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Neptune Oyster or Drink on a Friday night, insane?

Coming to Boston, tagging along with my spouse who is attending a conference.

We have two nights in the city, from NYC, and one is already earmarked for Craigie on Maine.

Is it sheer folly to do:

- Lobster rolls & fried clams at Neptune Oyster in the North End if the earliest we can get there is 6:30pm on a Friday night

- Drinks at Drink afterwards (whenever that is--8, 9)? I realize this is a healthy walk or a cab ride away.

Would you flip them? Skip one or another?

Husband loves lobster rolls (especially the buttery kind) and cocktails. We've heard great things about Drink. I'd like to try Eastern Standard too but the food menu seems kind of similar to lots of places in NYC.

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Neptune Oyster
63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

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  1. I don't have too much to say, but I respond mainly because it gives me a chance to thank you for all those terrific NYC postings of yours from which I've learned so much. (I'm based here, but spend a lot of time in NY.)

    I'd personally do both -- lobster roll and cocktails -- and in the order you suggest. Boston is not a late-night city, and you're better off eating when you can.

    1. Don't mean to be a wet blanket, but impossible. You will spend all night on line with the time slots you are shooting for even if you flip them. Neither is a place I would even try to hit on a Friday unless I could get to Neptune at 5:30 or so. And honestly Drink just does not rock me.

      The cocktails at ES are every bit as good as Drink without the preciousness. And Drink gets so slammed on a Friday you won't even really get the full craft cocktail deal. The food at ES is very good, but agree that for seafood it does not rise to the level of Neptune.

      16 Replies
      1. re: StriperGuy

        You are a realist, not a wet blanket!

        1. re: StriperGuy

          I disagree - I walked into Drink with a party of 3 at 8pm on a Friday night this summer after dinner at Sportello and found seats really easily. It wasn't particularly packed, though it was more so as the night carried on What I was more upset by was the fact that our cocktails, while good, weren't particularly creative. Looking around, they were making the "play on an aviation" for half of the bar. Pretty lame, if it's supposed to be all personalized.

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          Sportello
          348 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02110

          1. re: gini

            I think a lot of people walk in and say, "Um, I like gin...and kind of sweet..."

            1. re: robwat36

              They definitely do seem to have a set list of a small handful of drinks that they toss out for what I'm sure are standard responess - like the "gin, and kind of sweet" example that you give. I've been with people who tend to ask for flavor profiles off the beaten path a little bit and they'll expand the selection a little bit - but I think you really either have to know what you're looking for or have them recognize you.

              1. re: jgg13

                I find they definitely have that mental cocktail list, and that they throw one out there when they are sometimes feeling lazy it seems in my experience. I've gotten great responses to my generally specific descriptions in the past, but I've also had interactions where I've gotten a drink not really in the ballpark beyond base spirit.

                Though I've noticed the "everyone at the bar seems to have similar drinks" phenomena as well, it came into focus for me on one particular visit. I arrived about 4:30, so well before the after work rush, and there were only a few people in the bar. Some of the bartenders were discussing homemade vermouth, so I was inspired to ask for something vermouth forward or at least heavy. Instead I received basically what was a gin and St. Germaine drink.

                Which was fine until a few days later I realized why the drink sounded familiar as I was looking at the Cocktail Virgin blog and saw that it was a fairly new cocktail at Drink. Basically the bartender (who everyone knows about, so it wasn't inexperience) took my description, went through the current short mental list, and gave me something reasonably close (in this case, gin).

                I don't look for something ridiculously arcane or otherwise precious when I go to Drink, but it is frustrating when I make an effort to describe in some detail what I'm looking for and there is little effort made on the other end to take that into account. Might as well print that mental cocktail list and then let customers riff off of that if so desired.

                1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                  I agree fully with that last paragraph.

                  I also like Drink, quite a lot actually. However, seeing the effect that you describe (and watching various friends who were perhaps a bit overly excited get their hopes dashed a bit because of it), the sheer awesomeness of it all did dip a bit for me.

                  1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                    Which gets us to the final point that the whole Drink concept: "we will conjure a potentially novel cocktail for every person who saunters up to the bar based on their individual hopes and desires" is a tad outré if not downright silly and pretentious, and perhaps even impossible.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      I don't think that's their concept, though. I think "we have a recipe that matches your taste" sometimes gets misconstrued as "we will conjure," etc. It's knowing and nailing the classics (and some newer creations that have already been vetted), not mixology on the spot.

