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 »
October 3rd, 2009
» The biggest news for this installment of Nips is the opening of a fun, new neighborhood bar: Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Inman Square, Cambridge (in the former home of the Abbey Lounge — R.I.P.). If the Starlite were a film, its opening weekend would make it a blockbuster. My preliminary review: energetic, funky vibe; a bar and management staff full of heavy hitters who balance skills with a good-time attitude; a somewhat spare-despite-its-retro-decor look; a very wallet-friendly menu of American picnic ‘n’ patio fare; a list of classic- and culinary-inspired cocktails that’s decent but doesn’t knock my socks off (although a rye Manhattan with Carpano Antica did); and a puzzlingly suburban beer list (Coors Light? Blue Moon? However, Reading Lager in cans and a bucket of High Life ponies are a nice touch).
» Two very different booze promotions rolled through town recently. One was for Grand Marnier, at Drink. The other was for The Macallan, at the Cyclorama.
Jeff Grdinich, New Hampshire barman and consultant with aka wine geek (which represents GrandMa), enlisted bartenders/mixologists around Boston to create cocktails featuring the sweet, cognac-based orange liqueur. Basically, GrandMa’s like, ‘Hey, all the cocktail geeks are mixing with Cointreau — we want a piece of the action, too.’ It’s true that a lot of vintage cocktail recipes call for the less syrupy Cointreau for orange flavor. But the mixologists stepped up, and the drinks at this party were for the most part tasty and balanced. I’m partial to one that I’ve written about before: Grdinich’s Root of All Evil. Also check out Cocktail Virgin Slut’s assessment of not only their own Lioness (of Brittany) but also Scott Holliday’s Alicante, Matt Schrage’s Hugo Ball and John Gertsen’s Mission of Burma. Interesting stuff.
Where the GrandMa event was a mingle-friendly, French-themed cocktail fête (co-organized by the saucy broads of LUPEC Boston), the Macallan event was a slick presentation, complete with pulsing club music and moody, black-and-white images of a nude model posing among barrels of aging scotch. Not what I expected, to say the least. Brand ambassador Graeme Russell, whose red tartan pants accented the bizarro atmosphere, told the 150 or so guests about the distillery’s history and methods, including its unusually small copper pot stills and predominant use of sherry barrels (as opposed to bourbon barrels). He talked us through tastes of the 12-, 15-, 17- and 18-year-olds, with the latter two being the most impressive (they retail for about $120 and $150, respectively). The 18-year, aged entirely in sherry barrels, was an ethereal balance of honey, flower and orchard fruit notes with just enough smoke to let you know you were drinking scotch. The 17 was earthier, with an acidic, phenolic character coming from a portion of whiskey that had been aged in bourbon barrels, which are more charred than sherry barrels and produce bolder flavors. Great scotch, weird presentation.
» And now for some literature… Finally, a useful dictionary. Drunk: The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary just came out, with a record 2,964 terms for, ya know, blotto, plastered and Dean Martoonied. There’s a companion website, too. Once you’ve purchased the tome online, check out Wayne Curtis’ astute, witty profile in Downeast magazine of a Portland, ME, bartender who badly needed profiling: John Myers. We see Myers’ “Wild Bill Hickok” demeanor around Boston now and again, but not enough. Finally, you’re well aware that a brewer for Guinness perfected a statistical method called “small sample theory” in the early 1900s, thus ushering in the modern capability of brewers and other manufacturers to produce tons of product and produce it consistently, right? Oh, you’re not? Well, read this Salon post about how the human thirst for alcohol can lead to great scientific advances.
Tags: drunk dictionary, Grand Marnier, Macallan, Trina's Starlite Lounge
Posted in Books & resources, Boston bars, Liqueur, Whiskey | 3 Comments »