Is bigger better?
In Fenway, the Goliath of beer bars has arrived. Yard House Boston, the latest outpost of the California-based chain restaurant with over three-dozen locations, opened on Brookline Ave. surpassing every other bar in Boston with a whopping 140 unique taps of beer.
But is bigger better?
Yard House, located in the old Boston Billiard’s Club spot, is colossal, with tables and booths with seating for hundreds and flat screen TVs hanging in every direction. At the center of the massive dining room is the main attraction: a long oval, stainless steel bar at the center with more than 140 taps of beer.
“I was running around here like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to find the right beer,” my bartender tells me, about her first week working the huge bar.
Beers are organized by style, and include a Belgian, German and English selection, as well as major American craft breweries (Dogfish Head, Troegs, Stone), local beers (Wormtown, Wachusett, Pretty Things) and macro lagers. You can order a half pint (a “shorty,” as they call it), a pint, or a Yard, or get a “six-pack” of 5-ounce samplers.
The biggest gripe craft beer drinkers will have is that Yard House doesn’t list the ABV or the price of any beer on the menu, a minimum requirement for a place that prides itself on the beer selection. Secondly, Yard House suffers from a common big beer bar problem: while they have an enormous list, the majority of it is middle of the road beers that are widely available, with only a few different or genuinely hard to find options that make other beer bars stand out.
When any bar has this many taps, the concern is always about keeping the beer fresh and the lines clean, which the general manager, after I inquire about it, assures me they do, with a well-regimented cleaning and inspection routine. All of the beers I tried tasted clean and fresh.
The massive food menu consists of classic to upscale pub grub: burgers, sandwiches, pizza, tacos. I stuck to appetizers and snacks (of which there are more than 40 to choose from) and ordered the classic sliders ($10.65), on a recommendation from the bartender. They were four, depressing squareish patties of well-done beef, with a small half-melted square of cheddar cheese on top and a squirt of some kind of mayonnaise-based sauce, served with a basket of crispy shoestring fries.
I’m sure, however, that there are much better dishes. You’ll just have to dig your way through the eight-page, 130-plus dish menu to find them.
Reviewing a chain restaurant, of course, seems a bit unfair. At its best, a chain is reliably average and pleasant. At its worst, it’s depressingly average and boring.
That doesn’t mean Yard House isn’t enjoyable, and that it won’t be massively successful serving beer to hoards of Sox fans this summer. The patio with its separate 20-tap bar is gorgeous, split into three sections with glass-encased fire pits and heat lamps (and four TVs hanging over head, of course). Service throughout is overwhelmingly friendly and attentive and if you have a large party, finding seating will hardly be a problem.
Yard House claims to have the “World’s Largest Selection of Draft Beer,” which may well be true, but having 140 taps doesn’t make it a good beer bar, it makes it a big one.
Enjoying Yard House requires knowing the difference between a craft beer mecca and an average restaurant with a huge beer list. If you’re looking for the former, you’d do much better to head to one of the many excellent local beer bars in and around Boston. If it’s the latter, then Yard House will do just fine.