A Home Away from Home: Jacob Wirth’s

(Note: portions of this review originally appeared in the April 30,2009 edition of The Bentley Vanguard)

Jacob Wirth’s is a classic American pub in every sense. Established in 1868, and located in the heart of the Theatre district, it is the second oldest restaurant in Boston.  It’s the kind of place that seems like somewhere right out of a Billy Joel song (“Cold beer, hot lights, my sweet romantic teenage nights”).

They specialize in customary German fare, but all the pub staples are well represented on the menu. Prices on entrees range roughly from $12 to $23, but they do offer “small plates” of several of their most popular dishes. The small plates are about a half serving size (though still plenty large) and are more budget friendly.

The German food is all done extremely well. One of the heavier cuisines, it is easy for the food to be too rich, but Jacob Wirth’s shows restraint. They’ve taken standard dishes like wienerschnitzel and elevated them to a more sophisticated status. With food that tends to be very fatty, it is important that the side dishes complement and cut through some of that heaviness. The spaetzle, a traditional egg noddle type dumpling, is light and fluffy and infused with a little bit of dill to give it an extra herby flavor to better marry with the meat. The red cabbage, another staple of German cuisine, is among the best we’ve tasted, crisp and perfectly balanced between sweet and sour. 

Among our favorite menu items are the sauerbraten, baked macaroni and cheese (with rotating ingredients like lobster or buffalo chicken), the Bavarian burger which combines elements of saurbraten into a delicious burger, and the bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg. Hearty, stick to your ribs comfort food that is best enjoyed on a cold Boston evening.

As fabulous as many of the entrees are, don’t leave without having some of their fresh baked pretzels, house made cornbread, and fried pickles with house made ranch dressing. The sauces served with their appetizers and entrees are house made and this emphasis on scratch cooking is part of what separates Jacob Wirth’s from the plethora of other Boston “pubs”.

In addition to the terrific food, Jacob Wirth’s also boasts an extensive drink menu with a myriad of fantastic beer choices from around the world . They also have a number of cask ales and specialty beers that are rotated on a regular basis, so there’s always something new. And for those not of age, Jacob Wirth’s has their own cream and root beer sodas as well.

But the food and drink only tell part of the story. Nearly every Friday evening since 1988 pianist Mel Stiller has led the pub in a great sing-along of classic songs from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Mel hands out songbooks to all the tables, filled with some 500 tunes. Everything from the Beatles, to Billy Joel, to Johnny Cash, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Journey, and everything in-between.

Patrons yell out page numbers to request songs and when things get going, it’s as wild and fun a time as you can have. It’s always a full house on these Fridays so absolutely call and make a reservation. The restaurant actually recommends reserving your table almost a week in advance. It is a popular spot most nights so regardless of whether you are headed out for a night of singing or just wanting to pop in for a weekday dinner, calling ahead is your best bet.

Because of the popularity service can be slow at times. On Fridays it can become very slow because of the extra people and large parties that usually make up the Sing-a-long nights. Best to order everything all at once, because servers can disappear for a while from time to time.

Non-Friday service is better as the waitstaff aren’t pre-occupied with filling drink orders for mobs of people, but it still feels a bit like playing roulette when it comes to the servers and their expediency. Despite this, the servers are all knowledgeable of the menu and very good about making recommendations regarding the drink menu which can at times almost feel overwhelming.

There’s never been a place we’ve felt more welcome; or more comfortable. It’s not just about having a place “where everybody knows your name”; it’s more like finding a home away from home. You can keep your karaoke bars. We have no desire to sit in a crowded room and listen to some half-drunk (or most likely ALL drunk) guy try and stammer out “I Am Woman.” Not since the first time we did our best Ferris Bueller imitation; singing “Twist and Shout” with Mel.

The next time you’re in Boston and are looking for that classic pub experience, you can do no better than Jacob Wirth’s. With food and drink you won’t find anywhere else and a singularly unique atmosphere it has all the ingredients that make up an unforgettable dining experience.

Food & Beverage:
It is really difficult finding German food done right, but Jacob Wirth’s does it with aplomb. Add in outstanding extras like fried pickles and housemade pretzels and you have a menu sure to please. That’s before we even mention all the pub staples “done right” and the out of this world drink menu.

On busier nights service has a tendency to slow to a crawl. This is not exactly a “grab and go” type of joint so make sure you have time to sit and eat. Servers definitely know the menu and will help you navigate the drink menu to find that perfect beer, or perfect pairing.

Cozy pub atmosphere all the time, and when the Sing-a-long gets rolling on a Friday night it is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. A cannot miss dining experience.