The 14-seat bar at West Row in Newburyport has quickly become a gathering spot, thanks in no small part to the creative cocktail list by bar manager Megan McNeil. Formerly of the well-regarded Louie’s in Portsmouth, which was shuttered by a fire this spring, McNeil brings her creative layered approach to tasty tipples like the Pumpkin Boulevardier, enriched with pumpkin butter–washed bourbon, and the Sweater Weather, a winter warmer with reposado tequila, blood orange, spices, and lime.
The bar is the focal point of the open, airy space, with large windows looking out on Inn Street and Market Square, beckoning people inside. Once you are in the door, a menu of small plates and crowd-pleasers greets you. Owner David Pierre, who closed Orange Leaf in that space in 2016, visited every restaurant in Newburyport with chef and longtime friend Chris McGowan as research for creating a carefully curated menu, starting with an appealing selection of appetizers. The chicken pot stickers, dressed with scallion, ginger, and ponzu, are cocktail-friendly and perfect for sharing, while you’ll probably want to keep the tuna tartare all to yourself, despite the generous portion. Lightly dressed with avocado, seaweed, and sesame soy, on a bed of cucumber, it’s fresh and indulgent.
Chef McGowan, who serves as executive chef and director of operations, puts his years of experience cooking on the North Shore on full display with the lobster dip. Inspired initially by a surfeit of lobster and grilled corn along with a desire to create something special for a friend’s party, the cold dip blends a classic base of sour cream, cream cheese, and mayo with trendy avocado, bacon, and lime, getting just a hint of heat from jalapenos.
West Row puts a welcome emphasis on hearty salads, both on the menu and in a planned grab-and-go case later this spring. Super grains like quinoa, barley, and faro have a starring role, and are dressed nicely and available topped with everything from duck confit to shrimp. The large portions would make a hearty lunch or dinner for one, or are easily shared as appetizers.
Pierre expects that takeout and grab-and-go will be an important part of West Row’s business as winter melts into spring. The restaurant’s central location, just steps from the waterfront, makes it an obvious stop on the way to an alfresco meal.
People who choose to dine in won’t be disappointed. Entrées are familiar but include thoughtful additions, a nod to McGowan’s work with Legal Sea Foods as the opening chef at the Legal C Bar at MarketStreet in Lynnfield. The Kona-crusted ribeye steak is a high-quality, tender, and flavorful cut, topped with a smoky rosemary tomato butter. The hearty pappardelle pasta piles thick ribbons of fresh pasta with a rich gorgonzola cream, just begging for a crisp white wine from their small, thoughtful list. The beer selection includes four craft beers that rotate regularly—a recent feature was cult favorite Maine Beer Co.’s Lunch.
West Row’s speedy popularity and animated bar scene has contributed to an unexpectedly noisy atmosphere—something owner Pierre, a native of South Africa with decades in the hospitality business, is already remedying. He is working with a sound design specialist, who has suggested a number of changes to subtly lower the decibels without changing the space’s historic charm.
Come spring, diners will have another option that’s sure to be a popular gathering spot. Pierre did extensive work on the Inn Street side of the new restaurant, creating an attractive outdoor patio with 36 additional seats, tucked behind stylish planters designed by Newburyport’s Sage Market + Design.