15 August 2008

Boston Should be More like Budapest: Part II

So, my second suggestion for Boston to shape up and act more like The Best City On Earth involves a confluence of our strange, puritanical ideas and insane property values. Specifically, outdoor drinking and eating. This summer has really felt like a renaissance for Boston in that regard, with the opening of Charlie's Beer Garden and the deck at Deep Ellum. There's always been sidewalk dining on Newbury & Boylston streets as well as some roof decks here and there, but they are plagues by the crazy laws that a) require patrons to order meals, not just drink and b) requires the outside to close early. It really lacked a lot of the charm of european street cafes in Paris and Amsterdam, since the servers were always hurrying you along to turn over the table.
Deep Ellum and Charlie's Kitchen seem to have circumvented these restrictions by putting the outdoor seating in the back. And it's awesome. Deep Ellum's deck is vastly superior to Charlie's Beer Garden, though I hesitate to say that and drive more folks their way, since overcrowding is one of the problems at Charlie's. the Deep Ellum deck is a leafy, woody oasis of relaxation, great drinks and food. It's the closest think I have seen in the US to Budapet's Kerts.

Kert is the hungarian word for garden and is applied to venues that are entirely or mostly outdoors, often taking over a courtyard garden for just a summer before the building is demolished/renovated. The good ones tend to pop up every year, moving from available location to available location and advertising mostly by word of mouth. A few of them have settled down into permanent or semi-permanent digs. They range from simple beer gardens that serve no wine or liquor and have mismatched second-hand furniture to trendy hotspots with overpriced specialty cocktails and well-known DJs. And they all rock.

These places can afford to serve a few mugs of cheap beer and let folks linger and talk for hours in part because of the great deal they must be getting on these otherwise-vacant lots (some of the earlier ones were actually illegal squatters) and the European idea that cafes and bars are places for people to meet and spend time with their friends, not just money-making machines that should push the patrons out as soon as the coffee is served.