Namesake is a series where we try food and drinks named after the city we’re in. Have something on your menu that fits the theme? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might check it out.
When Rosebud shuttered in spring of 2013, ‘Villens speculated wildly about what would become of the classic Somerville spot. Could it be a sushi restaurant, perhaps? Maybe a Tasty Burger? But it was Alpine Restaurant Group who eventually settled in the location with Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar. “Having been [to Rosebud] and knowing the history and knowing what the Rosebud represents for Somerville … it certainly motivated us to say, ‘Let’s see what we can do with something that is a symbol of history and a symbol of what Davis Square has been,” reflects Alec Riveros, Director of Operations for the group. It didn’t hurt that the space is located a stone’s throw from Alpine properties The Painted Burro and Posto, meaning that Riveros and company would feel the building beckoning them each time they walked past during the year it remained vacant.
And so, just over a year ago, Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar was born, honoring its forebear both with its moniker and with a drink menu full of nods to previous tenants of 381 Summer St. “We just felt as if it was the right decision to preserve what this restaurant and what this space was rather than coming in and scratching it,” Riveros says. “We couldn’t come in and give it a new life without honoring what it had been.”
Riveros says he’s heard the old Rosebud referred to as everything from “best diner I’ve ever been to” to “dirtiest bar I’ve ever been to,” and, hey, in 70-plus years, you’re going to earn both fans and detractors. But there’s no denying what this establishment meant to Somerville, and to Davis Square in particular, whether the staff were slinging eggs on a Saturday morning or welcoming folks to bust out their best karaoke after dark.
Initially, 381 Summer Street was home to Jaunty Jack, a hole-in-the-wall, 24-hour restaurant that was open from 1939 until 1941, when the space was purchased by the Nichols family. It was in ’41 that the diner began its transformation into the historic Rosebud you recognize today, when the dining car was built for the Nichols by the Worcester Lunch Car company. New cars were assigned a number rather than being named after the owner, and Rosebud’s car was, you guessed it, #773.
The Nichols-owned Rosebud went through a lot of changes in its 70-plus years, expanding into the back space, changing the style of the menu and, for one two-year period, becoming a much-loathed Tex-Mex joint called the Cuckoo’s Nest. This iteration of Rosebud is a complete departure from its predecessor, from the BBQ-heavy menu to the red leather chairs and booths to the fluorescent lights that illuminate the bar. Apline cleared out the grease bins and garbage in the back alley to create a 30-seat patio, and they don’t serve breakfast—a point of contention among Rosebud loyals—but offer brunch on weekends and lunch service on Fridays. Still, a few familiar names have remained constant at this latest spin on the restaurant.
Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar actually has more that one drink on the menu paying homage to the tenants that came before. There’s the Jaunty Jack, a bourbon-based cocktail with barrel-aged bitters that will rear its cozy head during the colder months, and the Cuckoo’s Nest, a citrusy vodka drink made with amaro and red delicious apples. But it’s the Lunch Car #773 we’re here to try—a year-round menu staple that takes its name from the bright red restaurant storefront.
Rosebud’s drink menu and bar are stacked with a formidable supply of bourbon, but with this drink, Riveros wanted to create a refreshing, approachable cocktail. This led him straight to gin, a spirit as timeless and classic as the diner itself. The Lunch Car #773 is a relatively bare bones cocktail made with just three ingrdients: New Amsterdam gin, house-made lavender syrup and lemon juice. “Sometimes, making a simple cocktail is harder than making a really complicated cocktail,” Riveros says. “It forces our bar staff and our bar team to really get the proportions just right.”
When they meet, the botanical qualities of the New Amsterdam, the bite of the lemon and the aromatic lavender syrup, which also lends the cocktail its pale purple hue, combine to make the drink delectable.
It’s a simple cocktail that’s become a standard, much like the car it honors.