In some big cities there are only vestiges of bygone era neighborhood taverns, but Northside’s Boswell’s has found a way to trump decay and reemerge with an unexpected second act.
As the story goes, Mike and Jan Beck operated Boswell’s Alley (Alley has since been dropped) located on Blue Rock Street, a rather dim strip compared to the more thriving main drag of Hamilton Avenue. In 2006, they sold the restaurant and eventually ownership landed in the hands of people who mismanaged the place, and then Boswell’s closed and fell in control of a bank. But when the bank held an auction to finally sell the place, Beck and another couple, Walt and Debbie Schultz, purchased the building and reopened Boswell’s this September after an extensive renovation.
Gone is the old Boswell’s sign, replaced with brightly lit lettering on the building’s façade; the front door now has a crystal glass panel; the bathrooms have a new coat of earth toned paint; the updated bar/dining room features warm woods, eggshell hued walls, wood paneling, cherry wood tables, wooden chairs and handmade wine patterned window treatments. The exposed brick wall (with artwork for sale by Jim Humble) remains, as does the verdant patio, but the new look supplants the former American neighborhood tavern décor with a much-needed refined British pub design.
We pored over the menu containing the same inexpensive items from yesteryear, except now it includes more vegetarian-friendly dishes.
Regulars, who had convened for home-cooked meals, took up a few tables, but it was mainly an older bunch until later in the evening when the hipster crowd arrived for weekly karaoke and filled every seat at the bar. The menu was vast and our waitress, sensing we’d never been there, recommended their wings, the hot brown and burgers. To appear more viable as a neighborhood restaurant, they have a few dinner entrees such as salmon and chicken marsala on the menu, but for $18.95 the salmon seemed a bit overpriced considering a burger was only $6.50. Instead, we ordered a tuna melt ($6.50), a side salad ($2.50), their famous Boursin burger ($6.50), bruschetta ($5.50) and six hot wings ($5.95). They have several beers on tap so we tried a Yuengling and a Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, which tasted artificial and needed more porter and less vanilla. It seemed like it took forever for our food to come out — not even an appetizer made an appearance — but then, like a gift from the gods, our waitress brought almost all of our ambrosia out at once except for the hot wings, which she’d forgotten but promised to bring soon.
The tuna came open-faced with melted cheddar cheese coating the heap of tuna on two slices of white toast; the tuna was standard, maybe a little too creamy, and the lettuce was unfortunately wilted in one section but crisp in another. Also middling was the side salad that subscribed to a couple of my salad pet peeves: shredded cheese sprinkled all over it coupled with a cup of goopy raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The bruschetta was surprisingly good: chopped tomatoes and basil marinated in balsamic vinegar and placed on top of French bread smeared with Boursin cheese and punctuated with a side of demure roasted garlic. The only issue here was the bread wasn’t crunchy enough and would’ve tasted better if it had been grilled, more like a crostini. The six hot wings brushed with Bos sauce (garlic and buffalo) were spicy and flavorful and complemented the juicy and nicely charred burger, which could’ve used a sturdier bun to hold it all together.
People began to set up for karaoke, so it was probably a good time to wrap up, but I’d noticed when we sat down they had a few desserts listed on their daily specials chalkboard. I had saved some room but our waitress hastily brought our check and set it down without asking beforehand if we wanted anything else. Why is it when you don’t want dessert they ask you, but when you do they don’t? Maybe our waitress was subtlety hinting we’d already had enough and there was no way we could eat anything else, so I took the hint and forwent that slice of warm apple pie.
Boswell’s has rebounded, but don’t call it a comeback — it’s just another chapter in an ongoing story of Northside’s legacy and the incredible independent business owners who are defining it.
Go: 1686 Blue Rock St., Northside
Hours: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 11a.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday