But some high-end chains are worth a visit - and maybe a few. We were drawn to popular national steakhouse chain Morton's Back Bay by a couple of ingredients on their cocktail list, and by the appealingly cheap offerings on their Power Hour menu.
The gleaming corporate vibe of the high-rise lobby upstairs is a bit incongruous with the basement spot's stashed-away, clubby feel.
The room's atmosphere nods to a back-slapping old-boy feel, but it's tempered by corporate chain concessions that make it welcoming for families and tourists alike.
We didn't let any of that get in the way of our enjoyment of the drinks. Although we've absolutely overdosed on drinks featuring cucumbers, the bartender was so enthused about the Cool as a Cucumber (Absolute 100, muddled cucumber, St. Germain, fresh lime juice, ginger beer, $12), we indulged anyway. There's a reason cukes and St. Germain are so ubiquitous of late. The cucumbers give off a natural, almost melon-like taste, and St. Germain adds a sweet note. And of course, ginger beer is high on the list of humankind's greatest achievements, so we'll drink anything that features it.
That was clearly the best option among some of the popular standbys. But for bargain hunters, the Power Hour list is key. Beers are just $4, glasses of wine $5, and cocktails like a standard cosmo or classic martini are only $7. You can't do much better anywhere. And if you'd like a bit of tasty grub with your cocktail, bar bites are an appetizing $6.
The Morton's Spritz (Lunetta Prosecco, aperol, orange juice, $6. Pictured below), served in a oversize wine glass, was our favorite. Just a touch of aperol hints at some bitterness, enough to give the sparkling citrus bite. We could drink these all summer, noon or night, especially considering the price.
Less perfect are the selections on their Heavenly Drinks list, all of which feature a topper of raspberry foam made from raspberry puree, Chambord, egg whites, and sour mix and charged with CO2. The Heavenly Strawberry Margarita (Cuervo Gold, Cointreau, agave nectar, fresh strawberries, mint, lime, $14) resembled a fruity, frozen dessert and tasted like melted sorbet. You'd have no idea it was a margarita if no one told you.
To accompany your meal, you'd be better off choosing from the ample selection of reds ranging from the B.V. Coastal Estate Cabernet ($5) or the Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet ($19.95), perfectly smooth and round, but hearty enough to stand up to any rib eye. After all, you're probably here for the steak. Leave the kitchy drinks for another night.
Morton's Steakhouse, 699 Boylston St., Boston. 617-266-5858. www.mortons.com