Hops to It

Hops to It

When the Finale in Coolidge Corner closed its doors last New Year’s Eve, it was brushed off as another casualty of the economy. But where some saw abjection, Darren Tow and David Ng, owners of Coolidge Corner Wine & Spirits just two doors down, saw possibility. “It was about five years ago that we first thought about opening a restaurant,” says Tow, a Brookline native. On Aug. 8, that thought comes to fruition as HOPS N SCOTCH, the team’s latest business venture, opens in the old Finale space. True to its name, the “gastrolounge” features a variety of craft beers (read: West Coast IPAs and local favorites like Backlash and Harpoon), with 10 of its 40 taps in rotation. As for the liquor menu, the choice of 80 Scotches and pages of whiskeys and bourbons will have you quoting Anchorman. In the back of the house, HOPS N SCOTCH Excecutive Chef plates comfort food featuring inventive fusions. The Scotch eggs, for instance, are soft-boiled, wrapped in house-made chorizo, then breaded, fried and served with a runny center and a bourbon-mustard sauce. Also look for classic fried chicken—buttermilk-battered with a side of cheesy grits and sautéed collards. Though they’ve been developing the concept for years, Tow says that he and Ng will continue to listen to feedback and tailor the restaurant to the community. “I think that’s natural for us,” says Tow. “The last thing we want to do is disappoint anybody. We customize it all.” He adds, “A lot of the beers you see on tap, it’s because someone asked for it.” True Southern hospitality.

HOPS N SCOTCH focuses on craft beer, whiskey, Southern-style food

Hops to It

A new Brookline bar and restaurant isn’t playing schoolyard games. HOPS N SCOTCH focuses on the grown-up pleasures of craft beer and whiskey. It’s operated by David Ng and Darren Tow, formerly of Coolidge Corner Wine & Spirits. “I like my beer and he likes his Scotch,” Tow says. “We wanted to have a restaurant. For 10 years, we’ve been talking about it.” When the space once occupied by Finale opened up, the time seemed right. HOPS N SCOTCH is a two-story establishment decorated fittingly in shades of caramel, peat, and deep brown, as if one is spending the evening in a comfortable barrel of whiskey. Tow says the beverage program offers 40 beers on tap, 40 more in bottles, and 120 kinds of Scotch and bourbon. There are also classic and original cocktails. The menu, serves up Southern-inspired comfort food — fried green tomatoes, Scotch eggs with bourbon-mustard dipping sauce, and an assortment of salads; grilled pimento cheese, blackened catfish po’boys, and burgers; fried chicken with grits, grilled pork chops with apple-poblano chutney, and vegetable risotto; fried pie and ice cream for dessert. After dinner and a drink or two, hopping on one foot might be a challenge.

Darren Tow on HOPS N SCOTCH's First Week

Not content to simply provide Brookline with alcohol in a store setting, Coolidge Corner Wine & Spirits co-owners Darren Tow and David Ng seized the opportunity to open a restaurant when the large Coolidge Corner location of Finale closed down. With a focus on craft beers and whisky, the aptly named HOPS N SCOTCH has now been open for a week, and Eater sat down with Tow to find out what happened to the air conditioning on opening day, which dish customers find most confusing, and more.

How was the first week? We’re happy! We were surprised that there was such interest; we were pretty busy the first day we opened. Pretty exciting to see that maybe we did something right.

What happened to the air conditioner on opening day? The air conditioner was running for seven months straight, no problems. I came in in the morning on opening day, and it was warm. Tried changing the battery in the thermostat. Turned out we needed a new compressor. We had one of our technicians rush out here, and he was able to get it to work at half-capacity. It kept the temperatures pretty cool, but I did warn everyone who was making reservations. People didn’t seem to mind, and we worked through it.

Any other technical difficulties? No - I was surprised! It’s been more improvements than dealing with technical difficulties. We wanted our beer colder, for example, so we made that happen.

Are you taking reservations? How’s the wait for walk-ins? We’re doing reservations for parties over six. For walk-ins, the wait depends on the time. Around 5 PM, there’s no wait. Once it hits 6:30, there’s probably about a 20- to 30-minute wait. At 7, 8 PM, it’s about 45 minutes.

What’s the most popular dish so far? The Scotch egg by far [spicy house-made chorizo sausage wrapped around a soft-boiled egg], as well as the fried chicken.

What’s the least popular dish? The grilled cheese. We use pimento cheese, and it’s a little different than what people are really expecting, so we have very mixed reviews. Some people love it, but the people who come in expecting a standard grilled cheese are a little disappointed. We’ll keep it on the menu but let our servers know that when a child or someone who might not be familiar with pimento cheese is ordering it, the server should explain it and maybe recommend the mac and cheese as an alternative.

Knowing what you know now, if you could have given yourself advice for the opening, what would it have been? Pacing out the tables a little bit better so the kitchen didn’t fall behind. I didn’t think it would be as busy as it was, so we kind of under-anticipated the volume. I think people understood, though.

Have you made any changes to the menu yet? Any upcoming changes? We made some price adjustments based on feedback that some things should be less or more expensive. We’re going to add more small dishes. We always knew that was coming down the line, but it’s good to hear back from customers that that’s something we should do. We’ll add about three or four small dishes, probably including a pork belly dish. And brunch is coming within the next few weeks.

Any special events coming up? Not yet, but towards the fall we’re going to have a “bring your own blanket” night where people will kind of cozy up with the windows open. And we are definitely going to do beer and scotch tastings.

What dishes are people pairing with scotch? When people are drinking scotch, they don’t really pair it with the full meals, we’ve noticed. They tend to come in and drink scotch with friends and maybe share some small plates or a burger.

Do you find a lot of inexperienced scotch drinkers coming in to learn, or is it mostly people who already drink scotch? It’s a mix. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about scotch - regional differences, smokiness, smoothness, the difference between bourbon and whiskey. And a lot of scotch veterans come in, too. They know right away what to order, or they try things they haven’t tried.