Harvard University

John Harvard’s Brew House
June 2005
by Marc B. Zawel

History tells us the prissy Puritans who founded Harvard University weren’t beer-swilling party animals. But keg-tapping Crimson students have a lot more in common with their school’s founder than they may think. According to the story circulated at John Harvard’s Brew House, a local student pub that honors the school’s namesake and benefactor, the founder of this Ivy League institution was himself a closeted beer brewer. Before he crossed the Atlantic and settled in New England, English priest John Harvard had covertly learned brewing secrets from the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Harvard’s personal recipes were lost before he died — possibly stolen by an abstinent priest — but were rediscovered recently when a historic Cambridge building was being renovated into a bar in 1992. At that moment, John Harvard’s Brew House was born.

The Scene: Located down a flight of steps off a cobblestone side street, this English-style pub, with its dim lighting, rustic wooden tables and polished brass, would make the Bard feel right at home. That is, until he saw the odd panes of stained glass that adorn the bar, including portraits of Deadhead Jerry Garcia and crooked politician Richard Nixon. Today’s students love the bar’s cozy atmosphere and rave about its food and beer. “What’s not to love about a bar like this? It’s beautiful and the friendly staff serves me well,” jokes Samantha, a senior history major. “It’s kind of like the bar on my yacht.” Rob, a junior econ major, has a much more down-to-earth reason for visiting the bar. He likes the fact that “you can drink the same beers that the founder of Harvard used to chug to get hammered.”

Girls at the Bar: “While our campus might not be best known for its women, that doesn’t mean they aren’t hot here,” says Jake, a junior pre-med major. While you’ll find plenty of young coeds at John Harvard’s, don’t be surprised to find locals, tourists and possibly a professor or two who will turn some heads. Even better — they’re probably wealthy enough to buy the next round.

When to Go: As befits the brainy student body, the Monday night trivia contests draw a competitive crowd. Expect smart and overachieving Harvard students to battle for gift certificates and free brews. On weekends, however, you’ll find those same students packing the bar to drink and destroy those precious brain cells.

Dress Code: Everyone from an East Coast preppie to Will Hunting would fit in at this Harvard Square hangout: Just go with whatever you’re comfortable wearing. Jeans, sneakers, shorts and flip-flops are all acceptable, although many prefer to get more dressed up on weekends.

At the Bar: Some of the university’s chemistry know-how has found its way into the bar’s adjacent brewery. John Harvard’s crafts excellent microbrews, including the tasty Old Willy India Pale Ale. The bar rotates through about a dozen recipes and seasonal brews, like the Colonial Kolsch and the Espresso Stout. Before you leave, make sure to grab a pint of John Harvard Ale and toast to the man’s generosity.

Web Site: www.johnharvards.com

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