June 15th, 2006
The lounge at this Cuban-French restaurant is small but always packed. Scott Holliday runs the place like one of those weary, jaded proprietors of a village café in France who, when you take an interest in that hand-labeled liqueur behind the counter, perks up and dotes on you like a long-lost uncle. Scott describes himself as the “curmudgeon” of a group of classic cocktail revivalists and fellow bartenders called the Jack Rose Society, explaining that he doesn’t have all day to make a drink — “I have to work for a living!” That said, the man has extensive knowledge of vintage potions like the Seelbach Cocktail, and will mix them enthusiastically for those who ask. Whatever your taste, and no matter how busy the place is, Scott will make you a good drink quickly, and if you decide to pounce on an empty bar table and order a complete dinner (because the food here is really good), he’ll accommodate you without fuss.
Past bartending jobs
Franklin Cafe, Washington Square Tavern, The Good Life (Boston).
First drink you ever had
The first drink I clearly remember was CC and ginger. Afternoons my grandmother would sit in her rocker in the kitchen listening to WBZ news on the radio while dinner was on the stove. She often had a drink next to her in one of those plastic mugs that was burlap-looking on the outside and pastel pink on the inside. When I was probably 10 or 11 years old I took a quick sip — just once — but the strong, spicy, fizzy drink confused and shocked me so that I never forgot it. It was probably a decade or more before I had another, but that second highball brought the whole episode flooding back and this time having acquired a taste for strong drink I loved it. I’ll still a have whiskey and ginger anytime I feel nostalgic for the tastes and smells of summer evenings in my grandparents’ kitchen.
Favorite Boston bar other than your own
I have too many friends behind too many bars to name just one, and just like I couldn’t possibly name a favorite drink I have favorite bars for different reasons. No. 9 Park for when I want to feel like an old-time Boston Brahmin for a few hours and steal (learn) anything I can from Professor John Gertsen. Eastern Standard to see the well-oiled excellence of a large bar gracefully churning out Jackson Cannon’s ambitious cocktail program — it’s a glimpse at what bars of the gilded age may have looked like in action. Green Street for the all-stars and warm souls Dylan Black has assembled at his excellent new restaurant (including Dylan himself). And lastly, the DeLux Cafe in Boston. I don’t know anyone working there anymore, but this quirky, genuine, band box of a bar always makes me smile. It’s very like the bar I own in my fantasies.
The drink you most like to make
It changes with time of day and season, but I’m particularly proud that I’m known for my Sazeracs from a few regulars and have been complimented by Kentuckians incredulous that a Yankee could mix a proper mint julep.
The drink you least like to make
Long Island Ice Teas. It’s a crappy, confused drink for people just looking to get drunk quickly (and who frequently insist they can’t drink gin, whiskey, tequila or any spirit other than vodka).
What you drink at the end of your shift
It changes with how much energy I have and what mood I’m in. Lately I’ve been sipping Punt e Mes on ice with the juice from a quarter grapefruit squeezed on top. I love the layers of bitterness and sweetness, especially when our good friend and customer Adrian has stopped by with fresh-off-the-tree grapefruits from his house in Naples, Florida.
If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be…
A gentleman farmer or a 19th-century inventor of dangerous, impractical household contraptions and pseudoscientific medical devices.
A bartender’s best friend is…
Open-minded, engaged regulars. They set the tone for the entire bar. At their best they can be catalysts for general conversation, assurance for newcomers and witnesses to the insults we sometimes endure. At their worst they can be boorish but hey, even my charms wear thin after repeated watchings.
A bartender’s worst enemy is…
Needy, indecisive customers. A complete stranger asking a bartender, “What do I want?” is not the way to get what you want, and we can’t help anyone in the room until you can help us at least narrow the options to things you might like. Chain restaurants and people with ulterior motives use suggestive selling for a reason, and it’s not to give you what you want.
People drink too much…
of the same drink all the time. A well timed and well chosen drink can accentuate life. It can kick off a great evening or solace you when cold and tired. In various forms it can help celebrate, stimulate, relax, reflect, console and comfort. If it’s the same drink every time (or too much of any drink), it’s not a deliberate enhancement of life — it’s just drinking.
People don’t drink enough…
Gin, whiskey, rye … Where do I begin? Alright, how about bitter cocktails? Don’t you get a little tired of sweet & sour or sour & sweet? Do yourselves a favor and try a Negroni or an Americano, or if you can find someone who knows how to make one have the beautifully herbal Greenpoint.
Drink for a hot summer day
Salty gin rickey.
Drink for a cold winter night
A Tom & Jerry (if you’re very lucky).
The best thing about drinking in Boston is…
It’s a small town in the sense that you keep running into the same great people when out, yet there are so many excellent places to get a drink. If you go to the “genuine” bars it’s really a warm, welcoming place.
The worst thing about drinking in Boston is…
some places feel they have something to prove. I wish more bars and restaurants would just lay it out like they know they have the goods and trust the customer to get it. If you have to sell the customer on “we’re good-special-different-the only bar doing this outside New York, etc.” it comes across like someone explaining why their joke is funny. Be honest, be good, be yourselves and keep quiet about it so we can enjoy you in our own way.