Great real estate doesn’t always mean a restaurant or bar is going to be a natural fit to the area. Consider the space at 94 Mass Ave. that’s now in its third incarnation following the closing of Match — and before that the Blue Cat Cafe, both of which were, counterintuitively, too slick for the upper Newbury section of Back Bay. Now in the hands of the Lyons Group, the newly christened 94 Mass Ave hopes to buck that trend.
“We’re trying to focus on the neighborhood and connect with the people around us,” says manager Dimitra Tsourianis.
The innocuous sounding name and the lack of a sign out front are part of the plan to absorb some of the Back Bay’s inherent charm.
“We went with no name because we wanted it to feel like someone’s house,” Tsourianis says.
The only touch diners might recognize from Match is the huge fireplace along the back wall. “We were like, ‘We can’t get rid of this 12-foot-wide fireplace,’ so we framed it, made it look like a mantle you would have in a Back Bay residence. That’s also how the name stuck,” says Tsourianis.
Discarded alternative names for the space were repurposed on the cocktail menu in drinks like the Snack Bar, Public Common and Book Club. Those options speak toward the less flashy, more casual vibe inside (relatively speaking, of course — it’s still quite dark and stylish here). But dominoes tournaments on Monday nights, $2.50 cans of Tecante and a willingness to incorporate customer feedback on the cocktail list show they’re not taking themselves too seriously.
“A lot of places do classic cocktails or tiki cocktails really well, we didn’t want to do that.” Tsourianis says. “I watched the bartenders’ interactions with guests who tell them different flavors they want. They have so much they can do, a kitchen they can use, our chef is making us blueberry sauce, for the Pomp and Circumstance (gin, blueberry sauce, apple cider, sparkling wine, thyme)...The favorite thing for our bartenders to do is to make something not on the menu and customize things for guests.”
I asked for the Public on the Rocks (gin, dill, lime, Maraschino liqueur) minus the rocks, although that might not have served the drink well. Tsourianis suggests ordering a shot carved out of an edible cucumber cup.
“I like doing it with mezcal. It’s not for everyone, but we’ll do it with Hendrick’s, grapefruit and mint as well. People know they can come in and order things that aren’t on menu and get some interesting treats.”