This is for the misanthropes and wallflowers. This is for the folks who can’t bear the thought of being sardined into a fraternity basement, cheap beer on their shoes, shouldered against sweating co-eds who yell above the music. This is for the kids who’d rather mix Franzia and Sprite or shoot straight Jack in their dorm room with a couple pals from Brit Lit or bio-ethics; who, when in a bar, would rather talk than shout, who feel stressed in the cliché-cause-it’s-true college bacchanal scenario. This is not for the 24-hour-party people, those of you who thrive in pressing crowds, who welcome the chance to get hoisted for another keg stand. Because not everyone loves to party. At least not like that.
A certain pressure exists in campus culture to booze your nights away with as many people around you as possible. And sure, every once in a while, it’s worth an evening elbowing your way to the bar, getting drunk with strangers, and observing the seething fray. But, at the risk of sounding like your parent, it’s okay if that’s not your deal. Remember that. Embrace it.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re not here to advocate teetotalitarianism or holing yourself up in the library all semester. Do, by all means, get out. Just know that getting out doesn’t have to mean hitting the Sunset on Thursday, Kappa Sig on Friday, and the White Horse on Saturday. We’ve come up with suggestions for the bookish types who like to booze in more peaceful pubs. There’s something to be said for having a few drinks, wandering into the night, and happening upon a bookstore. Or, contrariwise, picking up a book and taking it with you to have a drink or two. Because who knows what might happen with four beers under your belt and a copy of Maugham’s Of Human Bondage or ee cummings’s sexy lines or J.P. Donleavy’s naughty Ginger Man in front of you — be it at a bookstore or a bar.
HARVARD BOOK STORE (1256 Mass Ave, Cambridge, harvard.com) is regularly voted the city’s best bookstore, and we hear there’s a college right around there, too, so it’s a good place to start. Plus, it’s the only bookstore we know that bustles as much (if not more) on a Friday night at 10 as it does on a Sunday afternoon. Cheap used books downstairs, discounted store bestsellers, frequent-buyer programs, muscular academic sections (philosophy, cultural criticism, feminism, religion), wide-ranging fiction and non-. . . . If only they sold drinks in-store.
Since they don’t, forego the Hong Kong and its scorpion bowls and head instead to SHAY’S (58 JFK Street, Cambridge), which calls itself a “pub-and-wine bar,” suggesting that it’s fancier than it really is (though the wine is cheap and good). It’s a small place sunken slightly down into the sidewalk, and it’s the best spot in Cambridge to sit outside with a drink in hand to people watch. Take advantage while it’s still warm enough. Just across the street, GRENDEL’S DEN (89 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, grendelsden.com) is another good bet for a quieter pint in Harvard Square.