Photos by Chris Sanchez.
Somerville has recently become home to two newly opened craft cocktail bars, mixing up unique mélanges of old recipes and modern flair.
You won’t find any bathtub gin here—these speakeasies offer up mindfully blended fusions chockfull of carefully concocted ingredients that show just how much skill is behind these menus.
Located right beside Journeyman, Backbar (pictured above) is the craft cocktail concept of Sam Treadway, formerly of Drink. The space is a past garage, which comes out in the chic-industrial vibe—soaring ceilings and white washed walls, plus sable banquettes lounging around table-height wooden blocks.
The cocktail list touches on classic as well as modern interpretations—such as the light Union Mule ($11) with pear-infused gin, St. Germain, citrus, ginger, and spices—as well as daily and weekly specials. We went with one such concoction, the Dutchess ($10), a floral and pleasantly bitter mix of Campari, chartreuse, gin, and Pimm’s. If you’re feeling bold, ask for the bartender’s choice—name a liquor and a fruit and let them go to town.
Food is fairly limited and borrows from Journeyman’s menu. Bar nibbles include the treacherously addictive spicy caramel popcorn ($3) and pigato chips ($4), fried pork cracklings with sweet chili and mustard. Charcuterie and cheese plates are also on hand, as are daily sashimi, foie gras, and hot plate specials. Our serving of lamb rigatoni was tasty, but a little skimpy for $15, so be advised before coming in for potent cocktails on an empty stomach.
With nothing more than an illuminated glass lamp with a wee red logo to alert passersby to its presence, Saloon is Davis Square’s sneaky destination for swilling pre-Prohibition era cocktails while surrounded by intricate, salvaged woodwork and bluesy tunes.
Saloon’s cocktail list is king, crafted with love and care by veteran bartenders with an eye toward throwback classics like the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and T.W. Negroni, as well as a significant catalog of brown licka.
Boasting housemade potions like vermouth, chartreuse, and seasonal bitters, these witch’s brews have the power to turn your tongue upside down with blends like the smoky and sweet Ward 44 with pork belly whiskey, lemon, sugar, and grenadine, and the vibrantly green Naysayer, a dangerous wheat whiskey, lemon, wheatgrass, bitters, and ginger beer mix.
The food is traditional, turn-of-the-century (that’d be last century, FYI) Irish dishes like fish and chips, ploughman’s platters, and seasonally rotating meat pies. The devils on horseback (feta-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates, $12) offer a rich sweetness and smolder, while the bubble and squeak ($15) pops snappy sausages atop a delectable mashed root vegetable blend. Dessert was limited to cream puffs and a coarse chocolate pudding crowned with mint leaves, candied orange rind, and toffee bits—but, let’s be honest, you’re going to close out the meal with another cocktail, aren’t you?