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No more bar/cafe menu at No. 9 Park

Presumably a sign of many changes to come with the advent of the new Fort Point venues:
No. 9 has scrapped its bar and cafe menu. There's now only one menu served throughout, the dining room menu, which has a $65 three-course prix fixe menu with a fair number of choices for apps and entrees (maybe 8 or 10); the apps from this menu can be ordered a la carte for $19, the entrees for $39.

Then there's a seven-course tasting menu for $96, $160 with matched wines; some of these courses have two options (like a choice between the prune-stuffed gnocchi and another starch, risotto, I think).

I can't say I'm thrilled with this. It makes dining at the bar a much more expensive proposition than before.

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  1. Thanks for the news, but I am confused - what's the connection between this and the Fort Point venues?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Bob Dobalina

      I suspect it's an effort to simplify No. 9's output, as many of the key staff, front and back, bar and restaurant, will be redeployed to the new, much bigger restaurant and the new, much bigger standalone bar/lounge on Congress Street.

      1. re: MC Slim JB

        Thanks. Had no idea there was a new restaurant in the works by Ms. Lynch. We apparently will be assimilated.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Do you know which of the staff will be reassigned to the new places? And the names of the new restaurant and lounge? Also, it sounds like the new places are additions, not replacements, for the current No. 9?

          1. re: pollystyrene

            The party line is that No. 9 Park will remain open, which I fully believe; it's too prime a location to relinquish. But the new Fort Point restaurant clearly has to become Lynch's fine-dining flagship. I therefore expect that No. 9 will be reformulated as a slightly more casual, slightly less pricey (though still plenty expensive) restaurant. You'd also have to be surprised if most of the organization's A players both front and back don't end up in Fort Point; No. 9 becomes Pawtucket, the South End mini-mall the AA affiliate. It looks like a pretty good developmental system to me.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Thanks, Slim. I hope that means No. 9's prices will decrease somewhat with the opening of the new place. The Fort Point prices can't be higher than the current No. 9 prices. Can they? Not being a baseball fan, I can barely understand what your last two sentences mean, but I'm sure it's a fine analogy.

      2. Yikes! $65 for three courses is steep,especially when for $30 more can get a tasting menu. I hope the Fort Point place opens up soon and has some nibbles for us po' kids.

        1. I really can't imagine myself stopping in for a bite at those price points. Thankfully, we have plenty of other options.

          I appreciate the warning. It would have been really embarrassing if I had recommended it or invited friends to meet me there without knowing they would face this level of price increase.

          1. I go there pretty regularly, and this is a pretty big blow to continuing that routine. Looks like I'll have to stick to drinks and then migrate somewhere else. If only the Fort Point location was more convenient, it would be a lot easier to follow john there and leave no 9 for good.

            1. I heard this was happening.....I was at the bar there for my first time, and enjoyed some of the famous duck-fat fries with my neighbors there, they told me it was the last weekend for them and the other items from the old bar menu. I am sad...the bar there is fantastic, and I could see stopping in for a quick bite and one or two of the great cocktails, but you're right, the price point for what's now available is a bit steep.

              1. Thanks, Slim;

                I am also worried that the loss of staff, etc, will cause a downward trend in quality as well. At those pricepoints, it becomes only a special occasion place or one that I would send people on a generous business expense acct.

                1. Also there is no more Ryan at the bar. (I had posted this news already, but it was buried in a Kingston Station thread.)

                  I do hope this is a transitional development, and when the Fort Point places are all up and running, some of the cafe menu classics will be back.

                  Unless... John wants some of the favorites to be exclusive to his drinking emporium?

                  (Zatan: duck fat fries were not a regular item there.)

                  1. Such a disappointment!! There is/was nothing better than a glass and a snack at that bar. The combination of service, food and clientele made this my favorite spot in all of Boston.

                    I suppose it may still be worth the price to me...but perhaps not as frequently.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: merrvally

                      I'd never been to No. 9 before they changed the menu scheme, but have been twice in the past week. I'm not wealthy, but certainly won't hesitate to go back for an appetizer and a couple of cocktails from time to time. That won't set you back much, and you can still enjoy some great food, cocktails, service and ambience. Just pick up a pint of Ben & Jerry's on the way home like we did, and you're set.

                    2. Thanks for the tip. I had never been, and was planning to go Wednesday with a DC. Can you at least still get a decent Sazerac?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: wrenhunter

                        As long as Ben is behind the bar you can. I'm unacquainted with the other bartenders there, but I can't imagine Ben mixing any drink that's not exceptional, and since he's been there on both nights that I was there in the past week, I assume he's staying put.

