by Miles Howard
| April 22, 2012
Photo: JOEL VEAK
Time has a way of refining things. Back when he was dropping his drawers (and, um, mad rhymes, yo) all over Dorchester, who could have guessed that the words “Mark Wahlberg” and “Academy Award nominee” would one day share the same sentence?
Julep Bar (200 High Street, Boston, 617.261.4200) is the result of a similarly surprising transformation, one that required the space to grow up, get some new clothes, and start taking itself more seriously, gosh darn it. You see, last autumn, the space was known as Revolution Rock Bar, a noisy nest of Def Leppard anthems and walking testimonials to the inadvisability of anabolic steroids. Then the joint closed its doors for five weeks and got some swank new décor courtesy of HGTV’s Taniya Nayak. Goodbye, sticky floors and faux cowhide; hello, chartreuse couches, smoky wood paneling, and sparkling chrome chandeliers.
But just as impressive is the new emphasis on food: the space returned as a lounge and nightspot where you might actually enjoy a plate before enjoying a party. The menu was designed by chef Jason Santos, and Julep shares a kitchen with his neighboring restaurant, Blue Inc. But while Santos indulges his mad-scientist side at Inc. with some molecular gastronomy, Julep boasts more traditional creations that work whether you’re sharing with the table or dining solo. Our picks include boneless buttermilk fried chicken tenders ($9), a bar staple spruced up with a tantalizingly sweet molasses barbeque sauce, and Kobe meatball sliders ($4), juicy beef smothered with fresh provolone and zesty basil-parmesan purée. And we’re especially smitten with the grilled-tuna soft tacos ($15), laden with savory seared fish, crisp pico de gallo, and creamy farmers’ cheese.
It seemed like an unlikely pairing: a local star chef with a revitalized venue once known as a destination for dancing on the tables. But so far, so good — the Financial District spot should continue to summon not just execs looking for a nosh, but a broader crowd whose idea of pre-gaming for a Friday night hinges on the bites as much as the booze.