Culture

Brothers Artisan Oil Interview by Craft & Caro

Brothers Artisan Oil produces small batch beard grooming and shaving oils by hand. Their product line is 100% natural, made from simple botanical ingredients. All products are made from start to finish by Owen, Baxter, Wiley and Marie Shea in Boston. We caught up them at an exciting moment in their story. Here’s the scoop.


 

Owen and Marie Shea of Brothers Artisan Oil

Owen and Marie Shea of Brothers Artisan Oil are setting up their new studio when we arrive. They are a charismatic pair. Owen is tall, broad-shouldered and bearded, the spitting image of a man’s man. Marie is equally striking, with bright eyes and a welcoming smile. You can sense a warm camaraderie between them. If they have been working long hours lately, it is not conveyed by their easy disposition. The studio has a good vibe.

Owen has spent the last few days laying floorboards and hanging shelves. Brand new file cabinets and storage drawers squat neatly underneath the work table that runs the length of one wall. A few thoughtfully chosen family relics and potted herbs accent the work space. Assorted jars, jugs, bottles and beakers adorn the shelves. Some have simple hand written labels like “Argan Oil” and “Jojoba Oil” but many more are yet to be unpacked. Business is about to commence here, in the first dedicated production facility of Brothers Artisan Oil.

Brothers Artisan Oil Workshop shot for Craft & Caro

Brothers is one of the first tenants of a curious new undertaking — Market at Casablanc, a self-described “micro-retail environment for makers.” A dozen small studios (in various stages of assembly on the day of our visit) surround a large common area that will function as a shared retail, gallery and event space.

Located upstairs is Casablanc, a collective of creative professionals including artists, musicians and designers. The collective hosts gallery events and live performances regularly. They have created Market with a similar vision in mind: provide a much-needed cultural and commercial venue for Boston makers.

Characteristic of the craft-made industry, where things are constantly reclaimed, repurposed and renewed, Market at Casablanc resides in an former industrial building in a fringe neighborhood of Boston. The bare walls and floors have been slathered in whitewash, giving the place a rather apropos blankness. In the coming months, local makers and artisans will make these studios their own.

Brothers Artisan Oil for Craft & Caro

For now the tidy Brothers workshop provides a sense of order to the space. It will be a few more days before production here begins. However this is hardly the beginning. Brothers Artisan Oil has already been in production for a year and a half, based in Owen and Marie’s Brookline home. To date, they have sold tens of thousands of units.

That might seem like putting the cart before the horse, but for the Shea family it’s pretty standard. They don’t tend to waste much time sitting around drafting plans. The Sheas are agents of action.


 

Brothers Owen, Baxter and Wiley Shea, along with Owen’s wife, Marie, founded Brothers Artisan Oil in 2014. They came together at the Shea family home on cape Cod that June, when their mother, Meredith, suffered a severe stroke. Half of her brain was affected, leaving her immobile. She couldn’t walk, speak or even swallow. Chances that she would regain her mobility were bleak. In the following months, her fight to recover inspired the Sheas to found a family business.

The boys stood by as Meredith began a long and uncertain road to recovery. While they tended to her, they grew their beards out in a show of solidarity. They could only wait. Owen recalls a “breakthrough moment” that came after the first week. Marie played “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the stereo one night. To everyone’s surprise, Meredith began to sing along! She sang every word. They took the early sign of progress as a good omen and looked ahead with hope.

Before long, the brothers found a need to tame their burgeoning whiskers. Nothing they found in stores seemed to do the trick. They started mixing beard oils at home. Shaving was not, after all, an option.

Owen’s experience as a cocktail bartender came in handy for blending botanical extracts and essential oils. He began to share their product with friends and regulars at the bar, refining the recipe from their compliments and critiques. Owen cites this early, sincere feedback as crucial to developing the finished product.

Meredith labored in physical therapy through the summer, while the brothers worked on their blends. By September, Meredith had achieved the astounding. She could walk and speak again. The boys had their mother back.

Owen Shea of Brothers Artisan Oil for Craft & Caro

A lot happened in a dizzyingly small amount of time after that. It was clear that Brothers Artisan Oil was making real traction. Owen was working full time as GM of Vintage Restaurant and Lounge in Boston. He continued to develop the product in his free time, and reflect on the experience that had brought the family together. Marie was due to give birth to their first child in November. A new branch of the family was about to sprout and Owen felt it was time for a life change. The timing was right for it.

