Food & Drink
DRINK: Somerville’s Speakeasy Rivals Any Chic Boston Bar
by Ted Karczewski
To start today’s post off, I should make a small confession, and it might seem cliche, but you’ll understand by the time you finish this article – backbar might be a place I’m not supposed to tell you about. I say this not because I want to seem like I have my thumb to the pulse of the underground Boston foodie culture – I certainly do not – but because backbar is the type of establishment you stumble upon. Or, backbar is the restaurant your friend from Emerson, who graduated five years ago and has since become much cooler than you, tells you about. Let me explain further…
The speakeasy backbar is so chic and hip that it doesn’t even capitalize the first letter in its name. I can’t claim I know why, but what I can tell you is backbar wants the food and drink to speak for itself. I can support this claim with my first hand experience that left me questioning everything I knew about trendy bars in the Hub.
It might be hard to find backbar at first, and it’s the type of restaurant you’ll want to pretend you know about even if you don’t. The people who opened the restaurant also run Journeyman on Sanborn Court, which is a fine-dining eatery that boasts its own wonderful tasting menu. Guests of Journeyman can enter backbar quite easily through a pseudo-utility closet located near the restrooms, but for the full experience, you should start from the Sanborn Court alley.
In order to enter backbar, you must navigate your way through a somewhat eerie walkway – it almost feels like you’ve broken into a building. However, at the end of the hallway, there is a door marked quite clearly with “backbar.” Enter this door and you’re thrust into a hidden world where the atmosphere is beyond relaxed and the conversations are loud and robust. Unlike other trendy speakeasies in Boston, like Drink in the Seaport District and Saloon in Davis Square, backbar doesn’t make you feel like you’re an outsider. In fact, the staff members are happy you’ve shown up, and each server will guide you through an experience that will only make you want to come back for more.
The menu at backbar has a lot to offer, but the food items are snacks, so don’t visit for dinner. But for those hungry drinkers, you’ve found the perfect spot. Each day, the people at backbar craft a cocktail of the day. When I arrived, they were serving the Last Hoorah! – a Beefeater gin, strawberry, lime and rosemary beverage that my friend and I split. What was so great about our decision to split this cocktail was that our server brought us two, half-portion glasses so we didn’t need to take turns drinking from the same cup. It turns out the people at backbar encourage taste tests, and the bartenders have stocked the entire establishment with quaint little cups that complement the style and size of drink a guest orders.
Obviously, drawn in by the friendly service, what started off as a quick cocktail turned into a night’s worth of drinks and food. As a collective unit, my friend and I ordered the Model-T, which is composed of Jim Beam Black, Carpano, Chartreuse and clove, and the week’s Sangrita, made up of mezcal and spicey tomato. We also requested original cocktails based on a liquor of our choice (rye), and were served beverages that used citric elements and mint – like a Whiskey Smash, but without the ice.
Now our stomachs were certainly feeling the effects of the liquor, so we ordered the pig & fig jam snack, which was served with homemade crackers. This small plate was arguably the best thing we ordered at backbar. When I mixed the pig and fig jam, on a cracker, with a taste of my Sangrita, I felt abused, and I wanted more. The only downfall to ordering the pig & fig jam is that the good times end shortly after they begin. I couldn’t help but feel like I was taken advantage of by some sexual being at the bar, and then left out in the cold after I couldn’t offer up anything unique of my own. I took whatever dignity I had left and funneled my hunger toward the cheese plate we also requested.
Now, much like the rest of what backbar does, the cheese plate is different almost every time you go – so the Pecorino Pienza, Fourme d’Ambert and LeGrande Carre I was served won’t be available when you inevitably visit after you read this piece. Naturally, this cheese dish, which was only $18, comprised with crackers, nuts and fruit, was the perfect complement to the drinks we had in our hands. The folks at backbar did a wonderful job of giving us three options, all of which were entirely different, that we could casually eat while we lounged on their leather couches.
The menu does rotate, but when you visit, expect to see a lot of whiskey drinks, Cuba Libres, martinis, milk punch, charcuterie plates, foie gras, oyster shooters and popcorn you can’t have in the movie theatre.
I highly suggest that you visit backbar and discover the magic behind the white door for yourself. I can’t promise that it will be easy to get to, nor can I tell you what their featured cheeses or drinks will be that day (ask social media for that), but I can attest to the great environment that awaits and the exploratory adventures that you’re bound to encounter once inside. Enjoy, be safe and don’t forget – you didn’t hear about backbar from me.
9 Sanborn Court, Union Square
Somerville, MA 02143