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May 28, 2009 07:10 PM

Restaurant Death Watch - Marliave

I went to Marliave for the first time in a while tonight. I guess everyone else has also not been back in a while. The place was a ghost town. If Marliave does not have a solid afterwork crowd, I don't see how it can stay open much longer. Maybe there are some very deep-pocket backers, but they certainly can't be making too much money these days.

We arrived at 6pm - there were 4 customers in the downstairs, main bar area. We sat at the bar and I had a ridiculously sweet Molasses Flood of 1919.

Two women next to me asked one of the bartenders what St. Germain was. His reply, "It's, uh, this" (as he brought the bottle over to show the women). One woman asked how it tasted. The bartender said "Umm" and then asked the other bartender what the main ingredient was. St. Germain isn't exactly an exotic ingredient these days. Not knowing about the major ingredients in drinks on the menu is unforgivable in my book, especially at a place that bills itself as a serious cocktail bar. Also, for the record, Marliave is NOT a serious cocktail bar by any stretch. I've heard rumors of B-Side alums working some shifts and making great drinks, but I've never had anything other than lackluster drink service.

The three of us decided to grab one of the empty tables to make conversation easier than at the bar. We settled at the bar and moved to a table for some more drinks and food. After an oddly long wait given the lack of customers our waitress arrived.

We asked about the $1 oyster special. She said that we could only get the $1 oyster deal if we sat at one of the bars (by this time the bar had three customers and, including us, six customers at the tables). Huh? We pressed her on it after she returned with drinks. She said she would ask a manager. It worked out. If we had been denied the oyster deal I probably would have hit the floor laughing.

Our food was fine - cheese plate, mussels, oysters, and a pastrami sandwich. Nothing that special, everything was just pretty good.

When we left at 8pm, the crowd was up to about 8. Sad. Not a good sign for a Thursday evening. Marliave is a cool space and has such great potential. Too bad it's full of fail right now.

My lunch trip to Flour was a serious contrast. It was delicious and ridiculously packed. Not everyone is hurting these days.

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  1. You read my mind. I was thinking, though felt bad about it, along exactly the same lines (albeit without the food order). I was there last Wednesday and had a similar experience. Poorly made drinks in a bar that was a ghost town after work.

    Arrived around 5:30 after stopping in at Silvertone where the bar was already full while some tables where empty (but wasn't ready to sit down for dinner yet). Moved on to Marliave to show it to a relative newcomer to town. We had come from Eastern Standard and the cocktail craft was incredibly weak in comparison at Marliave. There were about 4 people in the downstairs area when I left around 6:30.

    If that is the normal situation, it cannot be long for this world.

    1. You could say the same about a lot of restaurants in town. Very brisk business the last couple of times I've been, on weekend nights (very enjoyable meal, mostly off the cafe portion of the menu)

      It's the same story at a lot of places in town. Nobody dines out on weeknights anymore. If there's a place you love, dine there from Sunday to Thursday.

      12 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        I have to politely disagree. I eat out pretty frequently on week nights and really havent seen a downturn of patronage. Silvertones this week was packed, in the past couple of weeks LTK, 75 Chestnut, Luckys, walking past Toscanos and No 9 -all pretty well populated inside on weeknights. Its been giving me hope in the face of the recent news of Aujourd hui and Great Bay...

        Just my experience recently

        I havent gotten to Marliave yet- was planning to check it out this coming week- I guess I better get on that!

        1. re: fmcoxe6188

          Hearing that restaurants are busy in the wealthiest neighborhood in the city isn't terribly surprising, nor after-work spots for the Financial District crowd. There are places that are doing well seven nights a week (can't remember the last time I saw a slow night at Toro, for instance). But I'd guess a lot of industry folks would tell you that weeknight business is grim at many places around town. Fridays and Saturdays still boom.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Hmm-thats a good point- though when I went to Carlos out in Allston a few weeks ago on a Tuesday it was steady as well. -again just my observations and probably some wishful thinking :-)

            1. re: fmcoxe6188

              The Sat & Sun boom may be true for some restaurants, but unfortunately I'll have to agree with DoubleMan on this one. I went to Marliave for the first (and to be honest, probably last) time a couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday night, peak time at 7:30. The place was dead. There were a few folks at the bar, maybe one or two other tables taken. I walked upstairs just to take a look at the dining room and there was nobody in there.
              I wouldn't blame this one on the economic downturn --it just hasn't taken off. It should certainly have a great after work crowd (Silvertone clearly does and they are just around the corner, so it has nothing to do with location!) and at the very least, be busy on weekend nights!
              The food was just ok, and I found the whole atmosphere pretty cold and not all that welcoming. It was alright, but no place I'd be rushing back to.

              1. re: twentyoystahs

                You might be surprised about the location - I know several people who are familiar with Silvertone but who were clueless about the location of Marliave. It is tucked a little out of the way in my opinion. They ought to put out a sign near the Beantown directing people down the dead end.

                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                  Bob, I think you are spot on. The location is down a dingy alley (Bosworth St).

                  It appears that they are doing work on improving the entrance on the cross street (Province St, I think?) and the pathway connecting Bosworth to the cross street. Additionally, when I was there last, on Memorial Day for a quick drink and late lunch, they were also paving with attractive brick the end of Bosworth outside of Marliave (Chef Scott was outside supervising).

                  I hope those investments pay off.

