February 1st, 2010
Specialty: Wine, Martinis, Manhattans
Atmosphere: “Locke’s has no peer and few rivals. And the top-hatted ghosts at its bar are those great of the legendary past: Eben Jordan and Theodore Roosevelt, John Drew and Dr. Lowell. They are all drinking Ward Eights with Nick (Stuhl) and Mr. Camus and the founding fathers, Locke and Ober.” — Lucius Beebe. See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.
Oh, Locke-Ober. You’re like a politician who has been in office forever. Your stunning longevity, and all the historic moments in which you’ve played a part, give you an aura of grandeur. In your presence, people speak in hushed tones. You are an institution. But oh, how you rest on your laurels. How you favor the cronies who have propped you up and who expect things to be done a certain way. How you sometimes just seem like a decrepit, old man.
Because of the latter traits, the bar at Locke-Ober is probably the worst Best Boston bar. I am conflicted about the place. I love going there, often on my own, ordering a Martini and a bowl of JFK Lobster Stew, and feeling like a part of Boston history. But whenever I go, I think about how much better it could be.
I am far from being a regular — I don’t have that kind of money, and it’s not the kind of place where I run into people I know — but from what I’ve observed, the bar experience doesn’t come near the quality of the dining room experience. Locke-Ober is famous for its waiters who have worked there for decades. I notice that when they come to fetch a drink order at the bar, their poise and professionalism usually stand out in contrast to that of the bartenders. The bar seems to lack such elder statesmen.
Not that tending bar at Locke-Ober should require only elders, or men. In 2001, Lydia Shire took over the kitchen at this male-dominated institution (it took until 1970 for women to be admitted to the dining room!). She updated the food to meet contemporary fine-dining standards while ensuring the quality of classic Locke-Ober dishes like Dover Sole and the abovementioned stew. My dream is for someone to swoop in and similarly improve the bar. I mean, doesn’t it violate some city statute that the place that invented the Ward Eight makes perhaps the worst example of that cocktail in Boston? Crown Royal, sour mix and cheap grenadine — on the rocks. Yikes. Recently, someone ordered a Martini with a twist and got a dried-out, pithy peel that had been cut hours before. And the service at the bar is decent but lacks that special flourish you expect to find at the city’s oldest and most famous fine restaurant. It seems obvious that Locke-Ober’s dedication to excellence should apply to bartending, but the management has yet to subscribe to that idea.
Nevertheless, I’ll keep going back to toast the top-hatted ghosts, and urging history-minded visitors to do the same, as long as the place is around. I am hopeful that progress can happen, even at Locke-Ober.
Tags: Boston history, Locke-Ober, Lucius Beebe, Ward Eight
Posted in Boston bars | 26 Comments »
May 8th, 2009
Tom Hussion (Boston’s most famous cocktail, invented at Locke-Ober in 1898)
2 oz rye whiskey (if you can’t find rye, use bourbon)
3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz real pomegranate grenadine
Shake all ingredients very well over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange wheel and cherry if desired.
Tags: homemade grenadine, Locke-Ober
Posted in Cocktails, Recipes, Whiskey | No Comments »
February 4th, 2009
I’m finally getting my ass in gear over what to do with those little items that are worth mentioning but don’t warrant an entire post: I’m filing them in series of posts called Nips, after those little bottles of booze you get on airplanes, in hotel minibars or at liquor-store checkout counters. (Fun fact: Until 2005, South Carolina liquor laws dictated that bartenders make drinks with nips instead of free-pouring or measuring into a jigger. Holy idiocracy.)
1. Do you remember those ads for Miller High Life in the late ’90s and early ’00s? They were understated little vignettes capturing the modern alterna-male’s winking appropriation of bygone “guy-ness,” from an era when men had bowling trophies and dedication to a particular brand of beer. The ads were unlike anything else you saw on TV. That’s because they were directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Standard Operating Procedure). Since documentary filmmaking — even Oscar-winning documentary filmmaking — doesn’t pay the bills, Morris, who lives in Cambridge, has done lots of ad work. I’d like to thank A Continuous Lean, Michael Williams’ terrific blog on American design, for reminding me of the Miller ads. You can watch all the spots here.
2. Here’s another homework assignment. Read these two recent articles on Slate:
Change We Can Taste: Bush’s White House served terrible wine. Obama should do better.
Obama Raises the Bar: In politics, as in life, a little alcohol can go a long way.
3. How about the recession-induced proposal to put a 5% tax on liquor purchased at package stores? If it’s approved, will it make you drive to NH to buy booze?
4. More recession news. A little while ago, the Globe published what I thought was a detailed and fair article on Locke-Ober’s historic decision to close for lunch and what that signified for anyone who thought the old-fashioned business lunch (you know, the one with Martinis) was still alive. Well, that story sparked a rumble in the comments section between those who hold Locke-Ober dear as a Boston institution even though its food and service have been eclipsed many times over by competing high-end restaurants, and those who are seriously bitter over their financial and employment circumstances and want to mow down anything in their path that smacks of aristocracy, including Locke-Ober. Yikes. Personally, I love the place despite its silly prices, because it is a Boston institution. But resting on your laurels is not a business strategy. I wish, at the very least, that Locke-Ober would hire a team of bartenders who could bring cocktail hour at L-O back to the glory of the Gilded Age.
Tags: business lunch, liquor taxes, Locke-Ober, Miller High Life, TV commercials
Posted in Beer, Booze in the news, Boston bars, Nips | 16 Comments »