Double Date

New-look Southie

Take in art at the Distillery’s open studios and then enjoy the artful surroundings and eats at Barlow’s

(Jodi Hilton for The Boston Globe)
By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / June 4, 2010

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You’ve probably heard a lot about how South Boston has changed over the past decade or so. An abundance of old industrial space and disused factory buildings have been repurposed into studios and lofts, transforming much of the neighborhood into a vibrant artist’s community. But have you actually seen the new Southie, up close? On Sunday you can get a look at the inner workings of one of those unique spaces with the Distillery’s open studios event. A converted rum distillery built in the mid-19th century, the building is now home to some 30 units, says Scott Chasse, the community arts coordinator for the Distillery.

“Throughout the entire building are reminders of its previous use,’’ he says. “Southie locals occasionally tell me they can still smell the molasses that was once stored by the barrel in the warehouse section of our building.’’

The open studios tour offers a wide spectrum of works. “The great thing about Open Studios at the Distillery is that visitors will find a diverse range of talents all located under one roof. We have traditional painters, sculptors, and photographers, as well as artists working in collage, mixed media, graphic art, fabric, installation, and video art.’’

Seeing the environment where the work is produced, and being able to chat with the artists, greatly enhances the effect of the visit, Chasse says. Even better, you can “purchase the work without any gallery markup.’’

Open Studios, Sunday . Noon-6 p.m. Free. The Distillery, 516 E. Second St., South Boston.

Not too far away, an old building housing a restaurant called Barlow’s is yet another example of the neighborhood’s transforming face. Its menu is filled with the comfort food and beers familiar to Southie stalwarts, and colorful drinks like the cantaloupe martini that clearly represent new Southie.

The big mill edifice has been gutted and revitalized and much of the layout comes from beams and brick and wood salvaged from the old structure. It’s an industrially chic space with its high ceilings, exposed ducts and pipes, and rugged hardwood floors that might just as easily stand in for an artist’s loft itself. And that’s before you start noticing all the artwork. Large photo prints hang in one corner of the dining room, another wall features an oversize acrylic on linen.

As for the dining, booths toward the back of the space each come with their own framed painting (pictured). All of the art here is done by neighborhood artists, so it doesn’t seem like an afterthought.

No matter where you sit you’ll find something to catch your eye, the scenery changing depending on what angle you approach it from.

Barlow’s Restaurant, 241 A St., South Boston. 617-338-2142.

Luke O’Neil can be reached at