Restaurants

Mariel brings the flavors of Cuba to downtown Boston

Inside a former bank building, the ornate restaurant aims to channel old Havana.

Mariel
Mariel is now open downtown. Richard Cadan

On Monday night, a slice of Cuba landed in Boston as the highly anticipated restaurant Mariel opened for dinner in Post Office Square.

Owned by the COJE Management Group — the same restaurant group behind Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar, Ruka Restobar, and Yvonne’s — Mariel is a lavish tribute to pre-revolutionary Havana, from the curated collection of rum bottles that sit behind the bar to the murals depicting life in the Cuban capital. The restaurant is situated within a former bank building, with windows that overlook the square.

To gain inspiration for the concept, the COJE team went on a research trip to Cuba before opening Mariel.

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“I didn’t expect to be so blown away by the architecture; I wasn’t ready for that,” Chris Jamison, principal of COJE, wrote in an email to Boston.com. “The European style and beauty of the architecture of Havana really struck us and we knew we wanted to incorporate that worn, decayed elegance into the design of Mariel.”

Fufú gnocchi and lechón pizza at Mariel

Fufú gnocchi and lechón pizza at Mariel.

Under soaring ceilings and chandeliers, the 140-seat dining room boasts booths, banquettes, and scattered tables, where diners can order small plates like Cuban pizza made with pastry chef Liz O’Connell’s sweet pizza dough and topped with housemade tomato sauce and queso Havana, a cheese blend utilizing mozzarella and Havana-style gouda. COJE’s culinary director, Tom Berry, designed a menu meant for sharing; in addition to the pizzas, there are sweet corn arepas, halibut ceviche, Havanese lamb belly, and pork empanadas.

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“Tom’s empanadas are killer, the pizzas are truly unique and so similar to what we had down there; he and Liz did an incredible job recreating what we ate in Havana,” wrote Jamison. “The dish I think is going to become a bit of a signature for us, though, is the fufu gnocchi [made with plantain dumplings and garlic-brown butter]. It’s such an incredible combination of textures and flavors, and it’s such a well-thought-out dish.”

Cocktails at Mariel

Cocktails at Mariel.

At the 24-seat bar, cocktail pro Sebastian Cañas shakes up drinks like the Mariel mojito — though with a few extra details. Mariel sources a strain of mint called heribabuena, working with a local company to harvest 400 pounds of the strain in conditions that replicate Cuba’s natural environment. While waiting for a cocktail — or maybe a glass of wine poured from custom magnum bottles — bar-goers can take a peek at the rare, aged rums collected from across the globe.

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“[Cañas has] done a great job of presenting the classics,” Jamison shared. “His piña colada is incredible; there’s just a hint of coffee in there and it escalates the drink tremendously.”

Jamison also gave a nod to The Jennings, a gin-based drink that features a printed Cuban flag on it.

Mariel bar and lounge

Mariel bar and lounge.

Mariel — which gets its name from Mariel Harbor, a Cuban port that served as the departure point during a wave of Cuban emigration to South Florida in 1980 — is open for dinner each night, with lunch debuting soon. Cuban jazz brunches will launch in the winter, featuring both a live band and a DJ, and a cocktail club will open on Mariel’s lower level at a later date. Until then, Jamison is hoping that Mariel becomes a bonafide downtown destination.

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“When you think about it, Post Office Square is one of the most beautiful parks in Boston and to be able to open up on to that is incredible,” Jamison wrote. “I hope Mariel becomes an integral part of this neighborhood and injects a bit of life and vibrancy to the area that otherwise tends to dissipate after happy hour and on the weekends.”

Mariel; 10 Post Office Square, Boston; Dinner daily from 5 p.m.–2 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. (coming soon); barmariel.com