Using (or Perhaps Misusing) a Hall Pass at Meadhall

It’s Friday night, and I’m at Meadhall with my old friend Uncle Buzzard. At this time of night, I’m usually on the TV room couch flicking channels while the Mrs. is snoozing on my shoulder. But with my old carrion-eating running partner in town, I’ve been granted a hall pass.

Usually, the arrival of a hall pass comes with the longing that someone might take it away. Any disruption to a routine family routine — even one as pleasant as the arrival of Uncle Buzzard — eventually leads to a thought like the plea of that poor kid in 16 Candles whose parents have forcibly dropped him off at the dance by his parents: “But I want to stay home with YOU GUYS.”

But there’s a lot of water — and malt, and hops, and barley, and Night Train — under the bridge with Uncle Buzzard, and it seems a shame to waste the opportunity to sample what’s going on at Meadhall. After all, here, at the growing nexus of tech and food that comprises surging Kendall Square, Meadhall has been hailed as an ice-breaking battleship of brew, firing its many taps out to a thirsty crowd of cybergourmets.

So, here we are, at the au courant beer bar of the moment — and it’s in my neighborhood. Not that I’ve been here before tonight, even though it opened six months ago.

Maybe we’re a little skewed in our perception, but here goes: the place is awful.

It’s like one of those disappointing peaches you bring home that goes from gorgeous to overripe and mealy overnight. Meadhall is all gleaming wood and shiny brass taps and a de rigueur chalkboard full of about eighty different beers that you’d love to try,

Hello, maximal beer environment. It would help if you could supply us some kind of road map – because without one, my mood is going to turn downright crusty. I mean, Uncle Buzzard and I know our way around a beer list, okay?

We aren’t pros, but we’ve certainly popped the seal on quite a few of the micros floating around the local scene. We’ve both discovered one of the beauties of this great Craft Beer Revolution we’re now engulfed in — that if you don’t have time or stomach capacity to sit and drink all night (or bladder capacity, for that matter), a couple of those new eight or nine percenters pack enough wallop to medicate you through your kids’ bedtime.

But tonight, we’ve come for the long haul. We’re talking 11:15, 11:30, baby! To keep us upright, we ask for something soothing, something that might let us breathe after the sinus-clogging hop punch of the Ithaca Brewing Flower Power we downed while adapting to the Meadhall rogues’ gallery: nerds drinking in groups up front, nerds on dates in the back, gamely making their way through plates of Mussels and fries, and nerds showing off huge muscles and huger wallets at the bar.

Unfortunately, when we ask for something good, the bartender asks us another question right back. There isn’t much help forthcoming. Instead of helping us figure out what we want, we’re expected to know the whole damn board. In other words, the question “what do you want?” really kills our buzz.

Because we like a lot of beer, but we’re not here to order what we like, we’re here to try some stuff that you’d suggest. We expect you to have clued into what we’ve ordered already and come up with something that’s going to make us happy, but not feel like abandoning to the Subaru in an hour to go play lawn darts on the Common.

So guide us, we ask you, o Meadhall beer Valkyrie. Pour us something thirst quenching and session-able, something that will let a couple of old buddies recall the old times but also keep us from slurring our way through the tales of today. Because if you treat us right, we’re your dream customers — at your mercy, ready to over-tip for a kind word and a couple of sample styles to guide us through the two extra rounds we want to get through before we shuffle off into the night.

Instead, you mumble something about having enjoyed something that sounds like a “mackenkolsch” or “spackledonker” when you tried it and you hand us an overfoamed two-ouncer of thin black stuff — to share — and move on down the line to that pair of plaid-clad Google types who seem to have cicerone apps on their 4G Androids.

Me and Uncle Buzzard, well, we’ll have a Jack d’Or, because we know what that is — even though when we drink it, it’s even drier than that Flower Power, and we’re puckering like an Irish Spring commercial. Maybe it’s us — we’re admittedly out of practice — but I don’t think so. We aren’t asking for a sommelier. We don’t want complete descriptions. We just want someone who’s going to supplement what’s on the blackboard with a little bit of context, and maybe a few tasters poured by an experienced hand.

