Friday, January 8, 2010

Barcode: Lord Hobo

New spin on the old B-Side

For months leading up to the opening of Lord Hobo there was much hand-wringing, naysaying, and speculation in the local foodie community, particularly online, where people are not known for their nuance, or sanity. What would become of their dearly departed B-Side Lounge, the institution whose influence in the bar scene had had such a far-reaching effect? Controversy surrounding the new owner’s attempts to deal with the liquor license commission, and significant push-back from the neighborhood over alcohol sales percentages further thickened the plot.

But any questions about whether the new space would be able to find a crowd in its first few months were quickly put to rest when we stopped in on a snowy Monday night to find the room’s communal dining tables and bar packed. It’s what the Hollywood re-imagining of the B-Side’s life story might look like: shiny and new, younger and less gritty, but with the essential plot elements still recognizable.

“It’s interesting. We opened at a weird time, around Thanksgiving, so it’s been hard to gauge,’’ bar manager Kevin Scott says. “It does seem like we’re busy all the time.’’ On the day Lord Hobo opened, there was a line down the street at 4 in the afternoon. “There was a lot of anticipation.’’

It’s not every day a beloved, thriving neighborhood bar shuts down out of nowhere. With that in mind, says Scott, “we kind of wanted to keep a similar vibe to the place as far as it being dark and comfortable.’’

The big change, however, comes in the approach to beer: 40 draft lines, three hand pump cask lines, gravity kegs on the bar, and 40 bottles, many of which you’ve probably never heard of.

“I think what’s different is that people aren’t coming here for a $2 beer and shot of Jack,’’ says Scott. Instead perhaps, they’ll be having the Mayflower IPA (Plymouth, 16 oz., 6 percent, $6.50) or the mild, zesty Coniston Bluebird Bitter (England, 20 oz., 4.2 percent, $8) or any of a large number of Belgians like Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba (Belgium, 12 oz., 4.5 percent, $9).

“It’s all pretty much world-class stuff,’’ says Scott. “Small breweries, craft breweries, micro distilleries. Some of them are esoteric but they’re phenomenal.’’ The California IPAs, for example: The Green Flash West Coast IPA (16 oz., 7.2 percent, $6.50) or the Port Wipe Out (16 oz., 7 percent, $6.50) are mild, bitter beers perfect for enjoying with food.

Lesser-known names from smaller distilleries abound on the spirits and cocktails list as well. It’s 20 entries long, and for the first time ever we wanted to try them all. The Soylent Green (green Chartreuse, muddled lemon, mint and cucumber, $10; pictured), a herbaceous whiskey smash variant, is like a greatest-hits reunion of recent bar staples. The Interloper (Plymouth gin, Barenjager, fresh lemon, Lagavulin, flamed orange, $10) takes cues from a Bee’s Knees with its honey, gin, and floral notes then rinses the brandy snifter with peaty Scotch for a light kiss of aromatics.

The spirits of the B-Side Lounge past would probably be proud. Even without that cheap domestic and a shot.

“Maybe it’s the sign of the times,’’ says Scott. “People’s palates have changed and they’re open to trying these beers that are new to them. I was worried we might be losing some of that crowd who are like, I want my can of beer!, but there are so many other places around here where you can do that.’’

Lord Hobo, 92 Hampshire St., Cambridge. 617-250-8454.

Boston Globe

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