December 9th, 2008

Drink – Best Boston bars

Drink - Best Boston bars

Established: 2008
Specialty: Cocktails
Prices: Moderate to high
Atmosphere: World-class drinks and service with an approachable style in a minimalist but warm subterranean space.
See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

Imagine you’re John Gertsen. You work for several years behind what is probably the tiniest bar in Boston, at least in terms of workspace — the bar at No. 9 Park. And yet you manage to make a name for yourself by mixing some of the nation’s best cocktails. One day, your boss, chef Barbara Lynch, says, ‘John, I’m opening a new bar, and I want you to run it. You can help design it, too. Here’s a blank check.’

So, you take the exposed-brick-and-granite basement of a building in industrial Fort Point — the type of space a hot, new design firm might occupy — and arrange slabs of smooth oak into three distinct but connected U-shaped bars. You go minimalist by storing all liquor bottles out of sight so that, aside from careful lighting, the bar’s only decor consists of vintage glassware and punch-bowl sets lining the back bar, vases of fresh herbs (to be muddled into cocktails), and antique bar tools — including large iron tongs for gripping 50-lb blocks of ice and various picks and mallets for breaking those blocks apart to use in drinks. Finally, you hire some of the most talented bartenders in the country, whose mixological creativity renders printing a cocktail menu unnecessary.

Lynch and Gertsen’s bar, Drink, opened in early October to great fanfare. It is re-inventing the concept of a bar in this city. If visitations from such personages as Dave Kaplan and Phil Ward of Death & Co., Simon Ford of Plymouth Gin and Dale DeGroff are any indication, not to mention two (1, 2) citations already in the New York Times, Drink has assumed the position of world-class representative of the Renaissance of Cocktails and Bartending.

If this all sounds a bit much … it’s not. Drink works. It’s a cool-looking bar where you can get a great cocktail and either sit back and watch the show or mingle around the room, which is strategically designed for socializing. Gertsen is at pains to demonstrate that Drink is as much a friendly neighborhood bar as a shrine for cocktail geeks. “We don’t want to be snobs and dictate to people.” If a customer orders something as basic as a vodka and soda, it will be made with care — with sturdy Kold Draft ice and a nice spiral of fresh lemon peel. The next time that customer orders, he might be gently persuaded to try, say, a Collins. After all, he’s paying $10 for a simple highball. (All drinks at Drink are $10. There is also a cheekily limited beer and wine menu: one light beer, one dark beer; two kinds of red, two kinds of white).

Despite the “we cater to all tastes” philosophy, it is cocktail enthusiasts like me who are going to have the best time here. For me, Drink is about the adventure of simply naming my base spirit and seeing what the bartenders come up with, or ordering a bowl of flaming Chartreuse punch with a group of friends. I like that there is no dress code, but rather a strict bar code that emphasizes quality drinks over brands, and hospitality over attitude. I don’t have to ask, as one tarted-up nightclubber did after receiving a vodka and soda poured from a bottle not clearly marked Grey Goose, “What’s the point of this place?”

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39 Responses to “Drink – Best Boston bars”

  1. erik_flannestad

    Everything I’ve been reading suggests I really need to take a trip back out East some time soon…

  2. ljclark

    Come on out, Erik! We’d love to see you.

  3. MC Slim JB

    “What’s the point of this place?” Hilarious! Amazing how many people rank their sophistication as drinkers by the cost of the vodka in the highballs they’re swilling.

  4. ljclark

    Yes, the vast majority in fact. Does it merely have to do with the effectiveness of advertising and persuasion? Or is it possibly a vestige of the dark era when the quality of spirits was sketchy and people sought labels that indicated the product was trustworthy and consistent?

  5. MC Slim JB

    I think there’s a few things at work, and it has little to do with spirits quality anymore (if that were the case, most vodka lovers would drink Smirnoff). Rather, it’s:

    a) the effectiveness and sheer dollar heft of the brand marketing campaigns behind super-premium spirits;

    b) a couple of generations of drinkers who are so acculturated to this environment that they identify strongly with brands and believe in what the ads tell them that drinking a particular spirit says about them;

    c) a general lack of adventurousness and inertia that keeps drinkers in bland, unchallenging paths (vodka and simple flavors: sugar, candy, brine).

    A pitiful lack of skilled, knowledgeable bartending skills doesn’t help. A recent WSJ piece: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122851909486284015.html showed that even the grand old hotel bars in many cities are staffed with clueless bartenders — the author tried in vain to get a decent Americano and a Sidecar at a bunch of swish bars that really ought to have known better. Appalling. (Ironically enough, I think the mass appeal of the Cosmo has actually sharpened the shaker skills of the average bartender, even in places that don’t place any premium on cocktail craft.)

    Ultimately, I’m a firm believer in the value of education and evangelism on this score: get five of your friends drinking better, and the effect will eventually multiply.

