When you think of a beehive, you think of frenetic activity, of relentless buzz, of creatures milling about in social circles, right? Good. You're already in the right frame of mind for the South End's newest main attraction: The Beehive.
Have mercy on the clueless diner who tries to get into this place without a reservation, especially after 8 p.m. on a weekend. A line out the door is a common sight on this corner of Tremont Street, with inquiring minds wanting to know if they can believe the hype. The short answer is yes.
And even when you do have a reservation (which the Beehive takes, but only for parties of five or more), you still might have to wait 20 or 30 minutes, as we did at 9:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday.
The exclusivity of the Beehive doesn't stop at the door, either. Once we're in, one of us starts to descend the stairs to be seated, only to be stopped by a rather terse hostess. "Um, excuse me?" she asks with arched eyebrows, as if visiting hours for the Mona Lisa are over.
Let's be upfront here: Your first impression of the Beehive might not be the best or most accurate one. If you don't have a good time on your initial visit, try again. Go with fewer people. Stop in for the closing-time stretch between midnight and 2 a.m. (dinner is served until 1 a.m.). Drop by for a cocktail after seeing "Kiki & Herb" next door at the BCA.
One thing that remains steadfast, however, is our immediate observation of the Beehive: It's loud, but I mean jarringly so. Once we're seated, one of us turns to his dining companion and sarcastically yells, "THIS IS SO ROMANTIC! YOU'RE THE WOMAN FOR ME!," to which she responds, "WHAT?!"
The volume issue obviously stems from the architecture. Formerly a boiler room under the BCA's Cyclorama, the Beehive opens to an upstairs bar area that's comfortable and only slightly less loud.
But you want to be in the subterranean level, where live jazz is performed off to the right (and blared through speakers throughout the place), and a refreshingly diverse crowd -- of ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations -- mingles amid the muted chandeliers and contemporary art lining the walls.
You almost might get the wrong idea about the Beehive from its website, which explains that it's "a neighborhood cafe des artistes" modeled after La Ruche , "an artist's residence in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris in the 1920s." But of course! That mild pretension extends to the restrooms, too, where the graffiti in the men's room quotes a passage from "Hamlet."
Happily, that's also where it stops. The rest of the Beehive is surprisingly casual, starting with the modest tableware, which I'm pretty sure I saw going for $9.99 for a set of six at Goodwill last week. And how could a place be too highbrow when the bar snacks include a jar of delicious tiny pickles with wooden tongs or a side of a "bunch of bacon"?
Although gazpacho and couscous salad are good hints, we can't exactly discern the Beehive's cuisine from the menu. Our server later tells us it's Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. "It's supposed to be gypsy food, whatever you think that is," she says.
So in gypsy spirit, we traverse the menu with generally good results, from the crumbly walnut-mushroom veggie burger to the thick grilled pork chop. A cod entree, in particular, catches our attention, although it has since been replaced by an equally moist and flaky roasted grouper with succotash. In the end, it's unanimous: the Beehive's fries -- thin, wafer-like crisps seasoned with sage and sea salt -- are our favorite.
For dessert, the hazelnut gelato is a big hit, but on another visit it's gone, victim of a one-night-only special. That's too bad since the plum cobbler tastes like bland oatmeal, although the baklava, made offsite especially for the Beehive, is a worthy ending.
As we start to leave, the entire table looks at a loss for words -- not that you could hear them anyway. Amid the hustle and bustle, we've just spent the evening quietly to ourselves, picking at our entrees, passing the pickles, and taking in all that jazz. After an hour and a half together, we have that odd sensation you sometimes get at a packed house party: While the hive around you is abuzz, you inexplicably feel a little lonely.
On a second, solo visit just for drinks on a balmy Wednesday, it's considerably less busy. (Insider tip from the doorman: Tuesdays tend to be the slower night.) I suddenly realize we got it all wrong on that initial visit. We were thinking of the Beehive first as a restaurant with its nightlife an afterthought. Flip-flop that notion, and you'll appreciate the Beehive for what it really is: a fantastic nightspot serving very good food well into the night.
Suddenly, that line at the door will seem worthwhile, maybe even warranted.
The Beehive, 541 Tremont St., South End, 617-423-0069 . bee hiveboston.com . Bar snacks: $6. Small plates: $8-$15 Entrees: $14-$27. Wines by the glass: $7-$10.50.
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.