See, at a place like Meadhall, with its one-thousand-and-ten taps, it’s incumbent on the entire team to have tasted most of what’s on offer — or to at least be willing to admit the contrary and help us work through it together. And if that’s not possible, then hire a writer to churn out some kind of menu.

Because on this night of the Meadhall pass, what I’m saying is, that despite all of our good intentions, we didn’t have time to study up for the blackboard test. Can’t you please, somehow, make the exam open-book?

Tennessee is a contributor/new member of the Beer Drinking Report posse. He’s not that crusty, it’s just he gets a little cantankerous when he is five people deep in the beer line.

  • Amy E.

    I concur: their staff is not well-suited to the place and I dislike their food menu (and the prices), but their vast draft selection and amazing tasting flights will keep me going back! Something must be done about the slanted edge of the bar, too…that’s a recipe for disaster.

  • Amy B

    A huge draft list is pointless if you don’t know anything about it – it’s be akin to having a sports car without knowing how to drive it. You look pretentious and foolish. Meadhall is better suited for a suburb – where you can’t find another bar with a great tap list, decent grub, and at least a knowledgeable staff less than a mile away. Gets a solid C in my book. Pretty fair assessment by this writer.

  • Mr. X

    Love the post, Tennessee! Anytime someone saves me a trip to a subpar bar, I’m in their debt. Oh, and the Irish Spring line killed me. Good stuff.

  • Dan B.

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. We were there last Friday night at around the same time and had a great night. Had a tasty dinner, sampled a lot of beers, had very nice service, and made some new friends. The tables next to us were all cute, young designers without a nerd in sight. Sounds like you were at a different place.

  • Mark

    This is the exact problem with the recent explosion of beer halls with 50-100 taps: people WANT to find new beers but have no idea where to begin. It’s an overwhelming experience for the uninitiated.

    The execution has been all wrong in a lot of these places. You can’t educate the staff to explain all 100 beers. Their personal taste will always come through and naturally discourage patrons from trying something they might like. And you can’t ask someone what they like because they simply don’t know.

    Instead, you need to write tasting notes and descriptions under each beer listed on the menu. If you have them listed by style, put tasting notes for the style on there as well. How about a flow chart that points them in the right direction? That would go over well with the sciency types in that area.

  • Nick

    Completely agree! And if you thought that was bad, you should have ordered dinner.

  • Michelle

    First of all, am I the only one that was completley confused by this persons review?? Who the hell is Uncle Buzzard? And what the hell is he talking about in the first paragraph???

    This was just so poorly written that I really hope no one takes this review seriously.

    I’ve been to Meadhall and as far as beer bars go…I thought it was alright. Anyone who goes to a bar that serves a wide variety of microbrews knows that you don’t go there asking what the bar tender recommends…there’s 80+ beers…how the hell are they supposed to know what you want?? You want a more intimate conversation about the beer…sit down at the booth and speak to the waitress…or go to a local pub that serves that kind of beer. The bar tenders job is to serve beer. Not read your mind.

    I’m sorry I just feel as though you are compeltely ignorant. Save your “hall pass” for your local sports bar…

  • Bob Dobalina

    Michelle, that’s like saying it’s not a car salesman’s job to know anything about the cars on the lot, he’s just there to make the sale. A great bartender knows his products and is willing to ask a few questions to make sure the customer gets something they like.

    As a person who bartended his way through college at a bar with a similarly-sized beer selection, I can tell you that even the smartest, most educated beer folk don’t know everything about every beer, and being friendly and willing to help patrons discover a new beer completely makes the experience.

    Based on the owners’ choice to have such a variety of beers on tap, it is clear that someone over there wants to share their love of beer with the masses–leading me to believe that the error is most likely in the delivery (ie, the bartenders, the menu, or perhaps even a flowchart/periodic beer table?)

    So who are you friends with–the owner, the manager, or the bartender? Why else would you attempt to discredit a completely legitimate review by analyzing writing skills (and without backing it up with any real analysis)? Just because you are incapable of understanding a fairly straighforward review doesn’t mean that others have the same shortcoming.

    (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Meadhall, I just dislike idiots)