“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month,” said Henry Van Dyke. That’s why we have cocktails and dancing.
» Opus Affair Presents: the WAITIKI Festival of Music & Cocktail, Russell House Tavern, April 10, 6:00-10:00 p.m. Opus Affair, Graham Wright’s non-profit social networking group for young professionals interested in the fine arts, and the exotica orchestra WAITIKI are planning “a night of all-out tiki to launch us into spring,” says WAITIKI bandleader Randy Wong. Imagine classical musicians, tiki geeks and cocktailians getting loose on rum-tastic drinks and grooving to sultry soundscapes by — and inspired by — the legendary Martin Denny. The godfather of exotica music, Denny would have turned 100 on April 10. Inbetween sets of live exotica, Brother Cleve and his friends Jack Fetterman and Gina of the Jungle will assume DJ and MC duties. All the while, barman Aaron Butler will lead his Russell House staff in mixing classic and original tiki cocktails featuring rums by Montanya, El Dorado, Folly Cove and Chairman’s Reserve. No cover charge for this shindig, but a donation of $20 is suggested for the musicians. More details here. Anyone remember Boston’s first WAITIKI Fest back in ’07? I do. Barely. See you on April 10!
» Bulleit Rye. I was recently mailed a small sample of rye by the makers of the well-regarded “frontier whiskey” Bulleit Bourbon. Bulleit Rye’s grain content is a whopping 95% rye (by U.S. law, rye whiskey must be at least 51% rye), which makes for an estery nose and a spicy, dry character. A Bourbon Blog review compared the finish to “cinnamon red hot candy.” In an Old Fashioned, that trait, along with the heat of a 90-proof spirit, evoked the velvety raspiness of a kitten’s tongue. I really liked the stuff and am looking forward to trying it in cocktails around town. Bulleit Rye should be available very soon and, like Bulleit Bourbon, is fairly priced ($28 or so).
» Cocktail Wars. Woodward at the Ames Hotel is doing another round of Cocktail Wars starting this Sunday, April 3. The Ames PR folks call it “an Iron Chef-style bartending competition taking place every Sunday where two of Boston’s best mixologists go head-to-head to create the best cocktail using a series of secret ingredients (typically a spirit, a fruit, an herb, or a vegetable) in the allotted time. The creations are then judged by some of Boston’s biggest industry experts.” Posing as one of those industry experts, I’ll be judging the April 24 contest. These contests are quite lively — last year I judged the finals — so swing by for a look.
» New Boston-area bars. Crikey, I’ve been so busy visiting new bars around town that I forgot to write about them. Here are some very short reviews:
Bergamot: This well-reviewed restaurant in Somerville where EVOO used to reside has a small bar and real cocktails executed nicely by ex-Craigie on Main bartender Paul Manzelli and crew.
Citizen Public House: Another success story in the Franklin Cafe/Franklin Southie/Tasty Burger constellation. Bar manager and all-around whiz Joy Richard of LUPEC Boston assembled a crack team of bartenders and instituted Boston’s first comprehensive American whiskey menu.
Erbaluce: Chef Charles Draghi now has a bar program commensurate with his revered cuisine, thanks to Nick Korn (formerly of Eastern Standard) and Robert Hoover (formerly of Upstairs on the Square). The two are working magic with a cordial license and will soon be offering homemade vermouth.
The Gallows: Well-made, approachable cocktails at a jumpin’ South End bar with killer food. Helmed by some of my fave barwomen, including April Wachtel and Danielle Marshall.
Local 149: Stumbling upon this new Southie outpost where the Farragut House once stood is like stumbling upon a beehive in a quiet meadow. Lots of room at the bar, good-looking eats and a solid cocktail list written in part by ex-Craigie on Main wunderkind John Mayer.
Temple Bar: OK, it’s not new. But after helping put Russell House Tavern on the map, Alex Homans is breathing new life into this warm Cambridge bar whose cocktails have historically been pretty ho-hum. Woo hoo!
