December 30th, 2009
In this last installment of Nips for 2009, let’s consider some of the key developments of Boston’s year in drink.
» Booming business for Boston’s best bars. Probably the pleasantest surprise of the year for imbibers. It’s usually expected that the cream of the crop will thrive, but we’re in the middle of the biggest economic downturn since the Depression, for chrissakes. I know, I know — people drink more when times are tough. But it’s not like we’re talking dive bars, here. And it’s not only existing bars that are doing well. So are some newly opened ones, such as…
» Trina’s Starlite Lounge, Lord Hobo and Woodward. These three fine establishments opened in 2009 for our drinking pleasure. The ’50s-inspired Starlite has quickly become the kind of place that’s like a second living room for denizens of Cambridge and Somerville. It has two full bars to choose from, the vibe is genuinely welcoming and easygoing, the prices are recession-proof, and if you don’t run into someone you know there, then you probably know at least a couple of the bartenders by name.
After months of wrestling with anti-bar curmudgeons from the neighborhood, and amidst much nose-wrinkling over its loony name, Lord Hobo finally opened in the space formerly known as the B-Side Lounge. With a beer list that keeps the likes of the Publick House and Deep Ellum on their toes, serious gastropub fare coming out of the kitchen, and a good-looking cocktail list (albeit one I haven’t tested enough to judge), Lord Hobo has already established itself as a place for serious bargoers.
I’ve only sampled Woodward, in the Ames Hotel, once since previewing it a few months ago. But it’s clear that the place is making a serious attempt to be, for downtown Boston, a rare combo: an upscale tavern with top-notch food; a serious cocktail bar; and a magnet for nightlife. It appeared to be succeeding on all counts when I visited. More study needed.
» Legal Sea Foods discovers real cocktails. One of the most successful restaurant chains to come out of Boston does the right thing by hiring Patrick Sullivan as a beverage czar.
» Boston bartenders get noticed. Some of our best appeared locally on NECN and Chronicle, as well as nationally in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Bon Appetit. Plus, drinkboston appeared in two new books: Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails and Lonely Planet’s Boston City Guide.
» The annual Craft Brewers Conference. It convened in Boston this year, giving a boost to our bona fides as a beer town.
» BarSmarts. Dozens of bar industry people around Boston and New England received top-notch training through this fast-growing program.
» Some positive trends… Tiki. Real tiki drinks could be had regularly at Eastern Standard and Drink, the latter of which had tiki Sundays all summer long. Shared cocktails. The above two spots also raised the profile of punch, one of the most sure-fire ways to put a whole crowd in a good mood. Meanwhile, the Marliave serves FDR martinis by the pitcher. Genius. Bitters. Bitters became more available, and in more flavors than ever before. The Bitter Truth is just one example, and bars continue to have fun making their own. Mezcal. I’m talking about the artisanal stuff, which Del Maguey pretty much single-handedly put on the map around Boston and elsewhere. Look for DM’s brightly colored, folk art-inspired labels at a bar that’s serious about spirits, and order a measure. You won’t look back.
» Last but not least, drinkboston got a stylin’ new design and taught its first class on the history of drinking in Boston. What’s up this blog’s sleeve for 2010? Let’s think about it over drinks.
Happy new year, everyone!
Tags: Lord Hobo, mezcal, recession, tiki, Trina's Starlite Lounge, Woodward
Posted in Bitters, Boston bars, Nips | 9 Comments »
March 15th, 2009
A few nights ago at Eastern Standard, three young, svelte women dressed in figure-hugging gentlemen’s clothes and fedoras approached me and offered to shine my boots. They were part of a promotion for Canadian Club. As we know, CC’s retro, “Damn right your dad drank it” marketing campaign conjures up a bygone era when men were unapologetic scamps, drinking whiskey on the rocks, going fishing, and running around with girls wearing mini-dresses and Aquanet. Or at least getting their shoes shined in a bar by sexy androgynes.
I declined the shoe-shine offer, which, frankly, came only because the men sitting next to me were wearing sneakers. Their cheerfulness unclouded, the CC Girls handed me a tin of shoe polish with the whiskey’s logo and moved on to the next prospect.
