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Dressy cocktails with light food?

In trying to find a way to have a special elegant evening out without breaking the bank on a full meal with my girlfriend, I'm looking for a mellow place to have cocktails and a snack. We love dressing up and while you can dress up anywhere, we'd like an atmosphere that feels special and out of the ordinary. Ideally they would have good cocktails (don't have to be extraordinary), small plates, and wouldn't be a loud meat-market style atmosphere.

I'm going to nix Eastern Standard because I go a lot, and I think Drink is a little more lively than we're looking for. I'm thinking the salon at L'Espalier, the bar at No. 9, or the bar at Clio. Having never been to the bar at any of these and knowing they are small, are there any you would recommend? Do any of these take reservations for the bar? When is the best time to snag a seat at one of these places?

Any other recommendations? Any of the hotel bars that could work?

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  1. The salon at LEspalier is the most comfortable of the 3 places you list, followed by Clio bar (if you include the banquette adjoining the bar). Bar seats at 9 Park are uncomfortable and crowded; one can sit in their window banquette section but food is not permitted there, and the area tends to become congested with people waiting for seats. Drinks at Clio and 9 Park are at least a notch or two above those at LEspalier though. Food at LEspalier is overpriced even compared to 9 Park and Clio.

    1. The only bar I know of who takes reservations is Backbar which is run by the Journeyman people. If Union Square, Somerville, is an option, this might be a good place.

      Craigie's bar never seems to disappoint, nor does No. 9. I love Clio but they are slated for renovations soon so check before showing. Also, Hawthorne run by the same bar manager as Eastern Standard has solid food and drinks in an upscale lounge sort of atmosphere. With No. 9, the best time to get a seat at the bar is after 9:30 or 10pm right after the diners start to leave.

      http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com

      1. I can't come up with anything perfectly suited to your request, but Noir Bar at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square fits these comments:
        "mellow place to have cocktails and a snack"
        "without breaking the bank"
        "Any of the hotel bars that could work?"
        "wouldn't be a loud meat-market style atmosphere"

        Regarding attire it's a mix; you won't feel at all out of place if you're dressed up, though.

        Caveat: I haven't been there in a couple of years

        9 Replies
        1. re: Area Man

          Has the bartending improved at all? I haven't been in two years because last time I went I ordered a Sazerac and received a watered down, shaken, ice-chard flecked and frothy concoction in a cocktail glass that tasted of bourbon. It went down as one of the worst cocktails I've gotten in Boston. The irony was that the waitress commented after I ordered, "Sazeracs have been popular tonight!"

          I'm definitely intrigued by both backbar and Hawthorne. Hawthorne looks great and I've always enjoyed ESK and ICOB.

          In regards to Backbar, how big is the space? The drink menu and food looks great. Is it well executed?

          1. re: Klunco

            Not sure Backbar would fit your description of "feels special", "elegant", "dress up" etc. unless you are looking for something with a more industrial/ underground vibe. Same with Brick & Mortar (the food I've had there has not been great, either, although I love the drinks and the bar itself, despite the less than comfortable seats).

            1. re: Klunco

              Backbar is an 8 seat bar with seating for 35. The drinks were well executed even by the staff member I did not know. The menu is a bit short but they can pull something out of their memories, drink book, or imagination for you.

              1. re: Klunco

                I think Hawthorne would be perfect for what you want. The space is very comfortable and unlike other places in the city and the drink-making is second to none.

                1. re: DoubleMan

                  I agree that The Hawthorne fits this request like a glove. You have your choice of seating types and areas, all of them comfy. Excellent, tailor-made cocktails, but there is a cocktail menu if you need a starting point. It's elegant but not pretentious, and you'll be treated like a king and queen (or like a queen and queen--sorry to have been presumptuous!). The snacks are reasonably priced. I've only had the cheeses, which are very good, but there's quite a bit to choose from. You'll want to spend most of your bucks and calories on the cocktails, though. Also, it's open until 2AM, so you can linger, unlike at the other places you mentioned.

                2. re: Klunco

                  The drinks/service at Backbar are top-notch and it is mellow (though I've only been on weeknights) but the space is fairly sparse and industrial: concrete floors, exposed pipes, some long low couches, etc. It's much more understated than upscale in decor.

                  1. re: Klunco

                    I'm not sure if Noir Bar has changed; like I said, I haven't been there in a couple of years. I never had an experience as bad as the one you describe, though.

                    Perhaps the bar at ICOB, bar at Craigie on Main or Oak Bar. Your parameters are pretty challenging!

                  2. re: Area Man

                    i have always been underwhelmed by service, drinks and food at noir, but the op might enjoy the bar at rialto upstairs.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Have the drinks at Rialto recovered after Todd Maul left? I went last 2 years ago, and they were mediocre and never was tempted to go back.

                  3. What about the Oak Bar? It has been quite some time since I have been there but I always enjoyed sipping on a martini, listening to live music (do they still offer that) and having a few appetizers.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hto44

                      I was going to suggest the Oak Bar. I haven't been for a while either, but I love the atmosphere.

                    2. On the craft cocktail front, I'd start with No. 9, but it no longer has a distinct bar menu, which makes it less of an affordable alternative to the dining room. The bar at Clio is a great option, but as mentioned, is closing soon for a matter of weeks. The Hawthorne and L'Espalier have been much cited, and I'd echo those.

                      The next step down would be nice hotel bars: less crafty cocktails but respectable drinks and a room that doesn't look askance at the dressed-up. I'd suggest the Avery Bar at the Ritz, the Bar at the Taj, the Bristol Lounge, the bar at Mooo...., the bar at KO Prime, the Rowes Wharf bar at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Bar 10 at the Westin, the Oak Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, Clink or the bar at Scampo at the Liberty, the bar at Brasserie Jo at the Colonnade, and the Last Hurrah at the Parker House.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      1. jumping in on the hawthorne recommendation: try for one of the little nook corners, maybe in the back living room

                        1. Another possibility might be The Saloon in Davis Square. Even if other people aren't dressed up, you wouldn't feel out of place. They have a small menu, but the food is delicious (I've had the hangar steak twice and it was cooked perfectly and the stuffed bacon-wrapped dates were amazing). The concept is a pre-Prohibition saloon, so the food is a modern take on classic food and you have to like brown liquor and traditional cocktails. The atmosphere is very cool -- brick, large banquettes, monastery doors... It's a fun place to go.

                          1. What about the bar at Rendezvous? Great food, service and cocktails in a warm environment.

                            I guess for anyplace, though, it's going to depend when you go. Mellow at 5:30 on a Tuesday is easy, not as much as 9pm on a Friday.

                            1. Hawthorne it is! Thanks everyone for the recs. We're definitely going to check out Backbar and Saloon in the next few weeks as well and then further on the horizon Clio's bar once they open. I'd like to try No 9 at some point, but it sounds better for a weeknight where we're not looking for food. Avery bar and Oak bar will have to be visited at some point as well. I think my 2012 resolution should be trying new lounges.

                              Thanks everyone!

                              1. Rumor has it that Ryan McGrale (formerly of 9 Park, Flatiron lounge, Hawthorne etc) will be taking over the bar at Clio in a month or so-- curious where Todd Maul will end up next?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: barleywino

                                  I have not heard, but that confirms a longstanding rumor. Maul really brought Clio/Uni's bar out of the dark ages and into the top tier. Wouldn't be surprised to see him end up somewhere in Camberville, as he lives on that side of the river. Ryan is a worthy replacement.

                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Most Peripatetic Bartender.