                        He said you can order any of the classics, like the Sazerac, any time, even if they're not on the menu. You can also order a drink they haven't heard of as long as you know the ingredients and they'll make it for you. And, of course, you can just give them an idea of what liquor, liqueurs, or other ingredents you like, and they'll whip you up something fine. Ben, and I assume the other bartenders there, have a great sense of what proportions make a tasty, well-balanced cocktail, so I don't think you can go wrong.

                        There's currently a creation of his, the Scoville Sour, on the menu, that's based on a master cleanse. He did the cleanse, liked it, but thought it was missing a little...something. Booze! Once my friend from LA got a taste of one of these, she insisted on fitting in a second trip to No. 9 during her brief visit just to get more Scoville Sours under her belt before she leaves. Her review of the first one: "The stuff of dreams." Her review of the second: "It excites my brain." The third: "This drink is retarded!" Funny how the reviews become less eloquent (but no less enthusiastic) as the drinking progresses.

                        So go, if only for the dreamy cocktails.

                        EDIT: The corn agnolotti I had was also retarded! Highly recommended. I preferred it to the famous prune gnocchi (though I had it without the foie).

                        1. re: pollystyrene

                          "Retarded", interesting choice of a positive comment. Corn agnolotti certainly sounds good tho.

                          1. re: pollystyrene

                            We spent some quality at the bar with Ben this past Thursday - he told us that once the Fort Point outpost opens up, he'll be tending there full-time. Or, at least I think that's what he said...

                            1. re: natecsd

                              Oh, no! Who'll be left? Last night Ben was training a fellow named Nick behind the bar. I don't know if he was training to be a bartender, or just shadowing Ben for an overview of the restaurant. I hope the latter, because although friendly and helpful, he seemed wet behind the ears bartending-wise.

                              We were there Thursday too, natecsd, but it was after 10:00, so we probably missed you, as well as Ben's comment about moving to the new place. I know what you mean about being foggy on the facts after a few of those unearthly liquid delights.

                        2. Does anyone know where Eli will be?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            I'm going to guess Eli will head up the new high end place.

                            BTW, from what I heard, John's Drinking Emporium and the mid-tier breakfast/lunch place are targeted for opening around Labor Day. The high-end joint will follow in a couple months.

                            1. re: Alcachofa

                              Will it actually be called John's Drinking Emporium?!

                              1. re: pollystyrene

                                As unveiled in the Globe's Dishing blog, the new lounge will be referred to as Drink. The only food on offer will be wee bar snacks.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Drink? I'll do it! Nice find, Slim. I'm glad they've got their priorities straight, and are opening the lounge first.

                                  I'm not thrilled with the crunchy snacks described, but with eight items there should be some variety, and wee is just fine by me. Also, I hope they aren't too literal with the cocktail party analogy. I like to study a cocktail list, complete with ingredients.

                                  Wow, it sounds like we'll be Drinking only a month from now. I'm excited.

                          2. Hi Hounds, sorry to interrupt the chowtalk, but we'd like to remind everyone that Chowhound's goal is to help people find great chow right now. Gossip and speculation about restaurants doesn't help anyone eat better. If you've got specific factual information from a trustworthy source about changes at No. 9 Park and its sibling restaurants, and you want to give the hounds a heads up so they can try the new place early or be prepared for changes at No. 9 Park, that's fine, but please, avoid posting based on speculation, rumors and hearsay as these will be removed. Thank you for helping us keep our boards focused on finding and sharing delicious chow.

                            1. i never quite understood the idea behind having 2 different menus... by changing to one menu it clearly eliminates the ability to tell people that you can't have something that another is having just 3 feet behind you. also, i thought offering the "lower" price options takes away some of the "special" eliment that is @ #9. boston does not have enough restaurants that do the high concept all the way. WHY IS THAT? any thoughts? maybe another thread would help.

                              19 Replies
                              1. re: bowmore36

                                "boston does not have enough restaurants that do the high concept all the way."

                                Because there's more money to be made catering to both crowds. Though I can think of a number of restaurants in Boston that don't offer bar/cafe menus.

                                As a diner, I'm always a fan of more options. I'll sit in the regular restaurant for nicer meals and special occassions, but relish sitting at the bar for a relaxed evening with some fantastic food.

                                1. re: heWho

                                  "because there's more money to be made catering to both crowds"?

                                  seems like lots of people have figured out how to accomplish this task. its called having different restaurants... one of our local chefs has even down fairly well for himself with this idea. his name is ken oringer. i'm sure we all can name a lot more brilliant chefs that all use different restaurants for different concepts. it seems as though the #9 group may be arriving at that.
                                  the diner in boston has far too much influence on restaurants and the smart ones (just like in other restaurant markets) have figured out the right way to cater to both crowds. dumbing down a fine dining concept isn't the best way for restaurants to cater to both crowds.

