The northern suburb of Winchester may only be a ten-minute drive from the Boston line, but it feels like a world away, with its narrow, twisting lanes; its Victorian homes and mansions overlooking lakes, hills, and valleys; and its placid town center that looks like something out of the 1950s. And to no one’s surprise, until recently it was not a town you went to if you wanted to belly up to a bar and have a shot of whiskey and/or a beer. That started to change with the opening of Winchester’s first real bar in 2010 (the Black Horse Tavern), and with last year’s opening of First House Pub on Main Street, Winchester has actually become a not-so-bad place to enjoy some pub grub and adult beverages.
First House Pub has ownership connections with Conley’s, a very underrated neighborhood joint in Watertown, and much like that bar, First House feels like a place frequented by locals who may be looking to watch some sports, hang out with friends, or enjoy a meal without having to spend too much. The interior of the place is mostly broken up into dining on one side and drinking on the other, with a bar zigzagging its way along the right side of the space and a mix of high-top and low-top tables set up along the left side (the front part of the bar area also has some seating for diners). Because of its hard floor, high ceiling, and relatively tight space, the place can get loud when it is crowded, but the seats toward the back heading toward the kitchen are a bit quieter even on the busiest of nights.
Because it is Winchester, some may assume that First House Pub is an upscale tavern with inventive takes on comfort food, an endless beer list, and exotic cocktails. This is really more of a basic meat-and-potatoes type place, though—much like its sister spot Conley’s—and its food menu reflect this, with solid takes on wings, nachos, burgers, steak tips, fish tacos, and pizza (the thin-crust pizza is outstanding, by the way). The always-changing specials list is where the First House gets a bit creative with its pub food, including highlights such as a moderately spicy and tremendously delicious plate of buffalo potato skins (and why don’t more restaurants offer this?), heart-stoppingly good bacon and cheddar tater tots, charbroiled marinated swordfish tips, and lobster rolls that hover right around the $20 mark. The beer list is adequate for most, though true beer geeks may be wishing for more options from the local microbreweries, while a full bar offers decent options for shots and mixed drinks, though again, this is not a place to go for swank cocktails that include the use of such ingredients as egg whites, miso, or green apple shrub. Prices are quite reasonable at First House Pub, with most meals being well under $20 (and some being under $10).
Is First House Pub a game changer or a destination spot? No, but it isn’t really meant to be. What it is, however, is a sorely needed casual dining and drinking place in a town that used to have few options for the former and almost no options for the latter. And because Winchester Center is five minutes west of Route 93 and also happens to be on a commuter rail line from Boston, if you live in the city and want to do a quick trip to a quiet community for a bite and a beer, First House is easily doable.
FIRST HOUSE PUB. 528 MAIN ST., WINCHESTER. FIRSTHOUSEPUB.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.