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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8 Responses to “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

  1. MC Slim JB

    Ugh, I hate A-Rod, but that Bonfire cocktail struck me as the dumbest thing I’d seen in a long time. It’s odd, because that bar has been up and down for a while. When it opened, it offered the most insulting, over-sugared excuse for a Caipirinha I’d ever tasted (didn’t help that I hated the dining room food.) Then I found myself meeting a friend there a few months back, and got served by an old-school guy in the Lawrence Tierney mode: gruff, bullet-headed, solid, skilled. That raised it up a lot in my estimation. A syringe drink knocks in back down to idiot-land.

    I also must observe as so often happens in ads that shoot for retro that they always get the hair wrong, like a 50s cowboy movie where Dean Martin still has his duck-tailed pompadour. I’d say that dude in the CC ad’s got a modern long haircut, not 60s/70s.

  2. ljclark

    I ordered a margarita at Bonfire a few years ago, and the bartender gave the drink about two-and-a-half very gentle shakes, as if she were afraid of breaking the ice cubes, or actually making the drink cold. Hmm, maybe the Lawrence Tierney guy will be promoted to bar manager…

    Mmm, I don’t know, Slim. I’d say that guy looks pretty 1977.

  3. JG

    I was listening to something, I think on NPR, a few weeks ago talking about how the craft beer industry is still going strong. Alcohol is recession proof, although even those brewmasters were admitting that people were tending to shift things down a notch in terms of how expensive their beers of choice were.

  4. ljclark

    Good point, JG. Craft beer has been doing double-digit growth for the past few years, with few signs of stopping. The whole “affordable luxury” phenomenon is at work. Alcohol may be recession-proof, but is going out? It’s a lot cheaper to drink at home than at a bar.

  5. Arnold

    It could also be that the Boston area has not been as badly hit by the downturn (yet). I know that is the case with the housing market, and the area has not made the top ten list in unemployment figures. But that is just a guess based on no facts.

    It would be interesting to hear how similar bars in NYC and San Francisco are doing.

  6. Alex

    So far, San Francisco seems to be doing ok. Certainly there are bars that are hurting, but between observations, and what friends in the industry are telling me, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be by now.

    There’s no doubt that people are doing a bit more drinking at home, but at the same time, I think people are looking for the communal feeling that comes from knocking back a drink or two at a good bar. I suspect that the first bars that will fail will be those that weren’t places people generally felt comfortable in to begin with. Part of why booze is recession proof is because a lot of people look at going out to drink as an experience, and not just a place to get a beer.

  7. ljclark

    Alex, thanks for the view from SF! May the bars that offer the best experience win.

  8. dave

    I stopped in Eastern Standard last Sunday to see if I could still get the “Bushmills in the Afternoon” (was not able to stop in on St. Pat’s Day). Unfortunately not. Looks like I will need to give it a whirl at home. Anyway, did a Final Ward on recommendation from the bartender. I enjoy being able to talk with the bartender to come up with something to drink. A few easy questions (liquor, with/without citrus, rocks?) and viola a drink is made. Spot on by the way.

    I have also noticed the crowds at the bars, even on “off nights” (ie not Thur/Fri/Sat). It is an interesting phenomenon, due to the economic climate.

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