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Saloon - Go, it is good

It is dark, no windows or TVs. The giant arch with background mirror came from the old Newbury Street location of the Capital Grille, and the other wood work was built to match. Good speak-easy music mix. Knowledgable staff open to talking about the food. Deep fry talent - the beer battered pickled peppers are really tasty. As is the fish and chips, oh yes - I've yet to have the raved about Druid's, but this is my new favorite for now. Other choices on the menu will be tried. Wifey got the hamburger sliders, blue cheesed and shaved vegetable toppings build-your-own style. Champagne cocktails for the lady, icy shaken martini for the gent. Comfy place to cool your heels..

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  1. Pickled peppers are awesome. Sliders are excellent. Their savory pies are very worthwhile.

    Surprisingly, I wasn't a big fan of the pork belly entree. Instead of a nice, crisp-skinned piece of belly, this was more just a really fatty piece of pork.

    Their real specialty is brown liquors. If you like bourbons, ryes, and whiskies, you'll be in heaven.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Boston_Otter

      Funny, I had the same problem with the pork belly at Deep Ellum-- even on the second try, they were unable to produce a crispy skin, just fat. I did like the hanger steak at Saloon and one of their bourbon drinks (now off the menu I think).

      1. re: Boston_Otter

        I find their bourbon list curious in that they have many bourbons I've never heard of and omit many I know - even good ones. This isn't a problem, just notable. No A.H. Hirsch 16- or 20-year bourbon, however, but you can't get that except at auction AFAIK. A couple are misspelled, which is only a problem if you look 'em up - specifically, it's "Old Bardstown," not "Old Bartstown."

        1. re: enhF94

          I've found that they have a lot of bourbons behind the bar that aren't on the list -- check to see if they've got your favorites. Until I asked, I didn't know that they have a nice selection of hard-to-find Van Winkle whiskies and rye.

          1. re: Boston_Otter

            Dig that. I just checked the Van Winkle website and saw two "Old Rip Van Winkle" products I haven't seen before. Last I checked (a year ago), you can get all the Pappy Van Winkles from Downtown Wine & Spirits down the block from Saloon.

            B_Otter, you probably knew all this. Posting for the google searcher.

      2. Yeah, despite agreeing with negative reviews of Foundry on CH, and even though Foundry and Saloon share a kitchen, I've really enjoyed both meals I've had there so far. The gnocchi were nicely seasoned, if weirdly plated on a board.

        I think their model for dessert is: two every night, chef's whim each night, one's chocolate and one's fruit. I like that idea a lot, but I've found the desserts to be meh across the board.

        1. Interesting. I was pretty unimpressed with my drink when I went to Saloon. I think I ordered an old-fashioned and it was kind of awful for a bar with such a strong whiskey-focus.

          24 Replies
          1. re: maillard

            Yeah, other threads report a huge disparity in quality from drink to drink, bartender to bartender, etc.

            The bartenders seemed pretty excited about a shot with a pork belly garnish that seemed overly hipsterish to me, but (forgive my haughtiness here) what do you expect from bartenders who wear both suspenders and belts simultaneously?

            Fortunately, I solve that by 1. ordering bourbon and branch; 2. calling cocktails they don't know, so they use my recipe and ask me if they did it right.

            1. re: enhF94

              "A shot with a pork belly garnish" more evidence that the cocktail thing (and I LOVE a good cocktail) has jumped the shark.

              1. re: enhF94

                It's sad that it isn't better, since Davis doesn't really have any decent bars (or am I missing something?). I've kind of given up and go elsewhere for cocktails and just drink whiskey in Davis.

                That shot sounds disgusting, but I guess I am comforted knowing that the bartenders' pants will certainly stay up.

                Ha, bourbon and branch makes me think of James Bond. What sort of cocktails don't they know? (I guess if they can't properly make an old fashioned it shouldn't be too hard to find other classic cocktails that they don't know.)

                1. re: maillard

                  Saloon is a top-notch bar with guys who really know their stuff. They have a fantastic selection of bourbons and the bartenders have been very knowledgeable and happy to offer suggestions on cocktails when I've been there.

                  Upstairs, Foundry also has a very good bar, though their food has been wavering of late.

                  I've also had good luck at The Burren, Painted Burro, and Five Horses Tavern.

                  Not sure what your criteria for a "decent bar" is, but from my point of view, we've got a glut of 'em.

                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                    While I lean toward the Maillard view here, I can agree that the Saloon bar staff are enthusiastic and care about having a good cocktail program. For both Foundry and Saloon, I imagine they're already doing well enough now to stay in business, and I hope they are interested in stretching themselves to improve.

