Best of Boston All-Stars: What’s New at the Independent

Without losing its original cozy charm, the beloved Union Square reinvents itself with a new, locally sourced menu from Patrick Gilmartin.

Welcome to Best of Boston All-Stars, a series that takes a closer look at what’s new at longtime Best of Boston favorites.

The Independent

The Independent / Courtesy photo by BRIAN SAMUELS PHOTOGRAPHY

The Union Square of today is a very different landscape than it was when the odometer first flipped over on the 21st century. In the early aughts, unless you lived or worked nearby, trekking out to this Somerville neighborhood felt something like making a voyage to the “Here Be Dragons” part of the city map.

Now, even with the completion of the Green Line extension still off the indeterminable distance, Union Square has become something of a hot spot—and to a large extent, we have places like the Independent to thank for it.

As we wrote in 2009, the year we handed the Independent its first of many Best of Boston awards: “To those living in eternally up-and-coming Somerville: You may not have solved the public transportation quandary that is Union Square but, boy, are you lucky from a pub-hub perspective.” And indeed, in the first years of its existence, the Independent (or “the Indo,” as it’s affectionately called) became one of the neighborhood’s few let’s-hoof-it-over-from-across-town destinations: a cozy watering hole with belly-warming comfort food—oh, that Irish breakfast—and bookshelves packed with board games.

“When we opened 15 years ago, Eat and Macondo were the only other dining destinations on our block” says Jess Willis, the chief operating officer for the Independent Restaurant Group (which also includes Foundry on Elm, Saloon, Brass Union, and River Bar). “Now Casa B, Bronwyn, Journeyman, Backbar, Brass Union are just a stone’s throw away.”

And the surrounding neighborhood isn’t the only thing that’s different. While it’s true that a beloved local pub often stays beloved precisely because of what doesn’t change, the Independent hasn’t shied away from improving on the formula.

The Independent

Dishes from The Independent / Courtesy photo

Earlier this year, the Independent underwent some important renovations—making not only cosmetic changes to the building, but also rebooting their menu as well, with an assist from consulting chef Patrick Gilmartin. Under Gilmartin’s direction, the new culinary program featured a focus on sourcing local and sustainable ingredients, resulting in such fare as East Coast oysters and grass-fed cheeseburgers. (They also recently debuted a summer patio, which in its third season is “still going strong.”)

We’ve praised their “innovative drink offerings” in the past, and they’re still holding the fort down there. “We continue to pour a selection of small production wines and well-made cocktails,” says Willis. The current drinks menu features a roster of evocatively named libations, like the Spit Hot Fire (house-made spicy tequila, mango puree, cayenne syrup, and creme de coconut), the Snapdragon (gin, lime, lavender honey, cardamom, and ginger beer), and Kilauea’s Wrath (aged rum, all-spice dram, creme de coconut, pineapple, lime, and angostura).

The Independent

Cocktails at The Independent / Courtesy photo

But don’t miss out on the high-caliber brews pouring forth from their taps—here, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas, Green Flash share space with Narragansett and Guinness. On the hyperlocal tip, they’re also featuring a couple next-door neighbors’ wares, from Cambridge’s Lord Hobo, Framingham’s Jack’s Abby, and fellow Union Square operation Bantam Cider. “We’ve always been serious about beer but have really dialed up the beer program over the past year,” says Willis.

What’s on the horizon for the Indo? In addition to our newest sibling, River Bar in Assembly Row, we’ve got another new sibling next door—Brass Union—and plans to expand into garage space behind the Independent beginning sometime next year,” says Willis.

The Independent, 75 Union Sq., Somerville, 617-440-6022,