Audubon affords few of the comforts of home — no cushy chairs, no television (at least playing anything I’d want to watch), no pillows — and yet it has become my living room over the past five years. When I first turned 21, this was the bar I gravitated toward instead of the Irish dive bar that catered to college students across the street. It has a real cocktail menu, legitimately creative and delicious food and no dance room in the back or DJ on the weekends. When I first frequented this place, it was their Kiwi Cucumber Gimlet that drew me in. Since then, I’ve converted, mostly, from gin to whiskey. The bartenders know what kind of day I’ve had based on what I order — malbec on good days, Maker’s on bad, Sazeracs on weekends always. I spend more nights here than I do anywhere else. My Foursquare check-in recently informed me I’ve been here 29 of the past 60 days.
At 26, Audubon has everything I’m looking for. Its long, slate bar has at least two dozen seats and tables line the opposite wall. There aren’t ostentatious displays of every flavor of Absolut vodka — in fact, there aren’t displays of any alcohol at all. The bottles are concealed in huge cherry wood cabinets that stretch from just above the bartenders’ workstations and the cash registers to the ceiling, a good 10 feet to the exposed beams above. The walls are paneled in a similar fashion, but combined with the minimalist décor — there essentially isn’t any — it strikes the perfect balance between warm and modern.
In the beginning, I came here to unwind without feeling out of control. That’s not to say I didn’t engage in my fair share of debauchery at house parties and clubby bars, but that scene quickly got old for me, especially once the college bubble was popped. Audubon naturally grew into my life as the “adult” place for me to let loose.
Now I come here to recharge. I imagine a lot of city-dwellers have a habitual bar, given the need to create some sense of community and familiarity in an endless array of blocks. I know all the bartenders and get to know the new ones quickly. My boyfriend and I met through one of them, because we were both regulars but came in on different nights.
Yet, as everything does, times have changed — sort of, oddly enough, with me. Call it the decline of the Red Sox, but Audubon, just like me, isn’t as lively anymore. For a few years after I started coming here, the staff — waitresses included — had almost no turnover, which is absurd for a restaurant. Life was good. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night would be at least two or three deep at the bar. Yet the crowds began to dwindle and after a first round of employees left, it seems Audubon has had trouble keeping people on both sides of the bar.
Hence, the Match.com events, Red Sox promotions and private parties that have slowly crept onto the bar’s calendar, crowding out regulars and neighborhood bargoers alike. Though there are some good things that have come from it. They recently refreshed their beer list — which hadn’t changed in at least five years — and added some new, very delicious menu items, including a warm quinoa salad with a poached egg that is, I have to say, heavenly. It’s nice to see the bartenders actually raking in cash on a Monday night — even if I’d rather be the only one there.
As I look around now, I find it inescapable to trace my own history in this bar’s evolution, given its predominant place in my social life since I’ve had the option to go to bars. It’s as though this bar has moved with me into my later 20s, Match.com included (Full disclosure: I haven’t used Match.com, but I imagine if I weren’t a regular here and in a happy relationship as a result, I would be thinking about it now).
Instead of seeing the crowd that was prevalent when I first started coming here, which was as far as I could tell, all closer to 21 than 30, I now see the work clothes on weeknights — wrap dresses with dark tights and unnecessary heels, trousers and button-downs with the ties and jackets clearly left at the office or on a barstool somewhere. Maybe it’s just my perception that the place has aged with me and it’s certainly unfair to judge it wholly on one night. For the past two years, though, almost everyone I’ve met here has been older than me.
The people I brought here with me in my early 20s have all left the city, something typical of college migrants to Boston. I’ve changed jobs with each passing year and find myself, while finally fulfilled in my desired field, under an incredible amount of pressure to exceed expectations. Instead of wrangling up a crew to drink properly on a weeknight because, well, who the hell cares, I come to get out of my own head and simultaneously remember that I can still have fun. I try to remember that this is my joint and I’m 26, and can still enjoy myself out on a Monday.
I recognize that I’m a holdout, though, just like Audubon. Maybe the bar is past its prime, maybe it can’t compete with the hot, young-gun restaurants and drinking establishments that have popped up year after year in this neighborhood, or the money which that change is bringing in. I know I’m not the kid I used to be when I started coming here. That’s just part of growing up.
Last Monday, by 10 p.m., more than half of the Match.com crowd had filtered out, business casual attire and all, undoubtedly making their way towards apartments far flung from here — or perhaps their own “living room.” Everyone in their late 20s seems constantly caught between the desire to be perceived as young and fun and the reality of building a career and an adult life, whatever that might entail.
We’re all just looking for a home, after all. That’s why people join dating sites in the first place, isn’t it? I’ve already found mine — one that seems, on the surface at least, to age very nicely with me while still keeping me young. Audubon might not be perfect, but in its growing pains I see my own. I think that’s what keeps me coming back.