                    As for specific cocktails, I hesitate to name my favorites for fear of outing myself, but it's a wide field. Egg white cocktails often puzzle bartenders, for example (though there's a wide range of willingness between restaurants to flout their local health inspector's guidelines, and very few places bother pasteurizing eggs even though immersion circulators make it easy.

                    But I way, way digress.

                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                      I'm sure the Saloon bartenders are super nice people, they just made me a terrible cocktail. I do like the space, though, so I'm sure I'll be back.

                      I will not ever be back to Foundry, though. Their bartenders are kind of awful. They made my friend a cocktail that was basically just a cup of lemon juice and maybe some vodka and I once sat at the bar (when it was nearly empty) for 20 minutes waiting for the bartender to stop chatting with friends and bring my drink before giving up and leaving.

                      That's a good point, "decent bar" is a pretty vague and subjective thing. I guess what I meant by it was a bar that can make a proper cocktail (nothing crazy, just an old fashioned or something along those lines). Some bars that I like are Brick & Mortar, Green Street, Eastern Standard, and Drink.

                      I haven't been to Painted Burro or Five Horses yet. I'll have to check them out. But so far the closest bar to Davis that fits my criteria is Highland Kitchen, which is a bit of a hike.

                      1. re: maillard

                        I find that the bartenders at Posto make a good cocktail. Not on the level of the places you mentioned, but good. I also think Foundry makes bad cocktails.

                        1. re: pollystyrene

                          That's interesting to hear. Posto has for a while been in my "can't even make a proper gin and tonic, so just get whiskey here" category (I wish I could remember exactly what was so bad about the gin and tonic, I just remember being annoyed). I think that the quality of what you get there varies a ton there depending on who's bartending (and who's in charge of the bar program... I think it's changed a few times).

                          But if you've been getting good drinks there lately, I will definitely give them another try. I actually was trying to come up with bars that I like but that aren't at that Eastern Standard/Drink level... maybe Russell House Tavern? I also think that my opinion of bars might differ based upon whether I'm ordering off their drink menus or asking them to make something else. It seems like most places the bartenders can make the drinks on the menu fine, but only some places can they make a different cocktail that you ask for.

                          1. re: maillard

                            The last time I went to Posto, my friends and I placed our drink orders, and the waiter came by and said "The bartender says he only knows how to make the drinks that are on our cocktail menu." One of my friends had ordered a gin and tonic, another a gimlet, and they were too difficult for the bartender to attempt. I'm glad they found an actual bartender since then!

                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                              Ha! We must've been there around the same time.

                            2. re: maillard

                              The last time I was there was 3 months ago, so not super-recently. Before that, a couple of times about a year ago. Each time I remembered thinking that if I ever lived in Davis Sq., at least there would be one place to get a good cocktail. I didn't give it the "ordering off the menu" test, though. That's pretty bad if they can't put together a decent gin and tonic! Maybe they're like Gaslight, where most of the bartenders are well-trained to make what's on the cocktail menu, but inept at anything else. Luckily, that's fine by me since there are always a couple of drinks I really like on the menus at both places.

                        2. re: Boston_Otter

                          Hmmm, I continue to have pretty bad luck here. I went back recently and decided I would order a drink off of their drink menu in order to give them the best chance of success. I saw that they had a manhattan on the menu and was going to go with that. Fortunately, I couldn't get anyone to take my order (there were 3 bartenders and a pretty empty bar, so not sure what the problem was). While I was waiting I realized that the manhattan cost $16! That's pretty ridiculous. It didn't have any particularly expensive ingredients, so I'm not sure why that drink was so much pricier than the rest of the menu.

                          I order a whiskey. They poured it into a glass perfectly, so at least there's that. But watching the bartender make a drink for someone else a bit later made me glad I hadn't ordered a cocktail. It looked a bit of a mess. It's possible it tasted glorious and perfect, but I'm not super excited to pay $12 for a drink that's been spilled all over the outside of the glass. Maybe I am just too particular.

                          I still like the space a lot, so I guess this can be my fancy place to get a whiskey (with Sligo being my preferred non-fancy whiskey spot).

                          1. re: maillard

                            I don't know why that particular manhattan cost $16, but you can get a manhattan made with any whiskey/bourbon in house (the whiskey menu lists prices for each brand they stock) so it must have simply been the brand being used. I'm sorry you felt like you had bad luck, but given that you didn't order said manhattan, saw one sloppy drink made (which is unusual), and enjoyed your straight-up whiskey, I don't know what to say.

                        3. re: maillard

                          I think that Davis has such a high population of young people that they have a captive audience, and places can succeed by just being decent.

                          1. re: yarm

                            That's definitely true, and Foundry quickly fell into that trap after a brief period of being excellent.

