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Beer Lovers Won't Find a Better Spot in New England Than in Downtown Worcester

What exactly is Armsby Abbey? It may be best to put the labels aside and see it for what it is — one of the most interesting places to dine and drink within an hour of Boston.

A beer at, and the interior of Armsby Abbey, a renowned bar and restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The terms “brewpub,” “beer bar” and “gastropub” often get used interchangeably, but there are certainly differences between them.

A brewpub is a restaurant/bar with a brewery behind it, typically serving at least some beers that are made on the premises. A beer bar is a watering hole that generally focuses more on beers from a variety of breweries rather than on wine, spirits and mixed drinks. And a gastropub can loosely be defined as a restaurant/bar (or beer bar) that puts more of an emphasis on high-quality food.

The latter two can overlap, and Armsby Abbey in Worcester is a good example of this — it’s known more for its beer list than its other beverage offerings but it’s also a place where you can nosh on some outstanding dishes.

And while many consider it to be one of the best beer bars in New England  — if not the best — “gastropub” is perhaps a more apt description, because of Armsby Abbey’s dual focuses on food and beer.

So what exactly is Armsby Abbey? It may be best to put the labels aside and see it for what it is — one of the most interesting places to dine and drink within an hour of Boston.

After years of being overlooked for Providence as one of the best mid-sized cities in America, Worcester is booming and seems to be on a similar path to its neighbor to the southwest.

Worcester’s Canal District is particularly hot and has gotten a big boost from the Worcester Red Sox, the minor league baseball team that moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, last year and rebranded from the PawSox to the WooSox. The heart of the downtown area is red hot as well, with all kinds of restaurants and bars opening and turning what was formerly an area that was relatively sleepy after work hours to a hopping place deep into the night.

Armsby Abbey has seen none of this, however. It sits near the northern end of Main Street just north of the heart of downtown in a rather serene-feeling block that has very little foot traffic. In fact, with government and college buildings, churches and offices surrounding it, Armsby Abbey is very easy to miss, especially because it’s on the ground floor of one of an endless strip of old brick buildings, and the simple sign above the door doesn’t make it stand out all that much.

This isn’t to say the place is a hidden gem, but if you aren’t a beer geek or you don’t live in Worcester, you may never even know it's there.

The setup for Armsby Abbey is quite simple: a long bar to the right, high-tops along the brick wall to the left, a few tables by the front windows and a narrow rail with some barstools down the middle that separates the two. In the back is a small, brightly lit dining room that has quite a different feel to it — a good option for families and/or groups — while out front is a tiny sidewalk patio whose views down Main Street help make this an interesting and attractive outdoor dining area, allowing for a taste of this often-overlooked city.

With so many beer bars and gastropubs dotting the landscape these days, what makes Armsby Abbey stand out? If you’re a fan of Vermont beers, the answer comes via two words: Hill Farmstead.

Armsby Abbey appears to be the only place in Massachusetts that regularly offers beers on tap from this legendary brewery that’s hours north of Worcester in the state’s Northeast Kingdom, and depending on what’s offered at the time, you can choose from a Harlan (New England IPA), Edward (APA), Arthur and Anna (saisons), Marie (helles) or Mary (pilsner) to name a few.

All the Hill Farmstead options are top-tier beers, but Armsby Abbey also offers other brews that you won’t want to overlook. The chalkboard listings along the wall opposite the bar change regularly but tend to include draft beers from beloved breweries like Kent Falls (Connecticut), Oxbow (Maine), De Dolle (Belgium), and De Ranke (Belgium). Bottles and cans from Hudson Valley (New York), Dieu du Ciel (Quebec), Schlenkerla (Germany), Orval (Belgium) and others are also on offer.

Armsby Abbey isn’t just about beer — a few wines and ciders are available as well, and the cocktail list includes a sublime Bloody Mary that has a thick piece of bacon sticking out of it.

Photos: Beer Lovers Won't Find a Better Spot in New England Than in Downtown Worcester

Many go to Armsby Abbey simply for the beer, but the food is certainly good enough to make it a place to go solely for a bite to eat.

Much like the beer menu, the food menu is always changing, but some highlights that may be available include a wonderful farmstead cheese plate with up to three cheeses and fresh breads, honey, preserves and maple candied almonds; a bowl of savory marinated Mediterranean olives; garlicky housemade hummus with crispy pita; a delicious black bean chili that gets some extra heat from a generous amount of jalapenos; a nap-inducing poutine with hand-cut fries, cheese curds, bacon gravy and an option of a fried egg on top; a double smash burger with Vermont cheddar that brings to mind some of the great burgers found in that state; and a crusty macaroni and cheese that comes with “rustic breadcrumbs” not unlike soft croutons.

If you hit Armsby Abbey on the weekend, a brunch menu offers more options, including varied styles of hash such as a marvelous Caribbean version with mojo verde pork and fried plantains; a sinful Belgian waffle that can be topped with, depending on the day, options including whipped peanut butter cream and passionfruit curd and honey mascarpone; an equally hearty plate of coconut pancakes served with spiced maple syrup; and a big slice of quiche with all kinds of veggies mixed in.

Is Armsby Abbey the best beer bar in New England? Or is it the best gastropub? Whatever it is, this friendly little dining and drinking spot is a must if you’re a lover of hard-to-find beers, and while it doesn’t reside in the parts of Worcester going through lots of exciting development, it isn’t all that far away, either, giving you the option to enjoy a meal and a beverage before exploring a city whose ship finally seems to be coming in.

Armsby Abbey, 144 Main Street, Worcester, MA, 01608.

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