When Mick Jagger sang "You can't always get what you want," he could've been describing the St. James Tavern. The Italian Village hangout doesn't aim to please all - you won't find Red Bull, posh decor or Top-40 jams here - but inside, you get exactly what you need.
"I wanted to create a place that after I got off work, I wanted to be there," said owner Michelle Hill. "Just a comfortable place - it's not pretentious, it's not trendy."
Time-weathered pine runs throughout the cozy bar, where light seems to be a precious resource. On any given night, local artists, musicians and an eclectic mix of patrons find solace inside the den-like space. Sometimes it's only a dozen people, but no matter the crowd size, conversation seems to flow freely as music plays overhead.
St. James' electronic jukebox is one of the best in the city and a consistent topic of discussion. Hill regularly updates the fuzz rock-leaning juke, which includes standouts from A Tribe Called Quest, Animal Collective, Beck, Built to Spill, LCD Soundsystem, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Soul Coughing and Tom Waits - just to name a few.
"The most important thing about a jukebox is it sets the tone for the place," Hill said. "For me, it's the number-one thing."
St. James' crowd thickens as night wages on, she said. Patrons looking for quiet conversation seek out tables with tall stools in a dark side room lined with bar signs and mirrors. Nearby, there are two frequently occupied pool tables and a Simpsons pinball machine that looks like it's from back when the show was funny.
The beer taps are another big draw, with an impressive selection of craft brews at even more impressive prices. The lineup includes sought-after, high-alcohol Belgians like Chimay Tripel ($5.50) and Unibroue Maudite ($5) along with Bluegrass Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Stout, Bell's Two Hearted, Ommegang Hennepin, Allagash White and Victory HopDevil ($3.50).
Besides the rotating taps, St. James offers a solid lineup of bottled beer, with options from Unibroue and Samuel Smith, as well as lambics ($6) and domestics ($2.25).
If you're not a beer drinker, mixed drinks run a cool $2.50, or shoot some Jameson for $4.25 - just don't ask for an Irish Car Bomb on Tuesday, because it ain't happening. "It's just too messy," Hill explained.