When he died in 1994, Charles Bukowski was as well-known for his heavy drinking and hard-hitting punches as he was for his literary output. To this day, East Coast literary hipsters honor his memory with a visit to the Back Bay tavern that bears his name. Crowds have packed the narrow confines of the dive since it opened in 1998, often to the point that we’ve had to elbow our way through the swarm just to snag a copy of the six-page beer menu — a volume that is itself a tribute to the writer and his copious drinking. A second Bukowski Tavern opened in Inman Square last April, and its much roomier digs offer a chance to indulge in an inviting smorgasbord of time-honored bar-food stand-bys and ethnic morsels.
Like much of Bukowski’s writing, many of the meals here are wallop-packing interpretations of everyday standards. Take, for instance, the burger (which you can order for a mere $1.69 any day until 8 p.m.; if you’ve got the cents — and sense — to splurge, add cheese or fries for just 90 cents each). Bored or turned off by beef? Any variation, like the Mexican ($7.25), Peanut Butter ($6.25), or Rue-Burger ($7.50, and yes, that’s "Rue" as in Reuben; chalk it up to poetic license), can be prepared veggie, or with turkey or salmon for an additional buck. Since the pock-marked bard of the barflies was often penniless, it’s not outlandish to assume that he sustained himself by getting clever with some less-than-glam ingredients. Again, like the writer, chefs here brandish a wicked sense of humor and flare for satire as they uphold a throw-it-all-in-the-pot tradition. Dig in, for instance, to the White Trash Cheese Dip ($6.25), a tangy stew of various cheeses and peppers that puts Velveeta to shame, or grab a chunk of the giant Whole Enchilada ($7.25) or a wedge of the Tavern Pizza ($7, plus $1 per topping).
You can find most of the same selections at the downtown joint, but at the newer location, there’s scads more room (and light), which makes it a welcoming place to linger and stretch out in a booth. While you’re at it, consider bringing a book along to keep you occupied once you’ve made it to the end of the beer menu. May we suggest Tales of Ordinary Madness?
Bukowski Tavern, located at 1281 Cambridge Street, in Cambridge, serves food Monday through Saturday, from 11.30 a.m. to midnight, and on Sunday, from noon to midnight. Call (617) 497-7077.