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Nov 26, 2011 03:22 PM

The Hawthorne in Kenmore Sq, Anyone Been?

I know its only been open for a few days, but has can anybody provide some information on how it is?

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  1. In terms of cocktail quality, about what you'd expect from Jackson Cannon and Co., the team behind Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar, but aiming a bit higher. It has a 2am license and a super-cool vibe, like the basement living rooms of a prosperous artist: much more residential, hip rec room-y in feel than most cocktail bars.

    Cocktails draw from but not limited to the pre-Prohibition classics. Uses only top-notch spirits; quality still, sparkling, fortified and aromatized wines; fresh juices, herbs, fruit, and other fine-dining-level produce; and obscure craft beers and ales. Thoughtful, often costly choices made regarding barware, ice (they do ice-balls here), and servingware. A polished, highly-trained staff, mostly poached from Boston's best bars (e.g., Scott Marshall from Drink), notable as much for their hospitality as their technical chops. Leisurely pacing of drinks and food.

    A short menu of tasty small bites, like deviled eggs topped with crispy prosciutto (not sure how they make it bacon-like, but it's a good trick). A big front bar and much smaller (four-seat) bar further back. Lots of comfy sofa and armchair seating in both areas. A sidewalk patio is promised on the other side of winter.

    Given its comparatively small size, I can envision this unmarked basement space (entrance just inside the hotel's main lobby) having lines out the door before very long.

    Eastern Standard
    528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

    Island Creek Oyster Bar
    500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

    5 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      So I decided to go there last night and check it out for myself. The place was remarkably busy for having just opened and it being a holiday weekend to boot. After 11:30pm the place was pretty much packed. Both cocktails that I had were excellent: the Paper Plane which is listed on their cocktail menu, and a Mezcal Old Fashioned. The only thing I ate was the cashews which were slightly sweet and had a little kick; a good bar snack. Others at the bar spoke highly of the soft pretzels. I agree with MC Slim, that this place will become very popular over the coming weeks. Overall, for having just opened and being quite busy, everything was running smoothly.

      1. re: seidleroni

        I was there Saturday before they got packed. At that point, they were very strict about seating and standing arrangements... I'm guessing this is the Milk 'n' Honey influence. Not sure how they would manage that in a "packed" scenario. Just had a regular ol' Sazerac (which was good).

        Great space.

        1. re: Alcachofa

          Any idea of what the licensed occupancy numbers are for that space vs. packed?

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              Licensed vs. packed? I wonder if a hotel-based place has higher risk around exceeding fire-rated capacity, so might be less likely to allow it.

              At least in the early going, I imagine The Hawthorne will try to preserve a certain relaxed atmosphere that six-deep crowds wouldn't support, and so will limit access, as Drink eventually did on weekends. They already appear to have the staff in place for it, at least once inside the door.

              Purely a guess, but I suspect the upper limit is somewhere in the 100-150 range.


      2. Aside from the main bar itself, the rest of the space feels very much like a living room, especially the back lounge where I found myself seated with a group of friends. The drinking experience felt like a posh cocktail party in a friend's condo. It was fun to just admired the decor: bric-a-brac, cocktail paraphernalia, and wall-adorning artwork. Another nice touch was how the service station was hidden in the drawers of a bureau, again maintaining the ambiance as a living room rather than a bar.

        While the back room felt more cozy, it is worth noting that the small bar in that room is only stocked with a mise-en-place sufficient to create the cocktails on the menu, but the limited selection very much prevents any creative off piste improvisation. With the limited menu (only 10-12 cocktails were on the menu we were given), taking advantage of the eminently qualified bar staff's experience would have been fun. While ordering off menu is possible, conveying one's wishes through the middleman waiter leaves something to be desired.

        As far as the drinks are concerned, everything our group tried was tasty and well-made. The Paper Plane, Bamboo, Coltivatore, Dutch Oven among others. There was one drink ordered off-menu with a mezcal base whose name I forget, but which was quite interesting as well. Everyone in the group had already eaten, but a couple tried the sticky toffee pudding and declared it delicious.

        It will be interesting to see how they handle their imminent popularity, as I feel that a lot of the charm in the space would be negatively affected by crowds of people looming over those seated.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rlee21

          I stopped in on Saturday night after dinner at Eastern Standard. I only had time for one drink and for some reason was craving a mojito (perhaps it was the unseasonably warm weather). It was an excellent rendition of this ubiquitous cocktail and the staff was pleasant as can be. I echo what others have stated about the decor. Definitely feels like a cocktail party in your affluent friend's house. I will be back.

        2. Went last night prior to our dinner at Oiishi. Great cocktails (The paper Plane is one of my new favorites), and we had Ryan (ex No 9, Drink, NYC) as our bartender and he was awesome. Had we not needed to use a coupon we had for Oiishi, we would have cancelled and had a dinner of bar snacks. It was fairly crowded at 6;30 on a Wed night. This place will be crazed. The only time I think I'll be going there is Mondays and Tuesdays early.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kimfair1

            the Paper Plane is a great drink from 2008 (Sam Ross from Milk & Honey). I will be excited about Hawthorne when their brain trust starts spitting out new drinks on that level. Pretty much everything I have heard about (like the Hanky Panky, Mezcal Old Fashioned) with a couple exceptions have been older drinks that I have had across town (including the Paper Plane). If you could get a seat at the bar, I'm sure that would get you access to a wider knowledge base, but that sounds like it will be difficult unless you show up early or luck out.