                                  1. re: bowmore36

                                    This is an interesting argument, but I don't see how No. 9's offering an exquisite yet cheaper bar menu equated to "dumbing it down". One man's laser-like focus is another man's lack of versatility. I appreciate the fact that I can enjoy a chef's range (high-end here, lower-end there) without having to travel across town to do so.

                                    I agree that it would be silly to house La Verdad and Clio under one roof, but that's hardly the dichotomy I'm talking about. No. 9's bar menu was still Barbara Lynch at her fine-dining best -- there were oysters and foie gras and eggs en cocotte, not weenie wraps -- but at a slightly lower price point. I think you're stretching it to argue this somehow diminished the rest of the place. As I originally pointed out, I think the menu reformatting is driven by logisitics, the need to simplify offerings for the sake of the team that's being left behind to man No. 9 as Lynch readies her new venues, not because the concept was somehow flawed.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      would have been just as happy if it were just the cafe menu throughout the entire place. the comment about dumbing down the concept has only a little to do with $$$$

                                      "One man's laser-like focus is another man's lack of versatility" i would agree they BOTH have there place but i dont think BOTH should always apply.

                                      this begs the next question

                                      from multiple posts, people talk often how places are too pricey at any end of the spectrum and by nature that is good enough reason to not return somewhere. but if they are pricey and deliver, will boston diners support a handful of really top tier restaurants?

                                      1. re: bowmore36

                                        This question is an old hobbyhorse here: "Why does Boston's top tier stop at places like No. 9, Clio, L'Espalier, and O Ya? Where's our La Bernadin or French Laundry or Fat Duck?"

                                        Some might say that Bostonians just aren't adventurous or worldly enough to support that tier, but I think the economic explanation is simpler and more compelling. We're too small. The town simply doesn't have enough people who can afford those places often enough on their own dime, or who need to entertain on business at that level often enough, to sustain a $200 or $300 or $400 a cover kind of place. If someone could make a buck doing it, you can be sure that Todd English or Ken Oringer or Barbara Lynch -- or Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Charlie Trotter or some other well-financed global empire-builder -- would have built that business case and opened one up by now.

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          "Some might say that Bostonians just aren't adventurous or worldly enough to support that tier, but I think the economic explanation is simpler and more compelling. We're too small. The town simply doesn't have enough people who can afford those places often enough on their own dime, or who need to entertain on business at that level often enough, to sustain a $200 or $300 or $400 a cover kind of place. If someone could make a buck doing it, you can be sure that Todd English or Ken Oringer or Barbara Lynch -- or Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Charlie Trotter or some other well-financed global empire-builder -- would have built that business case and opened one up by now."

                                          Isn't that what Barbara Lynch is trying to do with the new Fort Point Channel? From what I've read, she's looking to bring a much high level of dining to Boston.

                                          1. re: Wannabfoode

                                            I have read that Lynch's infrastructure at the new complex is state of the art, very carefully designed and high tech, but I haven't seen anything publicly that talks about her concept or price point there.

                                            I do expect that the new lounge will be closer to the level of Manhattan's top tier of Golden-Age-revival cocktail lounges, like Pegu Club, Milk and Honey, Death and Co., the Flatiron Lounge, etc. And I'm really looking forward to that!

                                          2. re: MC Slim JB

                                            all the more reason if #9 is in the top tier it's nice to see that they have conitnued to distinguish themself by relinquishing a "bar" menu.

                                            this also perpetuates the mediocrity of the slightly sub high-end restaurants.... the new restaurant boom has not been a positive one all the way around. quality has definitely been an issue

                                            1. re: bowmore36

                                              You sound like someone who never tried the cafe menu at No. 9. I can see how ditching the cafe menu at No. 9 might make the place more distinguished had it been some significant step down in quality or craft from the dining-room menu, but it wasn't. It did feature things like a really nice bowl of soup for about $12. Is Lynch-quality soup somehow downmarket or perpetuating of mediocrity? I don't see that.

                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                The bar menu at No. 9 tended to have less labour intensive dishes (e.g. fewer preparations or moving parts on the same dish) and perhaps less expensive ingredients (e.g. the cut of beef).

                                                1. re: limster

                                                  My own experience of the cafe menu doesn't quite jibe with this assessment, though I'll admit my notes from here are hazier than from many restaurants (must be something in the atmosphere, maybe the Red Ken haze).