Owen approached his friends at Ball & Buck, a Boston retailer of American-made craft goods, in September. They encouraged him to present Brothers Artisan Oil at American Field, a major craft goods trade show, in November. Attending would require an unprecedented amount of production and preparation, and Marie was due two weeks before the event date. It was going to be tight.

As fate would have it the baby was two weeks late. It gave them just enough time to prep for the show. Marie was designing labels on their home computer when she went into labor, three days before American Field. Nova, the newest member of the Shea family, was born.

Had Nova been on time, the Sheas might have missed the trade show and their first sale. Birchbox, an online retailer of boutique cosmetics, placed an order for 5,000 units shortly after the trade show. Brothers Artisan Oil was officially in business.

“That really kicked us into gear,” recalls Marie; all they had to do now was traverse a tangle of legal paperwork to certify their business, finish designing their branding and fill the order by hand, in a few short weeks.

Marie Shea and Matt Noonan of Brothers Artisan Oil

They hit the ground running. Owen left the bar and went full time producing Brothers Artisan Oil at home. Marie left her job as an events coordinator at a non-profit a few months later. A former design student at MassArt, she applied her skills to their fledgling brand.

At first, Owen printed labels on his home printer, hanging them from clotheslines in the yard to spray them with waterproofing. Marie, Owen, Baxter, and Wiley all mixed and bottled batch after batch of beard oil, one gallon at a time. Not much has changed.

“There are no machines. We are the machines,” Marie explains. “Everybody does the thing that they really like to do.” Owen and Marie manage day-to-day operations. Baxter manages Boston retail accounts and Wiley helps out filling larger orders (referred to as “Big Pours”).

Sometimes a roster of trusty friends pitch in to help. On the very day of our visit, long-time pal Matt Noonan, the person who first introduced Marie and Owen, is helping them move into the new studio. They are grateful for their support network.

“Our friend Nick Ciocca has been helping out a ton lately,” says Marie. Pals Bob Brown and Dione Mariani accompanied Owen to American Field so Marie could stay home with the baby. 

Owen and Marie Shea of Brothers Artisan Oil

“It’s important to let people fall into those roles,” explains Owen, who has a seasoned sense for human resources. “We can do a couple hundred bottles in a day without killing ourselves, but 10,000 a month if we have the order.”

The team is still working from handwritten recipes, complete with the requisite coffee stains.

More impressive still is the fact that the Shea family started Brothers Artisan Oil completely out of pocket. No investors, no crowdfunding, no fundraising.

“We’ve made some risky decisions” Marie reflects. “We had to learn to business and adult at the same time. It’s nice to have these [interview] questions, it gives us a chance to reflect on why we’re even doing this because we are doing this.”

When I ask them what their greatest challenge to date has been, Owen echoes Marie — “Starting a business and a family in the same week.” His deadpan response is not hyperbole. It is fact. The Shea family has no need for embellishment.

 


 

Brothers Artisan Oil Three Scents

The notions of risk, enterprise and family are reflected proudly in the Brothers imagery. Owen discovered a set of vintage stamps that suit their story perfectly. A 1920’s series featuring the landing of the Mayflower provided Brothers with three images, one for each scent of beard oil. The stamps depict the Mayflower at sea, the famous landing at Plymouth Rock and the signing of the Mayflower compact.

The ship itself represents the Sheas’ earliest roots, since Meredith traces her family’s heritage back to the Mayflower crossing. The subsequent images — the landing at Plymouth Rock and the forging of New World’s oldest governing document — epitomize the promise of a new beginning, the risk of adventure and the unity of a familial covenant.

Plus, the classic images look sharp perched on a bathroom shelf. “We want it to look like it belongs [in your bathroom], not some flashy gold bottle or something,” says Owen. “We wanted it to be simple and masculine” adds Marie.

Brothers Artisan Oil products displayed for CRaft & caro

The main logo hits even closer to home. You might not catch it at first glance, but that strange shape next to the “BAO” is a bird skull. Half of an Osprey skull, to be specific. Why an Osprey? Because they nest in the trees around the Shea family home on Cape Cod. Why half? To commemorate their mother’s triumph over the force that cast a shadow on half of her brain.


 

Brothers has already expanded their inventory to include a unisex shaving oil, two styling pomades and a grooming kit consisting of a beard oil, a pomade, a wooden beard comb and a carrying pouch. All of their products are made in small batches, from nourishing plant-based oils and extracts, in keeping with Owen’s motto that “a healthy beard comes from healthy skin.” They aren’t stopping there.

