The cheese collection at Avery Bar


Photo: JOEL VEAK

Hotel bars occupy a special place in the life of a city, serving as versatile venues for all sorts of encounters. You're probably not going to settle into one for the course of an evening as you might at your local pub or favorite craft-cocktail bar, but they are useful rendezvous points for grabbing a pop and a snack before heading somewhere else, and good spots for a nightcap and something sweet at the end of an evening. The bar at any Ritz-Carlton hotel combines several elements that magnify its usefulness as such: a great central location, a tony clientele, and a reputation for swankiness so storied it inspired the term "ritzy."

The new Avery Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common (10 Avery Street, Boston, 617.574.7100) is no exception. Occupying a previously idle swath of lobby and filling the breach created by ongoing renovations to Jer-Ne, the hotel's main restaurant/bar, it's strikingly handsome. A U-shaped, marble-topped 15-seat bar dramatically bestrides the far end of the lobby like the prow of a yacht, surrounded by loungy leather sofas and armchairs. Behind it is another seating area dominated by a stunning marble fireplace overlooking more lounge seating and a few tables. The customers are a microcosm of downtown: businesspeople in shirtsleeves, well-heeled tourist families, fashionably dressed international travelers, and locals en route to the nearby cinema, Theater District, and restaurants. Leading the oversized drinks list are cocktails like the outsized, amber-hued Martinez ($15), the martini's revered forefather, a bracing combination of gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, and Angostura bitters.

The far-shorter food menu focuses on charcuterie and bistro-ish light bites. The admirably curated Cheese Collection ($19) arrives beautifully arrayed on a slate rectangle with firm-crusted bread. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, a well-matured, bloomy-rinded, soft-ripened goat cheese with pretty layers of vegetable ash and a tart, buttermilky quality, pairs wonderfully with balsamic-pickled figs. Quarter-rounds of Bûcheron from Loire, another perfectly aged goat cheese that varies from a creamy, snow-white chèvre center to a firmer, tangier, ivory-tinged edge, is lovely with slivers of quince paste. Golden-toned shavings of the phenomenal Boerenkaas Gouda from the Netherlands, a firm two-year-old cow's-milk cheese, need no accompaniment, only time to melt in the mouth, revealing intense nuttiness and grainy saltiness. Sunk into a buff-leather chair in the gorgeous glow of that fireplace, you could easily pass a serene hour nibbling fine cheese with a glass of wine, ministered by a staff so solicitous you're bound be visited by five different functionaries in any 10-minute span. That should earn the Avery a spot on your list of essential urban way stations, not to mention a reputation as an eminently civilized oasis in the hectic heart of Boston.