The Haunt: A Fine Place to Make Camp

IT’S STANDING-ROOM-ONLY around Laurel’s 15-seat bar on a Thursday night, and the impromptu standup’s just getting started. The prop: a strapping, square-jawed newcomer in snug Levis. "A Fluffer for this one!" vamps the bartender, Eryl, sizing up the eye candy with a theatrical flourish. As he conjures the lewdly named cocktail, a regular requests menu guidance. "You’re a steak man tonight," Eryl brogues in spot-on Mrs. Doubtfire, before channeling Mae West ("You were a salmon man last night…"). Then schoolmarm: "What’s…that…snickering?"

Just another round of frothy nonsense at Laurel, the Berkeley Street standby that slings nightly helpings of camp far spicier than its just-okay comfort food. It isn’t technically a gay venue—the dining room attracts a mixed crowd, more Anchovies than Fritz—but the bar staff’s antics make for a vibe that admittedly isn’t everyone’s speed. As one online reviewer wailed, "The clientele made us feel like we were on some bootleg cruise ship!" Not an unfair comparison, though given the polish of the repartee, cruise ship sitcom might be more apt.

For those (rather, those of us) who came of age in Boston’s queer scene in the early ’90s, Laurel may seem a throwback to a time when segregated bars were the lifeblood of the LGBT "community." It’s no coincidence that its patrons skew fortysomething, and that the Back Bay train schedule is a recurring talking point. Not everything’s old-school, though: There’s an air of inclusion that’s distinctly post-assimilation, and the campy quips lack a bitter edge.

Two walk-ins wearing white face paint and nuns’ habits get seated in the dining room. "The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," affirms one, referring to the cross-dressing San Francisco activists. The vibe briefly takes a pious turn, as the PC crowd balks at taking such obvious bait. But when the same patron declines a second glass of chardonnay, ever-reliable Eryl recalibrates the mood. "Ahh…the Sister of Occasional Indulgence." The room cackles like a band of gay bootleggers.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Laurel Grill & Bar, 142 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-424-6711, laurelgrillandbar.com

ADVERTISMENT

  • Bob

    I have been a regular at Laurel for about ten years and try to eat there at least once weekly. I have never found the food "just-okay" as Jolyon describes it. On the contrary, I love the food there, it is consistently good, and the service is always terrific. The bar is quite active (to say the least!) and the fact that it is filled with regulars speaks to the star powers of its bar staff: Eryl, Deb, and Diego. Yup, the Back Bay train schedule is a recurring talking point because many of the customers who frequent the place are downtown workers who commute to the suburbs but who also welcome the friendliness, relaxation, and good natured humor that is always served up well at Laurel.

  • Michelle and Roberta

    It took several reads to finally "get" what Jolyon was trying to convey in his review of Laurel. Nice try, but oof — terribly written. His attempted stylistic homage to camp comes off as bitchy, snobby and casts broad strokes on a diverse group of people. We’ve lived in the neighborhood and have patronized Laurel for many years and do not share his opinions (which seem to be all over the place). Simply, Laurel is a fun and friendly mixed neighborhood bar and restaurant that serves COMFORT (food and atmosphere). Looking for a bit of home and feeling of family with lots of laughs? Then dine at the bar. Witty repartee is on the menu, especially with Eryl. If you don't want that or are sitting at the bar solely to criticize others (not the food or service), please be courteous and give up the valuable seat you are occupying that the crowd standing behind you would die for and go sit at a table in the main dining room. After reading Jolyon’s review, we are certain that (1) we wouldn’t eve

  • Michelle and Roberta

    It took several reads to finally "get" Jolyon’s review of Laurel. Nice try, but oof — terribly written review. His attempted stylistic homage to camp comes off as bitchy, snobby and casts broad strokes on a diverse group of people. We’ve lived in the neighborhood and have patronized Laurel for many years and do not share his opinions (which seem to be all over the place). Simply, Laurel is a fun and friendly mixed neighborhood bar and restaurant that serves COMFORT (food and atmosphere). Looking for a bit of home and feeling of family with lots of laughs? Then dine at the bar. Witty repartee is on the menu, especially with Eryl. If you don't want that or are sitting at the bar solely to criticize others , please be courteous and give up the valuable seat you are occupying that the crowd standing behind you would die for and go sit at a table in the main dining room. After reading Jolyon’s review, we are certain that (1) we wouldn’t ever want to sit next to him at the bar at Laurel an

  • caroline

    I think this review is in very poor taste. Those of us who live in the Back Bay (and South End, I'm sure) have come to love Laurel for exactly what it is: the perfect place to enjoy a reasonably priced, good meal in the area. I'd like for someone to show me one other restaurant around here that feeds the people good food without all the hoo ha. We're not looking for a scene, just some neighbors and some dinner…