A change of scenery can sometimes be just the thing you need to get a jolt of inspiration. Garrett Harker feels this way about the view from Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, his restaurant reborn just a quarter-mile away from the site that made it a Boston icon.
Located on Beacon Street on the ground floor of the Bower, a new luxury apartment tower that’s part of a $1.3 billion mixed-use development project planned to connect the Fenway-Kenmore area over the highway that currently bisects it, Harker’s new restaurants — which include Eastern Standard, All That Fish & Oyster, the soon-to-open Equal Measure cocktail bar, and a yet-unnamed cafe and bakery landing in early 2024 — boast unique vantage points on Boston’s skyline and landmarks.
“To have a different perspective on Fenway Park that didn’t exist before, it checks that box that I’ve always found to be motivational for my teams,” Harker says. Going back nearly 30 years to his start in Boston restaurants as the general manager of No. 9 Park on a then-sleepy side street of Beacon Hill, “I’ve always been attracted to a neighborhood in transition,” Harker says. “Tell them, ‘hey, the odds are against us, but let’s go leave a mark on the city.’”
While the location may be uncharted territory, nearly everything else about Eastern Standard’s return will be familiar to any visitor to Harkertown, a colloquialism coined for his former portfolio of placemaking restaurants. Harker was nominated as the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur in 2018 before losing four Boston restaurants during the pandemic. (He is still a partner, along with former ES general manager Andrew Holden, at Branch Line in Watertown.) Following a dispute with his landlord at the Hotel Commonwealth in early 2021, the original Eastern Standard, the Hawthorne cocktail bar, and Island Creek Oyster Bar all shuttered for good just a few days before Harker announced he would also step away from Row 34, which he had cofounded with Island Creek Oysters founder Skip Bennett, chef Jeremy Sewall, and partner Shore Gregory.
Numerous developers “swooped right in when they realized that I was on the market,” Harker says. But he didn’t feel ready to do it again until he saw 20,000-square feet of retail on Beacon Street that real estate magnate John Rosenthal had to offer. The president of Meredith Management, Rosenthal is the visionary of the decades-in-the-making Fenway Center, a six-acre development which encompasses two residential towers of the Bower, plus forthcoming office and labspace on Brookline Avenue; and a landscaped, pedestrian-friendly deck over the Mass Pike with transit access.
Rosenthal declines to put a figure on Harker’s restaurants’ buildout, though the Bower cost an estimated $240 million. Meredith Management’s partners in the Fenway Center development include Green Cities, a Portland, Ore.-based housing developer; and San Diego-based life sciences developer IQHQ.
With a long marble bar backed by vintage mirrors, artisan-poured terrazzo tile, polished hardwood floors and handcrafted millwork, the new Eastern Standard is “playing the same notes” as its predecessor, Harker says, but “the biggest difference is in materiality.” In other words, if the new American brasserie looks richer, that’s because it is.
Smaller investors are also funding Harkertown’s next chapter, including Ryan Brown, a longtime Fenway resident and regular at the former place whose professional DJ career blossomed with connections made at Eastern Standard. “I’m not high-net-worth, but I’m proud to invest in a restaurant I believe in,” Brown says. But he concedes that all the gleaming glass towers and the high-income jobs arriving in his neighborhood threaten to price him out.
Since the early days of Eastern Standard, growth in the neighborhood has certainly flourished. Haley.Henry owner Haley Fortier opened her second restaurant, Nathálie, in 2018 in a new development by the Fenway’s prolific Samuels & Associates. The return of Eastern Standard just a few blocks away is a boon for upscale spots like hers, Forter predicts. “That’s going to bring more people to the area,” she says. By going up against the standard of sports bars, ES “brought a real restaurant-industry vibe” to Fenway-Kenmore for the first time, Fortier adds.
That legacy continues through the new spot’s late-night hours and support for industry up-and-comers. Chompon “Boong” Boonak, an owner of Brookline Thai cocktail bar Mahaniyom, is planning a pop-up this winter at Equal Measure showcasing the Mahaniyom team’s newest bar concept, Merai.
Boonak was in grad school at Boston University and bartending at Golden Temple when he started going to the Hawthorne and Eastern Standard. The spots helped Boong find community, he says, because it’s where the industry congregated. So it was an honor when Eastern Standard’s opening bar director Jackson Cannon began frequenting Mahaniyom. The nationally acclaimed drinksmith, who’s back at the new development and getting ready to unveil the forthcoming cocktail bar Equal Measure, eventually asked for Boonak’s rum old-fashioned recipe: It’s now on the drink menu at All That Fish & Oyster as the Mahaniyom Special. Signature cocktails like Eastern Standard’s whiskey smash and espresso martini have also returned, along with a slew of new drinks.
The original restaurant was nearly 15 years old when it closed. One of Harker’s goals for Eastern Standard’s next decade, he says, was, and remains, to have its food be as acclaimed as its cocktails and hospitality. In 2019, he hired No. 9 Park alum Nemo Bolin as the Kenmore spots’ culinary director. Bolin also worked for Lydia Shire at Locke-Ober and Tony Maws at Craigie Street Bistrot, and he opened Providence’s now-closed Cook & Brown Public House, which earned a 2011 James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant. So far, Bolin is stewarding old favorites like steak tartare, butterscotch bread pudding, and lamb sausage rigatoni at Eastern Standard; and already impressing local critics “with flavors light and bright” at All That Fish & Oyster.
Harker is also excited to introduce head baker Christopher Wilkins, a fermentation enthusiast who has relocated to Boston from Atlanta, where he worked for Hugh Acheson. Director of operations Sophie Cranin, an alum of Barbara Lynch’s restaurant group, worked with Harker during the pandemic to scale the multi-million-dollar soft-pretzel empire he cofounded.
Any familiar touches aside, “we are starting over,” Harker emphasizes, in a changed landscape. Referring to inconsistent hours, “dumbed down” menus, and rising prices at restaurants across the city, the industry “got so stingy with hospitality over the last couple of years,” he says. “We’re gonna go win back what we lost.”