November 17th, 2006
Cambridge 1, Boston 0
Does this mean war? I hope so. In Boston Magazine’s November issue, Liquids columnist Anthony Giglio throws the glove down in “The Bitters Truth.” After a somewhat systematic evaluation of cocktails in Boston and Cambridge bars, he says, “I’ve come to realize that Cambridge is to cocktails what Berkeley, California, is to food — the little city in the big city’s shadow that’s the breeding ground for creativity, integrity, and dynamism. I’ve never met so many scholarly barkeeps in my life as I have in Cambridge. And after much scholarly research of my own, I can now say with absolute certainty that Cambridge makes better cocktails than Boston.”
Of course, this isn’t exactly news to us. Many of the bars and bartenders lauded on this site for their cocktail prowess are the same that Giglio cites in his article: Green Street (where drinkboston.com recently had its launch party), which boasts three of the Boston area’s best bartenders (Dylan Black, Misty Kalkofen and Joe McGuirk); B-Side Lounge, which, as a training ground for serious barmen and women, is to the local bar scene what Harvard Law is to the U.S. Government; plus Chez Henri, the Blue Room, etc. Giglio points out that “the great Boston exceptions — John Gertsen at No. 9 Park, Jackson Cannon at Eastern Standard, Nathan Bice at Beacon Street Tavern, and John Byrd at the Alchemist — all perfected their trade in Cambridge.”
So, what is it about Cambridge that nurtures a great cocktail culture? Cheaper rents and bar ownership by individuals rather than restaurant groups or hotels mean that bars can afford to make drinks with quality ingredients and take risks like not stocking Apple Pucker; a quirky, discerning population that appreciates variety and challenges to the palate; and the community of bartenders themselves, “a tight circle of avant-garde drink experts who pass down their expertise and help aspiring mixologists start out on their own,” writes Giglio.
What all this means, I hope, is that more Boston bars will get jealous of the praise being heaped on Cambridge drinking establishments and decide to rise to the challenge of making drinks that break out of the safe, chocolate-mint-martini mold. The prospect of a Mixologist War between Boston and Cambridge should have us all salivating.