March 31st, 2009
Specialty: Cocktails, wine
Atmosphere: A historic bar in downtown Boston that isn’t a tourist trap and mixes classic cocktails? We’re there. See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.
Drinkboston is wholeheartedly rooting for the new-and-improved Restaurant Marliave (10 Bosworth St. near Downtown Crossing), even though it still has some stuff to work out, vibe-wise. Chef Scott Herritt of the Grotto bought the 125-year-old establishment last year and reopened it as a three-level enterprise featuring an itty-bitty oyster bar on the first floor, a cafe-bar on the second floor and a fine-dining restaurant (with a small bar) on the third floor (3 floors + 3 bars = woohoo!).
The place is a historical, architectural treasure that I pray, given our economic predicament, can stick it out for the next few years to become a bulwark against the usual type of downtown Boston watering hole: corporate, expensive, dumbed-down. When people ask me, “I’m staying near Faneuil Hall, where can I get a good drink nearby?” and I have to tell them to get on the Red Line and go to Cambridge — well, that makes me mad. Now I tell them to go to the Marliave.
Herritt wanted his bar program to reflect the quality and thoughtfulness of his cooking (classic French, Italian, New England fare), so fresh-squeezed citrus and Kold-Draft ice became basics for a menu of classic and classic-influenced cocktails. (In fact, the Marliave was the first place in Boston to use Kold-Draft ice.)
Some of my faves are the Jennie Churchill (a good Manhattan, named after Winston’s American mom, with Rittenhouse rye, Noilly Prat sweet vermouth and bitters, garnished with a Luxardo cherry), the FDR (a tall pitcher of gin martinis — this is where the Kold-Draft ice, which melts slowly, is crucial — with Vya vermouth that you can share with friends), and the Molasses Flood 1919 (Sailor Jerry rum, molasses, fresh lime, bitters). Bar manager Jackie Ross, who worked at the Grotto and, before that, the B-Side, brings solid experience and a no-nonsense style to the job. Two other B-Side alums, Christopher Duggan and Al Harding, pull a few shifts here, too.
On some nights, the Marliave feels like it’s struggling to find energy. And sometimes — at least in the main bar, which is where I usually am — there’s a palpable lack of personality, which is only exacerbated by a too-large TV behind the bar. But I’m calling these quibbles for now. I wish the Marliave all the luck in the world, because downtown Boston needs it.
Tags: downtown Boston, historic bars, Marliave
Posted in Boston bars, Cocktails | 21 Comments »
June 1st, 2008
OK, assuming you’ve read parts 1 and 2 of this series, you’ve gathered that I drank San Francisco. But I haven’t even told you about all the bars yet! I just want to show you a few more pics and say this: San Francisco’s a great drinking town not only because it is the West Coast nexus of the craft of the cocktail but also because it has so many great, old watering holes. These are places that, for some miraculous reason, no one has seen fit to transform into tourist attractions or quasi-sports bars. Here are just the few that I managed to squeeze into my visit.
House of Shields: Reportedly, there’s a tunnel that runs from the basement of this bar (est. 1908) to the plush Palace Hotel across the street. It is rumored that when President Warren Harding died in 1923, he did not do so in his suite at the Palace Hotel as was officially announced, but in the House of Shields. Given that this was during Prohibition, goes the rumor, Harding was secretly transported underground to the hotel in order to avoid scandal. It’s a fine, old bar that Progress has simply left alone. Over an afternoon beer there, I admired the straight-backed, dark wood booths, the decades worth of dust on the sculptural bronze light fixtures, and a photo — probably circa 1940s — of trench-coated, hat-wearing men drinking at the bar.
Bix: I heard that this bar has roots in the Gold Rush, when men would exchange pouches of gold dust for drinks. Well, it is on Gold Street, a narrow alley on the edge of Chinatown. Bix is a time capsule to a 1930s supper club. A spacious, lively room with a balcony for extra dinner seating; large, colorful murals decorating the walls; bartenders in short-waisted white jackets; a silver punch bowl filled with martini glasses chilling over crushed ice … I took it all in over a Negroni and a bowl of bar snacks.
The Hotel Utah Saloon: Another bar established in 1908 (two years after the legendary ’06 quake), it’s got “saloon” right in the name. There’s an elk’s head mounted on the wall, and the staircase to the “upper deck” is flanked by a replica of a ship’s stern. Online reviews mention the Utah’s “friendly bartenders,” and this was certainly the case — although I found most SF bartenders to be friendly.
Tonga Room: The ritzy Fairmont Hotel opened this tiki palace in 1947, and, even as tiki went from cutting-edge to kitsch, lovingly kept the place going. We arrived at 5:00 p.m., as soon as happy hour began. Ordered Mai Tais — notable here not so much for their quality as for their strength — and feasted on wantons, fried rice, etc. from the exotically lit buffet. Enjoyed a tropical storm of fake thunder and lightning, with rain falling into the lagoon that is the Tonga Room’s centerpiece. Alas, at that early hour no musicians were playing on the small ship that floats in the middle of the lagoon.
Cantina: OK, this is not an old bar. In fact, it’s only about a year old. But as you see from the accompanying photo, it’s a place that appreciates San Francisco history. A much talked-about addition to the city’s craft cocktail scene, Cantina specializes in Latin America-inspired drinks, both classic and new. Co-owner and bartender Duggan McDonnell’s drink list and bartending skills earned him two nominations for this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirit Awards. He has an amazing selection of cachacas, rums, piscos and tequilas. But even more amazing to me was an antique bottle of Pisco Punch displayed on an upper shelf. You may recall my writing recently about the origins of Pisco Punch, which was served at drinkboston’s World Cocktail Day party. Well, here was a real-life bottle of the stuff, its seal still intact, with “According to original formula of Duncan Nicol” right on the label. This one’s for you, John Gertsen.
Tags: historic bars, Pisco, tiki
Posted in San Francisco | 7 Comments »