Imbibers, I hope you got that rare rye whiskey, vintage ice shaver or custom-sculpted muddler you wanted for Christmas. I got the recipe for Silent Night Punch from my friend Pink Lady of LUPEC Boston and warmed the cheeks of my loved ones in New Hampshire with it. Fa la la la la. La la la la. If you find yourself reaching deep into the toe of your Christmas stocking for that one last knick-knack you may have missed, Bad Santa has got you covered. May the following virtual goodies souse up your Christmas night:
Drinkboston mobile. Got an iPhone, Android, Blackberry or some other kind of smart phone? You can now use it to check out drinkboston without having to wait for the full site to load, ’cause I got a sweet new mobile version! You can save an icon on your homescreen, and sharing posts via Facebook, Twitter, etc is a breeze. Bars, bartenders and imbibing in Beantown just got a whole lot more excellent.
Vermouth 101. “The intent of these pages is to demystify vermouth, primarily for the American audience.” From Martin Doudoroff, one half of the team that made every cocktailero’s life easier with CocktailDB, comes a much-needed primer on this misunderstood cocktail staple. (Supporting roles played by Eric Seed, Romée de Gorianoff and Alexandre Vingtier.) Thank you, gentlemen, from the bottom of our livers.
Tiki+ app. The CocktailDB team also presents, in partnership with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the newly updated Tiki+ app. One hundred and fifty top-notch, vintage and contemporary tiki recipes, plus pretty pictures, for $3.99. Don’t be a suffering bastard — download yours today!
2010 Devil’s Dining Awards. MC Slim JB distills the best, worst and otherwise most memorable items from the year in dining (and drinking) into this wickedly smart, funny list. In my book, Slim is the best food writer in Boston.
I think the sign says it all. What with the holiday season upon us, I’ve been hoarding a recycled shopping bag full of nips for you, so let’s get cracking.
» Repeal Day Ball. Well, it seems I have truly arrived. I am part of a Boston contingent being whisked down to Washington D.C. this Saturday for the third annual Repeal Day Ball at the Maison Biltmore, courtesy of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild and Macchu Pisco. This shindig started amid the hoopla over the 75th anniversary of Repeal in 2008 (which Eastern Standard celebrated in great style right here in Boston) and quickly became one of the Capitol’s great parties. Jeffrey Morgenthaler (aka the Morgenblogger) of Portland, Oregon, MCs the affair, which features themed rooms manned by renowned innkeepers from the D.C. area and elsewhere. Sure, there’ll be punch and Prohibition-era cocktails, but, frankly, I’m making a beeline for the 1980s room starring Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff. Line up the Woo Woos, baby!
» High West. Also in town recently was David Perkins of the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah. A former biochemist who is part laconic scientist, part droll cowboy, Perkins hosted a tasting of his exotic whiskies at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in late October. We tasted his Silver Western Oat Whiskey, an unaged whiskey made with 85 percent oats and 15 percent barley malt; Rendezvous Rye, a blend of straight rye whiskies (including a 16-year-old Fleischmann’s — paging Man Men!); and Bourye, “the world’s only bourbon and rye marriage.” These whiskies are popping up in a few Boston bars — they’re very much boutique offerings, with the price tag to match, but well worth a sip when you find them.
» Nolet’s gin. I was introduced to Nolet’s Silver gin recently at a cocktail dinner at Eastern Standard. Intriguing. This is one of those newfangled gins, albeit produced by the very old Nolet’s distillery in Schiedam, Holland — best known in the U.S. for Ketel One vodka — where generations of the same family have been producing spirits since 1691. Its primary botanicals are Turkish rose, white peach and raspberry. If that trio makes you envision a cross between Hendrick’s and Stoli Raz, stop yourself right there. The stuff is quite dry, as brightly aromatic and balanced as a really expensive perfume, and verrrrry smoooooth. In fact, one of our cocktails was simply Nolet’s Silver in a heavy rocks glass over one very large ice cube. Quite nice, especially considering the stuff is 95.2 proof. This is an exclusive spirit, launching in only six states and costing $50 per bottle. We were also treated to a dram of the even rarer Nolet’s Reserve, a lightly aged gin whose pale straw color comes from saffron (or should I spell that $affron?) and which is also flavored with verbena. It was ethereal — which it would need to be at $800 per bottle. Allemachtig!
