When UpStairs on the Square closed two years ago, the longstanding institution left a sizable, pink void in the Harvard Square dining scene. But for all its plaudits over the years for its culinary refinement, it was always something of an underrated bar. Parsnip, which took over the space in November, seems poised to carry on the legacy, while offering some improvements.
The biggest changes, in terms of imbibing, come in the remodeling of the downstairs dining room, and shifting the placement of the bar 90 degrees. It opens up the space, which is now less cluttered, cleaner, and more modern feeling. But it’s upstairs where the most exciting updates comes in. Formerly a rather staid dining room, the top floor space is now a cocktail-centric lounge. With the back-lit, geometrically funky backbar, chic lounge decor, two fireplaces, and scenic vantage over looking the Square through the preserved, ornate windows, it’s got the feel of a stylish hideaway from the rush of the streets below.
While you can snack on classy bar snacks, like parma ham with figs, truffle honey, and mustard leaves, or braised beef cheeks with minted mushy peas, and beer battered oysters, the focus up here, general manager Kevin Murphy says, is cocktails.
“It’s definitely the idea of the cocktail lounge,” he says. “That’s one of our favorite parts of the dining experience we’re excited to see make a comeback, the after dinner cocktail, or come up before dinner and sit by the fire and chat.”
Aiding in that conversation will be some well-selected classic cocktails, served in funky, eclectic glassware (although I could do without the hollow stem martini glasses, personally). The Ron Ward is made with manzanilla sherry, Bank Note scotch, lemon, macadamia orgeat, and grenadine, for a whirl of deep, wintry flavors, playing off the tradition of aging sherry in scotch barrels, and tied together with a little sweetness from the house-made grenadine.
Another winner comes in the form of The Cantabrigian, made with Applejack, Diep 9 Genever, Kina L'Aéro d’Or, the lightly spicy and bitter aperitif wine, Benedictine, Bokers and Peychaud’s bitters.
“It speaks to the eclectic neighborhood, with eclectic ingredients, things that date back a long ways like the genever, which is basically where gin came from, and Harvard is the neighborhood where education came from basically,” Murphy says of the homage to their new home.
“There are so many flavors that come together and create something amazing together. You’re gonna have a sweet finish with an herbaceous palate, great mouth feel and a little bit of warmth.”
That last bit describes drinking up here nicely as well.
91 Winthrop St., Cambridge