at Sterling’s, Battery Park, Gather, and at bars all over the city.

The calendar says we have a ways to go before that happens, but you know how fleeting the New England summer can be. So savor every moment. This year, as much as any other, we’ve earned it.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Granary Tavern

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If you walk into a building that was once used for grain storage and your first thought is “You know, this would make a really great bar,” you either have a vivid imagination or you drink too much. Possibly both. Either way, Granary Tavern isn’t the first bar in the Boston area to use historical infrastructure as inspiration for modern design – in a town as old as this, you can enjoy cocktails in a former prison, beers in what was once a bank, and Southern comfort food at the site of a 17th-century printing press. But of all the bars that channel the spirit of their prior tenants, I’d have to say Granary Tavern does it best.

As the name implies, Granary Tavern is housed in a former granary built in 1816 on the outskirts of what we now know as the Financial District. Iron machine gears and burlap sacks adorn the exposed brick walls, conjuring images of 19th century laborers happily threshing and bagging wheat and barley all the livelong day.

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It’s a big, open room with a light brown, hardwood floor, and a ceiling of exposed wooden beams that are vestiges of the original building. The effect is almost barn-like, which makes sense – the owners of Granary Tavern actually purchased a 19th century barn in Vermont and repurposed the wood for use throughout the bar. The structure absorbed nearly two centuries’ worth of New England sunrises, turning the wood a deep amber hue and giving this months-old bar a sense of age and character.

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But amid the rustic backdrop are all the right modern amenities – two floors’ worth of craft cocktails, microbrews, comfort food classics, and a few mammoth TVs. The floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer a beautiful view, open up in the warmer months, and there’s an outdoor patio as well. A brick wall divides the upstairs space into two large rooms, each with plenty of tables, and a 12-seat bar extends into both rooms. Hanging pendant lights create an industrial vibe, and the whole place is bathed in an orange glow.

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I’d been wanting to check out Granary out since it opened last fall, and I finally visited a week ago. It’s popular – there was already a crowd of about 50 people when I arrived around 5:15, but in a place that can accommodate 250, it didn’t feel too congested.

What was congested on this particular Friday evening was Storrow Drive, delaying the arrival of fellow barhoppers Kelly and Melissa. Troubled by their plight as I was, I considered abandoning the bar and waiting outside, suffering with them in solidarity, despite the miles that separated us. Instead I perused the drink menu.

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Like so many places these days, Granary Tavern offers a bevy of craft cocktails. But the options here have a distinctly personal touch – each bartender contributed at least one original drink recipe, and the current menu is in something of a “tryout” phase. The most popular concoctions stick around longer, so there’s a spirit of friendly competition among some of the bartenders. The winner, of course, is those of us on the other side of the bar.

I began the evening with a Revolver, made with Bulleit bourbon, coffee liqueur, blood orange bitters, and an orange garnish. It was kind of like a coffee-infused Manhattan, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. I’ve been noticing Bulleit in a lot of drinks recently, and I can see why discerning bartenders like using this bold, spicy, and smooth bourbon in their cocktails.

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Next up was the Tavern Sling, an exquisite mix of Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, mint, simple syrup, and fresh lime juice, with a splash of soda. I recalled from my intense studies at the Hendrick’s Cocktail Academy what a good pairing Hendrick’s and St. Germain can be, and this was no exception. The mint and lime, along with the sweetness from the syrup, naturally made me think of a mojito. But the gin gave it more bite, and the St. Germain contributed a soft, floral warmth. “That’s one of the ones we’ve had from the beginning,” the bartender, Colleen, told me. I can see why.

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It was a little after 6 when Kelly sauntered in, and by then the whole place was pretty full. Kelly ordered the Granary Smash, a recipe contributed by another of our bartenders, Tiffany. This one combined Patron Silver, St. Germain, orange juice, and fresh lemon juice. It was the first time I’d encountered St. Germain mixed with tequila, and not surprisingly, it worked well; I’m beginning to think St. Germain works with pretty much anything.

