Last August, word circled round the culinary campfire in town that the long-standing citadel of South End dining Hamersley’s Bistro would be closing after 27 years in business. And for a time, there was a great crying out of sadness, a fare-thee-well, and then … silence.
But now that the coveted restaurant space next door to the Boston Center for the Arts (and its prized 50-seat outdoor brick patio) has been claimed by Rebecca Roth Gullo and the Gallows Group (who also own Blackbird Doughnuts down the street, as well as the Gallows), the ambient din of a bustling eatery is about to return. The team has enlisted Phillip Tang, the beloved chef and owner of the permanently closed sliver of a Chinese noodle restaurant East by Northeast in Cambridge, to help usher in a new era of Asian gastropub glory to a now-legendary corner of the South End’s dining scene. For Tang, the new roomy enclave will present new challenges and an exciting environment for him and his staff, as well as diners.
“For a project of this size and the volume we’re going to do, it’s all about food quality,” he says. “East by Northeast was easy to manage, as every plate came through me and the number of dishes were not that varied. But I’m most excited about moving away from the shackles of trying to put everything into … modern Chinese noodles. That was a major focus, and it’s fine, but this is just a free for all. We can do whatever we want. The freedom of space here is great.”
And that space is largely unrecognizable from its former incarnation. The interior has been essentially gutted and reworked from top to bottom, with a blown-out and expanded bar space (making it an inevitable go-to for the after-work and residential crowds of the South End and Back Bay), a lot of reptile-green leather booths, natural-edge woodwork, and ornate timber installations assembled by hand on-site. The kitchen is still exposed, but now houses a chef’s counter that’s part raw bar and part two-seater private counter space for a front-row vantage point to see all the fun happening behind the line.
Tang says the history behind the space and having the chance to bring an Asian gastropub with Chinese, Southeast, and Southern Asian influences to the neighborhood is exciting, but it’s the ability to change up food formats and manage a larger volume that is driving him here. The food will vary from the raw bar and small bites to grilled items you’d traditionally find with dim sum (think: charred broccoli rabe in smoked oyster sauce and crispy garlic, pork wontons in spicy sesame sauce). There will also be larger format shared-plate offerings like Korean BBQ and platters of Asian style fried chicken (“Food that’s good to share with a communal feel,” says Tang), and a Southeast Asian-influenced sausage platter. Still, while Tang is ready to man a much bigger kitchen, he acknowledges that in order to win fans and keep people coming back, it’s going to come down to execution.
“There’s a lot of moving parts here and that’s the difficulty of large restaurants,” he says. “Here consistency [will be] key. What’s the point of putting new dishes out every week if we don’t nail them? So as we get our footing and comfortable in the space, then we [will] really play around and get more interesting.”
BANYAN BAR + REFUGE. SLATED TO OPEN MID-JULY. 533 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. 617-425-0200. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT FACEBOOK.COM/BANYANBOSTON
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.