  6. ljclark

    Oh my. Thanks so much for pointing me to that Felten article. The hotel bar conundrum has been running around my head for a few years. (Good to see a good drink can be had at the Fairmont Copley, though.) As Felten points out, the last quote of the article, by a bartender at the Roosevelt in L.A., says it all: “If people ask for a drink I don’t know,” he explained, “I can always kind of make something with sour mix and vodka and they’ll be happy.” Aaaaahhhh! One other reason that I’ve heard for the sorry state of bartending in fancy hotels is the unionization of service staff and the creative stagnation that goes along with it. That theory’s a bit of a political hot potato, but there it is.

  7. Graham

    Funny. I think this article was written for me. I went to Drink for the first time this past Sunday, with one serious cocktalian friend and another “vodka soda” friend. I can vouch for the fact that we were all well taken care of, and our vodka and soda buddy wasn’t pressured into anything too fancy for him. FYI, I was delighted by the Liberal and the 1919. Great new bar.

  8. ljclark

    The Liberal! Love it. Very helpful report, Graham.

  9. Arnold

    Great post. Still haven’t made it to Drink, but am hoping to on a traditionally slow night to get all the benefits of what I hear is the target experience.

    My one question is about your statement, “what is probably the tiniest bar in Boston” in referring to No. 9. As background, I lived in Boston (or Cambridge) for approximately 6 or 7 years before moving to Washington, DC. After two years there, I am back in the area (for about a year now).

    After just a few No. 9 dinners before I moved I also had the memory that they had quite a small bar. On the order of Hungry Mother/Chez Henri small. I recently had dinner there (just once since returning) and was struck by the size of the bar. It now dwarfs those two restaurants, seems bigger than Silvertone’s bar, and is almost on the order of Deep Ellum or Green Street in length.

    Am I imagining things or did the bar at No. 9 grow considerably in the length at some point in the past three or four years?

  10. ljclark

    The bar at No. 9 expands? This is news to me. Thanks for the update.

  11. Adam

    My experiences at Drink so far have been fantastic, and I’m glad not everyone “gets” it. This means I can more easily get a seat at the bar when I go.

    By the way, the typical Google searcher looking for the address might type in “Drink, Boston” as their search term. Guess which site lands first if you omit the comma, and second if you put it in? Congrats, Lauren: Drink is not only a great place to get a cocktail, but is also perfectly named to help promote your site! A true win-win.

  12. ljclark

    Ha! Oh, yes, Adam, it is.

  13. sushiesque

    does anybody know what Drink’s current hours are? the web site says “sunday-saturday 4pm to 1am” but when we went over at 4:30ish today (all these blustery cold days have made me want to see if they’d fix me a tom & jerry) they were closed.

  14. ljclark

    I thought they opened at 4:00. I hope you’re able to get over there for a tom & jerry!

  15. pants

    Any straight male who switches mixed drinks frequently is a clown and probably owns one or more seasons of Sex in the City on DVD.

  16. ljclark

    Wow, thanks for your insight, Rush Limbaugh.

  17. pants

    You are mistaking me for someone who enjoys switching their painkillers – as opposed to types of liquor.

    Both acts are loathsome.

    There are a handful of mixers (very few) that can enhance the taste of an underlying spirit (e.g. tonic with gin). Most mixers obscure the taste of said spirit. That is why they find find favor with underage drinkers and persons who have no interest in distinguishing and enjoying different types of their favorite liquor.

    The premise of this bar is ridiculous – yes I have been there.

    I concur it is, “cool looking”.

  18. MC Slim JB

    I don’t know, “pants” (if that *is* your real name); have you ever read Modern Drunkard’s “86 Rules of Drinking”? It’s here: http://www.drunkard.com/issues/01-02/01_02_booze_rules.htm

    This is a very masculine guide to macho drinking behavior, from the butchest of boozing sites, and one of the 86 Rules, or as I like to call it, the Utterly Self-Assured Testosterone-Loaded Manly-Man’s Guide to Drinking, is #37, to wit: “Try one new drink each week.”

    So if you think that kind of behavior is for Sex and the City fans only, well, you and I will just have to step outside.

  19. pants

    My full name is Arnold T. Pants if you must know.

    I’ll skip your suggested url, thanks. My guess is if we stepped outside you’d probably next suggest going back to your place to peruse your collection of abba vinyl…all set, again, thanks anyway.

  20. MC Slim JB

    Ha-ha! Nothing says “rapier wit” like a fag joke! Well done, Mr. Pants!

    It’s a shame you don’t check the “86 Rules of Boozing” (sorry, got the title wrong).

    But I know, I know: reading is hard and annoying and may introduce troubling new ideas. You’re better off hoeing that tight little row of yours, the one where you spend time dissing people who do high-craft classic cocktails on a website devoted to their appreciation.

