It seems like a lot of beer bars and cocktail lounges have popped up over the past few years in the Boston area, including a few hip, chic places that tend to get big crowds. Ten to 15 years ago, it was a little tougher to find a place with an endless beer list or a solid list of classic and modern cocktails, with a few coming to mind back then, including Cambridge Common among the former and No. 9 Park in Boston among the latter, both of which remain open and very popular.
The old guard also includes an often-overlooked spot in Allston called Deep Ellum that first opened 11 years ago—a short time before the beer and cocktail crazes started to get underway—and which has the best of both worlds when it comes to outstanding beers and well-made mixed drinks. The word “gastropub” gets bandied about way too often these days, but this Cambridge Street establishment is in some ways your classic gastropub that’s worthy of the title, and one that’s more unpretentious and unassuming than some of the newer options out there.
Deep Ellum is off the beaten path in some ways, several blocks west of the heart of Allston Village in Union Square (and no, Somerville isn’t the only place with a Union Square), though the block in which it resides has quite a few dining and drinking options and has been heating up over the past few years. The storefront for the place looks positively tiny from the outside, but it’s deceiving, as the interior extends pretty far back while a two-level patio behind the place adds a good amount of additional seating during the warmer months. In a way, Deep Ellum has a slightly similar feel to Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge’s Inman Square when it comes to both atmosphere and concept, from the old-feeling bars to the hidden patios to the food and drink options, though Deep Ellum feels, well, more “Allstony” in its edginess while Atwood’s has a more earthy “Cambridgey” vibe to it. (Also, Atwood’s has live music on a regular basis.)
While Deep Ellum is known for its food, beer, and cocktails, for some, it’s really all about the beer. The beer list hits the absolute sweet spot of having tremendous offerings in a relatively short list, so you won’t spend all day searching through hundreds of options and having to keep telling the server to come back because you really don’t know what to order. So what kinds of beers are offered here? The list is ever-changing, but at any given time, you could find options from Crooked Stave (which makes mind-blowingly good beers, by the way), Lawson’s, Trillium, Melvin, Spencer, Founders, Timothy Taylor’s, Westmalle, and Rochefort. For those who’d rather opt for a cocktail, it’s tough to go wrong with the relatively mild but very refreshing barrel-aged negroni, the summery beachcomber mai tai, or the various manhattans offered—including some truly old-school versions. Wine and spirits are also front and center at Deep Ellum, with the latter including a lengthy list of scotch, Irish whiskey, bourbon, and rye options.
Food may seem like an afterthought to some in part because this is often seen as a beer bar only, but the food menu, while relatively limited, has some real highlights, including a wonderful Swissbakers pretzel with whole-grain mustard and a pub cheese sauce on the side; a nicely presented plate of deviled eggs; a rich poutine made with duck gravy; tinned fish (a hot craze these days) with tuna and sardines being two options; a hefty burger with Vermont cheddar cheese and an Iggy’s brioche roll; a house sausage plate that is ever-changing with one option being sweet and spicy Italian sausages; a solid version of a reuben with corned beef that’s lean without being too lean; and an excellent version of macaroni and cheese that changes seasonally, with the version right now including bacon, tomatoes, and caramelized onions.
Deep Ellum is well-known among Allston residents, college students, and beer geeks and beer nerds alike, but it seems to be somewhat under the radar overall, especially with all of the new and shiny beer bars and cocktail lounges popping up all over the Boston area these days. But this place still does it right after more than a decade in business, and for those who hesitate at going to Allston because of the crowds of people there, this may be the time to go, since we’re smack dab in the middle of the summer and so many of the students are out of town, making it pretty easy to get a table—and find parking if you drive.
DEEP ELLUM. 477 CAMBRIDGE ST., ALLSTON. DEEPELLUM-ALLSTON.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.