One question that often gets asked is, "Are there any dive bars left in or near downtown Boston?" The short answer is, "maybe," because it all depends on your definition of "dive bar." If you're looking for a true dive where people avoid looking at each other for fear of starting something or where a place is populated by locals looking silently into their beers, then the answer is probably "no," but there are a handful of borderline dives, including The Sevens and The Beacon Hill Pub in Beacon Hill, Sullivan's Tap near North Station, the Corner Cafe in the North End, Sidebar in Downtown Crossing, and Biddy Early's in the Financial District, and another one that is the focus of this review can be found near where the Leather District and Chinatown meet. And while the Corner Pub is among the least-known of these no-frills watering holes in the downtown area, it is one of the most interesting in a way, with decent bar food, a surprisingly good beer list, and a rather eclectic mix of patrons, all of which make for a pretty fun hangout.
Chinatown is a pretty well-known area, but the Leather District is not, and because the Corner Pub is more in the latter than the former (and the two do overlap to an extent), it is well under the radar as far as watering holes go in or near downtown. The bar is actually in a very convenient location a couple of blocks west of South Station, but perhaps because commuters are either rushing to or rushing from the station, not too many will ever venture over to the corner of Lincoln Street and Beach Street to grab a bite or a beer, instead opting for the many food and drink options within South Station itself. In some ways, The Corner Pub has a vaguely menacing dive-bar look from the outside with its barred windows, brick front, and weathered shingles above the entrance, but if anything, the place tends to be more loud than dangerous and even that isn't always the case, as it can be a pretty mellow, laid-back spot depending on when you go. The layout is a pretty simple one, with high-tops along the windows, low-top tables in the middle, and a small bar with a few seats in the back where there is a second entrance/exit on Beach Street. Bright ceiling lights and a low ceiling give The Corner Pub the feel of a social club, and a mural in the back that takes its cues from the Green Monster at Fenway Park--and which has the message "There's Always Another Train"--gives the bar a true Boston feel to it.
Some say that a dive bar can't truly be a dive bar if it serves good food--or any food at all, really. And there is something to this, if you think about the most "real" of dive bars like Paddy's Lunch in Cambridge or B.K.'s Pub in Roslindale, but as hinted at earlier, The Corner Pub is really more of a local neighborhood joint than a down-and-dirty dive. The menu seems to prove this, with decent to very good takes on pub grub and bar bites, including zingy fried pickles, bowls of classic tots, tasty fried wings, big hunks of char-grilled burgers, steak and cheese sandwiches with deliciously greasy onion rings, macaroni and cheese with sharp Cheddar and options such as fried chicken and chili, beer-boiled and grilled hot dogs on a buttered bun, pizza and calzones, and, of course, the ubiquitous mozzarella sticks which the menu claims are "Boston's finest." And then there are the eggrolls, which may be the bar's signature dish and whose options include chicken pot pie, buffalo chicken, shepherd's pie, mac and cheese, Italian sausage, pulled pork, steak and cheese, and something called "white trash eggrolls" which both sound and look dubious, but are decadently good with a mix of mac and cheese and pieces of hot dogs. As mentioned earlier, the beer list at The Corner Pub is better than you might think, with possible options including the always-terrific Maine Lunch along with brews from Zero Gravity, Von Trapp, Stoneface, White Birch, Ipswich, Allagash, Jack's Abby, Cisco, and UFO, while those looking for the harder stuff have a full bar from which to choose, and the prices are relatively low for shots and mixed drinks. Service is solid and the staff is downright friendly, which you don't always see at dives and neighborhood watering holes.
The food at The Corner Pub may not make you forget about some of the better restaurants in Boston, and if you're looking for a hot spot with a trendy vibe, you'll probably want to keep walking. But if you yearn for the feel of a neighborhood bar and find yourself in the downtown area of the city, this is certainly one that you'll want to check out, especially since it feels like part of a dying breed with so many new and more upscale spots coming to the heart of Boston of late.
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