“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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.