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Every drink on the menu sounded appealing, particularly some of the seasonal options, like Granary’s version of a hot toddy. Unable to decide, I asked Colleen for a recommendation, and she chose the Winter Sangria (one of her own recipes). It’s funny, but in looking at the menu, I skipped right past this one. For some reason, the name gave me the same feeling I get when I see “white” in front of “zinfandel.” I’m glad I took the suggestion, though, because this was one of the highlights of the evening.

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Merlot, cinnamon simple syrup, and a cinnamon stick made me think of a chilled mulled wine, well suited to the winter weather, while lime juice and soda provided subtle hints of the warmer months ahead.

After a leisurely two-hour drive, Melissa finally graced us with her presence around 7 and ordered a glass of Malbec.

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I prepared for the worst when we put our name in for a table, but despite the crowd, the wait was only an hour (not bad at all for a Friday night). We ordered some appetizers to take the edge off while we waited.

First up was a bowl of garlic chips and dip. The crispy chips were homemade, garnished with divine slices of garlic, and doused in oil. With a delicious, spicy dip on the side, these babies totally hit the spot. (There were enough chips to share among the three of us, and enough garlic to share with everyone we encountered over the subsequent 24 hours.)

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To that we added “chicken fried chicken,” and no, I don’t know how it got that name. What I do know is that the chicken was crispy outside and tender inside, and it came with more of that rockin’ dip.

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With a little food to sustain us, another round of drinks was in order. Kelly opted for the elegant Ginger Rogers, made with vodka, ginger liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon, mint, and a splash of ginger ale.

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Melissa went with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the flavor of which bears an almost eerie similarity to the cereal you remember from your childhood (if you’re still eating it as an adult, no judgment). This creamy concoction was made with Patron Café, vanilla vodka, Baileys, and cinnamon syrup, and was again the handiwork of Tiffany. Sinful, decadent, and delicious.

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I, meanwhile, was happy to explore Granary Tavern’s fine beer selection and settled on a Lagunitas. There are 10 beers on draft and plenty of bottled offerings, with a good selection of microbrews and an emphasis on local fare.

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We’d been waiting less than an hour when the hostess told us there was a table available downstairs. The lower floor is a little smaller and a bit less crowded than upstairs. It has its own bar, with a dozen stools, and features a custom tap built from old iron plumbing pipes.

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The ambiance is similar to that of the main floor, but with its stone walls and concrete floor, the downstairs feels more like a cave (albeit a really nice cave). And that stonework isn’t just for aesthetics; it’s the original sea wall, still in place from the 1800s.

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We settled in for dinner and ordered up a bowl of spiced popcorn while acquainting ourselves with Granary’s sandwiches, flatbreads, and comfort food entrees, all made with locally sourced ingredients and jazzed up wherever possible. The cheese fondue made with Harpoon IPA was particularly tempting, as was the chicken and waffle.

Kelly went with the fish and chips, which has become her customary order despite her complex relationship with seafood.

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Melissa opted for the roasted beet salad, which she loved; the goat cheese and pumpkin seeds sounded like inspired additions. Given my hatred of beets, however, I’ve made the picture as small as possible. Which is too bad, because it was cool-looking, too.

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I got the blackened catfish sandwich, which was spicy and tender and came with more of those delicious homemade potato chips.

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Dinner was a pretty relaxing affair. Kelly ordered a Tavern Sling, which I’d recommended from upstairs. And since I can almost never resist it when I see it on draft, I closed out with the smooth,  smoky stylings of a Kentucky Bourbon Ale.

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We hung out for a bit after we ate, soaking up the cool downstairs vibe and enjoying the excellent soundtrack of Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, MGMT, and the Killers. After months of wanting to come here, I was really glad this place didn’t let me down. I’ve been in plenty of new bars that use their style and popularity as a license for pretension; I got no sense of that here. The atmosphere was very casual and we had great service all night. There’s a lot at Granary that will change – I’m told the menu will fluctuate with the seasons, the drink list will always be in flux, and the respectable beer list will rotate frequently. But there’s a fresh, friendly, even humble attitude here that I hope will stay exactly the same.

Last Call

The food’s good, the drinks are great, and the setting is incredibly cool. What really stands out about Granary Tavern, though, is that it conveys the spirit of a small operation. And that’s unexpected; nothing about it is small, and I’m not just talking about the impressive size of this two-floor bar. It’s owned by the Glynn Hospitality Group, which runs seven or eight other bars in Boston. Call me cynical, but with that kind of corporate backing, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Granary felt prepackaged and rigid.

