March 30th, 2007
Brother Cleve will probably be the only bartender profiled on this site who doesn’t actually work in a bar. File him under Influences. Not to get all hyperbolic, but the contemporary Boston cocktail scene as we know it wouldn’t exist without him. Dylan Black and Misty Kalkofen of Green Street, Patrick Sullivan of the B-Side Lounge, Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard, John Byrd of the Alchemist, John Gertsen of No. 9 Park and a fair number of other Boston bartenders with a keen grasp of old-school mixology were directly or indirectly influenced by Cleve.
Actually, most people know this guy as a keyboardist, DJ, composer and pioneer of the international lounge scene. Unlike a lot of us, Cleve didn’t suddenly “discover” lounge music in the ’90s. He played the genre in the late 1960s, “when it was still current,” as a teenage keyboardist who sat in with lounge acts around Boston. Later, as a member of Combustible Edison, he toured the country seeking and preaching the Classic Cocktail and living life according to the First Manifesto of the Cocktail Nation, penned by Combustible Edison frontman The Millionaire:
We, the Citizens of the Cocktail Nation, do hereby declare our independence from the dessicated horde of mummified uniformity — our freedom from an existence of abject swinglessness. We pledge to revolt against the void of dictated sobriety and to cultivate not riches but richness, swankness, suaveness and strangeness, with pleasure and boldness for all.
Born and raised in West Medford, currently residing in Dorchester
Past bartending jobs
First bartending I did was when I worked for the Mob … er, well it was a catering company that did a lot of Mob functions, so you always had to make sure you didn’t screw up any drink orders. Sadly, they were not all drinking Godfathers or Godmothers. Lotta scotch on the rocks and that type of thing. This was in the ’70s. I first got interested in classic cocktails in the mid-’80s; I was on tour with a band called the Del Fuegos, and we were in this diner in Cleveland where the menu had a cocktail list with Sidecars, Grasshoppers, Ward Eights, etc. on it. I was fascinated and immediately went out and bought an Old Mr. Boston drink book. A few years later a friend asked if I’d be interested in bartending at his restaurant, the Hoodoo BBQ in Kenmore Sq. I was, and the first thing I did was put classic cocktails on the menu. This was around ’88. Nobody bought them; instead everyone was drinking Woo Woos and Sex On The Beach. I hate peach schnapps. But within a few years there was a new band on the scene — Combustible Edison — who were leading the charge for a cocktail renaissance, calling their fans the Cocktail Nation and selling their own drink recipe books at their shows. They were the most fabulous act I had ever seen. When their first album was about to come out and their keyboard player couldn’t go on tour, they called me and offered me the spot. We spent the ’90s spearheading the cocktail movement in a fury of sound and liquid — we even had a Campari sponsorship. It was during those years that I met Patrick Sullivan, who got interested in the classics and later opened the B-Side Lounge. I designed the first menus there with him and also bartended there for the first few years it was open. I also created cocktail menus for the Lizard Lounge, Bill’s Bar, Pho Republique, Lilli’s, and the late great Lava Bar in Kenmore Sq.
First drink you ever had
My grandmother used to let me have sips of her Manhattans when I was a tot. It’s still one of my favorite drinks.
The drink you most like to make
My current fave at home is one I call the Maharajah’s Revenge: Old Monk rum from India, apricot brandy, and lime juice.
The best thing about drinking in Boston is…
There are some incredible bartenders in this town who know the classics but aren’t afraid to make some new concoctions, ones that aren’t “shots” or comprised of “flavored vodkas,” which are children’s drinks as far as I’m concerned.
The worst thing about drinking in Boston is…
There are still way too many toy bartenders, there’s still too much toy vodka on the shelves, and too many 1:00 a.m. closings.
Your favorite “cocktail music”
Bossa nova — old and new
Your favorite bar(s) in Boston for music
I always hear great music at Pho Republique and Om in Harvard Sq.
In Boston bars, you hear too much _____
Rock and Top 40
In Boston bars, you don’t hear enough ______
I really wish someplace played the kind of nujazz/soul/latin/hip hop/global beat sounds that you hear a lot in European and Asian lounges. It’s something that has never really caught on in America, with a few exceptions in places like San Francisco, LA, DC.