August 12th, 2009
The number of bars in Boston that make serious cocktails is increasing despite the Great Recession (right, Lord Hobo and Trina’s Starlight Lounge?), which makes our livers quiver with excitement. But the truth remains that the vast majority of bars out there aren’t up on this classical mixology thing. That’s the case even for some of the establishments we love, as well as for places whose enticing cocktail menus belie their lack of bartending talent.
Take Aquitaine in the South End. Nice-looking brasserie with an intimate little bar at the entrance. I was thrilled to see they had the Scofflaw — the Chartreuse version! — on their menu, so I ordered one. The bartender free-poured it (not something you want to do with a drink containing green Chartreuse), added a mere dash of lemon juice (one of the drink’s primary ingredients), and proceeded to … stir the mixture. Oh my.
When you find yourself craving a cocktail in a mixologically challenged establishment, you need to have in the back of your mind a safety drink or two. You know, a simple mixture that even the most minimally stocked bar or dimmest bartender can make (or be instructed to make). This is an easy decision for a lot of people — hello, gin and tonic! Little chance for error there. But, inexplicably, I’ve never liked gin (or vodka) and tonic. Not even a little bit. So here’s what I order:
Negroni. All bars have gin and sweet vermouth, and most have Campari, so this is an old reliable. Plus, ordering one immediately gives you an aura of mystery, because the Negroni is still considered exotic in most bars. I was once at Red Line in Harvard Square watching the cute, young things behind the stick crank out Oatmeal Cookie shots. I had to walk one of them through a Negroni, but she managed. I enjoyed my drink and bought another for the DJ. (MC Slim JB, I know you disagree with me on this one, but I have had surprisingly good luck getting a decent Negroni in all sorts of places.)
Gimlet. I rediscovered these when I had to make one while studying for the BarSmarts class. A good London dry gin, a splash of Rose’s Lime, and a lime wedge — it’s a surpisingly kick-ass drink! And any flunkie can throw it together … on the rocks, anyway. Oh, and ordering one makes you feel like you’re in a Raymond Chandler novel.
Lowball. I only like a splash of soda in my whiskey, so I order one of these instead of a highball. Before I could reliably find Maker’s Mark behind any bar, I’d order a “Jack Daniels on the rocks with a splash of soda and a twist.” Especially at hinterland weddings and those occasions when I find myself at a bar in Weirs Beach, NH, during Bike Week, this is my go-to drink.
CC Manhattan. Yes, Canadian Club. Rocks (always safer than straight up). Twist or cherry depending on my mood or lack of will to specify. A pretty satisfying drink, and you can order it absolutely anywhere. I especially like asking for these in bars near touristy summer spots where everyone’s drinking Bahama Mamas. It’s kind of like wearing wingtips on the beach.
I love to know what other people’s safety drinks are, so feel free to weigh in.