Boston (and its surrounding towns) is a fun place. With plenty of drinking opportunities, both large and small. I'll be looking at exactly that today: one large and one small bar. Two very different places, demonstrating the diversity of Boston pubs. But ones which evoked very differing emotions in me.
First I'll introduce you to the pubs. Yard House and Deep Ellum.
Yard House is very new. It had only been open a few days when I dropped by last week. It's part of a national chain of beer bars. No, not like Wetherspoons. Much more American than that. Yard House is a barn of a place, offering 180 tap beers and seating for 700. Yes, you read that right, 180 taps. And that's just the start. They've the capacity for even more. It's hard to see where they'll put the new ones, the back of the bar - the usual place for taps in American beer places - already bristles with a continuous line of handles, like soldiers on parade presenting arms.
The beers selection has been well thought out. Mostly beers with a liquid* reputation. The type of beers that moisten the underwear of geeks the world over. Bold, brassy beers that left their subtlety in the cloakroom on their way in.
Its location - close to Fenway Park - is crammed with loud, crowded bars. Big brash bars, seemingly shouting to attract stray passing drinkers. Yard House is the largest and one of the loudest. Understated it isn't. But who, apart from the commercially suicidal, would open a low-key bar in a high-key spot?
Deep Ellum is a long way from Yard House, philosphically if not physically. Nestling in a row of modest brick-fronted shops on a busy main road, in the suburb of Allston. You could fit the whole pub behind the bar of Yard House. The long bar running the length of one wall and the carved bar back give it the pubby feel I love.
I've a recurring complaint when drinking in the USA. Why isn't there anything below 7% ABV? St. Bernardus Abt is my regular tipple, so I'm no stranger to strong beers. But I like my sessions long. And my legs to stay functional. It's a rule of mine: remain capable of standing up and walking out unaided. Sometimes you need to drink without consequences.
Deep Ellum's beer selection is far smaller than Yard House. Smaller probably than the choice in many of Britain's new wave of thwug** bars. Small but perfectly formed. Just 26 taps, including one beer engine.
I've a recurring complaint when drinking in Britain. Why is there nothing but Bitter between 3.8% and 4.2% ABV? I like a little more variety in style and strength. When I was in Deep Ellum on Sunday, 10 of their 26 draught beers were 5% ABV or less. Three were under 4% ABV. The others filled all the slots up to 10% ABV. Now there's real choice. The same with the styles: a German Pilsner, a German Kellerbier, Smoked Lager, Rye Ale, Rye Lager, Hefeweissen, Bitter, Brown Ale, Lambic, Tripel, Golden Ale, Saison, Stout, Imperial IPA, Witbier, Amber Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, three standard IPA's, and what I would call a mid-Atlantic Pale Ale.
Drinking in Yard House was a challenge. First finding a seat. Then getting served. And finally having a conversation. What with the music and the braying hordes, shouting was the only way to communicate. Really not my scene, man. I like a seat and a chat. Oh, and light. So I can read a book or a newspaper.
Dann and Martha had to rush to the brewery on Sunday. I was on my own. Where to go? I didn't hesitate for a second. It had to be Deep Ellum. I couldn't think of a better place to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon. I squeezed in at the end of the bar. It was busy, but not deafening. And plenty of light to read my book (The Local, if you're interested). The hours flew by. Aided by generous quantities of Pretty Things 1838 X Ale. Which was drinking wonderfully, drawn from a cooled cask on the bar. I couldn't have held out 10 minutes in Yard House.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Yard House is the work of the devil. I'm sure plenty have a great time in there. Just not me. I like my pubs intimate and individual. Where the hand of the landlord is visible, even when he isn't physically around. Deep Ellum is very much Max's place. And long may it stay so.
* I know the standard adjective is solid, but I refuse to use that word to refer to something that is irrefutably liquid.
** I also refuse to use the C-word.
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