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Instead, I detected the energy and enthusiasm I’d normally associate with a newly successful, homegrown business. From the hostess to the bartenders to our waitress, the staff seemed earnest and genuinely friendly. The bartenders, perhaps by virtue of participating in the drink design, exhibited pride and a sense of investment in their cocktails. Every time I ordered another drink, the person who made it would come by and ask what I thought of it. That’s a small thing, but it says a lot. I also appreciated Granary Tavern’s general manager, Nikki, taking time to meet with me and tell me more about this very cool place.

Granary’s prices are fairly typical. The cocktails were all $10, which is pretty much the going rate, and most of the beers were $6 or $7. Sandwich and entrée prices are a little high, but not outrageous. My catfish sandwich was $15, Melissa’s roasted be*t salad was $9, and Kelly’s fish and chips were $17. Snacks and appetizers are reasonably priced – $3 and $4 for the popcorn and garlic chips, respectively, and $10 for the chicken fried chicken.

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Whenever I’ve mentioned this place to someone, particularly its being built in a former granary, I get some variation of “Oooooh, that sounds cool.” Yes, it does sound cool; the concept is enough to lure you in at least once. But Granary Tavern rises above the novelty of its setting and seems poised to thrive.

Address: 170 Milk Street, Boston

Website:http://www.granarytavern.com/

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Parish Café

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A beer and a sandwich. It is a combination as inherently simple as it is deeply satisfying.

And the possibilities are endless! A complex, gourmet-grade sandwich with a masterful combination of meats, cheeses, veggies, and other accoutrements, accompanied by a robust porter. Something more basic, like a pastrami sandwich with a crisp pilsner. Or maybe…in a pinch…a PB&J and a PBR (don’t look at me like that, you’ve been there too).

A sandwich and a beer is about as straightforward as you can get. Bread, meat, cheese, veggies, hops, and barley. Have someone pass you the remote, and you’re on your way to a pretty decent afternoon.

You can easily whip this up at home, but let’s face it – a sandwich always tastes better when someone else makes it, and a beer always looks more enticing when it’s streaming out of a tap. That said, you can find a good sandwich anywhere in Boston. But as far as I know, there’s only one place where you can get good sandwiches from everywhere in Boston.

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The Parish Café is a Back Bay institution with a simple, unique concept – a menu of sandwiches designed by renowned chefs at some of the top restaurants in Boston. Each sandwich bears the name of its respective restaurant or chef and reflects the style of that eatery’s cuisine. Not that Parish relies solely on the culinary kindness of strangers; their own chefs contribute sandwiches and entrées as well. And since that results in a pretty broad array of flavors and styles, there’s a killer beer list to match your selection.

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It’s a basic formula, but one that has garnered Parish Café widespread critical acclaim, occasional celebrity guests, and countless fans. Its walls are adorned with Best of Boston awards, glowing published reviews, and a host of other accolades. You’ll have plenty of time to peruse them while you’re standing in line, which is nearly inevitable if you want a table.

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I recently visited the Parish Café with one of my oldest and most difficult friends, Christine. I arrived at 5:30 on a Thursday and found about 25 people at the bar, although most of the tables in the dining area were still free (it wasn’t until later that I realized what a novelty this was). The interior is fairly small, with a modern, casual feel. It has something of an autumnal glow, with warm orange lights, a black ceiling, cream-colored walls, and worn, brown hardwood floors.

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There’s a long, curvy bar with a handsome, dark wood top and about 17 stools. Ten or so tables are squeezed into the bar area, and another 10 to 12 fill up the dining area. The mirrored wall behind the bar is an attractive touch and makes the space look a little bigger than it is. There’s also an outdoor patio in front for the warmer months; if people watching is your thing, you can’t pick a much better spot than Boylston Street.

