Updated: Mar 8, 2019
20 Railroad St in Great Barrington, MA has been the home of exceptional food and drink for decades. Over the years the cuisine served at this storied address has varied from classic Americana, to Vietnamese and everything in between (and sometimes all together on one menu). No matter the owner or chef, this restaurant has always been known as 20 Railroad. It was a comfortable restaurant for years, the kind of place that never changed. The kind of place that served only big name Milwaukee beers, and had every flavored vodka under the sun, and a menu so expansive, you could order anything from spring rolls to lasagna. That sounds great....but when the menu is THAT large, you can bet that the quality of the food is lackluster. Enter Laura Shack & Ben Downing. They took this dive bar in the making and breathed new life into it. Together they took this historic locale and gave it a much-needed facelift. Bringing century-old charm to the present day with the re-opening of 20 Railroad Public House in 2016.
Walking down Railroad St in Great Barrington makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the Wild West. Tall, building facades stacked shoulder to shoulder, with storefronts stretching down both sides of the street. Halfway down on the right-hand side you’ll find a narrow alleyway illuminated by yellow overhead lamps. If you dare to venture down the alleyway, you’ll find some of the best cocktails and food the Berkshire’s have to offer. Open the stained glass door, and 20 Railroad Public House will send you back to the 1900s, where the cocktail was king and the menus were thoughtfully made. As soon as you enter you are welcomed to the sight of their magnificent 30ft mahogany bar, stocked to the brim with a variety of glassware, ten beer taps, and a unique and extensive selection of liquors and wine. 20RRPH is a long and narrow hole-in-the-(brick) wall. Along with the bar, wooden banquets run the length of the walls right up to the large front windows with about a dozen small tables that can slide together to seat anywhere from
two to twenty people at once. At full capacity, 20RRPH can fit about 60 guests (including the bar) comfortably. Dim warm industrial lights line the brick walls and bar, making a cozy and intimate environment for date night, catching up with friends, or just drinks with your coworkers.
Before I even started working here, I knew I wanted to be behind that bar. Seriously, everyone that walks into 20RRPH is drawn to that bar, and for good reason, it’s a unique piece of history. Surprisingly this grand mahogany bar isn’t original to the building. Allegedly built in the 1880s the bar was originally installed at the site of the Old Commodore Hotel in NYC. As the story goes, when prohibition went in effect, the mahogany bar was removed from the hotel, and sent by train to Great Barrington, MA, where it stands to this day. With all the original glass cabinets and brass hardware, the bar serves as the perfect backdrop, for sipping on my favorite drink, a perfect Manhattan (that’s equal parts sweet and dry vermouth). But regardless of what cocktail I got, as a patron, I was always thoroughly impressed. I’ve been a bartender for quite some time. I’ve worked in an Italian Restaurant dealing mostly with wine knowledge, I've tended bar by the seaside, dealing mostly with island drinks and mixed shots (rum runners, plantar punches, sex on the beach, you know the fruity stuff), but now I wanted to learn how to make the perfect cocktail.
Here at 20RRPH, the bar is unlike any other bar around, which is good because the drinks made here at 20 are unlike all else. And I'm talking about good, carefully crafted drinks, not vodka-sprites and Jack&cokes. No, at 20RRPH they're serving up classic drinks, like Manhattans, Sazeracs, Aviations; drinks that take you back to a time when mixing drinks was left to the professionals, rather than anyone who could work a soda gun. Here, every bartender uses the measuring tools provided, no free-pouring. Why? Without jiggers, it's almost impossible to have every cocktail consistent, even if its the same person making it. So when you have two or three bartenders working, (which most bars do) you could order the same cocktail one night, and it could be leagues different than the one from the night before. And that's just no good for anyone. Now you have customers only coming in when one particular bartender is
working because they like one bartender's drinks better than the others. And from a bartender's end of things, it's super not cool when you have a guest walk in then immediately turn around because they preferred another bartenders work more (it's great for my self-esteem). Luckily, what 20RRPH prides themselves on is consistency. Any day of the week, regardless of the bartender, you will get the same great cocktail every time, because everyone is using the same recipe (It may sound so simple, but you wouldn't believe how uncommon it really is).
