Brett's here on this Friday – a day of the week that often involves dinner out at a restaurant – to talk about his first experience at Cambridge destination PARK Restaurant & Bar. But it wasn't always PARK…
Saturday nights at the Crimson Sports Grill, affectionately known as “The Grill” by Harvard undergraduates, consisted mostly of baseball cap, blue jean and flannel clad students slugging down $5 pitchers of Red Dog beer, shots of Jagermeister and an occasional vodka sour. After 9 pm the bar staff switched out the glassware for plastic cups and the kitchen, which churned out cheeseburgers, nachos and anything else that could be concocted from similar ingredients, was promptly shut down.
This kind of dart-board ambiance attracted students, many of questionable age, after a day of studying, practice or simply hanging out. Much has been made of the glamor and exclusivity of Finals Clubs in movies like The Social Network, but in reality most weekends at the clubs consisted of drinking beer and playing pool followed by a trip to The Grill and the back to the clubs for more beer drinking and pool playing. Indeed, The Grill was the bacon in a kind of Finals Club sandwich.
This past Saturday night, my wife and I met up with a few long-time college friends and their significant others to experience the good old days of The Grill once again. The big difference was that a plastic pitcher of cheap beer was replaced by a thoughtfully constructed craft beer list, the nachos by a local cheese board, and the sign outside now read “PARK Restaurant & Bar”. The Grill was officially gone, and in it’s place a tasteful gastropub had emerged.
That evening we dined on Chef Mark Goldberg’s thoughtfully prepared comfort-style pub fare. Plates of juicy bar steak with shallot butter, savory lamb osso buco with root vegetable puree, and pan seared scallops on a ragu of butternut squash and lentils were happily gobbled up by everyone at the table. Plus, there were plenty of glasses of Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA pumped from a cask and a few glasses of Domaine La Garrigue Cotes du Rhone to wash it all down. It’s safe to say that we were overjoyed by the wonderfully cooked meat and even more pleased by the absence of thoroughly sauced meatheads.
Everyone agreed that the experience at Park was a definite upgrade from a typical Friday night at The Grill in the late 90s. Our bellies were happy and our shoes were not sticky. Leaving the comfortably crowded restaurant, I took notice of the mix of people seated in the dining room, standing at the bar, or lounging in their cozy little “den”. There was a gathering of students, parents, residents and people like us who made the trip from a few towns over to experience the good food and convivial atmosphere that Park offers. I was struck by a feeling of jealousy with the thought that these student’s first contact with bars and restaurants was likely met with craft beer and Cotes du Rhone, not crap beer and Sutter Home.
The glory days of The Grill may be gone, but our food and beverage culture has changed for the better. It used to be snobby to order any beer but a Bud, or to know that Pinot Noir was the red grape of Burgundy. Now you are just considered smart and perhaps even interesting. Heck, these days dudes are even comfortable sipping rose on a boat dressed in pink! I still get a little nostalgic for plastic pitchers and pool cues, but I’m pumped that appreciation for better food and drink has enabled PARK to rise from the rubble of nachos and Natty Lite to offer the denizens of Harvard Square a more wholesome kind of refreshment. I can still get my bacon, but at PARK it comes three ways delivered to my table on a plate with crispy brussel sprouts, pickled red onions, ciabatta crisps, and homemade apple butter. Is your mouth watering yet?
Do you agree with Brett? Has food and beverage culture changed for the better?
Looking to expand your own personal beverage culture? One of our most special wines, Lot 90 Rosso Toscana, is 25% off in our online store until tomorrow (Saturday 4/12) at 11:59PM EST. Try this wine and share it with your friends – everyone, including you, will be impressed.