  21. ljclark

    I don’t know whether to moderate this fight or just fire up my Sex in the City DVD, mix pitchers of seven different cocktails and chase them with a combo of vicodin and quaaludes.

  22. MC Slim JB

    Fight? What fight? This is just a lively discussion between two inquiring, open minds.

    In fact, I’m actually inspired by Mr. Pantses’s line of reasoning. I’m drawing up plans for my new blog, “Seasoning Is For Sissies”, in which I extol the virtues of well-done unsalted beefsteak washed down with bourbon, neat.

    Or no: application of heat smacks a little too much of that effete Molecular Gastronomy crap, so Recipe One should be about steak tartare in its purest form: unadulterated ground chuck, preferably eaten straight from the supermarket styrofoam tray.

    Come to think of it, whiskey does all that prissy charred-oak aging to “mellow out the flavor”, i.e., make it palatable for weenies. I’m thinking the right accompaniment is unaged grappa. No more of this mixing of adulterants that obscure flavors for me.

  23. pants

    Truth be told – nothing says, “rapier wit”, like a run on sentence. Type more, please. You’re so wise.

    My original point is that the idea behind this bar, mixing and switching drinks for the sake thereof, is ridiculous. (In my opinion, which is only one person’s – as is the case with anyone’s opinion here).

    Any person who disagrees should feel free to make that fact known with their patronage. By all means – go to this bar. Keep an eye out for MC Slim playing cocktail roulette while reading his thesaurus.

    What is another word for “tool”?

  24. MC Slim JB

    “Run-on sentence.” That phrase: I do not think it means what you think it means. But if you’re having trouble keeping up, I can keep my sentences short. I assume since you’re already down to ad hominem attacks, you’ve got nothing left in the way of rational argument. But let me chuck a few not-too-tricky ideas your way, anyway.

    The reason I’m taking the mick here is that your premise seems to be that Drink is all about novelty. You’ve got other ideas I find comical, too, like the notion that classicism or creativity in cocktail construction is all wrong, and you’ve got the key to real-man’s drinking: simplicity. While I agree that many simple drinks are good, I contest the notion that a complex cocktail of the kind routinely crafted at Drink (and other worthy bars around town that this site regularly visits) are designed to mask the taste of spirits. Is it possible that you’re just too thick-palated to get it?

    I don’t know if you’re being deliberately obtuse for effect or are earnestly conflating what they’re doing at Drink with the candy-flavored rookie junk routinely served at twenty-something-oriented “martini” bars around town. But your apparent homophobia, your notion that those drinks are somehow “fruity”, makes you look like a reactionary and a rube. You’re not coming across as the poster boy for thoughtful, sophisticated appreciation of cocktails that way.

    In one respect, I hope you keep posting here, Pants, because you are entertaining in your own dim way. Poking holes in your arguments is easy fun. But try to keep in the spirit of the site: name calling is for the weak-minded and the got-nothing. Surely you have something more insightful to offer than critiques of my punctuation.

  25. pants

    Oh MC Slim Jim…Maybe I missed something – you’re the arbiter of etiquette here? Perhaps you are but again, if so, I missed it. You think quite a bit of yourself, which is good – someone should right? I mean, aside from your mother.

    Ultimately we’re trying to account for taste, which isn’t possible but I’ll try to help you see what I am getting at. Nothing I have posted here could accurately be characterized as, “an argument”, as you put it. What we are doing is assailing one another’s opinions. Which is fine, but there is nothing to be proved. All that aside the bar is ridiculous – I maintain steadfastly.

    Let’s take your meat analogy that you seem so fond of. It’s specious but more than marginally useful here. An excellent distiller goes through an arduous process to distill Scotch Whisky. I have been witness to this – a craft beyond my grasp (no comments please – don’t take the easy road).

    It’s likely the case that producing some meal, the crux of which is some meat – let’s say meat from a cow, a steak – an excellent fillet, is predicated by a process with similarly fastidious quality control to that which accompanies distilling an excellent liquor – like Scotch Whisky.

    If a producer of said excellent whisky were to see you sully it with sour mix, a cherry and an orange, what would he or she think? They’d think precisely the same thing a chef at Plaza III might think if you asked for ranch dressing with your porterhouse (ranch dressing is the equivalent of sour mix and garbage in my opinion). They would be horrified.

    If you like Drinks – that’s all well and good Slim Jim. Some people like NASCAR – all the power to them. Maybe you could advocate aptly tuned televisions in Drinks on Sunday for those fans.

  26. MC Slim JB

    Not my job to enforce etiquette; I’m merely pointing out that when most of your post consists of elementary-school taunts, you appear to be Out of Ammo.

    But “ranch dressing on a fine fillet” has at least the semblance of a reasoned argument. And you’re right: there’s no accounting for taste. I have no problem with your preferring your single-malt neat, or with a single cube of ice, or however you like it. You can even consider the use of expensive liquor in a cocktail of any kind to be an abomination.

