Archive for March, 2009

March 31st, 2009

Marliave – Best Boston bars

Restaurant Marliave

Established: 1885
Specialty: Cocktails, wine
Prices: Moderate
Atmosphere: A historic bar in downtown Boston that isn’t a tourist trap and mixes classic cocktails? We’re there. See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

Drinkboston is wholeheartedly rooting for the new-and-improved Restaurant Marliave (10 Bosworth St. near Downtown Crossing), even though it still has some stuff to work out, vibe-wise. Chef Scott Herritt of the Grotto bought the 125-year-old establishment last year and reopened it as a three-level enterprise featuring an itty-bitty oyster bar on the first floor, a cafe-bar on the second floor and a fine-dining restaurant (with a small bar) on the third floor (3 floors + 3 bars = woohoo!).

The place is a historical, architectural treasure that I pray, given our economic predicament, can stick it out for the next few years to become a bulwark against the usual type of downtown Boston watering hole: corporate, expensive, dumbed-down. When people ask me, “I’m staying near Faneuil Hall, where can I get a good drink nearby?” and I have to tell them to get on the Red Line and go to Cambridge — well, that makes me mad. Now I tell them to go to the Marliave.

Herritt wanted his bar program to reflect the quality and thoughtfulness of his cooking (classic French, Italian, New England fare), so fresh-squeezed citrus and Kold-Draft ice became basics for a menu of classic and classic-influenced cocktails. (In fact, the Marliave was the first place in Boston to use Kold-Draft ice.)

Some of my faves are the Jennie Churchill (a good Manhattan, named after Winston’s American mom, with Rittenhouse rye, Noilly Prat sweet vermouth and bitters, garnished with a Luxardo cherry), the FDR (a tall pitcher of gin martinis — this is where the Kold-Draft ice, which melts slowly, is crucial — with Vya vermouth that you can share with friends), and the Molasses Flood 1919 (Sailor Jerry rum, molasses, fresh lime, bitters). Bar manager Jackie Ross, who worked at the Grotto and, before that, the B-Side, brings solid experience and a no-nonsense style to the job. Two other B-Side alums, Christopher Duggan and Al Harding, pull a few shifts here, too.

On some nights, the Marliave feels like it’s struggling to find energy. And sometimes — at least in the main bar, which is where I usually am — there’s a palpable lack of personality, which is only exacerbated by a too-large TV behind the bar. But I’m calling these quibbles for now. I wish the Marliave all the luck in the world, because downtown Boston needs it.

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Posted in Boston bars, Cocktails | 21 Comments »

March 27th, 2009

Mmm, medicine

Trinidad SourI am a big fan of drinks that taste a bit like medicine. Pour some bitters, be they Angostura, orange, Campari, Aperol, Fernet, etc., into a glass of whiskey, gin or brandy, and chances are I’ll slurp it up. Bitter cocktails are, like blue cheese or anchovies, something we start out thinking is disgusting but that, as we get older and wiser, we grow to savor.

Ben Sandrof at Drink has made me many a medicinal cocktail, so he knew he had a good guinea pig for a new drink that takes the idea of a bitter cocktail all the way to Crazy Town: the Trinidad Sour. Created by a bartender [Giuseppe Gonzalez] at Clover Club in Brooklyn, it uses Angostura bitters (which are made in Trinidad) as a base. Here’s what I mean:

Trinidad Sour

1 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz orgeat
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Rittenhouse rye

Shake hard and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A full ounce of Angostura modified with a bit of whiskey? That’s, like, 50 times the amount of these “non-potable” bitters that are usually measured by the dash. Nonetheless, I poted them. And surprisingly, the drink was potable. With the sweetness of the orgeat (almond syrup) and the sourness of the lemon juice, the deep-red potion tasted kind of like a really strong, and medicinal, Sweet Tart. The weirdest part of it was the white head that just sat atop the liquid in the glass until the drink was drained, like the head on a Guinness. Ben was fascinated and mystified by it. I could only guess that all the plant matter that goes into a bottle of Angostura creates some really fine particles that somehow bind to the other ingredients and froth when shaken. I may be way off but, hey, it sounds good.

