New Year’s Eve is sometimes derided as amateur night, an occasion for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd to dress up and indulge in overpriced caviar and bubbly. Savvy diners may shun New Year’s restaurant dinners, but they, too, deserve something festive, a low-key alternative for those who want to go out without going all out, or who want a small bite and a drink before heading to a more ambitious celebration.
Turns out, there are plenty of places to do this, most no farther away than your favorite neighborhood hangout. Lots of area restaurants — even ones that are offering that whole-nine-yards, four-course, prix fixe menu — are perfectly happy to welcome customers at the bar for a cocktail and a nibble. No reservations, no cover, and, perhaps, a quieter-than-typical evening at places where the bar might normally be jampacked with scenesters.
“It’s one of the best nights to walk in and slide into two seats at the bar,” says Garrett Harker. He’s talking specifically about Eastern Standard, but he could be describing the other two places he owns: The Hawthorne and Island Creek Oyster Bar. Harker expects the bar to stay quiet only through the dinner hour; by 10:30 or 11 p.m., there should be more of a crowd. Eastern Standard will be running its regular menu, which means there will be snack options as well as full meals.
Sam’s at Louis, on the Waterfront, will also be business as usual on New Year’s Eve, and patrons can expect to enjoy a drink and a nibble (or a meal) at the bar in relative peace and quiet. “Nobody has do to anything but come and hang out,” says co-owner Esti Parsons. A drink accompanied by spicy hummus or house-pickled vegetables sounds like a good way to kick off the evening, and if you happen to be there at midnight, says Parsons, “We have the best view of the fireworks.”
Not every restaurant anticipates a quiet evening at the bar. Hostess Latoya Weaver of Catalyst in Cambridge, says, “I would assume it might get busy,” adding that the Kendall Square spot will offer a limited menu at the bar.
The Avery Bar at the Ritz Carlton sounds like a pretty swanky place to stop for a drink and a bite on New Year’s Eve; you could go old school with a martini and a shrimp cocktail, and call it an evening. Public relations manager Lisa Dziokonski can’t predict whether it’ll be a lively evening or a quiet one at the bar. “This is only our second New Year’s Eve,” she says. “But it was pretty busy last year.”
In the suburbs, options abound. At Alma Nove in Hingham, wine director Carrie Casagrande says, “We wrestled with the thought of booking the bar. We decided to leave it open, but people don’t always realize it’s an option. It tends to be quiet at the bar [on New Year’s Eve].” The restaurant will be serving its full dinner menu at the bar. Sharing an appetizer while enjoying one of the restaurant’s Winter Wonderland martinis might fit the bill.
The dining room at 51 Lincoln in Newton Highlands will be serving a prix fixe menu, but at the bar, a more casual spirit will prevail. “We want to give our guests flexibility and not make them spend more than they want,” explains bar manager Anthony Barounis. Sit at the bar, order a fish taco and a cocktail, leave happy — no reservations, no pressure. Waban Kitchen, under the same ownership and a mile or so away, will also be offering a casual alternative at the 14-seat bar, with small plates, charcuterie, and a selection of craft beers.
Tony Bettencourt, chef and owner at 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar in Salem, is downright thrilled about having customers come in for a casual bite at the bar. “Not everyone wants to be held hostage to the prix fixe menu,” he says. He’s just as happy to have guests sit at the bar and order one or two spuntini, his Italian spin on small plates. “New Year’s Eve can be a lot of pressure, and some people don’t want that,” says Bettencourt.
Taking the pressure off is also on the mind of Patrick Lee, owner of Cambridge’s Park Restaurant & Bar. “Plenty of people want to have a good New Year’s Eve experience without the hassle,” he says. With that in mind, Park is offering its full menu at the bar, including nibbles such as bacon three ways and a “tasting of toast.” “It’s a fun, lively atmosphere without the pretense and expense,” says Lee. And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe the free parking — in Harvard Square, no less — will.
A bite at the bar might constitute the perfect celebration. “You wouldn’t think you could roll in,” says Harker of his hot spots. But on New Year’s Eve, of all times, you can. And, he adds, “Where would you rather be than your favorite neighborhood place?”
Alma Nove, 22 Shipyard Drive, Hingham, 781-749-3353, www.almanovehingham.com
Avery Bar at the Ritz-Carlton, 10 Avery St., Boston, 617-574-7100, www.ritzcarlton.com
Catalyst, 300 Technology Square, Cambridge, 617-576-3000, www.catalystrestaurant
Eastern Standard, 528 Commonwealth Ave., 617-532-9100, www.easternstandardboston
51 Lincoln, 51 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, 617-965-3100, www.51lincolnnewton
Island Creek Oyster Bar,
500 Commonwealth Ave.,
Park Restaurant & Bar,
59 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, 617-491-9851, www.parkcambridge.com
62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, 62 Wharf St., Salem, 978-744-0062, www.62restaurant.com
Sam’s at Louis, 60 Northern Ave., 617-295-0191, www.sams
The Hawthorne, 500A Commonwealth Ave., 617-532-9150, www.thehawthornebar.com
Waban Kitchen, 1649 Beacon St., Newton, 617-558-7677, www.wabankitchen.comJane Dornbusch can be reached at email@example.com.