It started off as a simple idea. Owners Rachel Trudel and Emily Vena run Cobble, a tiny, four-table restaurant in Brookline that has won plenty of accolades for its vegetable-focused tasting menu set in a dinner party atmosphere, paired with a BYOB program that includes cocktail mixers supplied by the kitchen. When they considered expanding into a downstairs space below Cobble, they thought it’d be fun — and, frankly, kind of funny — to lean into the BYOB idea and build it out into a separate bar.
But what they thought would function as a nice pre- or post-Cobble hangout where customers could relax over their own bottle of wine has turned into something quite different. In the first few weeks of the bar’s opening, customers were most often showing up eager to mix their own cocktails. “We accidentally created a cocktail bar that doesn’t serve alcohol,” Trudel says. “And people are excited about it.”
Barlette, as the new bar is called, cannot serve alcohol, but it’s well-stocked with everything else, from vintage glassware to creative mixers and garnishes. Customers can bring their own booze from home — or visit nearby grocer and liquor store Sorriso Market — and bartender Tyler Morell guides them through making their own cocktails using Barlette’s gear. The bar is stocked with three seasonal mixers, which currently includes a grape crush made with table grapes, lemon, and seltzer, and a “bits and bobs” menu with all the fixings to build traditional drinks like martinis, gin and tonics, Old Fashioneds, and coffee-based cocktails.
“It delights us to no end that we can offer something like martini service at a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol,” Trudel says. “And people are delighted by that.”
They never considered building a regular cocktail bar, Trudel says, because their immediate surroundings in Brookline are already stacked with best-in-class bar talents, like the nationally recognized Blossom Bar and Thai knockout Mahaniyom. “These [are] big names that have really superior cocktail bars that we frequent,” Trudel says. “We don’t think it’s smart to compete with them because they are on a different level.”
Instead, Trudel and Vena let customers loose with the bar tools at Barlette and focus their efforts on the accompanying food menu. The bar is booked by prepaid reservation only, and each ticket includes a four-course menu with finger foods like crudites, sliders, and a whipped goat cheese dip with fruit and Clear Flour sourdough bread. (Mixers and the “bits and bobs” menu are available for an additional price.) The base tickets currently cost about $60, although they are tinkering with the pricing as they adjust to running the bar.
Barlette is about the size of a studio apartment, which was also a major factor in its BYOB status, according to Trudel. They simply didn’t have the room to store alcohol. The 14-seat room has been designed with nooks and crannies in mind; there’s the seven-seat bar, but customers can also reserve other areas around the room, including the two-seat phone booth corner in the back, or the four-person Neon Williams area, named after the iconic neon sign shop in Somerville.
Weeks after opening, the bar is profitable, and the economics work even without selling alcohol because the space shares its kitchen with Cobble and there aren’t a ton of extra overhead costs, according to Trudel. There are also no outside investors. “We saved all our pennies from Cobble to invest in Barlette,” Trudel says.
The bar was only open for one seating, on Friday and Saturday nights, in April. Similar to the perpetually booked-out Cobble, reservations went fast, and a 30- to 40-person waitlist ensued, lasting throughout the month. In May, Trudel and Vena are considering expanding service to Thursday nights, and the pair are also building out a $500-per-year membership program with access to social hours at the bar outside of dinner bookings, priority reservation service, complimentary mixers, special events, and more.
Barlette is located at 318 Harvard Street #11, in Brookline. The bar is available by pre-paid reservation only, starting at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (and perhaps Thursday, starting in May).