Haley Henry Wine Bar Boston
The sign tucked conspicuously by the door lays out the rules of the land here at Haley Henry — the first and foremost of which I can’t remember, but the second is to buy a tin. A tin of fish that is.
Despite having eaten dinner already I want to abide by the rules. Plus I am curious — how can a restaurant subsist on serving tinned fish? Boston is known for its seafood, but the last thing I would expect to eat here is fish in a can from Portugal or Spain.
90’s hip hop fills the narrow space in Boston’s Downtown Crossing neighbourhood. I order some olives from the “Biggie Small Plates” section of the menu to pique my appetite. The owner, Haley Fortier, takes my order wearing a shirt with the word forlorn superimposed on the Wutang Clan logo. There is a theme brewing here.
The wine list at Haley Henry is eclectic and strives to meet a certain criteria: the wine must be from a small producer committed to producing a natural wine without intervention, and preferably made by a woman. This specific criteria limits the options, but expands the horizons in what is otherwise a male dominated business. It’s an ambitious wine list, but anything on the menu can be yours if you commit to ordering two glasses. Otherwise the glass pours are interesting enough, and their generous system encourages an interesting rotating list of specials by the glass.
I’m a cautious fan of natural wines. It’s what I want the world of wine to be, but they don’t always please my palate. Here, however, I am in good hands and on recommendation from the bartender I find something that I quite like from a very small producer. It’s a little funky, but delicious, and not surprisingly it goes exceptionally well with my tinned fish.
The spread of a small bun, aioli sauce, fresh herbs, and a can of smoked mackerel is the best late night snack I could have asked for. The fish is rich, delightfully smokey, and free from the fishy taste normally associated with canned seafood. Haley explains to me that we’re not used to it in North America. Producers of fine tinned fish products here are few and far between, but overseas this is how it has been done for a very long time. It’s a staple in their diet throughout Portugal and the Mediterranean, and they do it very well.
I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying this place tucked away in a small side street just a few blocks from the nearest TJ Maxx. Downtown Crossing is not where I would expect to find this bar, but that’s partly why it’s so great.
After several glasses and a bit of a journey down the natural wine rabbit hole, I’m back into the street to walk back to my hotel when a voice calls my name. Dear friends of mine from Toronto had been along the window bar the whole time and I hadn’t noticed with my back to them. We end up meeting back here the following night and having way too much fun and a few too many drinks.
2 Chainz Birthday Song plays over the speakers and I come to the realization that we have reached the post-hipster apocalypse. Old-timey craft cocktails have become commonplace, farm-to-table is an all too ubiquitous term, and I am sitting in Boston listening to 90’s hip hop while eating smoked mackerel out of a can and drinking funky natural wines. The worst/best part is that I love it.
What could be a contrived hot mess of hip hop and sardines actually turns out to be an exceptional experience. I’m eating fish out of a can and it’s delicious.
My couple of evenings at Haley Henry are among the more memorable in my travel career. Part journey and part education, it is an experience not to be missed if you’re visiting Boston.
Word to your mother.