» Banged-up bartenders. What a coincidence. The night before Robert Simonson’s NYT article on the injuries related to craft bartending came out, I was at a gathering of female bartenders who launched into a conversation about their job-induced aches and pains. (Coincidence #2: one of those women is quoted in the article.) One woman wakes up with pain in her wrist, another is plagued by a sore shoulder. One’s husband has to pry apart her clenched “shaker hands” as she sleeps. Another had the rest of us hold her wrist as she rotated it to reveal what felt like loose ball bearings. The main culprit was the constant, vigorous use of shakers, often with larger, denser ice than the norm, that is pretty much mandatory in craft cocktail mixing. Other culprits were similar to those mentioned in the article:
“Bartending has never been an easy job. But in the past, tired feet, an aching back and possibly a bent ear or two were the standard complaints. Today’s nonstop bar-side ballets have caused the pains to creep northward to the wrist, elbow and shoulder.
“Most professionals deal in some repetitive motion or other; bartenders contend with several. They tilt heavy bottles into a shaker each night; they smack ice with the bowl of a bar spoon to get the size and shape just right; they unleash the suction of a shaker with the palm of their hand, jolting their wrist again and again.”
Sheesh. Does anybody predict that punch is about to get a whole lot more popular?
Good god, y’all, I know it’s been a while. This broad’s been working like a dog at the old day job. Work is the curse of the drinking classes, as Oscar Wilde said. Actually, like a lot of famous quotes, this one’s provenance is not verifiable. The quote does not appear in any of Wilde’s writings; rather, it was attributed to him by his friend and biographer Frank Harris in Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions. It was allegedly uttered in the context of Wilde’s snarky comment about the acting profession over dinner at the Savoy in the 1890s:
It seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet. “Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.”
» Project Savoy. Speaking of the Savoy, I recently got word from fellow blogger Erik Ellestad that he is but 50 recipes away from mixing all 750 cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, published by the hotel in 1930. I reported on the beginning of this quest back in ’07. What fun to go back and read that post, as it records when I first became aware of Josey Packard, one of Boston’s best bartenders. (Fun fact: my shout-out in that post to Josey, who lived in San Francisco at the time, resulted in an email from her very shortly thereafter. A year later, she was working at Drink in Boston.) Erik, I do hope you’re planning a wrap party when you finally hit the finish line!
» Boston barkeeps on TV. OK, leave it to a Bostonian to put books before TV, but here’s some big news: not just one, but two Boston bartenders are, right this moment, in Los Angeles taping the third season of On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender. Trina Sturm of Trina’s Starlite Lounge and Bill Codman of Woodward Tavern are competing against six other bartenders from around the country for the “top bartender” title and a grand prize of $100,000. Yowza! OK, so it’s a bit of a cheesy reality show sponsored by Absolut Vodka, but how can you not root for our hometown talent?
I spoke to Trina before she boarded a plane for the West Coast to see how she felt about the whole thing. She was both nervous and confident. “I’m sure of my bartending abilities, but what about when cameras are on me? The caliber of the bartenders is good this year. I don’t know how I’ll stack up against them. I know there are people better in certain aspects [of bartending], but the whole package? That’s me.” Episode 1 airs October 30 after Saturday Night Live … but not in Boston, unfortunately. So, fans of Trina and Bill will have to gather ’round the computer monitor and watch it on the web. Here’s a big, Beantown best-of-luck to both!