“We plan on extending our product line, including more pomades, shaving products and tools, washes, soaps, salves and much more” says Owen. He and Marie both cite the significance of their new space in Market as a catalyst and a source of inspiration.

“There are makers popping up everywhere” says Owen with excitement. “There are Boston brands now.

“You genuinely feel like you’re a part of something, a movement, and you’re making [a living],” says Marie happily. People in the maker world tend to be very supportive of each other. There is a sense of community here that is rare in any retail environment. In some cases brands that might be competitors in the same arena team up instead, to increase their collective reach to consumers.

Brothers Artisan Oil Shaving Kit

The Brothers grooming kit is a clear example of this kind of symbiosis. The Valkyrie Project, based in Boston’s South End, manufactures the canvas curio pouches that Brothers uses for the kit.

The set’s beautiful two-tone wooden combs are purchased from a mysterious woodworker on Cape Cod. He makes each one by hand, one at a time, and claims to be “the only full-time wooden comb maker in America.”

Encounters with such characters is not unusual in this industry, where eccentricity and obsession are driving forces.


 

The Brothers team is excited for 2016. Retail hours for their new Market studio will begin in May. They have plans to appear at several craft trade shows, including Boston Made and American Field.

Their goal for the year is to expand their shelf presence beyond New England. Eventually they want to see Brothers Artisan oil sold in every state. They are already on shelves in ten states, including at half a dozen retailers in Boston alone. Direct retail orders from all over the country come through the website daily.

Just two days before our visit, Brothers received their first order from France. Naturally curious, Owen did a little online sleuthing and discovered, to their great surprise, that Brothers had been featured in an issue of Vogue Paris.

Owen smiles. “Mom was psyched to hear about that.”

“We thought you had to pay for that sort of thing,” says Marie.

The brand’s momentum seems to be taking care of itself.

“We always felt like the Shea Family had a brand already, there were just two things missing, a product and a plan,” explains Owen.

The Shea family finally has their product. Maybe soon they will get a chance to sit down long enough to write out the plan.

Brothers Artisan Oil Banner

Filed Under: Boston, Culture, Groom
Spring Beer Review pt. 2

Readers loved our Spring Beer Review so much that we decided to pop another six for you! It was hard work but we survived. Here’s to Spring!

 

Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse
1809 Berliner Weisse

1809 is a re-creation of the unusual Berliner-Weisse style — a refreshing, light-bodied, German wheat ale characterized by a lactic tartness. In fact the recipe includes Lactobacillus, the same bacterial culture used to make yogurt. Berliner Weisse known as a summer treat in many places, but we can’t wait that long.

Pour this hazy straw-colored ale into a tall glass. You’ll find ripe Meyer lemon, hay and fresh grass in the nose. It drinks like a light hefeweizen but with a zingy, lemon yogurt tartness. There’s a subtle creaminess in the mouthfeel that fans of this style find irresistibly satisfying. The wheat body provides soft backing notes of fruit and grain. A great refresher all spring and summer long, especially since this style tends to clock in between three and five percent!

(Pro tip: Can’t find it? Look for White Birch Brewing’s Berliner Weisse in a yellow can! Excellent American version of this brew.)

Freising, GER, 5%

 

Anchor Steam Beer

Anchor Steam Beer

Anchor Brewing’s Steam Beer is the defining example of Steam Beer, one of the only brews with American roots. First brewed in Gold Rush-era San Francisco, this approachable amber lager has the characteristics of an ale. Think of it as the mellow west coast cousin of Sam Adams Boston Lager. Northern Brewer hops, known for their herbal and woody aromas, provide a somewhat gritty but moderate hop profile. Pale and Caramel Malts balance the brew with a toffee sweetness. A strong carbonation keeps this medium-bodied beer light on its toes.

The nose presents hints of caramel and pine but ultimately this is a beer that simply smells like, well, beer! Rightly so. A less sophisticated style than most modern craft brews, Steam Beer was first produced to slake the thirst of tired miners and sailors. Do your part and pop one in the park. A great beer for any Opening Day!

San Francisco, CA, 4.9%

 

Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba

Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba

A gorgeously dry Belgian pale ale. This beer is hopped like an American pale but unmistakably refined like a true Belgian. The nose is fresh, damp, earthy and faintly floral, somewhere between jasmine flowers and roses. The sip is dry, bitter, almost champagne-y. Slight notes of orange peel and wheat flit by. The finish is tightly bitter, with traces of yeast and jasmine flower.

