Boston, MA - Up until three years ago, the concept of food halls—large markets containing multiple smaller restaurants—had been a distinctly European phenomenon. 2016 changed that. Since then, the number of food halls in the U.S. drastically increased by a staggering 37 percent to well over 100 establishments, exploding throughout the most inevitable cities. New York. Atlanta. Los Angeles. And, yes, Boston when Oscar Farinetti established the local branch of his retail culinary empire Eataly in the Prudential Center (surely you remember; the one you were all aflutter about upon discovering Mario Batali was a corporate sponsor until the numerous reports that he was a truly despicable human being?)
Needless to say, with any trend the threat of oversaturation isn’t just a potential dilemma. It’s inescapable. Chef David Chang referred to the food hall proliferation at the time as being a “seismic shift” that threatened to devour the traditional mom and pop restaurant while New York Post critic Steven Cuozzo penned the opinion that “having too many [food halls], serving too many of the same things, is diluting their one-time specialness.”
But at least in Boston, it remains to be seen whether or not food halls will reach a peaceful coexistence with independently owned restaurants or devour the landscape entirely. We’re months away from the opening of Time Out Market—Time Out magazine’s experiment in media agency-curated cuisine. Scheduled to open around the same time is High Street Place—the Financial District’s 19,000-square-foot rendition of a glorified mall food court. And Eataly Boston still thrives, despite its association with sexual deviancy and far too much disposable income for any conscionable human being to possess. And come this Friday, they’ll have competition from Bar Mercato, scheduled to open in the newly renovated Hyatt Centric Hotel on Devonshire St.
Except, it’s not technically a food hall. Owners and married couple Jairo Dominguez and Teodora Bakardzhieva describe the concept as a “Euro-centric Kitchen & Bar," offering fare from the pair's favorite European markets. Bar Mercato will showcase multi-regional cuisine with an emphasis on Mediterranean, French and Catalan market offerings.
“When we go away, we love going to local food markets and farmers markets, because it’s a way to try so many different things,” said Bakardzhieva to Boston Magazine.
“It’s a very social experience,” added Dominguez. “It’s a lot easier doing these things in Europe and South America. Here, we have a lot of regulations. It’s also a big undertaking to find a space that you can afford in Boston.”
Heading Bar Mercato’s menu will be executive chef Casey Lovell, recently of Post 390, while the full bar will focus on what any… er... “Euro-centric” offering will naturally focus on. Vermouth.
“My wife loves trying spirits,” said Dominguez. “I wasn’t a big vermouth guy, but we were in Madrid and they had these bars with vermouth on tap.”
So while the hype around 2019’s “Year of the Food Hall” may not be justified until late spring, you can at least sample what to expect starting this Friday.
Bar Mercato is located in the Hyatt Centric Faneuil Hall Hotel at 54 Devonshire St in Boston and is scheduled to open on Friday, February 22nd. Hours are Sunday - Thursday from 7:00 am - 10:30 pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 7:00 am - 11:00 pm. For more information, visit www.barmercato.com