I never thought I’d be the type of person to mourn the loss of a convenience store, but when Tasty Burger opened its Harvard Square location in the old 7-Eleven space on JFK Street, I found myself doing just that. The only thing I’m less interested in seeing opening around here than banks are fast food chains — even small, locally owned ones. I felt that loss particularly sorely because it was one of the only convenience stores in the area that actually sold beer. It felt like visiting a different city, one where they trust customers to behave like adults.
It was, in part, for that reason that it’s taken me about a year to get around to checking out the offshoot of the ever-growing burger chain (which has locations in Southie and Fenway as well), despite my appreciation for its ownership group, who are also behind The Franklin Cafe and Citizen Public House. Aside from the street level takeout restaurant, there’s also an underground bar area. It’s a big, cavernous space, with tall red brick walls decorated with graffiti-style art and prints, the type of things you’d see on the wall of a college kid’s dorm room. In fact, that’s the general feel of the space: a slightly cooler than average campus pub and rec room. (There’s a pool table and juke box, as well.)
One thing it doesn’t have, however, is a full liquor license, which is another thing that’s kept me away for so long. But on a couple recent visits, I found it to be a perfectly welcoming space to duck away from the world, watch some afternoon football and drain a few cans of beer, even if I’m still not on board with the appeal of the fast food-style burgers and hot dogs on offer here — or anywhere else, for that matter. Fast food is still fast food, no matter how cool the room that you’re eating it in.
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Fortunately, the beer selection more than makes up for the lack of spirits, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the well-sourced, broad product inventory at Citizen. Forty-plus beers is just about the sweet spot before a list gets too unwieldy, or unsold product starts to go bad. Tasty Burger has 12 tap lines, with drafts ranging from $5.75 to $6.75, and pitchers from $10 for PBR to $25 for the likes of Ommegang and Rapscallion. The real treasure trove, however, comes in the 30 or so canned beers. They’ve got all the usual suspects here, from Cisco, Sixpoint, 21st Amendment, Dale’s Pale Ale and Brooklyn, to macro-hip cans like High Life, Narragansett, PBR and Coors, as well as some less familiar faces like Glutenberg Blonde and Little Yella Pils.
Last year was the year of the canned beer, if not much else, with larger selections showing up on bar menus, and many breweries shifting toward the format (like Sam Adams, who introduced its “Sam can.”) There are a couple reasons for that, most importantly that cans are better suited to keeping out light and oxygen than bottles, which can spoil the beer. Moreover, and this is especially important when you’re running a collegiate-type bar like this, unlike bottles cans don’t tend to shatter on the floor when they’re knocked over — which is a distinct possibility after you’ve tried all of the options you’ve got your eye on here.
40 JFK St., Cambridge