It's late afternoon on Monday, upstairs at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square. It's Columbus Day, and the place is alive with those enjoying unseasonably warm weather and a day off.
There's a group of four women in the corner that are just settling up their bill, and by the looks of it, they've been there a while. They are loud and cheerful as they finish the final sips of their cocktails and leave.
Seated right by the open windows, two men order drinks and some cracker-thin pizza. They don't really talk much to each other, instead focusing on the activity going on in the square. A young family with a toddler and the mother sporting a baby bump are waiting at the bar for their to-go order. Maybe it's the holiday or the warm weather but there's a noticeable airiness and happiness to the upstairs bar area.
"Today we changed up our cocktail menu completely, so I'm still getting familiar with the menu," the bartender warns as he takes drink orders. The cocktail menu has swapped out summer seasonal favorites, replacing them with warm fall flavors. The servers are moving fast, carting side plates and clean silverware to the server stations, readying themselves for the dinner rush.
At almost 5 p.m., unrelated groups of people crowd in. One man in a suit, clearly not happy that he had to work today, plunks down at the bar and eagerly orders a classic dirty martini. It comes right away; he takes a gulp of it and pays for it.
Arriving at the same time, an older gentleman comes to the bar and saves the seat next to him. He orders a beer as he waits for his companion. She arrives a couple of minutes after the beer and appears flustered. He questions her on what's wrong. She is dressed very formally in a black and gold dress.
"The Patriots had better beat those Colts," she declares in response, her voice heavy with disgust. "After all, they did with Deflategate and all." She orders a vodka on the rocks and a Diet Coke.
By now, there are only a few seats left. The music, which was very audible before, gets drowned out by the conversations and noise of the restaurant. Cocktails are present at most tables, more so than beer or wine. The two most popular items on the menu seem to be the thin-crust pizza and the lamb belly meatballs, the latter drenched in a rich tomato sauce and blanketed with strips of pungent taleggio cheese. The older couple orders another round; the stressed martini drinker leaves. A young couple arrives and snags the last two seats at the bar. They order cocktails and immediately pull out their phones.
Even though it feels like summer, the reality of fall sinks in as the sun sets rapidly and earlier than it feels like it should. The restaurant is in full swing with oyster towers dotting the tops of tables. Those who had to work today are settling in, mixing with those who were off celebrating. Before long, it seems everyone is having a good time. Outside, the traffic honks and the chaos of busy streets carries on, while inside, everyone is soaking up one of these last warm, early fall nights with a cocktail.