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Scene Setter: Allston Yacht Club in Echo Park
The bar-saturated stretch of Sunset Boulevard between Alvarado and Douglas streets in Echo Park is a Pleasure Island for those in possession of bandanna headbands, feather earrings and Day-Glo iPhones. These dedicated thrill seekers are rarely at a loss for embarrassing Facebook fodder.
Which is why the more reserved folks in the neighborhood, whose idea of a good time doesn't involve crying behind a Dumpster after a long night of drinking $5 vodka cranberries, will be pleased to know that a sane bar scene exists in a restaurant just off the strip. It's called Allston Yacht Club, and it offers both food and drink in an atmosphere that is at once homey and unpretentiously chic.
Open since late last year, AYC has quietly been refining its menu of pan-global small plates, lighthearted cocktails and a thoughtful wine list. The result complements the establishments already on offer in the swiftly changing area while providing something distinctly lacking: A civilized place to have a martini. (No disrespect intended to Taix -- that grande dame exists in a category all her own.)
Allston Yacht Club gets its oddball name from the ramshackle west Boston neighborhood that owners Charles Kelly and Bill DiDonna once called home. There is no yacht club in Allston, which is famous for its boisterous population of rockers and artists. But that's the joke.
AYC's menu is divided into three categories: snacks, sides and plates. House specialties include a tangy barbecue duck confit served with crisp, spicy cole slaw; melt-in-your-mouth braised pork belly; fried calamari with a light nuoc cham dipping sauce; creamy brandade swirled with tomato; a variety of seasoned, skewered meats (pork, chicken and beef); and fiery shishito peppers in a puddle of ponzu.
Kelly and DiDonna enjoy experimenting with alcohol, and the results are refreshingly different. Stand-out creations include the Ultraviolet Martini (gin, vermouth, lemon and violet syrup) and Hub of the Universe (gin, vodka, Campari, sour cherry, guava and lime). The service is friendly and familiar, with staff seemingly cherry-picked from the neighborhood for their fresh, youthful vibe. And, of course, Kelly and DiDonna (both escapees from the television industry) are always on hand, quick to recognize their regulars.
Regulars that they don't mind sharing.
"We're not so much of a pickup or dance place; we're a bit more sedate, more grown up," says Kelly. "So we'd be happy if, in the future, we had people starting the night out in our place and finding themselves back again at the end of it."
That cozy back patio is starting to look awfully nice.