                            But while we don't have a custom-cocktail place on the level of Drink in the neighborhood, what other bars in the Cambridge/Somerville area are more than decent? I think of Davis spots as being above average but perhaps I'm just used to the area. I do lament the loss of the bar at Gargoyle's.

                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                              Brick & Mortar, backbar, Green St., Craigie, Rendezvous come to mind as being places I would cross the river to visit.

                              My understanding is that the bar program has changed a bit since Tom Mastricola got the ball rolling at the outset.

                              1. re: rlee21

                                I liked the drinks at Backbar, but the space is so tiny and crammed that I'd forego their unique cocktail program for the comfortable, cool, and old-timey space at Saloon any day. But I'm not much of a scenester :)

                                1. re: Boston_Otter

                                  Next door to Backbar at the Independent is a solid program. It recovered after bar manager Evan Harrison left to Deep Ellum (now at Brick & Mortar) with a solid cocktail program and double the tap lines.

                                  Other solid cocktail programs I would rather visit in Cambridge/Somerville than Saloon: Bergamot, Trina's, Highland Kitchen, Backbar, independent, Craigie, Green Streen, Rendezvous, Brick & Mortar, West Bridge, Hungry Mother, Park (in Harvard Square), Russell House Tavern, and Temple Bar. Perhaps Chez Henri and Abigail's depending on who is bartending.

                                  1. re: yarm

                                    The Quebecois cocktail at Bergamot is currently my favorite drink in town. Thanks for mentioning it! Their bar is excellent.

                                    1. re: yarm

                                      Late to this thread and also not a cocktail weenie. But Scott at Rendezvous has never let me down. He is a master.

                                  2. re: rlee21

                                    Yeah, I'd take Central over Davis any day for that sorta thing. That's not to say that I need super awesome drink making skillz - I'm more about who I'm with and a comfortable atmosphere than worrying about the rest, I can always order something neat or a beer if I don't like what they're doing.

                          2. re: maillard

                            I concur. The one I had was really poorly made. When I inquired with the one bartender out of 4 who was jiggering what the recipe was, it wasn't even close to what I saw made. The gin and Chartreuse proportions were swapped and the lime and pineapple syrup were a small squirt each -- those squirts were supposed to be 1/2 and 1 ounce. The first two ingredients were so overpoured that a lot was still left in the shaker and got dumped. The drink lacked lime and pineapple flavors with the former a bit disturbing in something labeled a Sour.

                            When I was sitting at another establishment's bar, the bartender there brought up Saloon. He said that he went with his brother, and his brother ordered an Old Fashioned. Once his brother saw the bartender mash the orange slice in his hand and drop it in the glass instead of muddle it, he quickly asked for the whiskey to be served neat.

                            The people who have seemed pleased with what they have gotten were the ones ordering whiskey or beer. If I want beer, I can go to Flatbread (great selection of Massachusetts beers!), or Underbones though.

                            http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/

                            1. re: yarm

                              I also ordered an old fashioned my first time there, and thought it was pretty bad. It's probably my favorite cocktail and since Saloon touted itself as an "old fashioned" whiskey bar I thought it was a safe bet. I immediatley switched to beer and shots. They are super nice there though,
                              Backbar in Union Sq. is much, much better IMO, both for drinks and atmosphere.

                            2. They should get their website optimized so the 1 page bourbon menu (in Microsoft Word format) isn't 5.9MB and on a slow downloading feed....painful.

                              Their single malt selection is small but with some worthy drams to select from.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Gabatta

                                I was about to write the same thing! 5.9MB was brutal. I like the large Rye selection as well. Irish gets the shaft as always, but since they are clearly focused on Bourbon and have such unique selections, I'll give it to them.

                                Despite fancy "cocktail" menus just about everywhere these days, I learned a while ago that the only foolproof cocktail is whiskey neat, with a glass of water on the side.

                                I feel you guys on the old-fashioned, I've found I've had to be increasingly specific when I'm out and ordering one. I think this is a result of more old-fashioned drinkers (a good thing) but more variations and preferences because of that. At least he didn't add Sprite or make an "Old-Fashioned Smoothie" as I called what I recently had at one place. A quarter orange and cherry pulverized in a glass with way to much simple syrup and whiskey added. Like chewing whiskey soaked orange peel.

                              2. What I expected was the exact opposite of what happened--really liked the food, but was unimpressed by the cocktails (had the Americana and a Scofflaw variation). Fish and chips were very good, though the fries a little salty. Artisanal cheese of the day a nice presentation, and I tried my DC's grilled cheese and tomato soup & liked it. Decor is wonderful - a great place to be on a hot night. Service was good too. Will try it again, but Posto still remains my favorite for best cocktails in Davis Square.