Best of Boston All-Stars: What’s New at Bukowski Tavern
Welcome to Best of Boston All-Stars, a series that takes a closer look at what’s new at longtime Best of Boston favorites.
Its grungy, brusque vibe an affectionate nod to the deceased author of its namesake, Bukowski Tavern—with locations in the Back Bay and Inman Square—has always been fond of rule-breaking.
When most people ring in the new year with horns and champagne, Bukowski’s has a tradition of hosting a “F*** New Year’s Eve Party”—they even give you a dollar just for showing up. When Mayan Apocalypse believers lived in fear that the world would end on December 21, 2012, Buks welcomed Doomsday with a one-of-a-kind Last Meals menu, with La Fin Du Monde beers on tap. And perhaps most importantly, when winter storm Juno shuttered most shops and inspired endless Blizzard of ’78 comparisons, they helped us fend off cabin fever by staying open.
Though we’ve come to depend on Bukowski’s as a reliable source for gritty charm since 1998, we also know that they’re not shy about shaking things up every once in awhile. And shake things up they did, when the Inman Square incarnation of the beloved watering hole got a complete overhaul.
In 2014, chef Brian Poe bought into the Bukowski mini-empire, to help usher in some major changes. Most notably, Cambridge Buk’s closed last July for renovations and re-opened in January with an entirely new look: The bar—now a sleek stainless steel—was relocated to the opposite side of the room, while the old taps have been traded in for an entire wall of 36 draught beers.
A longtime favorite among beer geeks, they’ve broadened their scope. In 1999, we lauded co-owner Suzi Dobeli’s bartending skills, noting that “Suzi doesn’t mix drinks, because Bukowski is a wine and beer bar only.” No longer: Now the Inman Buk’s offers a variety of classic yet innovative cocktails—Last F’ing Word, anyone?—“for your friend who isn’t as into beer as you are,” Poe says.
The changes extend to the menus, too, with Poe bringing his signature flair for exotic comfort food to their offerings.
The top-notch pub grub has long been a cornerstone of the taverns’ success: In our 2007 award to Bukowski’s, we wrote: “A great pub is measured not only by its pints, but also by the quality of the food it offers to absorb all that booze. Bukowski’s, for its part, offers plenty of delicious ways to fortify yourself for the myriad varieties of stellar frosty brews it pours.”
This holds true. You can still get the White-Trash Cheese Dip and that uncanny peanut butter burger at their Boston location. (As we marveled in 2008, “It may sound unnatural, but holy smokes!”)
Poe has also added a bit of the Tip Tap Room to the menu: “Behind the scenes, I was like a mad scientist experimenting with new dishes that were quintessentially ‘Buks’ in style, but incorporated my culinary flair,” he says. “I’ve added a lot of wild game to the Inman Square menu, ranging from llama to antelope and featuring the occasional camel burger or kangaroo steak bomb.”
But fear not: This is still the anti-establishment establishment and better-beer haven you’ve come to hold near and dear.
They still have the Wheel of Indecision—it’s just now connected to an SmartPhone app. And yes, you can still work for your chance to become part of the Dead Authors Club. Old muggers are grandfathered in, and newbies vying for membership just have to drink all 153 offered beers in 180 days. In return, they’ll receive a 25-ounce mug to use at whichever location they won, complete with an engraving of their number and favorite dead author’s name. Oh, and permanent bragging rights. Maybe this is what college was really training you for?
The Inman Square Bukowski’s might have a new face and lots of exciting new treats, but it’s still deeply rooted in the old. Think of it, as Poe puts it, “a dive bar with some modern twists.”
Of course, the spirit of Charles Bukowski himself still looms large over the establishment, his visage plastered on the walls. And even with the shiny new updates, with the tavern still retaining the gruff charm and formidable skill that drew us in in the first place, it’s easy to imagine he’d approve.
Bukowski Tavern, 50 Dalton St., 617-437-9999; 1281 Cambridge St., 617-497-7077; bukowskitavern.net.