A visit to The Washington Square Tavern is an evening for good beer, good burgers, and good banter. It’s like going to a party at the cool kids' place—you know the ones, who ironically wear tweed jackets and stock their bookshelves with Kerouac and Vonnegut.
Here at the Tavern, the décor is an homage to a passion for books and for biking, in the form of low, dark wood bookshelves and black-and-white photos of the Tour de France. There's a jovial feel in the air, cultivated by Gerry, the owner, who greets the regulars by name. One of my dining companions remarked that "all the faces look familiar—I feel like I know everybody here."
The menu, mostly inspired riffs on comfortable dishes, is so much more than burgers. It's approachable, yet far from what you might expect from a tavern. You'll find roasted chicken with wild mushroom stuffing and creamy potatoes spiked with Dijon mustard, or shrimp swimming in grits with crispy pork belly and a poached egg. Housemade Parmesan gnocchi is delectable in a tomato sauce with mildly spicy lamb sausage and Pecorino Romano.
Breakfast for dinner isn't usually my first choice, but a special of grass-fed corned beef hash, with an over-easy duck egg and lightly toasted brioche, was so delicious that I did a little dance in my seat upon first taste. The egg’s golden yolk yielded at the touch of a fork, adding its richness to the meaty depth of the shredded beef, potatoes, and bell pepper.
Fried clams had an incredible fresh taste, recalling the taste of the ocean, set off well by a creamy green ramp aioli. Likewise, a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels were clean and succulent, dipping their toes in a delicate sauce of garlic chives and lemon. The grilled bread accompaniment was welcome, but far too meager to soak up the delicious sauce.
But with all these creative entrees, we can never forget that this is, after all, a tavern. Two burgers are on the menu to remind us: first, a half-pound sirloin patty, at its fattest point the girth of a hockey puck, and so juicy that it spritzes onto the chin, or, if you're not careful, the shirt. The other choice is a vegetarian-friendly black bean burger fragrant with cumin, served with a pot of cool sour cream and thin-cut sweet potato fries reminiscent of the state fair.
The crush around the bar can raise the volume of conversation to a near-shout, as diners and drinkers alike gulp down selections off of the hip beer menu and very full range of liquor. A sangria special was lightly fizzy and perfect for summer, with refreshing notes of cucumber and citrus.
Service is quick and efficient, and the atmosphere is welcoming enough that diners can linger without feeling rushed. In true tavern style, there's no dessert menu to loiter over, but I'd rather have another order of that corned beef hash, anyway.
Washington Square Tavern is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:00pm-10:00pm, and Friday and Saturday 5:00pm-11:00pm. Open for brunch Sunday 11:00am-2:30pm. The bar is open daily from 5:00pm-2:00am. Reservations not accepted. 714 Washington Street, Brookline. MBTA: Green line (C) to Washington Square.