          2. We went last night and easily found seats on a Sunday night. The place is pretty swank and the sort of Japanese style of bartending with attention to detail was unique here in Boston. My fear about the lounge part was allayed since we had seats at the bar. Honestly, the 10 drinks on the menu did not impress me greatly (price range was $11-16) but the drinks we had off of them were solid but not cutting edge. Our next round was off the menu and thanks to Katie Emmerson (ex-Death & Co.), I was able to get something I hadn't had before that was right what I was looking for. I was impressed at the amount of time the bartenders spent talking to us which could have been due to it being a slower night. But there was also a lot of other front of the house folk who kept checking in.

            The 2 drinks we had off the menu were the Fino Swizzle (good but the $16 price tag was a bit steep) and the Dutch Oven (Sazerac made with aged Bols Genever). Nothing in the Fino Swizzle was top shelf, but it had a good amount of syrup from Luxardo cherry jars, so perhaps that is where the extra $5 went.

            Overall, we'll be back, but it isn't an every day place. The more formal atmosphere isn't something I am used to for drinking; it felt even more formal than No. 9 Park. And perhaps next time we'll actually make it into the other room to check it out.


            5 Replies
            1. re: yarm

              I've been three times (lol) and I've found it to be incredibly comfortable and inviting. I understand what you are saying about the level of formality compared to No. 9, but I think it is actually much more relaxed. To me it feels like drinking in a cool, rich friend's apartment, especially in the back bar area. The drink-making and level of service are second-to-none, and I'm thankful that there is now a top tier alternative to Drink at which you can get seats at more popular times. I suspect that will change a bit as the crowds start to come, but I also get the sense that they will be much better at managing the crowds than Drink is because there is much less room for potential standing and the staff-to-customer ratio is much higher. There are also two superb bars in the same complex to take overflow.

              I agree about the menu - everything is solid, but nothing is particularly novel. They've already changed a few drinks on the menu in the past week (adding the swizzle and removing a silly frozen blue drink and replacing a mojito with hemingway daiquiri). I know that their impressive lineup of bartenders is more than capable of creating some fantastic new drinks and I hope the menu develops in that direction instead of being filled with classics and slight riffs on classics.

              I'll go regularly, especially if Hawthorne can avoid some of the annoyances that make Drink unbearable, but I suspect that Brick and Mortar will be doing the heavy-lifting in my drinking rotation once it opens.

              1. re: DoubleMan

                I agree. At least with a menu, I feel there is a starting point even if its just for the first drink. With Drink, I have to figure out how to communicate drink desires without asking for something by name or getting something I've had before -- each and every time I get a new bartender.

                I believe that there is a larger cocktail book in the works from what I heard. Last night, I was shown a proof of a book that contained an extensive spirits list but it did not have recipes.

                I guess what I said came across as too critical. But it seems like the type of place you'd want on a Friday or Saturday night more than a lower key Sunday or Monday night. Or perhaps, I should just get used to being treated that way more often.

                Brick & Mortar should be rather cool especially with the few recipes that were released. Also Backbar should be good too. Both will be opening in the next 2 weeks.

                1. re: yarm

                  I haven't seen any brick & mortar recipes, could you share them?

                  1. re: DoubleMan

                    Glass: Cocktail
                    Garnish: None
                    Method: Stir ingredients with ice and strain.
                    1.5oz Cardamaro
                    1oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
                    0.25oz Averna
                    1 dimespoon Absinthe

                    Low Rider
                    Glass: Rocks
                    Garnish: None
                    Method: Stir over ice and strain
                    2oz Siembra Azul Blanco
                    0.5oz Zucca
                    0.5oz Dark Creme de Cacao
                    1 dash Angostura bitters

                    Old Heavenhill Springs
                    Glass: Cocktail glass
                    Garnish: Orange oil
                    Method: Stir with ice and strain
                    1oz Rittenhouse Rye
                    1.25oz Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado Sherry
                    0.5oz Benedictine
                    0.25oz Galliano Ristretto
                    1 dash Angostura Bitters


                    1. re: yarm

                      They look great. Thank you. I suspect (hope) that, like Green Street and other Central bars, this won't get busier until later in the night, so regular trips won't be difficult.

            2. I went for the first time two nights ago with a friend from LA. Her review: "The Hawthorne is need to go anywhere else, I'd say. I hope it doesn't become overrun and unpleasant." I agree. Neither of us was dazzled by the cocktail menu, so I do hope they expand it. Everything I ordered was off menu, starting with an excellent El Diablo, then a good (but not as good as the Pegu Club's) Old Cuban. Our bartender was Nicole from ESK, and she was delightful, informative and accommodating. Then I spied Scott from Drink lurking behind a post and lured him out to make me something I'd remembered him making me at Drink when I was in a grapefruit and bubbles mood. He remembered and produced his Dejeuner Cocktail (grapefruit juice, St. Germaine, aperol and champagne)--so good. My friend ordered Scoville Sours (involving maple syrup and cayenne pepper), which we were surprised Nicole knew how to make. The first time we had them was at No. 9, made by Ben, who I think invented it.

              We ordered 3 fantastic cheeses, served with fig, quince and bread, and got an extra cheese on the house because they weren't exactly at room temp. yet--maybe one degree to go. I agree with whoever said that it would be exciting if the bartenders start inventing their own drinks. Maybe our two best drinks of the night, the Scoville and the dejeuner, were created by Boston bartenders. I'd love to see a whole menu consisting of just the staff's own creations.

              That little, brass ($1500) ice machine that magically creates beautiful ice spheres is great. I'd like to see them use some natural food coloring in them--they'd look like Christmas tree ornaments. The three drunk suits next to us were trying to make "balls" jokes, and I said something about 'nads, which they didn't get. Scott said to them, "Here at The Hawthorne, we call them gonads."