Breweries continue to open up all over Greater Boston and elsewhere in New England, and they run the gamut from bare-bones facilities with award-winning beers (think Alchemist in Stowe, VT), to incredibly appealing spaces with beers you might not have heard of (for instance, Stone Corral in Richmond, VT), to sprawling multi-purpose spaces with excellent food to go along with top-quality brews (Jack’s Abby in Framingham).
Then there are breweries that don’t really feel like breweries, instead seeming to be more like cozy beer halls or old-fashioned pubs. Democracy Brewing in Downtown Crossing appears to fall into this category, and if early impressions are any indication, it has the potential to be a classic “old-Boston” spot even though it’s only been around since last July 4.
After more than a year of planning and construction, Democracy Brewing opened last summer in the former Windsor Button building on Temple Place. The space has the exact kind of charm that you would expect from an historic building in the heart of the city (the knitting and craft shop had been in that space for nearly 80 years). The rather anonymous exterior hides a vastly appealing interior that includes a long bar with communal tables running alongside it, a somewhat dramatic mural in the front area where a few tables are set up, more tables along the right wall that have wonderful old lights above them , a tiny “snug” beyond the bar that’s perfect for a small group looking for privacy, another small area at the very back end of the space, and an events/function room back and to the right, with its entrance consisting of an enormous doorway that you might see in an old bank or a theater. Dark woods and exposed brick also add to the charm, with the overall vibe being an interesting mix of German beer hall, Irish pub, and old-Boston watering hole.
If you’re wondering where the brewery part of the place is, just look down as you walk in. You’ll see all the tanks and other equipment on the lower level that becomes (mostly) hidden once you move farther into the main room. But there’s more than simply beer here; Democracy Brewing is one of an increasing number of breweries that focuses on both food and drink, unlike some that only offer snacks and/or have food trucks visit. The beer remains the main reason to come here for many though, and most of the ever-changing brews are quite good, with a couple of the highlights being the 1919 Strike, an outstanding oatmeal stout that’s smooth and with a hint of chocolate, and the Consummate Rioter, an IPA that has both the bitterness you might expect from a West Coast beer, as well as the citrusy tanginess that’s more common in New England.
Other options (that DigBoston missed on earlier visits) include More Than a Feeling, a tart and sour beer with a strong cherry taste; Rising of the Moon, an easy-to-drink Irish red ale; Heartbreak Hill, a Beligan-style ale that has a robust sweetness to it; Fighting 54th, a saison with a surprisingly sharp taste coming from lemongrass and clove; and Cellar Door, an English bitter ale that’s fairly low in alcohol and has hints of pine and black tea (they offer flights if you want to sample).
Food offerings at Democracy include your usual bar snacks like pickled veggies, ranch popcorn, tortilla chips and guacamole, pizza bagels (a popular item here), and fries. You can get entrees as well, including fish and chips, a fisherman’s stew, and shepherd’s pie with lamb. The items tried over the course of a couple of visits were very impressive for a brewery, with the beef barley soup having loads of barley and almost being a meal on its own. The macaroni and cheese, meanwhile, was of the old-school variety, and includes delicious cubes of lardon-style bacon that more places should offer. There’s also an excellent six-ounce burger served with Vermont cheddar and a house-made bun, as well as a breaded and charred chicken schnitzel that practically screams out “beer hall,” just like the massive beer pretzel that comes with ranch dressing, mustard, and onion dip.
Prices for food and drink are mostly reasonable, and servers are both friendly and efficient to a fault. This should come as no surprise, as Democracy Brewing is worker-owned and “democratically governed,” while management is focused on the space itself becoming some type of community center.
The local brewery scene is fascinating, in part because breweries tend to be so different from each other. Among the mix, Democracy Brewing seems to be particularly different—in part because it feels more like a typical historic Boston bar than a place where people make beer. There may be better spots for house-made brew in New England, and better places for food in the city, but there aren’t many places where good food, good beer, and great atmosphere meet, which makes this a place to watch and enjoy as more and more people discover it.
Democracy Brewing, 35 Temple Place, Boston. democracybrewing.com
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.