Since Christine was heading into town from distant lands and I had time to kill, I grabbed one of the few remaining seats at the bar and took a look at the cocktail list. Like the sandwich menu, about half of the drinks are designed by area mixologists, while the rest are Parish Café originals. Although it was November, Parish was still peddling “Summer Cocktails.” Nothing says autumn like a watermelon mojito, right? I wasn’t going to let an outdated label deter me, but it would have been cool to see what they could devise for fall or winter cocktail offerings.

I began with the drink with the coolest name on the menu – the Wandering Poet, concocted by Jen Jasmin of Via Matta, a Back Bay Italian restaurant. A combo of Absolute Vanilla vodka, triple sec, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and sour mix, it reminded me somewhat of a SweeTart candy. It was a light, refreshing drink that, on a raw November evening, gave me bittersweet visions of warmer weather.

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The Peach Smash, on the other hand, I’d drink all year round. A Parish Café original, this was a smooth mix of Maker’s Mark bourbon, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, white peach puree, simple syrup, fresh mint, sweet vermouth, and ginger ale. I found it to be a fresh combination of flavors, with the peach puree giving it a pleasantly creamy texture.

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After an hour or so, I figured Christine must be walking to Boston, and I needed something to tide me over. The appetizer menu offered a few unusual items, like vegetarian corn cakes, and an oversize meatball. Drawn as I was to the novelty of ordering an oversize meatball, I settled on the roasted “reggae” wings, marinated in Jamaican jerk spices, fresh citrus, and soy, and served with a banana mango chutney. Juicy and tender, they were the perfect pre-sandwich snack. The meat not only fell right off the bone – it would barely stay on the bone. The sweet heat of the chutney was a welcome accompaniment, though the banana flavor really stood out (I could have done without it).

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Many hours or perhaps days later, Christine arrived; all of the tables were taken, and we were lucky to have a couple seats at the bar. As this was Christine’s first time accompanying me on a blogging mission, I explained how helpful it is when people order a variety of cocktails. You know, it gives me more to discuss, more pictures to take. She then proceeded to order the same drink I’d had, the Wandering Poet. Sigh…

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Myself, I was long done with cocktails at that point and eyeing Parish’s top-notch beer selection. They’ve got about 20 beers on draft and at least another 50 or so in bottles, helpfully organized on the menu by type (lagers, Belgians, brown ales, etc.). The Fisherman’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout immediately caught my eye, but the bartender cautioned me that it was $18 a bottle; I respectfully declined. I went instead with the Ipswich Oatmeal Stout, shifting into a winter mode after my summery libations.

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Now if you’re a serious beer drinker and plan to spend a tremendous amount of your time at the Parish Café, you can join their Mug Club. All you have to do is drink all 125 of their beer offerings within six months, and you’re rewarded with your very own 25-ounce glass beer stein to use whenever you visit. You can even have it personalized. Whether the economics are in your favor, only you can decide. But the club’s mugs hang above the bar, challenging you to join their ranks.

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Impressive as the beer list is, the sandwiches are the true draw here. Ranging from simple to fancy, with a bevy of meaty, vegetarian, and seafood options to choose from, there’s something for every palate. And if you enjoy all of the above, good luck deciding what to get. I’d been scrutinizing the menu the entire time I waited for Christine, and when it came time to order, I was still no closer to making my mind up. The pork belly sandwich from the chef at Coppa and Toro? The crabmeat sandwich from fancy schmancy L’Espalier? The Blue Ginger, a sandwich of tuna steak, grilled rare, fashioned by the Wellesley restaurant of the same name?

I narrowed my options to three: the Mexican meatball sub, by Brian Poe, and two Parish Café originals – a chipotle meatloaf sandwich and a steak sandwich.

Tempting as it was, I eliminated the meatball sub; since I was already familiar with Brian Poe’s handiwork as the executive chef of the Rattlesnake Bar and Grill and the newer Tip Tap Room, I figured I should branch out a bit. Still torn, I asked the bartender to settle my meatloaf v. steak dilemma, and he advocated for the latter.

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The Vieira, named after Parish sous chef Ederson Vieira, consisted of pounded, sliced flank steak in a soy, chili, and garlic marinade, sautéed, on an Italian sub roll with roasted red peppers, watercress, onions, and a homemade basil aioli. The steak was juicy; the sandwich, full of flavor. I wondered why I’d had so much trouble deciding on it.

