Not really a speakeasy, but a great neighborhood bar
Chances are, when a bar calls itself a speakeasy, it’s really not, since not too many bars from the Prohibition era still exist. But it doesn’t really matter that they use this label, as many if not most of them are great places for hanging out simply because of the atmosphere, whether truly authentic or not. One good example of this is a watering hole in North Cambridge called Joe Sent Me, which resides in a charming old space and has the feel of a Prohibition-era bar when in reality, it had once been home to at least one very scary dive. But JSM is anything but scary, and it has the type of old-school atmosphere found at such legendary spots as Doyle’s and J.J. Foley’s. And it also has a decent enough food and drink selection to make all but maybe the pickiest people happy.
Joe Sent Me sits along a mini-restaurant row on Mass Ave a few blocks from the Arlington line, within walking distance of Qingdao Garden, Suvaai, Shega Cafe, Hana Sushi, Greek Corner, Frank’s Steak House, Fiorella’s Express, the Table at Season to Taste, and UpperWest (which is technically on Cedar Street). But oddly enough, this is the only true bar along this stretch of road, which actually used to house several local drinking joints years ago, including the Lion’s Den, the aforementioned scary bar that was once in Joe Sent Me’s space and which was not exactly for the faint of heart.
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t a place to be wary of by any means; instead it’s a simple spot to have a bite to eat and a drink in the dining areas or maybe a round or two at the bar while watching a game or listening to music on the jukebox. The front and rear dining sections (and the short hallway that connects the two) are where the historic-feeling “speakeasy” vibe tend to come through the strongest, with the tin ceiling, exposed brick, dark woods, and various memorabilia, knick-knacks, and pictures—including some great ones of Dean Martin, Mick Jagger, and Paul Newman—adding a ton of character to the space. One thing that is definitely not a feature of a true speakeasy is the large windows in the front dining room, but these are great for doing some always-interesting people-watching along Mass Ave.
When it comes to food, places that go with a speakeasy theme run the gamut from elevated comfort food (like the wonderful Lucky’s Lounge in Boston’s Fort Point) to places with limited food options that instead focus on beverages (the renowned Drink in Fort Point comes to mind) to pub grub and American classics. Joe Sent Me is firmly entrenched in this last category, offering great but simple takes on burgers, steak tips, fish and chips, macaroni and cheese, fajitas, hand-cut fries, and wings.
For standouts, the burgers and wings are especially impressive here, with the wings challenging some of the best found in the Greater Boston area, though perhaps not quite at the level of the legendary Buff’s Pub in Newton Corner. Drinks are similarly simple and straightforward at Joe Sent Me, with the beer list including a mix of mass-market options and craft brews from New England and beyond, while basic cocktails and shots are a good bet (but don’t come here looking for specialty drinks like you might find at Lucky’s or Drink because it’s not that kind of place). Prices are very reasonable for nearly everything, though if you start doing shots of certain whiskeys (and they do have some good whiskeys here), the bill can go up pretty quickly.
Let’s face it—Joe Sent Me didn’t exist in the 1920s and people have never had to give a password out front or go through a curtained door or winding staircase to get in. But when you come right down to it, who cares, really, that the speakeasy theme is just that—a theme—because the bottom line is, this is a cozy and comfortable neighborhood spot that has good food, decent drinks, and the type of atmosphere that’s about as far from the generic chains as you can get. And when you really think about it, what more do you want from a neighborhood bar? For some of us, at least, not a whole lot more than what JSM has to offer. [Ed note: Joe Sent Me can also be found on Main Street in Waltham.]
JOE SENT ME. 2388 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. JOE-SENT-ME.COM/CAMBRIDGE
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.