This would make an excellent alternative to some bubbly on a picnic, especially paired with roast chicken or pan-fried fish!

Brussels, BEL, 4.5%

 

Lord Hobo Brewing Hobo Life Session IPA

Lord Hobo Hobo Life Session IPA

Fresh like fiddleheads. Dank notes of raw sourdough consort with herbal and citrus hop aromas in the nose. A Citra dry-hop session provides juicy notes of grapefruit and key lime that pop on the palate, yet the brew remains light and effervescent. A pale biscuit maltiness with tinges of toasted caramel rounds out the sip. The flavor lightens towards the end, finishing clean. Definitely a session IPA but with more flavor than usual, because why not? Another great one for working up to full IPA hoppiness in weeks to come.

Woburn, MA, 4.5%

 

Alpine Brewing Duet IPA

Alpine Duet IPA

Speaking of which, here is an IPA to hit your stride with as the days get warmer. Big aromas of tropical fruits and flowers rise from the glass when you pour this purebred west coast IPA. Bursts of fresh-squeezed tropical fruit (we got grapefruit, mango, sour cherry and green apple!), spruce and even skunky cannabis greet the palate. A caramel malt backbone and bright lemony notes frame the sipping experience. Despite a full orchestra of flavors, this brew still finishes light and clean. All around a graceful and gratifying west coast IPA. Hell yeah.

Alpine, CA, 7%

 

Stone Enjoy By 4.20.16

Stone Enjoy By 4.20.16

Call it art, call it hubris, call it an affront to science. Whatever you call it, Stone’s Enjoy By series is always fun. Each release is a one-time brew of intense magnitude, “brewed specifically NOT to last,” according to Stone. Every super-hopped batch must be enjoyed fresh, hence its name. Enjoy By 4.20.16 is a “devastatingly dank” double IPA brewed with ten strains of luscious hops! Huge waves of ripe tropical fruit are peppered with a piney spice. The palate reels in ecstasy. A broad, honey-sweet malt body manages to balance the load. The brew remains just crisp and dry enough to be way more more drinkable than an Imperial IPA ought to be! Definitely a far out tribute to an already groovy day of the year. Cheers!

Escondido, CA, 9.4%

Group photo of spring beers

We picked out six of our favorite beers to pair with the delightful scents, sights and sounds of spring! Take a refreshing step out of the ordinary with these unique brews.

 

Saison Dupont

Saison Dupont botte and glass

THE quintessential Belgian farmhouse ale. Saison Dupont’s delicate balance of flavors makes this beer an ode to spring. A gorgeous bouquet of fresh earth, green grass and orange blossoms greets the nose. Take a moment to smell the cork. A faint, pleasant mustiness nods to a long winter of bottle conditioning, perhaps in an earthen cellar somewhere in the Belgian countryside.

Poured into a tulip glass, this rich, golden ale is a thing of beauty. Its faintly perfumed head is solid and rocky, like a meringue. The first sip is joy — crisp, dry and funky. Just like spring, as this ale warms up, bolder notes of fruit and earth unfold. A honeydew sweetness, notes of fresh hay and a gentle, yeasty bitterness add to the symphony. Perfect for that first warm afternoon, when the sun is strong but the breeze still serves up a chill.

Tourpes, Belgium, 6.5%

 

Monchshof Kellerbier

Half pint mug of Monchshof Kellerbier

A unique, unfiltered lager native to Franconia, Germany. Franconia is renowned for its sweet, mineral-rich water, perfect for brewing lagers like this one. A kellerbier (literally meaning “cellar beer”) is cask conditioned, or “cellared” for an especially long period. The dark amber brew is mellow, with low carbonation but a rich, full body for a lager. Most notable is its malt-forward flavor profile. A persistent, burnt-caramel sweetness is framed by notes of cocoa, toasted grain and even stewed orange. There’s definitely more going on here than your basic German lager.

Something about the flavor and mouthfeel recalls the pleasant coolness of a cave. This beer is chugable, a beautiful thirst-quencher after that first bike ride of the season, but it is perfectly suited for slow sipping too. Dig deep for those more nuanced flavors!