‘Oh, the manufactured banality of liquor promotions!’ I thought. But then I had to admit that, not only was this campaign more clever than most (memories of a Captain Morgan night at a Pizzeria Uno long ago, with a band of short-skirted Morganettes accompanying a guy dressed as a pirate, are still vivid), it was for a brand of whiskey. And we weren’t in a steak house; we were in a cocktail bar. A sign of the end of vodka’s hegemony in the world of mixed drinks, perhaps?
Here’s another sign: Bushmills Irish Whiskey has tapped mixologist-bartenders in various cities to join in a St. Patrick’s Day cocktail promotion. The theme: Irish Breakfast. The criteria: drinks must use Bushmills and eggs. Seriously. A mainstream brand of whiskey is pushing egg drinks.
“Talk about ‘old school’ penetrating the mainstream market! The fact that this year a major marketer is investing in that kind of mixology shows how this thing is really spilling out to the general public. Also, it creates some interest among us bar folk. Usually the only ‘opportunities’ like this are tied to this year’s buzzberryflavorofthemoment,” said Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard, who, along with Misty Kalkofen of Drink and Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli of Craigie on Main has created an original cocktail for this event (recipes below). And speaking of Cannon, he is the star of a new online show called Barcraft.
OK, even as we see positive developments like the above, we can always count on stupid developments in the booze world happening right alongside. Like the A-Roid cocktail at Bonfire. According to Boston.com’s Dishing blog, this drink is “a shot of El Mejor tequila, straight up, with a ‘Performance-Enhancing Boost of Spicy Tomato Juice’ (smoked tomatoes, tomato juice, lemon juice, Tabasco, and jalapenos). It comes in a syringe without a needle; you can inject it into the shot or use it as a chaser.”
Actually, it’s helpful when bars offer such clear signs about the clientele they aim to attract. Another brazen example: opening a new bar during a recession that charges $17 for cocktails. Sensing, the restaurant in the exclusive new Fairmont Hotel at Battery Wharf, uses premium spirits and fresh juices and herbs in its drinks. So do a number of other bars around Boston that charge a lot less for their cocktails. I know that high prices are designed to send a message — “Riffraff, keep out” — but in times like these, that sort of message is as insulting as big bonuses for executives of failed banks.
Which, finally, brings me to a strange phenomenon. We’re in the worst economic downturn since the Depression, right? The Dow is where it was in 1966, right? Everyone knows someone who has been laid off recently, right? And yet, business at the bars that drinkboston.com frequents appears to be booming. I know people turn to alcohol when times get tough, but the places I’m talking about — while they’re way cheaper than Sensing — aren’t exactly dive bars with $4 pitcher specials. It warms my heart (and my liver) that good bars are doing good business. But I can’t help but wonder sometimes: Is this the Manic Party Hour before last call?
Ah, never mind. Have a whiskey-and-egg drink.
Bushmills in the Afternoon
Jackson Cannon, Eastern Standard
1 half slice of artisan wheat bread
1 whole egg
1 1/2 oz. Bushmills Irish Whiskey
1/2 oz honey syrup (1 to 1 clover honey and water)
1/2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
Dash of house bitters
Muddle the bread with 2 oz. whiskey for 1 minute, and pass through tea strainer. It will yield 1 1/2 oz. of wheat bread-infused Bushmills Irish Whiskey. Add the rest of the ingredients and dry shake for 1 minute. Add ice and shake for two more minutes. Strain into coup glass and garnish with fresh grated cinnamon.
Boyd’s Midday Fizz
Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, Craigie on Main
1 1/4 oz. Bushmills Irish Whiskey
1/8 oz. allspice liqueur
3/4 oz. beet juice reduced and infused with clove, allspice, coriander
1/4 oz. agave syrup
Pinch of salt
Dash of Angostura bitters
Dash of orange bitters
White of one egg
Shake hard and strain into a chilled Collins glass without ice. Top with 4 ounces of Belgian-style ale.
Irish Coffee Fizz
Misty Kalkofen, Drink
3/4 oz. Bushmills Irish Whiskey
1/2 oz. dark rum
1/4 oz. Navan Vanilla Liqueur
1/2 oz. simple syrup
8 coffee beans
1 oz. egg white
1/2 oz. cream
1 oz. soda water
Shake spirits, muddled coffee, egg white, and simple syrup in a shaker with no ice. Add cream and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled single rocks glass which contains one ounce of simple syrup.
Tags: A-Rod, Bushmills, Canadian Club, egg drinks, recession, St. Patrick's Day
Posted in Booze in the news, Tequila, Whiskey | 8 Comments »