                      1. re: robwat36

                        That said, I have seen them do mixology on the spot - and I'm talking in terms of doing it for average joe customers, not regulars.

                    2. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                      From my experience it will go something like this:

                      Bartender: We have a few new things today. A strawberry simple syrup, a ___ and a ____.
                      Customer: Ooh! I want something with the strawberry syrup.
                      Bartender: Sure. Do you like gin?
                      Customer: Yes.
                      Bartender: We've been making a lot of South Sides, but substituting the strawberry syrup for regular simple syrup.
                      Customer: Sounds good.

                      I think that when they mention what the "specials" are, people are often interested in them and there is only so much you can do with that ingredient, so you end up with a lot of people at the bar that night with similar cocktails.

                    3. re: jgg13

                      I've been trying to think of a polite way to say "I want to get something I've never had before" at Drink without coming across as snotty. I'd prefer not to give a super-detailed flavor profile because I want to give the bartender some room to play with, but if you make it too generic you often end up with a (very well-made) standard.

                      1. re: dfan

                        Hmm, maybe those exact words, plus, "...and I've already tried everything on the blackboard."

                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                        1. re: dfan

                          I guess i've been snotty enough to ask that very question at Drink and have always had good results. I usually give the disclaimer that I drink literally everything, so they have a lot to work with. And on a few occasions that has benefited me in the form of being poured leftovers from the shaker used to make someone elses drink. Drink is a place where the concept falls as equally on the consumer's ability to articulate their preferences as it does on the bartender to carry them out. If someone is shopping for a sports cars and another is shopping for a '67 L88 Corvette with a 427 under the hood, the person that knows what they like is going to get what they want. The instruction of "I like Gin" is very different than I'd like something with a Gin base, add in some fizz, and if you can figure out how to make the whole thing flame, that'd be cool." Of course you'll look like a D bag but if you can overcome this fear, the bartender will rise to the challenge.Try a Frenet Branca flip for something different.

                    4. re: gini

                      Aaaaah, but it was in the SUMMER on a Friday when everything slows down.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Yeah, but who goes out on a Friday in the FALL? Come on, it's all about Monday nights :).

                        1. re: gini

                          Listen, we all know Fri/Sat is amateur night. I'm more of a Tuesday man myself, but I'm just sayin' Fall Friday Drink + Neptune Boston WILL be slammed.

                          Of course some significant portion will be Bridge-Tunnel, Tourist, Student etc etc etc...

                  2. I'm a fan of both places, but I tend to avoid both on Friday nights. Neptune is particularly tough if you don't arrive very early in service, and 6:30pm isn't early enough. Drink can be manageable on Friday nights now that they have started limiting customer headcount, but that can mean a significant wait in a line, the probability of which increases over the course of an evening till nearly midnight. A pain, I know, but at least you'd get reasonable attention from the staff once you got inside. It used to be such a five-deep shitshow on weekend nights that I used to say, "Avoid it like the plague."

                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      Kathyrn; your posts inspire awe.

                      I think that StriperGuy has got it right; I woud not go out on a Friday night without a reservation especially to a popular place such as Neptune, Toro, Coppa, et al.

                      You might consider O Ya or Clio/Uni. Tony Maw of Craigie was the sous chef for Kevin Oringer of Clio; Oringer was the sous chef for Jean-Georges Von Gerichten during the fleeting period when J-G was in Boston. .

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                      O Ya
                      9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                      Toro
                      1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                      Coppa
                      253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                        Troquet has a good bar by the way with excellent prices for wine. I am not sure how packed it is on a Friday night.

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                        Troquet
                        140 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                          Thanks for the tips! We're not huge wine drinkers unfortunately. Not sure I want to do a jG restaurant in Boston since he's got so many in NYC.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            neither Clio or Craigie are JG restaurants; just an interesting connection.

                      2. re: MC Slim JB

                        Jeez, you guys eat early!

                        For Drink, I guess I'm too used to NYC cocktail bars who don't allow standing and only admit for as many seats as are available. Or take reservations! I assume Drink will take more than they can seat but up to a certain number?

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Have you been to Drink since they started limiting headcount? What is it like inside?

                          1. re: chickendhansak

                            Yes. It is lively and full, perhaps one-deep at the bar all the way around, but not hectic and overcrowded. The staff actually has time for a word with most customers. I still far prefer late weeknights there.

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                        2. I've actually left work early on a Friday to get to Drink by 5:10, and was glad I did.

                          1. Thanks for the input, it's extremely helpful.

                            Would you say that B&G has the second best lobster roll in town, relatively convenient to downtown? I'm wondering if it's better to reserve at B&G for Friday night and then try to get drinks elsewhere, like Eastern Standard.

                            I'm also trying to convince my husband to stay through Monday morning. Is Sunday night better for either Drink or Neptune Oyster? His conference ends around 6pm and we'd probably not arrive at either until after that.

                            -----
                            Neptune Oyster
                            63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

                            Eastern Standard
                            528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                            18 Replies
                            1. re: kathryn

                              You'll be WAY better off at either on a Sunday.

                              Bostonian's do eat early.

                              The B&G lobster roll definitely has it's fans.

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                StriperGuy, it sounds like you're not a fan of the B&G lobster roll. Why not?

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  It's B&G I don't particularly like. Mostly fru fru attitude. I tend to get my seafood fixes at lobster shacks on the North Shore or make it my self. For seafood in Boston I really like East Coast Grill, but did not recommend it because it was geographically a bit far afield from where you were seeking to eat. Also it's not quite that fancy, just GOOD.

                                  For my idea of a good lobster roll see the end of this thread:

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/727001

                                  Literally last night...

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    I'm a big fan of the B&G lobster roll; I think their mayo version (which is the only version they do) is better than its counterpart at Neptune. I also like the vibe there.

                                  2. re: StriperGuy

                                    besides Neptune, Striper, where do you go for lobster rolls?

                                  3. re: kathryn

                                    Great plan. Sunday evening is my favorite time to go to Drink.

                                    1. re: kathryn

                                      B&G's lobster roll is quite good, but it is a cold roll served with a light dressing of mayo. If you're looking for a hot lobster roll with butter then you want Neptune. That said, I agree Friday is not the time to try to get into Neptune. Staying through Sunday, then you're much less apt to hit a line.

                                      1. re: Pegmeister

                                        I went to Neptune at about 6:30 on a Sunday in late July and was quoted an hour and 45 minute wait time. Does that wait shorten once the summer feast crowds go away?

                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                          Not really, the weekends are always busy. In the summer you will sometimes find 2 hour waits during the week as well. I usually stroll around the NE and settle into the bar at Bacco to wait.

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                                          Bacco
                                          107 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02119

                                          1. re: LeoLioness

                                            I've never had to wait on a Sunday evening, but then again I do tend to check to see what events are going on in town, and I'm usually there by 6:00 if not earlier.

                                          2. re: Pegmeister

                                            Hmm, now I'm wondering if we should try both!

                                            1. re: kathryn

                                              personally i like my lobster roll for lunch from Alive and Kicking, (yes, it's not a roll, but a scali bread sandwich but it contains nothing but perfectly cooked lobster, a lot of it, with just enough mayo to keep it moist and it comes with no attitude). For dinner I much prefer the East Coast Grill (still, like Neptune, it suffers from the no reservations thing).

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                                              East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                                              1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                              1. re: teezeetoo

                                                ECG rules! Less attitude excellent food.

                                                1. re: teezeetoo

                                                  i agree with you about Alive and Kicking, but they close at 6 pm though earlier on a Sunday. It is not a roll! The owners are great.

                                                  i also like ECG which is not super convenient from the T and neither is Alive and Kicking.

                                            2. re: kathryn

                                              The B&G lobster roll is tiny and way overpriced. you're better off getting lobster rolls at Miel in the Intercontinental, which is not far from Drink. If your husband is partial to sipping rums, he can also check out Rumba which adjoins Miel (and also has the same lobster roll). Diplomatico might be a good one to start with :)

                                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                                  I'd love to grab a drink or two and some small plates at Eastern Standard but I don't know if it's worthy of a full dinner.

                                                  Since we're taking the train in from NYC that afternoon, I was seeking something "uniquely Boston," less formal, around $40-50 per person for food, and not something we have a lot of in NYC.

                                                  Does anything fit this near Eastern Standard? Or should we just eat there, knowing that the drinks are good?

                                                  -----
                                                  Eastern Standard
                                                  528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                                                  1. re: kathryn

                                                    I would totally eat at Eastern Standard. I don't know why it doesn't get more love on this board. Yes, it's in the upscale brasserie mold that's common in New York and elsewhere - but for me, the salt cod fritters, frisee/hazelnut/sweetbread salad, some bone marrow, and a charcuterie plate paired with some awesome cocktails sound like an ideal welcome to Boston.

                                                    Just make sure the Sox aren't in town.

                                                    -----
                                                    Eastern Standard
                                                    528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215