Both locations of Bukowski Tavern, in the Back Bay and Inman Square, were well ahead of the curve when it came to the craft beer movement, offering up 100 odd brews from around the world long before hops were even a twinkle in most Boston drinkers' eyes. But now that the game has changed somewhat, with craft and local beers becoming more the rule than the exception, they've had to adjust to keep up with the times. That's a change reflected in the recent remodeling of the Cambridge location, which reopened this month.
The biggest change has come with Brian Poe coming on board as both an owner and chef; this is the fourth partnership between Poe and the Wilcox Hospitality Group, including Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, The Tip Tap Room and Estelle's.
“We're trying to appeal more to the craft beer world now,” bar manager Justin Lipata explained. In the five years he's been with the company, he's noticed that “people's palates have changed beer wise, and now people are going for a better quality of food to pair with great beers and cocktails.”
And they want to enjoy both in a more appealing setting. Not that the former space was exactly a dump, but the update brings it in line with the current, pervasive blackboard-industrial aesthetic. There's a roomier feel to the space now as well, with the bar flipped over to the other side of the room, no more divider down the center, and a long banquette against the back wall.
“It's a little more intimate, which we were kind of going for,” Lipata said. “Bigger spaces tend to lose the intimacy. We wanted the warm cozy tavern feeling. With the setting now, the bar is the focal point when you walk in. We are craft beer-driven, and we want people to walk in and see the bar, see the taps, see the devotion of the old mural of Bukowski on the wall.”
The focus is decidedly on beer for now, although a cocktail list features welcome classics — French 75, Negroni, Americano, Manhattans and so on — and will expand more soon into recipes like the Bavarian made with rye, Benedictine, orange bitters, absinthe and wheat malt syrup.
The beer list is being gently rolled out, but will comprise 36 rotating draft lines, and around 85 bottles and cans, all of which are conveniently categorized on the menu.
“We're throwing a brand new spin on the kitchen as well as the look and renovation, so we don't want to overwhelm the clientele with a huge menu,” Lipata said. “[We] want stuff that's recognizable, as well as stuff the very avid drinker knows.” One beer in particular I enjoyed was the Wasatch Ghost Rider White IPA from Utah, lightly bitter and floral. Among Lipata's favorites are the Mainer Weisse from Night Shuft Brewing, a sour wheat beer aged with Maine blueberries and cinnamon. “I'm a huge sour beer lover, and these guys did a great job with this. The balance is great, with sweetness balancing off the tartness.” Another local he's excited about is the Another Love IPA from High Horse Brewing, a floral, intensely hoppy brew. “It's amazing the flavors and profiles you get from this beer.”
Better beer deserves better beer-drinking food to go with it, and that's exactly what he's trying to put out, Poe told me. That includes simple but elevated bites like fried olives with chervil, truffle, leek relish and dijon; celery root and cauliflower chips, with charred cauliflower and kefir sauce; and sweet potato chips with prosciutto, onion strings and green kosho tabasco.
If you go
1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge.