A weekend trip to Cambridge, Mass took Counsel hither and yon, beer-wise.
Is there such a thing as perfect pub? I pondered this as we visited a few of the beerhalls of Cambridge this past weekend. All had their good points and not so good. Having recently visited Armsby Abbey in Worcester, which i would consider for my local if it wasn't a two-hour drive away, i had high hopes, visions really, of a comfortable, broken-in, not overly snobbish spot where the beer is transcendent, the food local and easy to like, and the staff friendly and knowledgeable without being snooty about it. Yes, Armsby is a bit fern-bar-ish in decor, and it is in Worcester, but the food and the incredible beer list, not to mention the excellent staff, tip the goblet in its favor.
First off, we visited Bukowski's in Inman Square. Initial vibe-- not so good. Trying way too hard to be a dive. Low aspirations, and anyway, dive status is earned, not fabricated. Expensive as hell-- pretty good list, though were the misspellings intentional? Too many IPA's among the 15 or so beers on tap. No. 6 Son and I enjoyed the excellent Sierra Fresh Hop Ale (2009); Bim Skala Jim and the Real Blade delved into a Stone Levitation, also an excellent quaff and hard to come by on the east coast. But... maybe it was the tattooed scenesters at the end of the bar, slugging 40-ouncers straight out of the bottle, that turned me off. Maybe it was the studiously bored bartender, who obviously thought we didn't meet the hipness quotient and didn't give us the time of day. Or maybe it was the smell of sewage drifting in off the street. In any event, we left after one beer with a bad taste in our mouths.
Across the street is the Druid, long-time Irish pub. Great-looking, quiet spot at 3 PM on a sunny Saturday in early fall. Instantly comfortable. The beer list was uninspired-- featuring the Boston Irish standard pairing of Harpoon IPA and Guinness. Decent but not overwhelming, thought the Guinness was really good, properly poured by the young Irish lad who paused from his texting just long enough to mumble a few words and take our cash. So much for the gift of gab. Is there such a catchphrase yet to cover fluency on a inch-square keyboard? Jaysus I hope not.
The next day, BSJ and I snuck out for a cheeky one at the Plough and Stars, a venerable spot on Mass Ave in Central Square. A solid local, with a decent but not overly adventurish list. We each had a Chimay, lovely and Belgian and not a typical offering, judging from my previous visits. An excellent band in the back, a few hipsters, a few professorial types. I'd drink there..
In their defense, the Druid and Plough are not trying to be beer meccas, just good solid pubs. Both succeed at this not so lofty, but nonetheless noble, goal. Bukowski's misses on both fronts.
If you did find the perfect pub, wouldn't it be a letdown? Would the quest be complete? Would a burgeoning beer belly and the complacency of old age steal away the adventure of entering a new place,taking in its smells, its vibe, its chalk-scrawled runes-- the hope that there is always someplace better, a road trip away? I for one am enjoying the hunt.
Down in One.