                                                  Raw bar, egg en cocotte, a chestnut bisque with a little floating island of something (rabbit, I think, or maybe sweetbreads?), seared foie gras, a rather elaborate steak tartare. These might not be quite up there with prune-stuffed gnocchi in terms of technique, but they're not dramatically simpler than many dishes I see on the dinner menu, and certainly aren't based on cut-rate ingredients. Is it possible that the price differential was mainly a matter of portion size?

                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                    The portion sizes in the maincourses on both menus weren't that different in my experience.

                                                    Some of the dishes on the main/tasting menu might have different preps of the same meat on the same dish, for example. The steak that I had once off the cafe menu was a more inexpensive cut (probably hanger), and certainly not a more expensive ribeye. Also, I don't recall seeing winter truffles on the cafe menu.

                                                    The steak tartare, the fondue or a salad, while requiring balanced seasoning and skill, may not take as much time/labour to prepare as an intricate sauce or a demi-glace that is part of some of the dishes on the tasting or main menu. And I think that the gnocchi, along with some of their pasti are significantly more labour intensive than many of the cafe dishes. The platings may be almost as elaborate, but the preparation, cooking time and care involved may not always be the same.

                                              2. re: bowmore36

                                                I found the bar menu to be as strong if not stronger than the regular menu at #9. Like other posters have said, I will miss being able to stumble in for high quality food without thinking very hard about it. For me, when a chef/restaurateur is a (talented) professional whether it's a bar menu, regular menu, side menu, etc they are all executed at the same level. A professional at the #9 level wants their name to come out shining no matter what the price point. There was nothing mediocre about the bar menu at #9.

                                                1. re: bowmore36

                                                  new yorker here coming up to boston labor day weekend for some good eats....anyway, i have to disagree with the idea that "relinquishing a bar menu" distinguishes the restaurant as top tier.

                                                  there are several "top-tier" (not in the classical French view) in NY that offer separate bar menus at a lower price point. most notably, gramercy tavern, eleven madison park, the modern, and del posto. it's no coincidence that the first three i mentioned are danny meyer restaurants.

                                                  and unfortunately, i will now probably pass on No. 9 Park as i already have a couple more pricey meals planned in boston (o ya!).

                                                  1. re: erha

                                                    yes. ditto.

                                                    have a great time here - let us know if you need other recs other than o ya.

                                      2. re: bowmore36

                                        I think the distinction between bar and dining-room dining is an eminently useful one. (My first ever paid food article, a cover story for stuff@night, was on this very subject.) Plus, doesn't a separate menu make the dining room experience more special? ("We're eating finer food than the dreadful hoi polloi in the bar.")

                                        Bar dining suits me when:

                                        a) I don't want the formality or time consumption of a meal at table;

                                        b) I don't want the expense of a fancier dining-room menu on a weeknight, or a meal my expense account won't cover when I'm traveling;

                                        c) I prefer the service at the bar to the service in the dining room (I have more favorite bartenders around town than favorite servers);

                                        d) I'm traveling or otherwise by myself and don't want to be the poor solo diner in the dining room whom people either pity or think is some social pariah;

                                        e) I want the easier companionability of strangers that is to be had at the bar -- you can usually talk to the person on the next stool at the bar, but diners at the next table generally don't want you talking to them.

                                        Everything from this list still holds under the new No. 9 setup except a crucial one, (b). The dining room menu is significantly more expensive than the old cafe menu. I can no longer put together a light, relatively cheap meal there; all those less-expensive cafe-menu items are gone. The entry point of $19 for an appetizer pushes No. 9 out of my weeknight dining rotation.

                                        So it'll be a drink or two and "Ta ta, going to eat somewhere cheaper." I expect this is partly the idea; get those penny-pinchers and less well-heeled diners out to make room for the Old Money types who live around the corner.

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          And sometimes its nice to be spontaneous and the bar menu affords you a lesser commitment, when you might not be into making a reservation or dedicating 2 hours to dining. It makes it easier on you and the waitstaff to share plates, without the whole splitting (and splitting) charge routine. In the venues around town that do offer a bar menu, there are many times when I (and many other hounds I know) order off the regular menu. I showed up got my feet wet, saw an interesting special or fixated on a plate heading out to the dining room. Its a date with the restaurant as opposed to an arranged wedding. There are some restaurants where it doesn't make sense (Neptune) and I can see restaurants simply wanting to limit the work of the line, although there are some restaurants that probably shouldn't have complicated their work any more which made a bar menu an important part (Biba comes to mind). The bar menu has a place, is of specific interest to hounds, and I think a well managed operation like No 9 can manage handle two menus.

                                          1. re: itaunas

                                            Plus with people cutting back a fair amount, you'd think they'd like to keep their options open. But maybe the ritzy neighborhood doesn't care.

                                          2. re: MC Slim JB

                                            yet again why there is less distinction of those "special" places in this city