Saloon demystifies the hipster bar scene

Davis Square is chock-full of fantastic places to eat, and the dining scene is dynamic, with new establishments popping up in storefronts around the area fairly regularly. Long-established Johnny D’s is singing its swan song, Meju is now well past its first year and seems perennially packed and Yumi is a young upstart in the neighborhood. Without a doubt, Davis Square is a great place to go out for many nights of food adventures with friends.

For those old enough to drink — or for those able to convince bouncers that they are old enough to drink — Davis Square offers exponentially more options. While most of the bars are well established, the best known remains The Burren, where ‘Bos congregate on many thirsty Thursdays. Yet there is so much more to bar hopping in Davis than this regular haunt. One particular standout among the all-star bar lineup in Davis Square is Saloon.

Nestled between Davis Square Theater and Foundry, Saloon is unusually difficult to find. This writer walked past it three times when going there for the first time. With hardly a hint to tell you where it is on the outside, Google Maps may be the best way to find it. The main reason Saloon is so hard to find is that it is underground, and its main entrance is an unassuming door that opens to a small foyer and staircase downward.

The décor in the main part of the bar might remind drinkers and diners of a less fussy, more accessible version of The Blind Barber in New York City. Being subterranean, Saloon has a speakeasy vibe and, as a result, an old-timey feel. Elaborate dark wood paneling and furnishings invoke a decidedly upscale feeling, and the menu (fancy clipboards with options printed like old tickets) of inoffensively hipster cocktails and food definitely adds to this atmosphere.

So far, Saloon may sound like a hoity-toity bar for the young professional crowd around Davis, but somehow it manages to feel totally effortless. There is no pretension about this place, and the energy of the young and ever-present crowd is always high, felt (read: heard) mostly through its sheer volume. Loudness is more of a concern right at the bar, but the alcoves to its right and its left can be significantly quieter and suitable for anything from intimate conversations to large discussions.

Service is fast and attentive for the most part. On different occasions, servers have been too quick, too slow or right on time offering another round of drinks, so experiences will vary. Some cocktails are priced at the high end for Davis Square, but are reasonably strong and almost universally good. The whiskey list leaves a little to be desired, but there’s something for just about everyone. In this writer’s experience, drinks ordered that were not explicitly on the menu were very reasonably priced — below the offerings on the cocktail menu — and just as strong.

The food, however, is amazing. The stars of the menu are the appetizers—as if that really has to be said. The crispy potato wedges are to die for. With garlic, parmesan and horseradish mayo (which really just tastes like amazing mayo), these fries are the one fry to rule them all and go well with any beverage. Reactions to the first couple of bites are sure to put any conversation on hold while diners adjust to the feelings of bliss emanating from their tongues. Devils on Horseback, feta-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon with reduced balsamic, are the damnation your arteries have always wanted — let them enjoy the decadence of these little bites.

Saloon is the whole package; it has great drinks, great food and great atmosphere. The combination does not come cheap, especially by college student standards, but is more than worth the expense on special occasions. Be careful, however, or you may find yourself turning every occasion into a special one.

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