I explained to Christine that, since I’d be writing about a Boston bar that’s famous for its sandwiches, it would be helpful if she got one so that I’d have more variety in my post. She then proceeded to order an entrée. Sigh…

She opted for Sean’s Simple Chicken, presumably devised by Parish’s executive chef, Sean Simmons – pounded, breaded chicken cutlets served with chopped tomatoes and capers, and served over garlic-mashed potatoes and baby spinach. Conveniently, like all of Parish’s entrées, it comes in both a full order and half order. Christine opted for the half order and regretted it; she deemed the chicken delicious and wished she’d gone with the full serving.

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Parish was crowded the entire time we were there, the line for tables growing longer as the hours passed. The tables in the dining area looked pretty crammed, but our spot at the bar was surprisingly comfortable and roomy. Despite the volume of customers, we didn’t have people constantly reaching over our food to retrieve a drink.

I closed out with one more beer, a Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen (which was just OK).

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I explained to Christine how helpful it is, from a blogging standpoint, if we both order a few different beers from a place like Parish, which has such a broad selection. She got a glass of wine.

Sigh…

Last Call

The restaurant business is notoriously cutthroat, but Parish Café turns the concept of competition on its head – competing chefs contributing original recipes; Parish advertising the wares of competing chefs. It’s an unexpected approach, but it seems like everyone wins. Customers perusing the menu get a sense of other good eateries in Boston, and maybe they’ll go check them out. Yet they’ll probably come back to Parish, too, because of the variety.

And boy do they come back. I walked by on a gorgeous fall Saturday afternoon to find the outdoor seating area full, a line for tables inside, and a packed bar area. I even returned on a Sunday at noon, and there was a line at the door before the place even opened.

But don’t let the crowds deter you. Most of them will tell you that Parish’s sandwiches are worth the wait. There’s also a pretty quick turnover at the bar; you usually don’t have to wait much more than 5 or 10 minutes for a seat.

Prices are fairly reasonable, for the most part. The sandwiches range from about $12 to $19, but there are only a couple at the upper end of that range. They’re also good-sized and, from my experience, very well made. The entrées were all under $15, and you can get a half order if you’re feeling thrifty (or counting calories). The cocktails ranged from $8.50 to $12, which isn’t bad. The selection of microbrews is highly respectable, and the beers I had ranged from $6.50 to $7.50; a little on the high side, but not the worst I’ve seen.

Parish’s enduring popularity led to the opening of a second location, in the South End, in 2010. It’s the same idea, the same eclectic sandwich menu, and the same result – a true taste of Boston.

Website:http://parishcafe.com/

Address: 361 Boylston Street, Boston

Outdoor Seating, Part 2 – Back Decks and Patios

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outdoors 164

outdoors 164

The first installment of the Outdoor Seating series was all about the view. From the upscale, open-air patio at RumBa to the casual, spacious roof deck at Whiskey Priest, there’s more than one way to enjoy drinks and sweeping water views, whatever your mood or budget. And it’s not just about staring at a body of water while you imbibe. It’s about doing so in a place that feels far removed from the city with its attendant noise, traffic, and crowds. Fresh air and nice weather don’t hurt, either. But waterfront bars aren’t the only way to drink alfresco and still escape the commotion of the city; you can find more than one outdoor respite even in the busiest areas of Boston. Those alternatives may be a little difficult to find – in fact, with regard to each bar in this week’s post, at least one person I talked with said, “I didn’t even know that place had outdoor seating.” With that in mind, we move further inland this week and check out a few bars with back decks and patios – some in places you’d least expect.

Central Square in Cambridge is about as far as you can get from the waterfront, and I don’t mean geographically. Central’s an interesting place. There’s a lot of shops, a lot of restaurants, a lot of bars, a lot of things to do – but mostly, there’s just a lot of stuff there. The area is very dense; picture an endless stretch of tightly packed store fronts and a constant stream of traffic (not that the latter should distinguish it from most places in the Boston area). Don’t get me wrong, Central’s a cool, hip area, but in terms of Cambridge neighborhoods, it lacks the color and richness of, say Harvard Square.

That’s what makes the back patio at The Field such a find (though ask our friend Kayti what a “find” it is, since she had so much trouble finding it). Tucked down a side street, The Field is just far enough from Mass Ave. that it feels a little out of the way, and the inside is comfortably well-worn, homey, and familiar. You probably wouldn’t even think to go through the black exit door at the back of the bar unless it was already open. But when you do, you find yourself in an unexpected oasis in an otherwise busy area.

The Field

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The back patio at The Field offers a surprising dose of fresh air and a sense of distance from the noise of Central. Enclosed by adjacent brick buildings and red garden walls, sitting back here allows you to forget about the cars and the foot traffic for a little while. Plants and flowerbeds offer a hint of nature and a marked contrast to Central’s gray, urban landscape. The patio is a relatively small area, but it’s not jam-packed with tables, and it seems larger because of the open space. There’s also a good-size TV if you need to keep up with the Sox or whatever else is going on.

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I stopped in on a Saturday night with a few fellow barhoppers – my sister Kelly and our friends Kat, Jen, and, once she found the place, Kayti (in The Field’s defense, I’d attribute this more to user error than the actual hiddenness of the bar). There were about 20 people outside at 7:30, but we had no problem getting one of the 9 or 10 tables.

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The Field sports a pretty respectable list of draft beers. They call their Guinness “the best in town,” though I have no idea what would distinguish it as such. We started off with a few Blue Moons, which has become my unofficial beer of summer 2012 (I switched to Magners later just to shake things up).

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Kayti got a glass of wine, the stem of which she later broke under circumstances I can only describe as mysterious. Add in a plate of chili cheese fries, and our night was in full swing. We enjoyed drinks and good conversation as darkness slowly crept in and the lights surrounding the patio clicked on, setting a perfect summer night mood.

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While Central has a very busy feel all year round, summer in Kenmore Square is hectic for a different reason...

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fenway-crhstine

So if you find yourself in Kenmore on game day, and you need a break from the crowds, you might head over to the patio at Audubon Circle.

Audubon Circle

When I first came to Audubon Circle in April, a couple of things really stood out to me. First, despite its proximity to Fenway Park, it eschewed the sports bar trappings that characterize so many of the bars in this area. Second, I was impressed by its unique ambience – it exudes a refreshing, Zen-like minimalism that I haven’t encountered in many bars in the city.

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It should come as no surprise, then, that Audubon Circle’s back patio is also unlike any other in Boston. It reflects the same simple, calm atmosphere that defines the bar. Granted, given Audubon’s general vibe, I wasn’t exactly expecting loud music, plastic tables with colorful umbrellas, and a menu of sugary margaritas. But I was impressed by the degree to which, even on a sunny August day, the essence of the bar’s dark, calm interior seemed to extend to the back patio.

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Audubon’s patio is a small area, enclosed by dark brown wooden fencing, similar in color to the hardwood inside the bar. What’s most striking, though, are the tall bamboo plants that surround the patio, giving the area an unusually serene look. There are six small tables and one large one, with concrete tops that add a stone-like earthiness to the picture.

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I stopped in for lunch on a scorching Saturday afternoon. The Sox were playing later that night, so Kenmore was relatively quiet at that point, and Audubon was sparsely populated. The heat and humidity might not have made sitting outside an obvious choice, but I was undaunted (anything for the blog).

A cold Sam Summer provided a much-needed antidote from the heat.

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And while I sipped my beer and contemplated my surroundings, I noticed that the bamboo plants did more than just offer a unique outdoor décor – in place of table umbrellas, they kept the afternoon sun mostly at bay. Add in a soft summer breeze and a Kobe beef hot dog, and my trip to Audubon made for one pleasant afternoon.

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From Kenmore we head down Commonwealth Ave. to Allston. Yes, Allston. It might not be the most obvious destination for outdoor seating; like Central, the sprawling urban terrain won’t prompt you to say, “Ahhhh, what a great place to experience a little fresh air and bask in some lush scenery.” Then there’s the small matter of the billion or so college students who reside there, making you feel elderly every time you step into an area bar.

