First Bite: Saloon

At this new Davis Square pub, it's whiskey first, food second. And that's just fine with us.

Photo by Ekaterina Smirnova

Photo by Ekaterina Smirnova

When you finally reach Saloon’s entrance, you’ll likely be met with a chuckle. The doorman was watching when you first walked by the place, then checked the map on your phone and spun around cluelessly. An underground lair inspired by pre-Prohibition-era taverns, Saloon is intentionally hidden — the kind of bar you duck into at happy hour and emerge from, hours later, wondering what happened to the rest of your evening.

Featuring shelves stocked with more than 100 bourbons, ryes, and single malts, this spot from the owners of nearby gastropub Foundry on Elm is a whiskey lover’s wonderland. Each spirit is smartly priced three ways: for a standard pour, an Old Fashioned, or a Manhattan. It’s as if they’re saying, “We picked these carefully, so have a drink that does them justice.” Cocktails (all $10), however, are inconsistent. The “bespoke” Americana, a bourbon-based twist on a champagne cocktail, was too sour. The Ward 44, a blend of pork-belly-infused whiskey, lemon, and house grenadine, was overly smoky. But an unlikely hit was the Nay Sayer, which pairs whiskey and wheatgrass: Despite the Odwalla-esque hue, I liked its ­gingery, herbaceous bite.

The rustic, hearty food seems designed to pad the booze. Five deviled-egg halves swimming in Russian dressing ($6) were a ho-hum take on the trend—not, despite our server’s assurances, the best we’d ever had. But fried, Boursin-stuffed pickled peppadews with ranch dressing ($9) were gloriously oozy and crisp, far better than you’d imagine given the humble ingredients.

Entrées are English-pub inspired and priced to please. Bubble and Squeak ($15) is a cast-iron dish filled with sausage, shaved Brussels sprouts, and mashed root veggies in onion gravy, the combo of salt, bitter greens, and subtle sweetness delivering pure comfort. The lamb ribs with rosemary potatoes and mint sauce ($16) were more chewy than tender, but a dip in the thin, tangy sauce made them terrific finger food. Is it destination fare? Not exactly. But it’s destination drinking, for sure. And for that, we’ll come back time and again.

255 Elm St., Somerville, 617-628-4444,