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Joshua Tree is Tonic spiced up with sports and burgers

The Joshua Tree restaurant in Brighton has retained much of the decor of its predecessor, Tonic, but now features sports memorabilia on the walls. The Joshua Tree restaurant in Brighton has retained much of the decor of its predecessor, Tonic, but now features sports memorabilia on the walls. (jim davis/globe staff)

Allston-Brighton types came back to school this month to find a change on Commonwealth Avenue.

Tonic, the restaurant-club that had catered to 20-somethings looking for a place trendier than Harry's Bar and Grill or the Allston strip pubs, has become the Joshua Tree.

Yes, this new restaurant is affiliated with the Joshua Tree in Somerville. And no, it's not the same as the Joshua Tree in Somerville.

In fact, on a recent trip to Joshua Tree No. 2, we learned that the new JT is pretty much the same as Tonic - except for sports fans.

Ownership hasn't changed; the people who run the Brighton JT also ran Tonic and still own a number of bars around town, including the Playwright Bar & Restaurant and the Boston Beer Garden in Southie. Much of Tonic's decor has been preserved. The modern, circular lamps that contributed to Tonic's nightclub atmosphere still hang around the dining area. The bar in the basement is still the same, drawing the newly legal who want a Faneuil Hall experience closer to their Boston University and Boston College homes.

The big change is that there's now sports memorabilia on the walls. Basically, it's Tonic, but a Tonic where it's safe to wear a Red Sox hat and sneakers, a Tonic with a framed Taylor Twellman jersey next to oversize flat-screen TVs.

To drive the new mission home, this Joshua Tree has two words in neon above its front door: "Sports" and "Burgers."

The menu keeps this promise. There were always mammoth appetizers, burgers, and wraps for the college crowd at Tonic, but now some of the dishes are sports-themed. One of us sampled the "Eagle Wrap," named for Boston College, which was barbecue-flavored chicken breast in a flour tortilla. It came out chilly and bland.

Unlike the Joshua Tree in Davis Square, which sticks to pub food to match its atmosphere, the Brighton location has a section of Mexican meals on the menu. I went with the chicken fajitas, which were not quite up to the standard set by another average, college-area haunt, the Border Cafe in Harvard Square.

We fared better with appetizers, which are probably consumed more often than the entrees at this place. The "ultimate nachos" were a hefty portion of multicolored chips topped with a layer of melted cheese. The nutty Thai lettuce wraps would have made an adequate entree for a health-conscious bargoer. The spinach and artichoke dip, which our server said is becoming the most popular starter on the menu, was cheese and more cheese, a bowl of creamy, white fat with not much green. Surrounding it were chips covered in more melted cheese. Best to share that one with a crowd.

We were tempted by dessert, but you shouldn't be. The brownie sundae and the ice-cream sandwich tasted store-bought and mass produced.

At 10:30 p.m., as we finished our meal, we decided we might have been better off hitting the new JT on a Wednesday night for its half-price burger special, or for its sports brunch on Sundays, where you can sit in leather chairs for hours enjoying all-you-can-eat eggs and watching football without disturbances.

Because at prime time on a Saturday, it was all about loud music and clubbers wearing sequined tank tops and tight jeans.

After we made it out the door through the mob at the bar, there was already a line down the street. The people waiting to get in weren't there for cuisine. They picked the Joshua Tree so that they could meet up with friends, grab a drink, and watch the game.

Burgers. Sports.

All that the Joshua Tree promises to deliver.

The Joshua Tree, 1316 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton, 617-566-6699, joshuatreeallston.com. Appetizers: $7.99 to $9.99. Entrees: $5.99 to $13.99. Wines by the bottle: $24 to $36. Wines by the glass: $6 to $9. Beer pitchers: $8 to $22.

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