Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Irish Pubs Part 5

Conveniently located between Harvard and Porter Square, Temple Bar offers a warm and welcoming charm. Accented by exposed brick, oversized mirrors, lights and booths and an oak enamored paneling, guests enjoy the buzz and excitement of Temple Bar.

While waiting for a table, guests are drawn Temple Bar's unique copper bar. Alive with people it offers conversation and a chance to unwind.

The late night lounge scene brings a trendy and intimate atmosphere completed with Temple Bar's signature Drink List.
-from the website of Temple Bar, pictured above

Cambridge, which borders both Boston and Somerville, has always had a reputation for marching to the beat of a different drummer. This is why it's not surprising that, in the shadow of Harvard University, Irish immigrants were busy hatching pub schemes that deviated a bit from the model previously discussed.

I went to work at the Harvard Square House of Blues around Thanksgiving of 1996. One of my fellow junior managers was a likeable young Galway native named Ultan and nicknamed "The Horse". Ultan had a second job bartending at Harvard Square's first immigrant pub, called Grafton Street, on Tuesday evenings.

Grafton Street was on Massachusetts Avenue in the former location of a goofy 1970s concept restaurant called One Potato Two Potato. I went there the afternoon that I got my first HOB paycheck on Ultan's recommendation. Expecting the uniformity I had come to know from these pubs in three short years I was surprised, though not pleasantly, when I arrived there.

Grafton Street had emphasized interior decoration and ambient lighting to the point of poor taste. It was expensive and full of people putting on heirs. The most charitable description I could come up with for the food was "interesting".

Rather than go the bland pub food route the cooking team at this tavern overcompensated by taking a kitchen sink approach to the use of spices and sauces. The cuisine called to mind the creations of overzealous, pubescent home economics students. People still "ate it up", to turn a phrase. After all Grafton Street was a place to "be seen".

A couple of years later the proprietors of Grafton Street would open an even more grandiose pub further up Massachusetts Avenue towards Harvard Law School. Nearly everyone I knew was mortified as our beloved Nick's Beef and Beer morphed into Temple Bar, a venture that reached new heights in off the boat opulence.

While Grafton Street retained some Irish trappings Temple Bar would have been more at home on Boylston or Newbury Streets in Boston's Back Bay than in Cambridge. It was more of a trendy, post modern restaurant than a pub. The young and international crowd reflected this.

The blending of Crimson and Green would continue into this decade in and around Harvard Square. Grafton Street closed only to reopen an equally gaudy bar of the same name a block up the road. Daedelus opened on Mount Auburn, and when I scouted it as a place to take a date once the mincing maitre'd glared at my Slapshot t-shirt.

And there was the third salvo fired by the Grafton Street/Temple Bar owners on the everyday drinkers of Cambridge.

Though I was no longer at The House of Blues when it opened earlier in this decade Redline, a trendy basement Bistro, had replaced an old after work haunt of mine from those days called The Crimson Sports Grill. Redline was another fruit-flavored, overpriced travesty.

Things came full circle when a chain called Tommy Doyle's opened in the former House of Blues, which they of course painted deep green. Figuring that the market was saturated with swank lounges they returned to deep fried form and got back to brass railing basics. When I visited last year it looked almost exactly like the Irish Embassy I remembered from more than a decade prior.


Chris Rich said...

Rough, the food scheme sounds like they were trying to glom onto John's cooking at Green Street Grill, but lacking, John's native carribbean insight, they made a ridiculous hash of it.

Some wag, I think it was Pynchon, once said 'You'll never go broke overestimating the stupidity of the American public'.

Chris Rich said...

Hey, I just had the wierdest epiphany.

I bet these dumps are an IRA money laundering operation.

Once the IRA discovered it could make bundles of money smuggling things besides guns and explosives, they became a mafia and probably need some sort of money parking ploy and what better place than the worlds best IRA safe house.

EricDoberman said...

Nothing would shock me. There are plenty of sketchy characters in the immigrant community.

I don't really find anything odd about Boston's IRA presence, or the sympathy which that outfit enjoys among the American cousins of its operatives.

I'm sure you could say the same thing about Israel's Kach Party in Brooklyn or any number of Islamist groups in Dearborn, MI.

It's about immigrant demographics, and naive hyphenated Americans, more than anything else.

Chris Rich said...

Ethnic settlement patterns are fascinating. For example, Somerville is home to america's largest Tamil population.

Some pioneer group lands some where, writes home and you end up with cool new restruants.

Seattle has a growing population of Iraqi refugees from the first gulf war and east africans more or less run the cabbie scene.