Kulmbach, Germany, 5.4%

 

Maine Beer Company Mo Pale Ale

Glass of Mo Pale Ale

We love Mo. This dazzling American Pale is clean, crisp and robust. It boasts a shining hop bouquet that rocks the tastebuds without overpowering them. It is floral, piney, citrusy and absolutely delicious. Each sip has a sparkling dryness akin to grapefruit pith. Couple those bursting hop aromas with a strong carbonation and you get a robust, almost spicy sipping experience. Try this one nice and cold!

Freeport, Maine, 6%

 

Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner

Glass of Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner with can

This dry-hopped American pilsner is tight. Crisp and light-bodied, it features a perfect balance of Citra, Chinook and Centennial hops on the front of the sip. The flavor alights briefly upon a honey-tangerine sweetness then finishes in a dry, herbal, almost perfumey bitterness, the way a pilsner should. It is a flirtatious taste of bigger hop flavors to come, as full-blown IPA weather approaches. A refreshing transition after a season of stouts, porters and spiced ales. Comes in cans, so you can pack some for that first hike.

Portland, Maine, 4.6%

 

Far from the Tree Nova Hopped Cider

Glass of Far From the Tree Nova Cider

Nova is a rewarding venture out of the ordinary. This clean, dry-hopped cider drinks almost like a sparkling white sangria. Massachusetts cider apples provide the juicy flavors of Granny Smiths, green grape and pineapple. Now add aromatic notes of Thai basil and sweetgrass from Mosaic, Galaxy and Simcoe hops. Hello springtime! A Prosecco-like dryness frames each sweet sip. Weighing in at a formidable 8% ABV, this extravagant cider is not to be taken lightly. Get out there and explore the new!

Salem, Massachusetts, 8%

 

Mystic Vinland #4

Glass of Mystic Vinland #4

The crew over at Mystic Brewing have this funky project called The Vinland Series. Instead of employing their house-developed yeast strains, they harvest wild yeasts from various New England crops and brew a special sour ale. First they used yeast collected from the skin of a Massachusetts plum. Then it was a Maine blueberry. Last year’s brew featured yeast borrowed from a Vermont raspberry. This year they’re keeping it weird with yeast from Massachusetts-grown barley.

The resulting brew is a tart, refreshing ale. The nose is dry and musky, with oddly pleasant traces of rotten stone fruit. The flavor starts off with a raspberry sourness that rings and fades. Feral yeast notes accompany traces of crab apple, purple grape and mandarin orange — the effect is a little bit like sipping a fruit and cheese plate! (On that note, let this one open up a bit in the glass before you sip.) The flavor mellows out towards the finish into a gentle, hay-like bitterness. A classy way to get weird, just in time for the onset of spring fever.

Chelsea, Massachusetts, 6%

Valentine's at Burdicks

Spending Valentine’s Day in Boston is a chance to kindle real romance, the special kind of romance borne from the shared agony of a grim New England winter. The elements are at their cruelest. Temperatures are at their lowest. Lovers clutch each other extra tightly to face down Arctic blasts, jagged snow mounds and black ice on every corner. Alleys become treacherous, shrieking wind tunnels. Drift-choked crosswalks become Olympic triathlons, some sinister combination of hurdles, balance beam and figure skating. A trip down the street for a slice of pizza is suddenly a matter of survival, of endless bundling. There are masked pools of salty slush everywhere, and everyone is wearing nice shoes. It’s a special time for this old city, one that encourages teamwork, perseverance and intense cuddling.

For those lovers who do brave it though, there’s no substitute for the reward — a chance to walk down those silent, snow-blanketed, colonial backstreets. To be alone together among the rows of brownstones, to share an embrace under the glow of the wrought iron street lamps. It’s a glimpse of a bygone world, an old seaport in hibernation, a rare urban tranquility. Here, when the wind is in between breaths, you will find that romance, shivering against each other while you wait for an Uber.

In honor of the upcoming holiday, my lovely partner Simone and I trekked to some of Boston’s cold weather hideouts to share with you. We hope they furnish a spark of inspiration for your date night, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. So comb your hair, put your parka on and get out there! Get that blood flowing to all of your romantic regions and share some warmth, in true Bostonian style.

 

Jackmauh’s Quintessential Spots for a Winter Date in Boston

 

LA Burdick Boston

L.A. Burdick

Our first stop on a blustery Wednesday evening was L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates, on Clarendon and Newbury. Why save the candy for the end? Especially in this case — L.A. Burdick is one of a few elite chocolatiers in Boston, and a bit of a love story in itself. The company is run by Larry Burdick, who founded the brand with his wife, Paula, in 1987. They started with a single set of hand tools he collected on a culinary tour of Paris and Switzerland. Paula studied at The Fashion Institute of Technology and infused her passion for Parisian design into the brand. Thus the Burdick experience was born.