»”Tiki” sculpture. Hey, are you looking for a really, really special gift for the tiki enthusiast in your life or for someone who appreciates useful sculpture? Then check out these expressive, one-of-a-kind, glazed-clay vessels that are kind of a cross between tiki mugs and “grotesques” carved into medieval cathedrals. The artist is Jim McDonough of North Carolina, who, perhaps not surprisingly, is a plastic surgeon who has performed many facial-reconstruction surgeries. He also happens to be the father of Boston poet and sometime Russell House bartender Jill McDonough. The sculptures/mugs are for sale at the Boston Shaker.
Well, I’m off for a little vacation in France. Stay tuned for a post on Chartreuse and other Gallic liquid delights.
It’s a pretty good list. That is, GQ magazine’s first attempt at choosing, in ranked order, The 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America. Let’s get out of the way the fact that, like any “best of” list, this one has provoked some gripes. No Teardrop Lounge (Portland), no Vessel (Seattle), no Milk & Honey (New York)?
And don’t get Bostonians started. Ranking “evolved music venue” the Whistler in Chicago above our city’s Drink, an actual cocktail bar? And what’s with back-handed compliments like, in the Drink writeup: “Don’t cringe when the bartenders … ask for your ‘flavor profile.’ They mean no harm” (this notion that Drink’s bartenders behave like New Age therapists has got to die); and referring to Eastern Standard as “(perhaps unintentionally) the most elegant sports bar in the country”? Ouch.
But wait. Maybe Eastern Standard really is the most elegant sports bar in the country. That’s part of what makes it great. And GQ chose the ZigZag Cafe in Seattle as the number-one cocktail bar in the land. Is anyone going to quibble with that? Let’s congratulate both Drink and Eastern Standard for making the list and also raise a glass to GQ for promoting to a mass audience the idea that “every city in this country deserves a bar that cares deeply about the craft of the cocktail.”
» Bartenders on the move… We applaud and lament the departure of Superman Sam Treadway from the 21st-best cocktail bar in America (see above). The poor thing left Drink for a job offer to open three new hotel bars in Hawaii… Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, who left Craigie on Main early this year, will soon open the Island Creek Oyster Bar as general manager in the Kenmore Square space that used to house Great Bay… Meanwhile, a few doors down, the talented Bob McCoy is wrapping up his tenure at Eastern Standard to join ICOB as principal bartender. The new restaurant won’t be cocktail-centric, although something tells me you’ll be able to order a top-notch drinky there… Speaking of top-notch drinkies, the talented bar staff at Craigie on Main offers best wishes to their colleague Paul Manzelli, who is leaving to pour libations at the new restaurant Bergamot. This development, along with Greg Rossi’s presence behind the now-full-liquor-licensed bar at Dali, makes the intersection of Beacon and Washington streets in Somerville an unlikely spot for dueling fine-dining barmen… Finally, two of Boston bartending’s big guns, Todd Maul of Clio and journeyman Ben Sandrof, will appear for one night only tomorrow (9/26) at Woodward at AMES ongoing Cocktail Wars.
» Freaky Tiki Fridays II. You might remember that July’s Nips column mentioned a fun new thing called Freaky Tiki Fridays at Think Tank in Kendall Square. Well, the day after the inaugural happy hour, Cambridge experienced the Great Flash Flood of 2010. Think Tank’s sub-basement space was nearly destroyed. Now the joint has re-emerged from the deluge, and Boston’s Emperor of Exotica, Brother Cleve, reports that the weekly after-work shindig with Polynesian-styled cocktails and app specials and “an array retro/futuristic sounds of nu/old school lounge, tiki/exotica, surf, soul and other titty shakers” is back on.
» Bittermens Bitters. Finally, finally, finally, Boston has its own bitters producer. The saga of Bittermens Bitters, which Avery and Janet Glasser started in 2007, has included a long and drawn-out licensing application, an ill-fated partnership with the Bitter Truth, and, finally, today’s status as a legal producer and seller of “non-potable” elixirs — like Xocolatl Mole Bitters, Grapefruit Bitters and Boston Bittahs — beloved by craft cocktail bartenders nationwide. Congrats and best of luck to this local concern. Here’s how to buy Bittermens Bitters.