The Keep (Lowell, MA)

One of my annual traditions that I’ve finally been able to resume after several years’ pandemic-related interruption is judging student-built robots for FIRST Robotics, which usually has me traveling a few weekends at the end of each winter to various events in the district. This year, I was judging in Salem, NH, and staying in a relatively nice DoubleTree Hotel over in Andover, MA across the board. While Andover is no culinary slouch (see, for example, my 2019 review of 15SX, which unfortunately burnt down in November 2022), when I’m in the area I’m usually drawn to nearby Lowell, which has a very good selection of restaurants, particularly Southeast Asian ones and old-school American ones (like The Owl. But this time one particular establishment had drawn my attention: The Keep.

Located just a short distance south of Lowell’s historic district canals on Gorham Street, The Keep actually has a pretty modest little storefront with just their “Keep” icon on it. Inside, the vibe is primarily “whiskey bar”. There are a lot of restaurants out there with good bar programs, but The Keep is primarily the opposite: it’s more of a good whiskey bar that happens to also have some good wine, beer, and food. So that’s the focus here: some good drinks, and menus of appetizers, light dinners, and full entrees to cater to everyone’s level of hunger.

Sitting at the end of the bar, chatting with a couple next to me about favorite European travel destinations, I wasn’t particularly feeling like a whiskey, but was feeling like a good cocktail, so looking over their list of house cocktails, I settled on the Baby Mama Drama: tequila, elderflower, and framboise. A most interesting combination for a cocktail, and it actually worked quite well: a bit of smokiness, a bit of a floral note, and a bit of dry fruit. I’ll definitely have to try to recreate this at some point.

Next up was an entree. I was definitely drawn to the steak frites on the menu, and two of the nearby diners were enjoying a particularly good-looking rendition… but I’d had rather a lot of fries recently, so I was drawn to another item on the menu: the vegetable coconut curry. This was actually a fairly unique dish, a bit different than most vegetable curries I’ve had, with a distinct Thai note: the vegetables were mostly fennel, shishito peppers, and onion, nicely sauteed to softness, served in a robust and flavorful coconut curry sauce that was more savory than sweet, and served over rice. This was a perfect antidote to a slightly wet and dreary March day, and quite enjoyable.

Rounding out my visit was a beer. I was originally considering a post-dinner whiskey, but then noticed that The Keep had an outstanding list of Belgian beers available on tap, and decided to go for a St Bernardus Abt 12 Quad: one of my favorite darker Belgian Beers. Indeed, it’s still a classic Belgian dark with deep malt notes and fruitiness, and a great way to relax after the meal.

Overall, I love The Keep; it’s a great little bar with a well-curated list of beer, whiskey, cocktails, and wine, and a well-above-average menu of food offerings with a pleasant staff. It’s definitely one of the hidden gems of Lowell.

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