Fenmore American Bistro has just a bit too much history to live up to
A lot has changed about Kenmore Square in the past decade or so.
That’s either a good or a bad thing, depending on your thoughts on gentrification, and how grimy your studded leather jacket was in the ‘90s. But one thing that has been relatively unsullied by change is the iconic Hotel Buckminster, which has presided over the square since 1897.
Bigger, fancier hotels have moved in – the Hotel Commonwealth kind of sets the tone for the whole neighborhood now — but the Buckminster has long been a reminder of the area’s somewhat more ignoble past (and not just for the debauched parties my friends and I used to throw there, or the past few years of sketchy late night karaoke sung at the hotel’s now-defunct Maluken bar).
Fenmore American Bistro, a new bar and restaurant in the same space, hopes to draw on that storied lineage. It was, after all, as the menu at the Fenmore points out, the site of the infamous fixing of the 1919 World Series. Later on, it would be home to a groundbreaking radio station, a holding cell for prisoners of war during WWII and — more excitingly — the site of the legendary Storyville nightclub in the 1950s, where it hosted everyone from Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker to Billie Holiday. That’s a lot of history to live up to. Sadly, it just sort of blends into the crowd now.
The new space is a perfectly lovely, serviceable bar and restaurant, all clean, sharp lines, and inviting creams. It’s a cross between a hotel bar, a sports bar and a higher-end cocktail lounge…and yet it exists in a limbo of sorts between all three. Fenway-colored prints decorate the walls, and high-backed, comfortable bar seats make for a good perch for one of the TVs, so it’s a more sophisticated option for a quick beer before or after the game than a lot of the touristy, over-sized beer halls around the corner.
On the other hand, the lack of a full liquor license stops it from being able to compete with tonier digs nearby, such as The Hawthorne, that better appeal to the more refined drinker and baseball fan’s palate. You’d imagine, then, that they’d excel at beer, to compensate for the lack of booze. No such luck. The eight taps are all predictable domestic fair, and the 20-odd bottles are similarly unremarkable, save a few options from Victory and Brooklyn. Four different types of Miller on hand though, so, you know, that’s something.
That said, the service is exceptionally friendly and the comfortable room makes for a nice respite from the throngs heading to the game. Just don’t expect any stories to be told about this place decades down the line.