P&S_Burdicks_smiles

Sensitive attention to detail is apparent in every aspect, from the unique confections to the beautiful boxes they are packed in. Each of their three chocolate shops (in Boston, Cambridge and New York City) is also an elegant, French-inspired cafe, serving coffee, espresso, tea as well as all the handmade chocolates you could hope to eat. Every morsel is shaped by hand, without molds, including their signature chocolate ganache mice! That’s right. Adorable, delicious little mice with little sateen yarn tails.

LA Burdick Mouse chocolate

We sat by the window, sipping impossibly rich dark chocolate mochas and shared a small velvet box of bonbons. The cozy wooden benches, the brass lamps and scent of raw cocoa helped induce a heady chocolate buzz. Hopped up on the aphrodisiac, we eventually headed into the cold to find a cocktail.

Paul & Simone walking

 

Trinity Church

Outside the wind was getting fierce. A few stray raindrops came flying at us. We fought our way down Clarendon Street, huddling for a moment behind Trinity Church, the crown jewel of Copley Square. Up close, its presence is overwhelming. Trinity’s looming spires are captivating in the twilight. It looks like something out of Romeo and Juliet. In fact this is no coincidence; the Trinity Church is the singular archetype of the Richardsonian Romanesque movement, a building style based on late medieval architecture from Italy, France and Spain. The look is characterized by elaborate masonry using massive, roughly cut stone blocks, detailed arches and extravagant towers. How sexy. Among other noteworthy works of art, the church features gorgeous stained glass windows designed on commission by the American painter John La Farge. It is the only structure in Boston counted among the “Ten most significant buildings in the United States” by the American Institute of Architecture. If you have time on your way to dinner, take a moment to steal a kiss (and maybe snap a Valentine’s Day selfie) under one of its arches.

 

Trinity Church, Boston, Night time

 

OAK Long Bar + Kitchen at the Copley Plaza Hotel

Luckily for us, one of the most impressive bars in Boston is right across the square in the Copley Plaza Hotel. OAK Long Bar + Kitchen is the central achievement of a twenty-million dollar renovation that was completed to celebrate the hotel’s 100th anniversary a few years ago. Two large dining rooms were joined to make one enormous, opulent hall. Why? So they could fit an eighty-three foot long bar of course! Behind it, for your viewing pleasure, lies a bustling open kitchen with a stone-hearth oven. Revelers enjoy the comfort of wide, cushioned leather chairs instead of barstools. Servers scurry up and down the aisles of assorted low and high candle-lit tables. The room feels more like a lounge than a restaurant. The renovation sought to modernize the space, making it brighter and more casual-feeling. That’s not to say it’s any less fancy.

 

Copley Plaza Hotel exterior

 

The original two-story windows lead your eyes up to the gorgeous Beaux-arts era tin coffered ceiling, dripping with chandeliers. A trip to the bathroom requires a stroll through the magnificent lobby hallway, known as Peacock Alley, punctuated by Italian marble columns. Bottles upon bottles overlook the bar from high shelves. This space is a treat for the eyes, if nothing else. We conspired at a low table by the window and watched the rain pound Huntington Avenue. Comfy in our nook, we took our time sipping three drinks from the menu: a Pomegranate Paloma, a generous Ketel One martini with incredible blue cheese stuffed olives, and the “How Do You Do,” a house spin on a martini with St. Germain, Aperol and grapefruit. For a moment we were Gatsbys. If not for our dinner reservations we might have stayed all night. It is, after all, the oldest, and one of the most prestigious hotels in Boston. We could have gotten a room, and joined the ranks of stars like Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.

By the way, when you visit OAK Long Bar, ask your server to point out where the rotating merry-go-round bar used to be. Yes, seriously.

 

Oak Bar + Kitchen

South End Buttery

We waited under the Copley Plaza’s big red awning for a car to dinner. Our destination: The South End Buttery, a relatively recent addition to one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods. It was opened in 2005 by two South End residents with a passion for fine dining and gourmet food made from healthy, simple ingredients. I was a little disappointed to learn that a “buttery” is not actually a place where vast quantities of fine butter are prepared and served. The original term refers to the wine cellar of a castle, but its modern use connotes something more like an all-purpose pantry and canteen.