    (That’s not something I see Drink doing, by the way: they’re just as likely to use $12/bottle Old Overholt in my rye cocktail as something fancier. One thing those folks seem to intuitively grasp is that you need to be able to judge a spirit by its character, not its cost, packaging or marketing.)

    The point I jumped in was when you started making generalizations along the lines of “Only a few mixers work well with certain spirits, and if you can’t see that, you’re a child or of dubious masculinity”. I disagree with that. I think there’s a far greater world of possibility in cocktail making than your purist, simpler-is-better view of drinking allows. I love the work of the folks behind the bars at Green Street, No. 9 Park, Eastern Standard, Marliave, Drink, and other venues that Lauren Clark covers here. They’ve made my drinking life richer and much more varied — more fun.

    But it’s pretty clear: one man’s artfully conceived, thoughtfully balanced, skillfully made cocktail is another man’s sullying of good liquor. And I agree with you that ranch dressing on a fine steak is awful. But maybe that’s actually a well-made sauce béarnaise on that steak, and you just can’t tell the difference. Once you close your mind to the possibility that a whitish sauce might make sense on a steak — if it were done skillfully enough, with high quality ingredients, by a chef who brings care and years of training to its making — it’s never going to taste good to you.

  27. sushiesque

    I’m totally bringing my thesaurus to Drink next time.

  28. Arnold

    While I certainly have my own opinions on this (and have engaged in similar comment war on chowhound), I just really would like to know if Mr. Pants has visited Drink with Fletch himself (http://members.fortunecity.com/thefletchpage/gillet.html). That must have been an interesting night.

  29. Bob

    I don’t feel as bad about the argument over “emotional intelligence” that I had the other day. Am I bad or a girly man because I like scotch highballs and vodka gimlets?

  30. ljclark

    Brilliant observation, Arnold. No Coors at Drink for Fletch, unfortunately. Bob, I love when emotion and intelligence go together. It’s such a rarity.

  31. fishy

    I don’t understand the point of trolling a cocktail blog at all. Or anybody who would mix “fine Scotch whisky” with sour mix.

  32. diana lily

    I must confess to being intrigued by all I’ve heard and read about Drink. And thanks for publishing the drink price.

    Different moods or occasions demand different libations. Sometimes it’s naught but a Jameson & soda night; for that, $10 is mighty stiff. However, if the evening calls for exploration, for pretty shoes and a desire to put ourselves in the hands of a skilled bartender, then I’d say, in Boston, $10 a fair price for what sounds like a singular experience.

  33. ljclark

    Diana, I totally agree.

  34. er

    why not go somewhere else to get a jameson and soda? it’s like going to a steakhouse and ordering a fish entree.

  35. ljclark

    Right. Or rather like going to a steak house and ordering Steak Ums.

  36. mpmixologist

    After reading the many wonderful posts, i think its important to remember the name of the establishment is drink. The entire reason a place like this exists is to free spirits from being subjected as good or bad. Drink is an outlet for people with open minds and open palates to explore the craft of the cocktail and the people who create them. As a bartender i can relate to why sourmix sounds horrible mixed with a beautiful single malt scotch but at the same time not every palate is ready fo a 12yr single malt neat or even on the rocks. Mixed cocktails when done correct have a sense of elegance and balance that should showcase the spirit not mask it. If you want a cocktail that mutes the flavor of the spirit stick to rum runners and woo woo’s, but if you want to taste how good absinthe can taste when balanced perfectly with rye and bitters get a sazerac from one of the city’s greats and try and tell me you dislike bitters, absinthe or rye,

  37. Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails - Boston

    [...] recommend this as a way to finish off an evening of imbibing. And lastly, Panky, Joe Rickey, and “John Collins” (Dudepec) over at Drink have been setting afire the Angostura then pouring in 2 oz Plymouth. [...]

  38. Local Boston Restaurant Blogger Unites Drinkers to Help Haiti | Quincy Cove

    [...] over-tipping Creole-speaking cab drivers, and ordering Haitian rum (or rhum) at bars. Recently, Drink joined several bars across the country in fundraising for Haiti by creating a menu of drinks using [...]

  39. Zach Hastings

    I made my first venture over to drink tonight after hearing whisperings of it for the past two years.

    The designer in me appreciated the clean tailored space (it’s truly hard to be simple and look this good doing it) while the bourbon drinker within thought he died and went to heaven.

    The bartender’s enthusiasm rivaled that of a Trader Joe’s employee speaking of his favorite cereal – honest and passionate.

    In a scene where mediocre venues can justify 9 bucks for a sh*t martini, I will gladly give Drink $10.75 for a cup of genius and touch of reserved showmanship.

    -Zach

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