February 21st, 2009

Josey Packard

Josey Packard at Drink

Bartender Profile
Josey Packard is among that distinct class of bartenders who have had musical careers, and who channel their passion and creativity into the kind of performing that goes on behind a great bar. Those who remember Packard from another era, as the riot grrrl fronting the acclaimed band Chelsea on Fire, may find it jarring to see her now, sporting her natural brown curls, wearing a gentleman’s waistcoat, mixing Old Fashioneds. The contrast is part of her appeal.

When she decided to be a bartender, she skipped spring training and went right to the playoffs. While living in New York, she took the rigorous BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource) course, then moved to San Francisco and landed a plum assignment at the Alembic Bar. That’s where I first encountered her, cracking ice cubes with a bar spoon, surrounded by homemade bitters and syrups, and offering detailed recommendations of bourbon and rye.

Naturally, when she moved back to Boston last fall, she promptly nabbed a spot at the newly opened Drink. With her love for (and knowledge about) classic cocktails, Packard’s most at home working the tri-sectioned bar’s “1800s station,” where she happily hacks away at a mammoth ice block in the process of making you a perfectly thought-out cocktail. Rest assured, there’s nothing didactic about her. Rather, she is that perfectly Bostonian combination of seriousness and sharp humor, intensity and affability.


Topeka, Kansas. My parents went to high school here in Boston, but due to an Air Force assignment I was born and raised in the Midwest. Its cachet is both useful and boring to me; today I’m gratified to call Boston my home.

Past bartending jobs

The Alembic, San Francisco.

Favorite bar in greater Boston other than your own

Before 2006, it was Anchovies. Now, I’d have to say Eastern Standard.

First drink you ever had

Irish Mist out of my parents’ cabinet. I think I was nine. First drink I ever ordered at a bar? Amaretto Sour. I had no idea what it was, but somehow the name came out of my mouth.

____ is to the Boston bar scene as ____ is to the Boston music scene

St. Germain is to the Boston bar scene as canned drums are to the Boston music scene. Not traditional, potentially transcendental, and ripe for abuse.

The drink you most like to make

Old Fashioned. Made the same way since the turn of the (19th) century: who doesn’t love a drink that was born right alongside our country?

A bartender’s best friend is…

The 6-ounce cheater tin.

A bartender’s worst enemy is…

A lack of humility.

What you drink at the end of your shift

Reading Lager. I hate lager (not enough flavor) but I love cold Reading Lager: go figure.

If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be…

I am so f***ing proud to be a bartender. I am also a musician and an editor.

Dumbest thing you’ve heard in a bar

“I can’t break the code” — meaning a guy can’t order a drink that anyone else has stated is a woman’s drink.

Most profound thing you’ve heard in a bar

Lady says: “While my friend’s in the bathroom, I want a non-alcoholic drink that looks alcoholic because I just found out I’m pregnant.” Then she goes to the bathroom, her friend waits until she’s out of earshot, and then says exactly the same thing.

What you say at last call

This is one of those areas where the genius of John Gertsen is sublimely obvious. There is no last call, there’s just a time after which drink-making stops but the party rolls on. I usually stand on the bartop with a bullhorn and a bottle of Captain, unbutton my shirt and pour a line of sloppy shots, set them on fire, then flash my tits: it’s like a visual cue. John is such a great manager to let me do this.

The best thing about drinking in Boston

Being here. Smart people, self-deprecating humor, welcoming community, weather extremes, and the Ward 8 with its three full-on ounces of rye.

The worst thing about drinking in Boston

I gotta say it’s the T stopping service at freaking 12:15 a.m. It’s simply irresponsible of them.

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15 Responses to “Josey Packard”

  1. MC Slim JB

    Great interview! I was thrilled to finally make the connection between Josie the bartender and Josie the Chelsea on Fire frontwoman. I remember seeing them at least a couple of times back in the day (a great, intense live show), and never would have connected those dots.

  2. ljclark

    Thanks! I never saw COF back in the day, and now I regret it!

