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A bar behind bars: a jail that is fun to visit.

Some may not recognize the Charles Street Jail in downtown Boston that once housed criminals like Sacco and Vanzetti. Though many of its original architectural elements remain, including brick walls and eerie black bars on the windows, the building is now home to a posh 300-room hotel that attracts a combination of well-heeled travelers and locals to its three bars.

On the first floor of the Liberty Hotel, in an area that was once the "drunk tank," housing short-stay criminals who committed DUIs or who were arrested over a long weekend, is the Alibi Bar and Lounge. The 185-seat bar features the original stone floor, crude wooden tables and celebrity mug shots, a cheeky nod to the media's growing fascination with high-profile bad boys (and girls).

On any given night, you might find a trio of tourists sipping wine in the corner. Women in suits catch up over lobster pizza, priced at $25, or Truffled Polenta Fries, for $9, which come stacked like Lincoln Logs. Waiters clad in all black deftly weave in between tables.

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Since opening in 2007, Alibi has already had its share of celebrity sightings, including the likes of Kate Hudson, Kevin James, William H. Macy and Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, who celebrated his bachelor party at Alibi. "The crew for Paul Blart: Mall Cop stayed in the hotel" in the spring of 2008, says general manager Dimitra Tsourianis

Of course, converting a former "drunk tank" into a bar is not without its challenges. Tsourianis says the biggest challenge has been the lack of storage. "We have no back of house, so we're very mindful of what we put on our shelves," she says. "It's good but it also makes you think about it." Many of the items are multi-purpose; for instance, a cart that handles bottle service on weekends and doubles as a holding area for food on weekdays.

THE NEW SPIN

The brick walls with their imposing black bars create another challenge because of the way they partition the bar off from some of the seating. "It keeps us moving because the walls create a natural barrier," she says. "We have to be always moving. Sometimes I'll see staff greeting people through the bars. They're always posing for pictures and passing a menu through the bars."

Alibi hosts a weekly event dubbed "Tuesday Tastings." The bar doesn't have its own kitchen, so bar bites come from Scampo, an Italian restaurant also on the first floor of the hotel. Tsourianis partnered with Kickass Cupcakes, a bakery in nearby Somerville that concocts many of its cupcakes based on cocktails. For instance, Alibi paired a gin cupcake topped with Chartreuse whipped creme with a Chartreuse cocktail and a creme brulee cupcake with a coffee-flavored Martini.

"Every week they change it," says Tsourianis. "We did a chocolate cupcake with Baileys for St. Patrick's Day this past year," she notes. "It's new and it's definitely our most popular event. It goes until we run out of cupcakes. We do free cupcakes on Tuesdays when it rains." Normally, the cupcakes cost $2 each.

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In the summertime, Alibi has hosted dog-friendly events on the patio, which features an outdoor bar and seating for 160 people. Pet owners bring their dogs and one dog is named the "Dog of the Month," Tsourianis says. "We give them their own mug shot. The bar will also team up with different spirits brands to offer a signature drink. We have dog treats and we always have a photographer who puts up photos on Facebook." She adds that reaction has been enthusiastic. The Bacardi Puppy Party featured Mojitos as the signature drink, while Sapphire Smooches and Pooches used a drink called "But I Don't Like Gin," which is made with fresh watermelon, a splash of lemon and Plymouth gin, priced at $12.

Social sites like Facebook and Twitter are also a big part of Alibi's marketing strategy. According to Tsourianis, "every manager here is active on Twitter and Facebook." She says that Alibi attracts a mix of hotel guests, celebrities, Bostonians and doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital, which is next door. Depending on the occasion, they might migrate to other locales in the hotel, like upstairs to Liberty Lounge or CLINK (a swanky restaurant and bar), or move on to steak or risotto at Scampo.

"We get a lot of people who come in for drink before dinner at Scampo or CLINK," she says. "We also have cocktails and after-work gatherings. If you want to, you can spend $9 or you can spend $350 on bottle service." Wine ranges from about $9 for a glass of Villa Sandi Prosecco up to $85 for a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne. Most cocktails hover around $12.

Alibi's most popular drink is the Jailbait, a potent blend of pomegranate puree and Bacardi Mojito Rum ($12), followed by the Jesse James ($10), made with Ketel One Vodka.

Tsourianis has also carefully considered the wine list so that wines can stand alone or pair well with food from one of the hotel's other establishments. "We try to complement each other," she explains. "I made sure to carry Italian wines so if people are having dinner at Scampo, it will get them in the mood."

Still, many patrons choose to linger at Alibi, reveling in the strong drinks, lively atmosphere and the ironic setting.

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.
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Title Annotation:SCENE
Author:Johnston, Susan
Publication:Cheers
Date:Sep 1, 2010
Words:909
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