                  Another thing that always irked me about the place was the split personalities--downstairs with a casual menu, upstairs with a formal menu, and the raw bar with a separate entrance, plus a bar in both the upstairs and downstairs. They've taken some steps to unify all of those places--I think the upstairs menu is now the same as their "dinner at marliave" menu downstairs.

                  Despite all this, I've liked Marliave since it first opened and was the talk of Chowhound, and I hope it makes it. The space is unique, the history is neat, the cocktails are good (but inconsistent), and the food is great, particularly given the price point.

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    Of course, I totally agree about the location. It is sort of out-of-the-way, no doubt. I guess what I was saying is it's in the downtown crossing area, just like silvertone, and people seem to make ample effort to make it to they certainly could do the same with Marliave. I think it's a cool space, lots of history, a great concept --but something's missing. The food was just ok. Like I said, the place just didn't feel all that warm to me...when I'm out for dinner, i want to get that vibe...i.e. a place like Hungry Mother does it right. Marliave...not-so-much. Believe me, I wanted to like it. And I hope they can hang in there. But.....they've gotta be hurting right now. If they aren't busy on a Saturday night, when are they busy????? Yikes.

                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      I think you have basically 2 sets of people, those that knew Marliave when it was open some years ago(and awful Italian American food) but was 1 of a few sit down options for a mid price lunch in the area, and know the location..and people who didn't know it and to whom it is a "new" location...and may find it tough to find. Maybe a 3rd set who remember it from when it had good food?

                      I've been 3 or 4 times and always had good food and satisfactory service; once at the oyster bar, once at the main floor bar, once at a table on the main floor.

                      If enough people are having bad food and service issues, I don't see it lasting. Much as I enjoy sister ship Grotto, it has it's detractors here and service is not their strong suit.

                      Shame, it's a bit of Boston history and I'm sure a pile of $ went into the renovation.

                      1. re: 9lives

                        I've gotten excellent food here on pretty much every visit, though the cafe menu of more casual dishes rings my value bell much louder.

                        But the wine list is one of the most top-heavy I've seen in a town full of top-heavy lists: a ridiculous number of bottles over $120, probably the majority of the list over $80, far too few bottles under $60, only a handful under $40. Clearly, it was compiled to serve the far-more-ambitious original upstairs fine-dining concept, which didn't fly and has been scaled back to a few "After Five" dishes and a table d'hote menu served on both floors. (There's also a hefty roster of high-end booze, like 21-year-old single malts at $30/pour, also presumably assembled for the horribly mistimed luxe upstairs concept.)

                        I'd love to see a more sensible wine list assembled to suit the cafe menu, something along the lines of what Deborah Hansen did at Coda. Silvertone and the Franklin Cafes have shown how attractively this can be done, too. It's annoying to only have a handful of by-the-glass options to go with under-$20 entrees.


                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  My theory is that valet parking is really hurting the downtown spots. Who wants to pay $20 just for the privilege of spending more on an expensive dinner. South End and suburban neighborhood restaurants are faring better.

                  1. re: almansa

                    On the other hand, there are plenty of us who take the T and Marliave is just a block or two from Park Street.

                3. re: fmcoxe6188

                  Have to disagree, bar hopped a couple of times both in the South End and downtown hitting some of the high end and other places and attendance was LOW everywhere on numerous nights. Places like Silvertone being the one exception.

              2. I have a special place in my heart for Marliave. This does not sound good. I went for lunch on a Friday and same thing. Not a whole lot of patrons. I don't want to see this place close, again.

                my blog:

                1. They definitely need to upgrade their drink making corps. A friend asked for a sazerac once and the bartender that night almost poured him a shot of the Sazerac-branded rye. Luckily, we were able to stop him before that happened and straighten that out.

                  Another issue that I see happening a lot are the bartenders making classic drinks like the sazerac, shaken instead of stirred. A sazerac with a 1" head of foam is just not pleasant.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: avial

                    Had the same problem when a weekend bartender had never heard of a Ward Eight. I think Marliave actually sits in Ward 8.

                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      Yep, very hit or miss. My gross observation: the girls are skilled, the boys not so much.


                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        They should do an exchange program with Deep Ellum.

                          1. re: the modern serf

                            Deep Ellum does seem to have a glut of female bartenders. I have not seen the guy from B-Side at Marliave for a quite some time, maybe not since last year even.

                      2. re: avial

                        was at the new sel de la terre on wednesday. they pre-make their negronis in batches, "because they're so hard to make." bartender also was clueless about the wines by the glass.

                        no rush to head back there, as much as i enjoy the waterfront location.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Endlessly amazing to me how such a simple drink as the Negroni -- equal parts of three ingredients -- is so endlessly screwed up around here. We're not asking you to make the original Don the Beachcomber Zombie Punch, people! It's child's play!


                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            and ya know, it's not like they position themselves as a kids' bar and i was asking for something esoteric. i didn't *say* anything, but i knew my face had the look of "are you f****ing kidding me?"

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                Equally lame at the Mandarin Oriental bar... bartender had to look it up, then still proceeded to make it wrong. It's like they don't trust that it could possibly be as simple as it is.

                          2. I went to Marliave for my first time a couple of weeks ago. The oysters were great, but the room was completely empty on a Friday night at 8:30 There were 8 people at the bar and not one table in the dining room (although I didn't go all the way upstairs). The room looked great, the menu was very reasonable and the bartender was very friendly. I hope they stick around for a while so I can try it out for a real dinner.