The Fairmont's New Dining Destination
By Mat Schaffer
The collective “wow” you hear emanating from the Back Bay is exuberant approval for the new Oak Long Bar + Kitchen at The Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel. With its dramatic new glass vestibule entranceway on Copley Square, vaulted Beaux-Arts ceilings, and 83-foot-long, copper-topped, opalescent glass tile bar that snakes its way down the length of the room, Oak Long Bar sets a chic standard for hotel dining in the Hub.
Gone are the dark library stuffiness of the Oak Bar lounge and the museum-like Edwardian décor of the adjoining Oak Room restaurant with its mounted animal heads. The wall between the two rooms has been torn down to create a single airy, cathedral-sized space that is simultaneously modern and traditional. See the two beveled glass mirrors over the liquor bottles behind the bar? With the flick of a switch, they turn into HDTVs.
Oak Long Bar + Kitchen is the centerpiece of The Fairmont Copley Plaza’s $20-million-plus renovation marking the hotel’s 100th anniversary. Built on the site of the original Museum of Fine Arts, the “Grande Dame of Boston” was designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh as a sister property to The Plaza in New York. Over the years, the hotel has hosted presidents, potentates, and personalities including Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, and Luciano Pavarotti. In 1975, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent their second honeymoon here, while in 1979, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone hung out a fourth-floor window while awaiting rescue during a fire. Every US President from Taft to Obama has visited as well. In 1992, Tom Cruise filmed the interview scene in The Firm in the Oak Room (called the Plaza Bar & Plaza Dining Room at the time), and in 2008, Kate Hudson filmed scenes for both Bride Wars and My Best Friend’s Girl in the hotel.
Since the Parker House opened its doors in 1855, Bostonians have used hotels to conduct business, pitch woo, and celebrate holidays and family occasions. The Copley Plaza was among the city’s toniest hostelries, and for nearly a century the hotel’s restaurant was a bastion of European-American haute cuisine, serving dishes like oysters Rockefeller, chilled lobster and avocado cocktail, steak au poivre, and grilled veal chop. From the end of Prohibition through the 1970s, the Merry-Go-Round Bar, a working-carousel-cum-watering-hole, attracted drinkers and curiosity seekers alike. It eventually became the Plaza Bar & Plaza Dining Room, and then finally the Oak Bar, where pianists Dave McKenna and Bobby Wetherbee entertained at a Steinway Grand while patrons sipped Champagne and martinis.
Look closely, and you will see three sections of the carousel’s original track, outlined in copper, embedded in the Oak Long Bar + Kitchen floor. But don’t expect to order Merry-Go-Round classic cocktails like a Pink Lady or a Gin Fizz. General manager Michael Letterman’s craft cocktail list features thoroughly modern libations like the Basil Cucumber Collins, the Watermelon Margarita, and the Lychee Caipirinha. Nor does executive chef Stefan Jarausch’s cooking bear any resemblance to the heavier fare once consumed here. Instead, you will feast on impossibly fresh sea scallop crudo, locally made burrata, hand-cut tagliatelle tossed with Maine lobster and braised short rib, and sautéed Georges Bank sole with browned lemon butter and popped capers. They also serve a juicy eight-ounce burger with maple-smoked cheddar and charred onion aioli on a brioche bun, an extensive selection of house-cured charcuterie, and pizzas and roasts from the open wood stone hearth oven that sits at one end of the bar. Jarausch sources many ingredients from the farms that participate in the Copley Square Farmers Market across from the hotel.
These fresh, local ingredients are part of the reason The Fairmont Copley Plaza’s reputation has been reinstated as a power-breakfast destination, with menu items like the decadent corned beef hash, topped with both a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce, or the decidedly more healthful whole-wheat crust pizza topped with scrambled egg whites, spinach, bell pepper, and a sprinkling of Vermont goat cheese.
Thoughtful touches such as electrical outlets are thoughtfully situated every few feet under the bar to allow guests to plug in a laptop or recharge a phone, making it a convenient place to work over a drink.
And dress as you’d like now, since the “Proper Attire Required” plaque that used to hang by the Oak Bar door is gone. The “Grande Dame of Boston” has traded in her mink stole and pearls for jeans and Manolos.
Photography by andy ryan (Oak Long Bar); Jordan Strauss /WIreimage (Hudson); Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images (Obama); Courtesy of the fairmont copley plaza (Merry-Go-Round Bar)