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View of a copper-topped bar in a restaurant with a black-and-white checkered floor. A small barrel with a label that reads Bertha sits on the end of the bar.
The bar at Parla XXI in Somerville, featuring a barrel named Bertha for aging cocktails.

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Cocktail Lovers Can Achieve Dungeon Master Status at a New Somerville Bar

There’s more space and more booze at Parla XXI, the Assembly Row sibling to North End hideaway Parla

“This will be an excellent first, second, third, whatever date spot,” says Matt Schafer, director of operations at Parla XXI, Somerville’s newest cocktail bar. The sibling to Parla, an eight-year-old cocktail gem in Boston’s North End, debuted a few weeks ago at Assembly Row, continuing the original location’s popular Dungeon Master program — a mug-club-like journey through 20 original cocktails — and adding a bigger liquor selection and more room.

It’s a solid catch for the ever-expanding Assembly Row, a retail and residential development packed with an increasingly exciting food and drink lineup. And the opening of Parla XXI makes Assembly Row a little more North End-y; it’s already home to outposts of a couple classics from the historic Boston neighborhood, Mike’s Pastry and Ernesto’s Pizza.

Interior photo of a restaurant features a bar with shelves that reach the ceiling and then curl over slightly. Blue lighting illuminates under the bar.
The bar at Parla XXI.
A dimly lit restaurant interior with black leather banquettes features large paintings of women wearing Prohibition-era outfits.
The lounge area at Parla XXI.

Fans of the original Parla, an intimate space with a small dining room and just four seats at the bar, will find a bit of a different vibe at the much larger Parla XXI. “I think [Parla XXI] is a little bit more polished, a little bit sexier,” says Schafer, “where Parla’s a little bit more fun and rustic.” Another notable difference: Parla XXI has a full liquor license, while the original is saddled with one of Boston’s absurd cordials licenses. (The team has worked magic within the license’s confines, and the resulting focus on interesting shrubs and shrub-based cocktails carries over to the new location.)

This means that Parla XXI is full of new liquors and new cocktails to try. “I went pretty hard on the rums,” says Schafer, also noting the bar’s extensive amari selection — over 50 options. As a result of the bigger booze list, the Dungeon Master cocktail list is different here, too, although participants can work toward their goal bouncing back and forth between the locations.

An opaque brown cocktail topped with a couple coffee beans sits on a copper bar illuminated by blue lights.
“Guilty pleasure, but who doesn’t love an espresso martini?” says Schafer.
A reddish purple cocktail sits on a copper bar next to a shiny copper cup, 20-sided die, and three black cards with colorful graphics on them.
Without giving too much away, this cocktail, the Muffin Top, is one of Parla XXI’s Dungeon Master drinks; it tastes like a blueberry muffin.

For the uninitiated, Dungeon Master is a list of 20 secret cocktails created by the bar staff that customers can try one by one over time, rolling each number on a 20-sided die. The full rules are here; in short, go in with an open mind. The staff will accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions, but not pickiness. “With the Dungeon Master, I’m not afraid to have a drink that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but i’m also not trying to have too many where people are like, ‘you’re just being mean to us,’” says Schafer. “The idea is to take people through an array of different styles of drinks, so there’s almost always going to be an egg white drink, a spicy drink, a vegetal drink, some citrus, an array of different spirits.”

Finish all 20? You’ll get to name a custom cocktail that’s based on your preferences over the course of the Dungeon Master journey, along with some other perks. And then there are levels 2 and 3.

About eight people have finished Dungeon Master Level 3 in the North End, says Schafer, and about 50 are in the middle of the level, which comprises 120 drinks. “You have to really like us,” jokes Shafer. “The people who have finished, they become family.”

A swanky restaurant interior features a large mural of a woman with snakes for hair. The restaurant’s light fixtures are clusters of silver balls.
Parla XXI’s interior is much larger than its counterpart in Boston’s North End. The mural in the foreground is by local artist Dan Chang.

While cocktails are certainly the focus at Parla XXI, there’s plenty of care put into the food as well; one can’t safely reach for Dungeon Master status on an empty stomach. “We’re keeping true to our somewhat eclectic but somewhat Mediterranean cuisine,” says Schafer. There are a few similarities to the North End menu, he says; the beignets are the same, and the patatas bravas are close. There’s also steak at both locations, but prepared differently.

Parla XXI’s menu is a little more focused on small plates meant to be shared, Schafer says; pastas are available in both small or entree-sized portions, whereas the original Parla just has entree-sized pasta because that’s what people are looking for in the North End.

Overhead view of a big white bowl of pasta with grated cheese and greens.
Parla XXI’s braised lamb pappardelle with oyster mushrooms, asparagus tips, and mascarpone.
A crudo with sliced radishes sits on a live edge wooden table over a black and white checkered floor.
Parla XXI offers a salmon crudo, a scallop crudo, and a rotating special.

“Get the pasta, get the crudos,” says Parla XXI chef Alessandro “Troll” De Luca, an alum of Viale, La Brasa, and more. “That’s what I take most of my pride in. Crudos are fun, and pastas are just great — they’re both vessels you can do anything you want with. Also, get the Caesar salad.”

Parla XXI (631 Assembly Row, Somerville) is open from 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with weekend brunch beginning shortly. Reserve a table via Resy; indoor and outdoor seating is available.

A newspaper image celebrating the end of Prohibition hangs on the olive green wall of a dimly lit restaurant.
Copper mugs and a set of small silver cups sit on the backbar at a restaurant.

Parla

230 Hanover Street, Boston, MA 02113 (617) 367-2824 Visit Website

Parla XXI

631 Assembly Row, , MA 02145 (617) 764-3370 Visit Website
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