April 11th, 2008

The Publick House – Best Boston bars

Publick House

Established: 2002
Specialty: Beer
Prices: Moderate
Atmosphere: Beer-loving ladies and gents congregate here en masse for top-notch Belgian and other artisanal beers, a friendly vibe and a choice of two bars adorned with authentic Belgian taps and brewery decor.
See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

If the ho-hum lager Stella Artois is what you equate with “Belgian beer,” then get yourself over to the Publick House in Brookline (1648 Beacon St.) ASAP. As you confront the beauty of a complex Trappist ale or bottle-conditioned saison (the Champagne of the beer world), you’ll realize what you’ve been missing.

The Publick House has so successfully schooled Boston-area residents in Belgium’s myriad beer styles that David Ciccolo, who owns the pub with his wife, Ailish Gilligan, was knighted in that country. Seriously. Shortly after opening the Monk’s Cell, a tap room adjacent to the Publick House, in 2007, Ciccolo traveled to Brussels to be inducted into the Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs, or Knighthood of the Brewer’s Mash Staff. Formidable! I’m guessing the fact that he used to be an actual brewer, at the defunct Tremont Brewing Co. in Charlestown, didn’t hurt.

The Publick House’s beer menu leans heavily toward Belgians (roughly 100 of them), but it has a very respectable selection from the best American craft breweries (Allagash, Sixpoint, etc.), plus the occasional tasty treat from elsewhere in Europe. Belgian breweriana decorates the walls, and the proper glassware is used. I loved my Atomium Grand Cru in its wide-mouthed goblet emblazoned with the beer’s namesake: Brussels’ kitschy monument to molecular science built for the 1958 World’s Fair. Naturally, there are mussels and frites on the menu, along with several dishes in the gastro-pub vein. And one of my favorite bartenders, Matt Tremblay (pictured above) — whom I’ve known since he worked at the Cambridge Brewing Co. back in my brewing days — is the top tap man there. His attitude echoes that of the Publick House as a whole: respectful of good beer without being snobby about it.

Beers range from $4 to $8 (and more for the rare stuff); dishes from roughly $8 to $20. Astute barflies will remember that the Publick House originally opened under the gaelic name Anam Cara. Naturally, confused patrons would walk in expecting an Irish pub. Ciccolo says that was an “admitted mistake,” and changed the name. The most frequent complaint about the Publick House is that it gets too crowded. “I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing what we’re doing,” Ciccolo says. Not surprisingly, he has plans to expand his empire, which now includes not only the Publick House and the Monk’s Cell, but Publick House Provisions (1706 Beacon St.), a specialty grocery store that features the beers on the Publick House menu, cheeses, Belgian chocolates, etc. Personally, I’m lobbying for a Belgian tap room in the Cambridge-Somerville area.

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7 Responses to “The Publick House – Best Boston bars”

  1. Stephen

    great review… i keep trying to put more artisinal styles of beer on our list but noone believes me that people like them… and most of the bars that serve them are way too busy to hang out at… yikes… supply is out of sync with demand… i keep thinking that beer geekdom is more important to promote than wine geekdom… the beer market keeps getting massively sophisticated on the demand side yet there is no supply… there are no reps hitting up restaurants constantly showing them new beers… someone invests the time and money in me to taste 20 new super expensive wines every monday afternoon but no beers… its crazy!

    the same thing kind of happens with cocktails and is evident that demand is bigger than supply for artisin crafted a la minute style drinks but their are more legitamet reasons why supply would lag… some restaurants are legitamately too busy to serve craft cocktails… they don’t have the physical space or resources some times… most definitely don’t work at their craft capacity… but beer… you serve it cold and pour it in a glass…

    adam smith is rolling in his grave…

    my new favorite artisin beer spot in cambridge is the green street… dillon definitely supplies the demand… worth also mentioning is the beer paired with cheese plate at the CBC… it showed better command of pairing than i’ve seen out of most wine sommeliers in the city…


  2. ljclark

    Illuminating perspective from someone in the biz, Stephen. Thanks.

  3. Gareth

    I love everything about The Publick House…the food, the beer menu, the atmosphere, it’s all so unique. I really want to find (more like hope) a place like this that has a real beer garden, it would be such a nice spot for Boston summers.

    Stephen, you bring up a real good point. I just don’t think that there are enough people with knowledge or desire for craft beers. I would love to go into a nice restaurant and find more than the usual Stella, Guinness, or Amstel Light. I feel it’s due to the fact that most don’t think that a nice beer menu is considered as enticing as an extensive vintage wine or craft cocktails menu.

  4. ljclark

    Gareth, the knowledge and desire for craft beers is actually much improved from where it was five or ten years ago, and some Boston-area restaurants are embracing good beer. The beer selections at Green Street, the Independent, Eastern Standard and the Blue Room, among others, are excellent. And of course there are beer-oriented places like Redbones, Deep Ellum, Bukowski, etc. In fact, I would argue that there are more places in greater Boston that serve craft beer than ever before, and I think the trend will only continue.

  5. Gareth

    I would agree that craft beers have definitely gained in popularity within the past 5 or 10 years, I guess my point was that the level of knowledge or desire isn’t that of cocktails or wine. Maybe it is getting there though (if not there already); I have no experience in the restaurant biz besides barbacking at a few bars, so it’s interesting to see it from the business POV.

    And I need to try some of those restaurants you listed off Lauren; almost made it to the Independent on Friday but plans changed.

  6. Nick

    The Publick House is amazing. The beer list is great, but the food is unique and always delicious. One of my favorite “Boston” bars by far.

  7. beer mecca gets provisions « transient travels

    […] have been to the Publick House in Brookline a few times and my favorite part is that I can get a triple bock ipa in the […]

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