Another bitter cocktail I tried recently and have to mention, because it’s every bit as bold in its own way as the Trinidad Sour, is the No. 47 at Hungry Mother (the cocktails here have numbers instead of names). The cocktails during my first two visits to this instantly acclaimed, year-old Cambridge restaurant were underwhelming. But this time around they were perfect. The ingredients in the No. 47 are Laird’s Applejack, Aperol and Buffalo Trace Bourbon — in what proportions I don’t know exactly, but none seemed overshadowed by another, and together they created a mixture that transcended the individual spirits. The drink was served “down” in a heavy rocks glass with a large sphere of ice, which made all the difference. The drink started out strong but stayed cold and balanced as the ice slowly melted. I thank bartenders Ned Greene and Duane Gorey, plus co-owner Alon Munzer, for creating Hungry Mother’s short but sweet cocktail menu and for adding some more delicious medicine to my first-aid kit.

Posted in Bitters, Cocktails | 23 Comments »

March 23rd, 2009

Event – urban luau at Eastern Standard

Eastern Standard Tiki PartyDust off your lei, your hula skirt and your Don Ho loafers and join drinkboston and the Fraternal Order of Moai for a tiki party-urban luau at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks on Saturday, April 4 starting at 2:00 p.m.

A roasted pig will be the centerpiece of a three-course luncheon of traditional Polynesian-American fare in the great Donn Beach/Trader Vic tradition. Three freshly squeezed, rum-soaked tiki cocktails accompany the food: a recent creation by Brother Cleve, who will program the exotica music soundtrack for the day and also give a keynote presentation on the history of Polynesia in both the U.S. and Boston; another tiki original by the Eastern Standard bar staff; and a classic recipe from tiki’s early era in the 1930s and ’40s.

Cleve points out that Eastern Standard is “within staggering distance of Boston’s original 1940s Polynesian Village, later the Aku Aku — a favorite haunt of the early punk rock crowd in the ’70s due to its proximity to the Rat. The goldfish-bowl bar railing full of dead goldfish helped create the proper vibe. And people wonder why these places died out!”

All the eats, drinks, education and entertainment are included in a ticket price of $50 per person. Tix can be purchased over the phone (617-532-9100), via email (mhopper at easternstandardboston dot com) or by stopping into Eastern Standard anytime between now and April 4. Hope to see you there!

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Posted in Cocktails, Events, Rum | 3 Comments »

March 19th, 2009

Couldn’t it just be the ‘Starlite Lounge’?

Abbey Lounge Somerville - signWere you wondering what was happening to the space formerly occupied by Somerville’s most venerable live-music venue, the Abbey Lounge? Here’s what:

March 18, 2009 (SOMERVILLE, MA) Trina’s Starlite Lounge, a restaurant and bar located at 3 Beacon Street in Inman Square, is slated to open Summer 2009. Owners Josh Childs (co-owner of Silvertone Bar & Grill) and Trina and Beau Sturm (City Bar and Highland Kitchen, respectively) have sixty years of collective front-of-house and back-of-house experience, including some of Boston’s most notable bars. Together they will bring exceptional service, fun and appealing cocktails and affordable, southern-influenced bar fare to the urban diner in an environment inspired by 1940s and 1950s.

The folks behind Silvertone and Highland Kitchen? Check. A new, hip hangout in the Inman Square vicinity? Check. “Appealing cocktails,” “affordable, southern-influenced bar fare,” and “an environment inspired by 1940s and 1950s?” Check. Unfortunately, however, this will no longer be a live-music venue. And, instead of just being called the Starlite Lounge, it’s called Trina’s Starlite Lounge. Do we really need one of the owner’s names attached? Couldn’t we let the concept speak for itself?

Still, sounds like a place well worth investigating.

In other bar-launch news, I’ve heard a couple of reports that the old B-Side is being gutted (at least partially) in order to make way for the new establishment that will occupy that corner of Windsor and Hampshire in Cambridge. Could we really be in for two new good bars this summer?

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Posted in Boston bars | 19 Comments »

March 15th, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

CC ad with vanA 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’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 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.

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Posted in Booze in the news, Tequila, Whiskey | 8 Comments »