But don’t be so quick to dismiss Allston – especially in the summer, when school’s out and the student population is thus greatly diminished. And while, students or no, the prospect of eating and drinking outdoors in this gritty neighborhood might not seem overly appealing, there are a couple of places worth checking out.

Deep Ellum

We start with Deep Ellum. It’s a small, dark bar that attracts a customer base with an elevated palate for beer. And while Deep Ellum is known far and wide for its top-notch selection of craft brews, surprisingly few people know about its comfortable back deck.

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Enclosed by dark wood and brick, Deep Ellum’s outdoor area echoes its interior’s aesthetics but not necessarily its atmosphere. For all the good things I can say about drinking indoors at Deep Ellum, it also tends to get very loud in there, even when it’s not crowded – which it usually is. And when it’s a full house, just moving around can be a challenge.

The back deck stands in stark contrast. It’s not a large space, but it feels very open. There are 15 to 17 small tables with metal chairs, and a wooden bench running around the perimeter. Flowers and plants, along with vines crawling up the brick walls of the adjacent buildings, give it a garden feel. Large orange umbrellas cut down on the sun, and a few surprisingly powerful fans keep the space pretty cool.

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Kelly graciously offered to accompany on my recent Allston tour, and we stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. There was a surprising number of people inside, but only a few on the back deck. We grabbed a corner table and began perusing the extensive beer selection.

Deep Ellum’s draft beer list is second to none; this is not the kind of place you come to for a Bud Light. The beer menu is heavy on Belgian offerings, half of which I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce, like Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck (I could handle the “Van” part). I opted for a Mayflower Summer Rye, Mayflower having become one of my favorite breweries in recent years.

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Light, crisp, and refreshing – not a bad choice for a hot summer day.

While I’ve always thought of Deep Ellum as a destination for great beer, I recently learned that their cocktails aren’t too shabby either. Kelly went with one called Summer in Sao Paulo – Germana aged cachaca (a liquor made from fermented sugar cane, popular in Brazil), honey ginger syrup, mint, and lime. It was reminiscent of a mojito, but cachaca in place of rum gave it a noticeably different flavor. Sweet, cold, and ideally suited to the sweltering weather.

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Deep Ellum would thrive even if they didn’t serve food; the fact that they offer an excellent menu is just a splendid bonus. I’ll speak more to that in a future review, but on this trip, Kelly and I got deviled eggs. They come four to a plate and incorporate a little variety – two are Deep Ellum’s standard recipe, and two are part of a rotating daily special, which in this case was truffle oil and garlic. (This makes Deep Ellum the only place I know of that has a daily deviled egg special.) Once a summer picnic staple, they were well suited to our garden-like surroundings.

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My last selection is probably going to make you laugh. Like me, you’ll probably be astonished to learn that Allston’s White Horse Tavern, a quintessential “college” bar, actually has outdoor seating. Well, they do. And I have to admit…in terms of patios and back decks in Boston, it’s one of the best I’ve been to.

White Horse Tavern

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When I mentioned that I was headed to White Horse Tavern for a review, most people giggled and said, “Wow, I haven’t been there since…” If you’re past the age of, say, 25, White Horse feels like the last page of a chapter long closed. And your memories – however fuzzy – are probably something like this: a dark, somewhat dingy room; burgers, nachos, and cheap beer; a big group of friends; and a rowdy night climaxing in a round or two of shots. Sound about right?

I certainly have no issue with White Horse Tavern, but I can’t say I would have paid them a visit had I not heard about the back patio. And my expectations weren’t terribly high. I figured, “Well, I’m going to Deep Ellum anyway, I’ll walk up Brighton Ave. and have a look; what have I got to lose?” I wasn’t even sure White Horse truly had outdoor seating. Apart from my general incredulity, I found no mention of this on their website, and it wasn’t until set foot out the back door that I was truly convinced – and pleasantly surprised.

The back patio has its own bar, covered by an enormous, retractable awning that suitably blocks out the sun. There are about 15 wicker chairs, and two large TVs that were showing the Olympics when Kelly and I were there. Aside from the immediate bar area, there are 10 to 15 tables of varying size, most protected by blue Sam Adams umbrellas.

