A comfortable and cozy place on a blustery night
According to Ritz-Carlton legend, Jack Lemmon's mother loved the hotel bar so much she requested that her ashes be kept there. Her wish was not granted, but after visiting the bar, which opened after Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and is now part of Taj Boston, we discovered that it's a pretty nice place to hang out. Maybe not for eternity, but still, a nice place.
The worn upholstery and dark oil paintings of dogs give the bar a bit of a gentleman's club feel, but it's a surprisingly comfortable spot even for blue-jeans-wearing non-hotel guests who aren't used to being waited on by a man in a tuxedo.
For starters, there's the view of the Public Garden across Arlington Street. It was dark by the time we got there on a blustery Friday night, but the more interesting scene was playing out on the sidewalk in front of the hotel: women's hair whipping in the wind, people fighting off gusts of rain with broken umbrellas, Taj doormen escorting guests from their cabs.
The second we sat down in the lower level near the floor-to-ceiling windows, a three-tiered tray of cheese crisps, mixed nuts, and wasabi peas and sesame sticks appeared on the table. And the second we finished that, another one followed. We ordered a few classic cocktails - a powerful caipirinha, an even more powerful gin martini with a twist of lemon, and a fruity Singapore sling ("like spring break in a glass," according to one diner), which were classic in every way but the $15 price tag. At least they were resting on linen coasters, not those flimsy paper ones that stick to the bottom of your glass. And the yellow orchids on the tables were a nice touch.
If you're into fine tequila, bourbon, cognac, and single-malt Scotch, this is the place for you. Just know that they don't come cheap. A middle-age man with a sparkly earring was aghast when he saw the prices. "Holy moly," he said when he opened the menu, then turned to his friend and said something about "$75," grumble grumble, "stupid," grouse, grouse.
The food selection is much less extensive than the drinks, but if you want a full meal you could traipse across the lobby to the cafe. New executive chef Franck Steigerwald has just created menus for the Taj establishments, and our favorite item was the lobster quesadilla - a little spicy with big chunks of lobster meat and three very subtle cheeses. The jumbo lump crab cake, crunchy on top and bottom, was mostly crab, surrounded by lovely dots of red pepper coulis and lemon aioli - and quite tasty. The dry Kobe beef burger, on the other hand, we could have done without.
By 9 p.m., the piano player had been replaced by a jazz trio, and we had polished off an order of caramelly chocolate mousse cake and Boston cream pie with a thick, fudgy top and berries artfully arranged around it.
All around us, well-groomed people of all ages were having drinks and murmuring contentedly. In the far corner, a 60-something pair avoided eye contact with each other. A young couple speaking Spanish, or possibly Italian, sipped martinis at the window and looked dreamily out at the rain.
Apparently, many matches have been made in this storied establishment, particularly with Harvard men. According to an article Taj Boston PR director Caron Le Brun dug up from a 1950 Holidays magazine, the steps into the bar have been called "the most important steps in the life of an unmarried Boston girl."
Do you hear that ladies? The Taj bar would a lovely place to come with a date after walking through the Public Garden. But it might be even better to come on the prowl.
Taj Boston, 15 Arlington St., 617-536-5700. tajhotels.com. Dishes $10-$24, wine $10-$24 a glass.