October 21st, 2009

Boston bartender bonanza?

im-a-big-fan-of-your-workShoot, y’all. Some mighty fancy folk are making their way to ol’ Beantown to open up swanky bars in a pair of purty new hotels.

First, the W Boston in the theater district. Come October 29, its “decadent indulgences await your exploration, immersion, savoring, lingering, mingling, socializing, canoodling and celebrating.” Lingering? Mingling? OK. But canoodling? We don’t do that in Boston! Irregardless, Sasha Petraske, well known in cocktaildom for opening Milk & Honey (the bar that launched 1,000 speakeasies), Little Branch and Dutch Kills in New York and the Varnish in L.A., is reportedly in charge of the cocktail menu at the W Boston’s “destination bar.” (Update: that bar, called Descent, will not open until early 2010.)

Meanwhile, John Lermayer, who leapt from head bartender at the Florida Room in Miami’s Delano Hotel to internationally acclaimed mixologist, is helming the booze program at Woodward, a “modern day tavern” in the Ames Hotel, which opens in the financial district November 19. Woodward’s PR says that Lermayer and William “English Bill” Codman (a longtime Boston bartender) are developing a “distinctive drinks menu featuring modern touches on beloved classics such as a Margarita infused with chamomile agave nectar and a Caipirinha with local apple cider and fresh rosemary.”


OK, these are talented guys who no doubt can write an impressive cocktail menu. But, once they leave town, who (besides Codman at Woodward) will turn their recipes into drinkable drinks? That’s the million-dollar question (no exaggeration). We all know that a bad performance can turn Shakespeare into crap. Cocktail lists in certain places around town look good until you actually order from them. Take the Back Bay’s new Post 390. They serve Sazeracs! … in snifters … without a discernable trace of Peychaud’s bitters. Sigh.

But rather than be cynical, I’m going to view this as a potential bonanza for Boston bartending. So many openings for skilled practitioners all of a sudden — where will they come from? Will they be pilfered from other high-end bars like Drink, Eastern Standard, No. 9 Park and Craigie on Main? Or will ‘tenders who already man the planks at Boston’s finest hotels and steak houses gravitate to the Ames and the W to learn top-notch mixology? Should be interesting.

And think about it, aspiring bartenders: we’re still in the midst of the Great Recession, yet quality bars in Boston aren’t just booming, they’re proliferating. I mean, Legal Sea Foods is getting in on the game, for chrissake. Get yourself started as a bar back and look toward a rosy future — Boston imbibers need you!

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12 Responses to “Boston bartender bonanza?”

  1. MC Slim JB

    I share your disappointment with the potential-to-execution ratio at Post 390 so far. All these coming-soon bars with craft-y looking menus have a rather high bar to leap: the passion, attention to detail, and meticulous execution practiced at our current top tier.

    There’s a culture at these places, a way of bringing talent along, an ethos, that makes all the difference. By itself, the most interesting cocktail list with the coolest marquee-name pedigree attached to it seems very thin gruel next to an actual craft-cocktail *program*.

    I’m rooting hard for these folks to succeed, for the snowball to gain a few more layers here, as I think we’re still largely at an evangelical stage in the market right now. The artists and artisans have to educate and lead the consumers in Boston. Here’s hoping these promising-sounding newcomers will put some marrow in those shiny-looking bones.

  2. Greg K-C

    Good article…sorry to be a grammatical tecnician, but irregardless is not a word.


  3. Greg K-C

    And I think the we will see a shifting around of the best tenders. Expansion is scary, but I think your going to see some of the BLgruppo and ES talents test the waters, I mean, they are going to have a captive new audience, excuse to entice their regulars to try somewhere else, and possibility the opportunities to put their brand stamp on something.

  4. ljclark

    Greg: get it? I’m just having fun with a little New England colloquialism. Just for the record, “purty” ain’t a word either.

  5. Frederic

    Any gossip on the new Stoddard’s? Their menu looks (see Grubstreet Boston) impressive but I have no clue who is running the show or executing it behind the bar.

  6. MC Slim JB

    The partners that own Ivy Restaurant across the street are the owners of Stoddard’s. It’s obviously a different food and beverage concept, but I have never been a great fan of Ivy’s food, wine or bartending.

  7. Adam

    I feel your pain with regard to cocktail menus that look great and fail to deliver–especially with regard to Sazeracs! The recipe is right there on the Peychaud’s bottle–how difficult can it be to execute?! A couple of years ago on a trip to Seattle I noticed a restaurant called Sazerac, and at my first spare moment I ran over to have one. It did contain Peychaud’s, but broke every other rule listed on the bottle. When I questioned this (after trying the watery, horrendous excuse for a drink, shaken and served up in a martini glass with a healthy dose of lemon juice), the bartender told me that “there are lots of ways to make this drink.” Which is indeed true of every drink–there’s a right way, and lots of wrong ways. Hopefully these places, after investing in their extremely pricey menus, will train staff to do things properly. Although honestly, the vast majority of customers won’t notice anyway.

  8. Jonathan

    This is all for the good – because in attempting to order a Safety Drink (see Lauren’s post a couple of weeks back) — I attempted to order a Gimlet at a “shall remain nameless” Boston
    “upscale” bar and got Gin with cointreau, sugar and too much lemon juice — not only not what I wanted, but undrinkable as well

  9. stephen

    interesting thoughts in here.

    boston is a tough city to develop a “program”. even though we barely have clubs here, there is still so much club culture in the bars and restaurants. club culture has a “people only want to get drunk” attitude and “can’t you just order an X and tonic”. sometimes this culture is perpetuated by the owners. not many owners really understand or enjoy the “craft culture” because there are so many new things to learn and many acquired tastes that are yet to be acquired. strangely though, every place with a truly craft orientated ownership is very successful.

    places that thoroughly develop a craft culture really need to be commended. wow is it tough. you can train people on technicals till your blue in the face but if you can’t impregnate a certain pride in professionalism old habits die hard and when you turn your back they give up on jiggers instantaneously and thaw out the emergency frozen lemon juice.

  10. Frederic

    Met one of the bartenders for the Woodward last night at the rum event (Andrea met him and another). He seemed rather enthusiastic and into making bitters. Although he wouldn’t reveal to me what drinks were on the menu even in a vague way (which is odd since it might get me more excited about the place). I will remain optimistic about this one (although I won’t place a money bet).

  11. Drew Ames

    The Regal Beagle will be opening tomorrow (11/3/09 )in Coolidge Corner. I don’t know who will be bartending, but according to some of the guys at Eastern Standard, Ben Sandrof helped put together the cocktail list. I hope this place can execute Ben’s menu. Because as much as I love Deep Ellum and ES, it would be wonderful to have a great bar in my neighborhood.

  12. ljclark

    Drew, I hope for your sake that the place executes.

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