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There are two beers on draft – Sam Summer and Harpoon Red Paint, which is a British IPA brewed exclusively for the owner of White Horse and his other bars. There’s also a full liquor offering, along with the regular food menu from indoors and a separate “patio menu” of mostly extended appetizers – tater tots, that sort of thing. Exactly what you’d want to snack on while sipping drinks on a summer afternoon.

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Enclosed by wooden fencing with hanging flower baskets, this is an attractive setup. And I’m told it looks really cool at night, when the lights come on.

I have to say…this is not the White Horse I remember.

I made a beeline for the Harpoon Red Paint, which is poured via a neat paintbrush tap handle, while Kelly went for Sam Summer. The bartender, Jessie, took great care of us, and when I explained my purpose in being there, happily told us all about the bar, the patio, the food specials, the nightly events, you name it.

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As I looked around the patio, perused the extensive menu, and chatted with Jessie, I started to get the impression that the reputation of being “just a college bar” rankles the staff somewhat – and I think they’re attempting to broaden White Horse’s appeal. Just investing in this patio (which has apparently been open for a few years) shows a willingness to upgrade a place that could easily thrive year-round as a simple dive bar.

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But it’s not just the back patio that make me think White Horse would like to shed its old identity as a burger-and-cheap-beer hangout. For starters, having a beer brewed exclusively for your establishment by Harpoon tends to set you apart from other Allston bars. What really sealed the deal, though, was when Jessie persuaded us to visit the “Lemonade Stand” section of the drink menu. It’s a selection of alcoholic lemonade cocktails that Jessie exuberantly insisted we try. Since she came up with one of the recipes herself, and because it was a perfect day for a cold lemonade, how could we say no?

Now, when a bar that traditionally caters to the college crowd offers a “lemonade drink,” what do you figure it will be? Some artificial, sugary mix thrown in a blender with ice and cheap vodka. Gut rot and the promise of a wicked hangover.

But at the White Horse back patio, the surprises just keep on coming.

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I watched Jessie whip up a strawberry lemonade the likes of which I’d never before encountered. Freshly squeezed lemons, muddled fresh fruit, served in a Mason jar – a Mason jar! The drink was phenomenal – wonderfully fresh, with a natural sweetness and a rich, thick texture. It felt like there was fruit in every sip, and it was dangerously smooth! I could have sat there for hours with one (or two).

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Given its proximity to Boston University, White Horse will always be a “college bar.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t try to be more, and from what I’ve seen, the effort pays off. The strawberry lemonade prompted Kelly to remark that their other drinks might be worth a try sometime. Likewise, the experience as a whole made me think…I should really come back here.

Last Call

Sipping cocktails at an outdoor bar on the waterfront makes all kinds of sense. But right smack dab in a busy city? That can be more challenging. As I said earlier, most people I talked with were surprised that the four bars in this week’s post even had outdoor areas. What’s more surprising is how well they work – especially in some of the last places you’d imagine.

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Of course, that might be because each of these patios or back decks takes you out of your urban environment and offers in its place a peaceful and detached atmosphere. I’m not going to try to say that each one transports you to a whole other place – just peer over the fences and you’ll remember you’re in the city. But when you’re surrounded by tall, green bamboo plants at Audubon Circle or lounging beneath the big canopy at White Horse, it’s hard not feel a sense of relief from crowds, cars, and pavement.

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Drink prices at all the bars I went to were very typical for the city – $5 to $6 for the beers, $10 for Kelly’s cocktail at Deep Ellum, $9 for the strawberry lemonade at White Horse (and worth every cent). The snacks are reasonably priced, too – $4 for the hot dogs at Audubon, $6 for the deviled eggs at Deep Ellum.

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Even on the hottest days, all four bars offer some kind of protection from the sun. But twilight is an even better time to visit, when the air cools down, the lights come on, and you can sip a drink and soak up summer while it lasts.

The Field: 20 Prospect Street, Cambridge

Website: http://thefieldpub.com/

Audubon Circle: 838 Beacon Street, Boston

Website: http://www.auduboncircle.us/

Deep Ellum: 477 Cambridge Street, Allston

Website: http://www.deepellum-boston.com/

White Horse Tavern: 116 Brighton Avenue, Allston

Website: http://www.whitehorseboston.com/