“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.
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.
On a steamy summer Friday afternoon, who doesn’t dream of heading straight from the office to a magical oasis of exotica music and tropical drinks? Well, pinch yourself, ’cause this is no dream: Beginning July 9, Brother Cleve, Boston’s oracle of tiki, will host Freaky Tiki Fridays at the new Cambridge “bistro-theque” Think Tank (1 Kendall Sq., Bldg. 300) from 5:00-9:00 p.m.
At this week’s special kickoff event, says Cleve, “our old pal Mr. Ho will be bringing the condensed version of his Orchestrotica — we can’t really fit all 22 members of the full ensemble, so we’ll take the quartet — for a set of exotic sounds in the style of ’50s Hawaiiana like Martin Denny and Les Baxter.” [NOTE: Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica unfortunately won’t be appearing, but the tiki party’s still on!) Of course, when live music isn’t on the bill, Cleve will spin his own vast collection of tunes to sway your grass skirt to. Meanwhile, Think Tank owner Vincent Conte has sprinkled his cocktail menu with a few mixtures that hark back to his days as bar manager of the South End’s departed Pho Republique, and each Freaky Tiki Friday will feature a drink or two from Beachbum Berry’s terrific books, which put tiki drinks back on the map of legit drinking. Soak up the rum with Think Tank’s 5-for-$5 pan-Asian appetizers that will make you “feel like you’ve gone to the Kowloon, but without the indigestion,” says Cleve. See you there!
» Congrats to Todd Maul of Clio for being named best bartender in the Improper Bostonian’s annual Best of Boston list, out on newsstands now. Maul elevated the cocktail program to the level of the cuisine for which this restaurant is famed — and he did it with a sense of humor, e.g. a list of tiki-inspired “drinks for two … 2 straws, 1 bowl.” While we’re on the subject of fine-dining bars, here’s a shout-out to Carrie Cole of Craigie on Main. She and her mixology crew have made the cocktail program established by Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli continue to kick ass. Check out this Public Radio Kitchen interview with her, and then go have a Bird Bath.
» If you’re fairly new to Massachusetts, you’ve probably had this rude awakening: you’re out for brunch at 11:03 a.m. on Sunday and order a Bloody Mary, only to be told you have to wait until noon. Thank god that foolishness is over. Last week, the state made it legal to buy a drink on Sunday morning. I mean, with Boston-area bars closing at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., you’re plenty well rested to start drinking bright and early the next morning.
» There’s nothing like finding your niche. Local cocktail enthusiast and California native Devin Hahn blogs about a single cocktail — the Periodista — at the Periodista Tales. So far, his posts constitute one man’s entertaining and well-researched quest for why this rum-based drink, which means “journalist,” is something of a fixture in Boston while being unknown in virtually every other city he has visited.
» A few good reasons to stay out late on a school night this month: the Franklin Southie continues its Thursday Industry Night series on July 15 at 9:00 p.m. with a $6 cocktail menu featuring quality Luxardo spirits (e.g. Amaretto, Maraschino, Espresso, Fernet, Amaro Abano, Sambuca, Bitter, Sangue Morlacco, Triplum and Limoncello). And Emily Stanley, who traded in her bar towel for a new career as a brand ambassador for the malty Dutch gin Bols Genever, will host two events: a Bols Genever dinner at Aquitaine ($65) on July 19 featuring four cocktails by the talented Matt Coughlin, and a punch party at Highland Kitchen on the 26th starting at 10:00 and featuring $4-$6 punches and cocktails. See you there!
It started with a festive gala amid the marble-and-granite splendor of the New York Public Library and ended (for me, at least) with a wee-hours dinner at the 1930s-Eurasian-exotica-inspired Macao Trading Co. In between, I …
Ate an exquisite smorgasbord at Aquavit with Karlsson’s vodka reps (that’s right, I said vodka) and a bunch of sassy bartenders from L.A. and San Francisco.
Entered a phone booth at Crif Dog from which I slipped into PDT (Please Don’t Tell) for a Romeo y Julieta, a rich, woody concoction involving Ron Zacapa Centenario rum and tobacco essence.
Sipped a Mai Tai accompanied by exotica music and the squawking of live parrots at the exclusive (because it’s in somebody’s apartment) Rhum Rhum Room.
Heard the engaging story of how cocktails migrated from America to Europe circa 1870-1940 (thanks, David Wondrich and Fernando Castellon).
Checked out a special tasting of new and unusual rums, whiskies, aperitif wines and syrups at wd-50.
Drank a 1940s-era Scorpion Bowl out of a two-foot-long straw at an Appleton Estate Rum party at the brand-new Painkiller urban tiki bar.
Clinked vintage cocktail glasses with my writer girlfriends at the new, Victorian-parlor-inspired Raines Law Room.
Arrived too late to get a cocktail at the Tanqueray 10 party at the Kingswood and was grateful to be handed a glass of Haus Alpenz’ newest import, the aperitivo Cocchi Americano, instead.
So, as you can see, the opportunities for learning, schmoozing, tasting and debauchery at the first official Manhattan Cocktail Classic were slim.
But seriously … this four-day intoxinalia is clearly meant to rival Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans as a confab for professionals and enthusiasts alike to get acquainted with the latest products, recipes and industry knowledge and to hobnob with the illuminati of the cocktail and spirits world.
One of the advantages the MCC has over Tales is that there are many more serious cocktail bars in New York than in New Orleans, and those bars hold their own seminars in addition to the events taking place in the Astor Center — and in addition to being open during regular business hours. Also, every event featured real glassware, and the vast majority of the cocktails were well made despite being cranked out for thousands of people. The hospitality infrastructure in New York quite simply gets the job done.
The disadvantages of the MCC vs. Tales have to do with all those things about New York that get under people’s skin: the frenetic pace and social jockeying involved in a typical night out, the difficulty of getting into exclusive speakeasy-style bars and, of course, the expense. Tickets to MCC events start at $50 (the gala was $100). Add lodging, cabs and dining out and … whoa. Still, it was a blast.