The Hawthorne (Boston): A luxe hotel cocktail bar is designed to make guests truly feel at home

"Penthouse" was the operative word during the design phase of The Hawthorne, a swanky new cocktail lounge in Boston's Hotel Commonwealth. Photo by Sam Gray

“My house is your house.”  Well-regarded Boston restaurateurs Garrett Harker, Jackson Cannon and chef Jeremy Sewall clearly took this hospitable saying seriously when carrying out their newest project, The Hawthorne.

The group has made the Hotel Commonwealth their home base with two wildly successful restaurants, Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard.  In November, they opened a swanky cocktail lounge in this Kenmore Square boutique hotel’s lower level.

Consciously deciding to move away from the exclusivity, edginess and pretensions often associated with modern cocktail lounges, the team wanted to reach out to guests with “open arms,” and “put them in a comfortable position, in a place they were familiar with,” Harker says.

And what could be more familiar than a home?

Designer Alison Sheffield and her artist/ photographer husband, Stephen Sheffield, spent months procuring decorative objects and original art for the residential-looking space. Photo courtesy of Alison Sheffield

Designer Alison Sheffield and her artist/photographer husband, Stephen Sheffield, were brought in to create The Hawthorne’s luxe residential look.  Although the multilevel space is almost completely under street level, “penthouse” became the operative word, Harker says.

So the 88-seat cocktail haven features gorgeous plush furnishings adorned with pretty throw pillows, innumerable accessories (floor and table lamps, floral arrangements, vases), and a curated art collection with more than 50 original pieces.  Residential architectural details also abound — crown moldings, an elegant fireplace and even a mail slot in the front door.

All that’s missing is a tuxedo-clad George Clooney leaning against the mantel, lowball in hand.

But Cannon, not Clooney, is the A-list star of this bar.  So the Sheffields kept the personable craft barman and his team of expert mixologists in mind during the design process.

“We wanted [Jackson] to be completely comfortable and at home as he hosted his guests,” says Alison Sheffield.  “We think of it as his second home.”

In a nod to owner/barman Jackson Cannon, Alison Sheffield placed books around The Hawthorne, including several in the mezzanine level. Photo by Sam Gray

The designers aimed to capture and combine the sophisticated Harker’s “polish” with Cannon’s “engaging, interesting” personality, Alison Sheffield says.  For example, “Jackson comes from a family of writers, so we used books throughout the space.”

And, yes, books can be found everywhere — on tables, in gorgeous bookcases and even charmingly lining a shelf on the host stand.  Guests are welcome to pick them up and read them.  The bar menu itself is a book.

Cannon is a collector, so the Sheffields mixed in some of his own quirky favorites — vintage ice buckets and barware, cool spirit bottles — with other “odd objects that make a statement.”  Fun pieces, from from a bird cage to an antique doll’s head, were found in junk shops, consignment stores and antiques malls.

But “the art collection is the single most indulgent part of [The Hawthorne],” says Harker, who gave the thrilled designers a sizeable budget to purchase pieces.  “We wanted real, legitimate art.”

With owner Garrett Harker's blessings, Stephen Sheffield curated the lounge's collection of mostly original artworks; his self-portrait (left) hangs in the "den." Photo by Sam Gray

(Harker is so serious about the collection that staff training includes art history lessons, and servers are expected to be knowledgeable about the art.)

Stephen Sheffield went on to buy artworks in a variety of media — including oil paint, cut paper, collage and photography — from a number of artists.  One piece that is exceptionally fun and fitting, however, is Sheffield’s giant Mad Men-esque photographic self-portrait.

The 3,000-square-foot space is broken up into a series of sections, which “carve out different experiences for people,” Harker says.  “There are seven or eight different vibes you can tap into, depending on where you sit.”

The little mezzanine up top often serves as a drop-in/meeting spot for people who are moving on to other places, Harker says.  A few steps down and to the left is an intimate “den.”

The main bar area, which evokes a stylish, high-end kitchen, is a gathering spot for large groups and The Hawthorne's younger guests. Photo courtesy of Marlo Marketing

The high-energy main bar area, with its large polished wood communal table, generally attracts larger groups and a younger crowd, he says.  The marble-topped bar, with its cleaned-lined, residential-style back cabinetry, evokes a kitchen — which is where people tend to congregate at the best house parties.

The elegant, well-appointed back room, which has its own small bar, is multipurpose, serving as additional lounge space, a private party room and a place for Cannon to hold craft cocktail-making classes.

Alison Sheffield sourced furnishings that had a residential look (upholstered chairs, love seats and chaises) or were actually designed for the home (coffee tables, side tables, bookcases).  And she used muted/neutral colors, including gray (“riffing off of men’s suiting”), black and cream.  The cultivated palette was chosen “because we didn’t want to distract with a lot of colors or patterns,” she says.  Instead, she wanted the art and “the show” — of cocktail making, serving and sipping — to take precedence.

Alison Sheffield used a mostly neutral and sophisticated color palette, but she selected these striking orange Masters chairs for the multipurpose back room. Photo by Sam Gray

The designer made an exception for the back room’s conversation-sparking orange three-in-one Masters chairs.  Created by renowned French designer Philippe Starck with the assistance of designer Eugeni Quitllet, the chairs magnificently entangle the silhouettes of three iconic midcentury modern masterpieces:  Arne Jacobsen’s Series 7 chair; Eero Saarinen’s Tulip chair and Charles Eames’ Eiffel chair.  Needing a last-minute replacement for her original chair selection, Sheffield found the Masters chair. “I was heading toward the dark gray, and then I saw the orange,” she says.  “As soon as we put them back there, the room felt finished.”

The Hawthorne was designed to “look lived-in and be timeless without being precious,” Harker says.  The decorative elements are “not props.”  The space is “not a stage set.”

“It’s a living, breathing thing.”

The Hawthorne
500A Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts  02215

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2 Responses to The Hawthorne (Boston): A luxe hotel cocktail bar is designed to make guests truly feel at home

  1. Robin Maher says:

    Hi Har,

    What a great job capturing the atmosphere! Makes me want to go back.


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