While consistency is definitely key, you're not going to be making killer cocktails without quality ingredients. The bar manager (Eric Rudgunas) makes fresh lime and lemon juice as he needs, you won't be finding any Rose's lime juice here. You also won't be finding any big name soda. At 20RRPH Eric makes his own soda syrups like lemon-lime (for Sprites), grenadine, cream (for cream sodas) and ginger. The only thing you get out of the soda gun here is soda water. So when you do visit, try some of the house-made sodas that my boss works so very hard making. 20 tries to stay away from mass-produced (which honestly, are terrible for your body) drinks and ingredients. That's why from the cocktails, down to the sodas are all made with integrity and pride. If cocktails aren't really your thing, 20RRPH has plenty of other options like their carefully selected wine list, Amari (wonderfully bittersweet, generally Italian liqueurs that I have only recently just discovered) or any of their 10 beers on draft. And you can bet there's nothing bland on tap here. As expected Eric puts just as much thought into his beers as he does with his cocktails. The beer styles range from pilsners and IPAs to stouts and lagers. No matter your preference, 20RRPH has a beer for you. Right now our favorite beers on tap are MegaBoss IPA from Newburgh Brewing Co. and Fox Farm's Ashland Coffee Stout.
Nothing is better after a long shift on the mahogany ridge (the bar's age-old nickname) than a nice cold pint of coffee stout.
Now the food...oh man the food! This kind of menu is what I would describe as comfort food with a twist. Taking the reins in the back of the house is Chef Sean Corcoran. A seasoned veteran of the food world, Sean has worked in a variety of kitchens over the course of 30 years, and he's put all his experience on display here at 20RRPH. His menu is as diverse as his résumé with such dishes like Lobster Mac 'n Cheese & Korean BBQ Tacos, to poutine with duck confit & hand packed house ground hamburgers (some say they're the best burger in all of Massachusetts...). although me and Chris work here, there's no chance we could EVER get sick of anything on this menu. In fact, we've actually been reprimanded once or twice from ordering too much on shift....it was worth it. Whenever I'm craving something to keep me pleasantly full, the Poutine is my go-to. House-cut french fries (either cut by Luke or Jibril) cheddar cheese curds, gravy, and fresh scallions, how can you go wrong? I've had my fair share of poutine, (from Montreal mind you) but what I think makes 20's stand apart from the rest are their fries. There's nothing better than french fries that started their day as whole potatoes, and at 20, they're hand-cutting them on the daily. Cooked to the pinnacle of crispiness, so when that heavenly beef gravy pours over the cheese and melted cheese curds—OH MAN! And if that's not mouth-watering enough, you can duck up your poutine with confit duck leg, a duck egg, or even foie gras!
Another dish that JUST absolutely hits the spot is the Ramen Bowl. Crispy pork belly, locally-made kimchi, a velvety soft-cooked egg, fresh cilantro, and house-pickled shiitake mushrooms...I know right? The broth alone is a masterpiece. Made over two days with local mushrooms, kelp and umeboshi vinegar (Japanese plum). This was the very first dish Chris ever had at 20, and even now it's still his favorite.
While some dishes are staples like the poutine and the burgers, the menu is constantly changing showcase new cuisines, seasonally fresh ingredients, or whatever crazy idea Chef Sean comes up with next (like fluffernutter-stuffed french toast!). The most eye-catching menu items right now are the Arepa, a sweet and fluffy cornmeal cake stuffed with burrata cheese; and their PEI Mussels Normandy, North Atlantic mussels cooked in a savory broth with hard apple cider, bacon, and crème fraîche. Chef Sean Corcoran works tirelessly to keep a cohesive, inventive menu that can please the palette of anyone that walks through our doors.
20 Railroad Public House is truly a unique and one of a kind establishment. From the drinks to the food, passion and precision can be found in abundance. There's a reason why me and Chris decided to work here. The dedication to consistency with every little detail is so important when running a restaurant. No matter which barkeep is watching over you that night, you can be assured that your drink will be made with the same finesse and proportions every time. The old mahogany bar keeps the history alive at 20 Railroad St, and with its new owners come a new inventive menu, a creative cocktail list with an amazing craft beer list to boot. Coupled with highly trained and informative staff, 20 Railroad St will keep you coming back for more. Follow the lights down the little alleyway at 20 Railroad St.
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