The South End Buttery dons its designation coyly. It describes itself as a “quaint neighborhood cafe.” That’s not wrong, but that’s not the whole picture. The Buttery is a cafe, a bakery, a celebrated brunch spot and a boutique prepared foods market… and a bar and a restaurant. Somehow, it is still cozy and quaint, neatly laid out a over a few small rooms. The market, cafe and bar sit on the ground floor of a charming brownstone on the corner of Shawmut and Union Park. The cozy dining room lies hidden in the basement, built into the old stone foundation itself.

Winter Smash Cocktail

Dinner started at the intimate six or seven seat bar, which was pleasingly well-stocked with bourbon and a nice collection of digestifs including a couple of ports, amaros and assorted Luxardo liqueurs. We shared a Winter Smash, a bourbon cocktail with muddled cranberries and rosemary. The result is a tangy aromatic concoction that flirts with all the tastebuds at the party. We’ll be back in the spring to try their Mezcalrita — a concoction of silver tequila, mezcal, grilled pineapple, jalapeno and lemon. When it was time to eat, our server led us from the peaceful bar down a little stairway to the basement.

Paul & Simone at the Buttery

It really does feel like dining in a wine cellar. A live fireplace sets the tone just a few feet from the tables. Exposed brick and granite are carefully illuminated. The Buttery’s seasonal menu is pleasantly simple and well-rounded. It would be hard for any diner to go hungry with choices like hanger steak frites, shrimp fra diavolo, The Buttery meatloaf, or the chickpea falafel burger. Incredibly, the price points did not suggest we were nestled in the heart of one of Boston’s ritziest neighborhoods.

Buttery Pork Tenderloin

I settled on marinated grilled pork tenderloin with roasted Brussels sprouts and fries with truffle aioli. Simone chose insanely rich wild mushroom ravioli with brown butter sage. This is comfort food at its best, designed to touch the heart as much as it fills the stomach. We took our time with each bite, enjoying the fire and a bottle of Cabernet. Later there would be a custody battle for the two leftover mushroom raviolis. A quick shot of Cardamaro Amaro for dessert and we were off again, into the night to catch some music.

Mushroom Ravioli

 

Wally’s Cafe

A few blocks away at the edge of the South End lies Wally’s Cafe, the only place of its kind in Boston. Wally’s is a venerated jazz bar. It is not a cocktail bar or a restaurant that occasionally features live music as a bonus. It is a hole-in-the-wall venue with live performances 365 days a year!

Wally's Cafe Jazz Club

It has been operating continuously since Joseph Walcott opened it in 1947, the first African-American-owned jazz club in New England. Wally’s longevity is probably due to Walcott’s tendency to pair renowned professional acts with aspiring local musicians from Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory. This cafe is still a proving ground for talented students, but it is not a college bar by any stretch. A large bouncer greeted us at an unassuming door with a barred window. He checked our IDs and let us inside. When the door opened we were blasted by a blazing saxophone solo and hot, steamy air. Suddenly we found ourselves in a Kerouac novel. We took the only empty seat by the foggy front window and peered through the crowd at the band at the back of the room.

Dancing at Wally's Cafe

The place was jamming! Actually that’s normal. Wally’s has an open jam session from 6 to 9 every night of the week, then rotating acts ranging from funk to blues to Latin salsa. A funky, energetic jazz quartet was on the stage tonight. We sipped cold Brooklyn Lagers, surprisingly refreshing in the crowded room, and let the notes carry us away. We were swimming — happy, full, warm and content. The crowd was friendly. Some were neighborhood regulars, some were clearly students, some were curious first-timers from other parts of the city. The ages ranged from freshman to senior citizen. Everyone seemed united in understanding that this is something special, a miraculously preserved piece of the past that is still very much alive. The band played on, taking turns soloing, swooping and soaring between low and high tempos. It was too loud to talk but that was ok. We leaned back in our chairs shoulder to shoulder, no need to speak.

After one more beer and a couple of rowdy Michael Jackson covers, it was time to fly through the rain and city lights one more time, arm in arm in the backseat, and then off to bed. We squeezed the night to its last drop, in spite of the cold, the wind and the rain. No matter that we didn’t get to romp in the snow. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope for a blizzard.

 

water droplets on car window

 

 

Filed Under: Boston, Culture, Relax, Travel