Perhaps more than any other city or town in the Greater Boston area, Somerville has changed to the point of being almost unrecognizable over the past few decades, with areas that had once been rough around the edges like Teele Square, Magoun Square, Union Square, and yes, Davis Square (which back in the day was a place you might not want to go to at night) transforming into dynamic little areas filled with interesting restaurants, bars, and other businesses. Ball Square, which is literally wedged into an area near Teele, Magoun, and Davis (wedged because it is cut off from much of the city by Green Line construction) hasn't been hit quite as hard by gentrification, with a mix of old and new businesses found in its little commercial strip mostly along Broadway. And Ball Square happens to be home to one of the very few remaining old-school watering holes in the city, with The Pub (and yes, that's its name) joining Casey's in East Somerville and the Sligo Pub as being about the only places left that could be considered dive bars. The Pub, however, like Casey's, might not even be considered that, as, many consider a true dive bar to either not have good food or have any food at all, and The Pub fails in both respects, which is actually a really good thing.
Like so many old-fashioned neighborhood bars, The Pub has the feel of a social club or a private drinking establishment in a way, and as is the case with many dives (and borderline dives), if you go by this place and look at the outside, you might be hesitant to walk in. And while it may have had its fair share of trouble a number of years ago, it is not a scary place by any means, instead being a spot where you might see a lot of characters of all ages and types either having a grand old time or quietly looking into their drinks. The layout is instantly familiar, with a large wraparound bar taking up much of the main room, a handful of high-top tables set up along the wall, and a side dining room that tends to be a rather sad and forlorn-looking spot on quiet nights, as the bar is the real centerpoint. The open space of the main room and the paneled ceiling, tile floor, and exposed brick help give The Pub slightly echoey acoustics, giving it even more of the feel of a rickety old social club in the vein of a VFW or an Elks Lodge.
With a name like "The Pub," it might be easy to overlook the food offerings of the place, expecting it to simply serve basic takes on bar food that goes well with beer and whiskey. And while this is true to an extent, The Pub does some things really really well, much like the aforementioned Casey's, which is an outstanding spot for steak tips and pizza. Here, however, it is the steak tips and wings that are the stars of the show, with the tips being fire-grilled and marinated just the right amount so that the taste of the charred meat isn't overwhelmed by the sauce--and unlike some places, the steak tips are tender without being mushy and falling apart. The wings here may be even better, to the point where they might just be considered among the best in the entire Boston area; big and meaty, these wings also have the option of going over the flame for some extra char and crispiness, and for most, this is probably the way to go to get an extra boost in flavor. Other standouts at the pub include classic steak fries that are so addictive that they will start filling you up if you're not careful; firmly-textured chicken tenders with a marvelous buffalo marinade as an option (you can also get plain chicken fingers without the marinade); tater tots which tend to go oh-so-well with beer; a sausage, pepper, and onion sub whose smell may make you think of the ballpark; bowls of chili and beef stew for cold winter nights; and a variety of burgers including one with buffalo sauce and blue cheese. Beer offerings include mostly mass-market brews, while the bar is fully-stocked with whiskey, gin, vodka, and the like, with this seeming to be the type of place where a Jameson or two wouldn't be a bad choice.
Somerville may not have the neighborhood bar scene of long ago, but if you like dives and local watering holes, you have some good ones in Casey's, the Sligo, and this no-frills spot in the heart of Ball Square. With the Green Line construction cutting off the square to much of the rest of the world for awhile longer, The Pub feels even more like a private club, albeit one that's open to all--and is certainly a friendly enough spot that is well worth going to, especially if you're big into the classic bar food that Boston-area spots tend to do so well.
Copyright © 2020, Boston's Hidden Restaurants (www.hiddenboston.com).
Please help keep Boston's Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk going by making a one-time contribution or via a monthly subscription. Thanks! (Donations are non-deductible.)