I love parties. House parties, cocktail parties, dinner parties, frying parties, you name it. The only problem with parties, however, is that someone has to host, provide the food and drink, and then clean up. Some of these responsibilities can be circumvented with a skillfully planned potluck or by shaming those still remaining on your couch in the morning into helping you clean up, but the best parties are the ones hosted for you. The issue with these, however, is that you often lack control of what’s being served and who’s in attendance. Must it always be so hard to get a decent gin and tonic alongside agreeable conversation on frat row?
Enter the Hawthorne. A new lounge in Kenmore Square, tucked between Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard in the Hotel Commonwealth, the Hawthorne is a hotel lounge that hopes to continue the mixology revolution in Boston while creating a warm, inviting space that does away with the notion that great bars must be mysterious and exclusive. The Hawthorne is the lovechild of Jackson Cannon, one of the leaders of Boston’s cocktail scene, and Garrett Harker, who also owns Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard. With Eastern Standard, Harker and Cannon brought impeccable service, delicious food, and world-class bartending to Boston in a large, high-volume restaurant. Island Creek focused on the farm-to-table movement, creating a unique experience in which the owner of the Island Creek Oyster Farm became a third partner in the restaurant. With the Hawthorne, Harker has given nearly full reign to Cannon in designing the ultimate cocktail lounge.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to attend the family-and-friends soft opening. I didn’t know much about the event or the restaurant, but I recruited a friend to join me anyway. We headed into Boston and, after a brief ride on the Green Line, arrived in Kenmore. The only issue was that I had absolutely no idea where the restaurant was located. The press hadn’t been allowed to write about it yet, and there was no website or Yelp listing. After walking back and forth along Comm Ave, trying to locate the mysterious Hawthorne, we were tipped off to the location by some other wayward travelers asking for directions from the Hotel Commonwealth doormen. As luck would have it, the restaurant was inside the hotel. In we went, climbing the stairs to the lobby, only to be told that we had passed it on the way in. Not only is Hawthorne’s street-side entrance sandwiched between two restaurants, it’s also nestled between the outer and inner glass doors of the hotel.
My friends have often told me that I sound, act, and think like an old man. I’m not convinced they mean this as a compliment, but I like to think they mean that I have an old soul. Either way, that seasoned spirit within me immediately felt at home as I pushed through the unmarked glass door into a decadent suburban cocktail party. In creating the Hawthorne, Harker tore down the old Foundation Lounge, replacing every visible inch of the room, from the garish orange bar lighting to the tacky full-length mirror that adorned the wall beside the bar. The Hawthorne would not be a lounge, a restaurant, or a bar, but a place to recreate a cocktail party atmosphere within the fast-paced city lifestyle. Subtle blue walls with white molding and hand-picked living room and lounge furniture transformed the formerly awkward pseudo-club into a cocktail lover’s haven.
All features of the room defer to the bar that extends the entire width of the main dining room. Seating is informal, with couches, stools, and lounges scattered along the walls, creating small intimate areas where guests can share drinks and food with friends. The only traditional table sits directly in the middle of the room in front of the bar, a minimalist black centerpiece in a room of beautifully designed furniture. The artist behind the imagery in Island Creek Oyster, Stephen Sheffield, had full reign over the photographic collection on display in the Hawthorne, curating a beautiful gallery that would be at home in any museum. His wife, Alison, masterminded the interior design, utilizing her residential experience to meet the cocktail party vision Harker and Cannon shared. The atmosphere of the Hawthorne is truly one of a kind. Each time I looked around the room, I noticed an elegant touch I had somehow missed before.
As we were guided to our seats by the eager host, I spotted some friends seated at the aforementioned singular table. After patiently waiting for us to finish our extensive round of hugs, the host seated us beside them, and our journey began. For the soft opening, a condensed menu was presented, offering a selection of Cannon’s favorite cocktails and some staples from the kitchen. I began the night with a Bamboo, a delicious sherry-based cocktail that Cannon has modified with sweet vermouth and bitters. We soon dove into the delicious food, sampling the white bean dip, a steak salad, and the thick grilled cheese. My seat facing the bar made it impossible not to be mesmerized by the talented bartenders blending the worlds of theater, art, and mixology with every drink. Time flew by as we explored the drink menu and dabbled in desserts with some amazing coffee éclairs and a chocolate bread pudding that went perfectly with my coffee-infused cocktail.
The beauty of the Hawthorne is the complete vision that Harker and Cannon have meticulously created. Filling a void that I never knew existed between bars and restaurants, the Hawthorne provides the perfect analogy of the suburban cocktail party in a city environment. Enjoy cocktail hour while catch
ing up with friends before heading out to another restaurant or the clubs, or spend the entire evening lounging on the comfortable couches scattered throughout the restaurant, moving from cocktails and appetizers to dinner and then desert. The Hawthorne is one of the truly unique experiences that Boston’s in
credible restaurant and bar scene has to offer. To take a break from studying or simply to prepare yourself for the holidays at home, visit the Hawthorne, as it’s sure to become one of Boston’s signature bars and a staple in every cocktail aficionado’s black book.