  3. Arnold

    “self-deprecating humor?!?” I think she hasn’t really lived here all that long…or at least didn’t pay much attention to the majority of the drinking crowd before moving to SF. She might want to go out for drinks in Cambridge a little more often and share where she finds any self deprecation…

  4. MC Slim JB

    Re: self-deprecating humor, maybe she means colleagues rather than customers.

  5. MC Slim JB

    Oh, and sorry: it’s Josey, not Josie. I hate getting names wrong.

  6. Joe Niedbala

    I’ve been lucky enough to have known Josey back in her days of RAWK with Chelsea on Fire and, of course, now in her current talent of recognition. No matter what this woman is doing she approaches with a head-on passion, sense of humor, and boundless energy and talent. It’s great to have her back home in Boston!

    BTW, the whole last call ritual- is she STILL doing that ol’ gag?

  7. ljclark

    Yeah, Joe, I know: yawn.

    Arnold, I’m curious: what are your drinking haunts around town, and what do you like about them?

  8. Arnold

    I’m sure her colleagues and friends are wonderful and exhibit self-deprecating humor, I certainly wasn’t trying to say such people don’t exist in the area. Just that the rep the area has does not lean toward laid back and relaxed (like either coastal Portland, Seattle, or Austin), but a little more buttoned up and slightly high strung. Think either financial district worker or Harvard/MIT/Tufts grad student.

    While I avoid certain bars because I’m either too old to hang out with undergrads with fake ids or _________ (fill in the blank with any particular crowd that may not be your first choice), those are also the places that also have other attributes that would turn me off. Say a hundred different types of flavored vodka, but no rye whiskey. Or an “Irish pub” that pours a crappy Guinness.

    If I were to go through my bank card receipts, I think my top four drinking haunts would be (in no particular order): Silvertone, Atwood’s, Plough and Stars, and Hungry Mother. With varied Harvard Square locales due to proximity of my day job near the top in terms of money spent. There is also the next group, which I don’t get to as much either due to transportation issues or they are too crowded when I’m able to visit them, etc. This would include Green Street, Craigie, Druid, Brendan Behan and James Gate.

    I was first attracted to them for beverage choices/excellence (and often food as well), and go back because my top four also tend to have wonderful people working there (not that the others don’t as well). Atmosphere is third, and that of course is influenced by the crowd. And the places I mentioned tend to get varied customers.

    Didn’t mean for my off-the-cuff comment to insult the drinkers of the greater Boston area. I have found people I’ve met in bars to be smart and more than one person who has grown up here has told me that locales tend not to be very opening and friendly at first, like in LA, but once you get to know them the friendship and kindness runs deep.

  9. ljclark

    Thanks, Arnold. I’m sure most drinkbostonians would wholeheartedly agree with your bar choices.

    For the record, a definition of self-deprecating: “modest about or critical of oneself, esp. humorously.” In other words, very different from “laid back and relaxed.” Bostonians are certainly not known to be laid back and relaxed, but we are often self-deprecating. We’re a critical bunch, especially when it comes to ourselves.

  10. Arnold

    My example was better than my quickly typed description–financial district and grad students stereotypes do not often lend themselves (to me, anyway) to modesty or critical self-examination….that’s all. Plus there is that whole “Hub of the Universe” thing…

    Doesn’t mean I still don’t love drinkin’ in this town.

  11. Colin

    Josey was tending bar the first time I visited the Alembic in SF. Her skill and dedication to crafting perfect cocktails was evident. Been to the Alembic many times since, hoping she was tending the bar. Now I know why I haven’t seen her again. Good for Boston, bad for SF.

  12. ljclark

    Sorry for stealing Josey away from you, Colin. OK, not really. Well, maybe a little.

  13. Ike Dvorkin

    Have Josie whip you up a classic gibson….no vodka…preferibly Beefeater’s with one to three large, crisp, pickled onions. Only a nano dash of vermouth. Rivals the finest tiramisu on the Amalfi Coast.

  14. ljclark

    Wow, Ike, I’ve never thought of comparing a Gibson to tiramisu, but sounds like a plan!

  15. The Lady Is A Tramp:Irma La Douce

    […] were introduced to it by one of the best bartenders we’ve ever met,  Josey Packard of Drink in Boston. (If you reading this, Josey, please let us know next time you come to New […]

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