Photos by Derek Kouyoumjian
Harvard Square is in the midst of another of its periodic metamorphoses, this one marked by the introduction of more late night dining (Tasty Burger), new music venues (The Sinclair), and sleek restaurants with a nightclub vibe (The Beat Hotel).
Predictably, change in the Square's dynamic is accompanied by a fair amount of conflicted handwringing about lost identity and whatever else it is old people get mad about when young people are having fun. For those people — and any people who want to maintain a certain illusion about the neighborhood — The Red House offers a glimpse into the Harvard Square of the past. 1802 to be more precise.
The iconic cottage (it's red, as you may have guessed)— recently restored to maintain its turn of the 19th century quaint charm — is tucked away on Winthrop Street. So, while it's been something of a staple on the dining scene for years, and has a good reputation for its pan-European cuisine, it's often overlooked as a spot to grab a drink — or at least it's often overlooked by me.
All of the restaurant's historical notes — its small, low-ceilinged dining rooms and bar area, period-evocative design, an open fire pit and an alfresco patio with an oyster bar and taps — make it the yin to the nearby Charlie's Kitchen yang (both are owned by the same people). In short, it's a reserved, thoughtful alternative to the often over-crowded, high-energy bars in the area.
“It's a very calm, relaxed atmosphere,” says bar manager Dominic Conteras. “It's not too crazy. We're busy, but it retains that mellowness that can be hard to find in bars in Cambridge and Boston.”
A recent visit found cocktails that, while not technically drawn from the building's era, were evocative of the type of seasonal drinking you might have found at the time – particularly the abundance of apple-based concoctions.
The Big Apple takes a healthy dose of apple brandy and rye, two iconic American-style spirits (although it's Calvados in this case), with Carpano Antica and Angostura bitters. It's an easily sippable Manhattan variant (although it must be said that the angle-rimmed, curving martini glasses are sort of silly). Hot mulled cider takes apples sourced from the owners' farm in Winchendon. Elsewhere the Autumn Leaves — another rye cocktail taking green Chartreuse, Aperol, Maraschino and lemon — is a spicy, aromatic sip, although it could benefit from a bit less of the sweetness from the Maraschino.
Either of those three would be wise choices to sip outside on the patio, or, as the weather turns, inside by the fire.
“There's so much foot traffic, the patio is where you want to post up with a book and a beer, and check out all the eccentric characters that walk through the square,” Conteras says. The only detail that might make the scene more quaint is if the characters you were watching were those of 200 years past. Perhaps you can conjure them up after a few more ciders.