Food & dining

quick bite

The Merchant is stylish at all hours

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Where to The Merchant, a new downtown brasserie. Chef Matt Foley formerly worked at Craigie on Main in Cambridge and Sycamore in Newton.

What for A stylish perch in Downtown Crossing at all hours — for a business lunch, after-work drinks, dinner, or a late-night snack.

The scene Convivial and crowded at lunchtime, the Merchant looks like a classic brasserie, with tile mosaic on the floor beside the long bar, burgundy leather seating, spherical pendant lights and streamlined chandeliers, and large blackboards inscribed with specials. The wood floors, according to a bartender, are the original boards from the site’s previous tenant, London Harness. Staffers wear crisp white shirts. A man in a suit slurps oysters at the bar; a guy in a leather jacket with a red backpack and a woman in head-to-toe black tuck into sandwiches. The soundtrack features Elton John, the Turtles, Van Morrison, and the Beatles.


What you’re eating A salad doubles as eye candy, featuring roasted and pickled beets, pistachios, fennel, and orange. Rustic farro pasta is served with pork shoulder ragout. At the bar, the country-fried chicken sandwich is a popular order. Dinner brings more-elegant fare like seared scallops with cauliflower and grapefruit.

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Care for a drink? The Beetnik — rye, house-made beet liqueur, Averna, creme de cassis, and rhubarb bitters — tastes like a Manhattan that’s gone berry picking. There are several kinds of wine on tap, and the list of more than 60 beers includes limited releases and blackboard specials.

Overheard Talk of the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, hunting licenses, and hedge funds. Lawyer shop talk. Funny stories about people’s kids. The F-word. “The guy lies and cheats and steals his way to the top,” one man says. “Karma is a delicate thing,” opines another. “Why can’t all men talk to me like that?” someone at the bar asks a friend. Someone else expresses love for his mother: “I mean, she gave birth to me!” There is juicy gossip being exchanged: “They found him on the floor with his underwear around his ankles and . . . porn tapes strewn on the floor. The guy is a total disaster.” “We butcher stuff in the basement,” a bartender tells a guest. People discuss the space. “It’s a good-looking bar.” “It used to be London Harness. Such a genteel old downtown spot. No one would ever go there anymore.” “I got my mother a chess set there once.” Two women in work-to-evening wear part ways. “All right, back to work.” “I’ll see you on the boat!” one leave-taker calls to an acquaintance at the bar.

60 Franklin St., Downtown Crossing, Boston. 617-482-6060.

Devra First can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.