March 20th, 2007

East Coast Grill – Best Boston bars

East Coast Grill

Established: 1985
Specialty: Cocktails, wine, beer
Prices: Moderate
Atmosphere: Serious food in an unserious setting, fresh-juice cocktails adorned with little plastic monkeys.
See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

For many years, one of my life’s great pleasures has been to sit at the bar at the East Coast Grill, grazing on raw shellfish and drinking margaritas made with fresh citrus juice. The food and drink at this Inman Square institution are so consistently fresh and satisfying that I find myself thanking my lucky stars for the place every time I manage to nab a stool at the always — always — crowded bar.

In the contemporary Boston bar scene, ECG pioneered using fresh-squeezed lemons and limes (instead of powdered sour mix) to make its margaritas, plus fresh pineapple and mango puree for other tropical cocktails. These bright-tasting, not-too-sweet drinks are the liquid counterpart to the kitchen’s equally bright-tasting, equatorial, often fiery dishes. Owner and cookbook author Chris Schlesinger, a member of the nation’s grilling & barbecuing elite, says that the fresh-grapefruit Greyhounds he used to drink at a Key West bar called Pedro’s inspired his own drink-mixing practices. Patrick Sullivan, a bartender at ECG in the mid-’90s, brought the fresh-squeezed philosophy with him when he opened his own pioneering bar, the B-Side Lounge, in 1998.

That’s the other thing about the ECG bar — it has always had cool bartenders. Schlesinger describes his staff’s service as “unpretentious, hardworking and relentlessly friendly.” OK, that’s true, but senior bartender Nick Weinstock pinpoints the crux of the matter: “It’s non-corporate. You’re not dealing with canned personalities here.” Weinstock is a perfect example of this. In addition to being a total professional, he’s brash in a lovable way and amusing without being a suck-up. He and his colleagues genuinely appear to be having a good time behind the bar, and they manage to get the customers in on the fun without monopolizing anyone’s night out. It’s a nifty trick.

Most cocktails here are in the $8 range, and there are always a couple of good New England beers on draught (Buzzard’s Bay, Cambridge Brewing Co., Allagash), not to mention PBR tallboys. A really good, reasonably priced sparkling wine is always available for your oyster-eating pursuits, and the wine list is well tailored to the cuisine.

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4 Responses to “East Coast Grill – Best Boston bars”

  1. MC Slim JB

    I’ve long been an admirer of the Margaritas at the East Coast Grill, calling them the best in town for years, but over a series of recent visits (three over the past six months), I’ve been served some really inferior ones. These were “Martin’s Magnificent” and “Real Deal” Margaritas up, the two versions made with 100% blue Agave tequila, and they were pretty terrible, tasting mostly of lime juice and sugar. I was crushed. Once or twice, a fluke, perhaps, but three times, no.

    My current favorites are those made at Tremont 647 (whose addition of a small amount of fresh OJ is so good I’ve modified my home recipe to include it), and at a relative newcome, The Biltmore in Newton Upper Falls. This great little gastropub pours a specialty cocktail it calls the Potomac Wave, which as near as I can tell is a riff on the Margarita up, and it’s just superb. Add this place to your list of places whose bartenders are trying to show a little craft and seriousness with the shaker.

  2. ljclark

    Wow, I am sorry to hear about your bad recent experiences with margaritas at the East Coast Grill. Wonder what’s up with that. Thanks for the tip about the Biltmore — will check it out.

  3. Robert

    This is a very well written review of the East Coast Grill bar experience. I don’t know that I’ve ever had anything but fantastic margaritas at ECG, maybe once? But for like twenty years now they have had one of the coolest bars in Cambridge. Oysters shucked to order right in front of you… fresh purees and house made sour mix. Yes its always crowded but thats part of the charm. You never know who’s going to be at the bar stool next to you. One time it was Peter Wolf sitting next to me! (For those of you who don’t know, Peter Wolf is a famous musician from the J. Geils Band and has excellent solo albums…)

  4. ljclark

    Why thank you, Robert. I’ve never come across any celebs at the ECG bar.

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