Archive for November, 2009

November 30th, 2009

I drank the Pacific Northwest

OK, I get it. After my first visit to Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR, I get why I’ve never met anyone who has said of either city, “I just had to get out of that hellhole!” The people are friendly, the mood is casual, the roads are civil (no one jaywalks!), the cultural scene is vibrant, and the weather is … well, a bit warmer in winter than New England. Most important of all, the bars and restaurants are tops.

Me (left) at Tavern Law with Leonora and Paul Clarke, and Jamie Boudreau.

Me (left) at Tavern Law with Leonora and Paul Clarke, and Jamie Boudreau.

Honestly, about half the reason I took this trip was to go to the ZigZag Cafe and to meet the inestimable Murray Stenson, who has tended bar in and around Seattle for more than 30 years. The thing about Murray, the reason why his fans include the arbiters of the cocktail and bar renaissance in addition to legions of regular customers, is that he combines the chops and charm of an old pro with the mixological enthusiasm of today’s cocktail geek — all in a manner that comes across as completely genuine and welcoming to all.

Murray and his co-worker Sabrina Ross at the ZigZag.

Murray and his co-worker Sabrina Ross at the ZigZag.

And it’s not like Murray’s the only talent on the ZigZag team. The place as a whole — its dark-wood bar anchors a contemporary-looking restaurant — radiates an easygoing hospitality, and co-owners Kacy Fitch and Ben Dougherty and the rest of the bar staff turn out expertly made drinks with often rare ingredients. A couple of the cocktails Murray made for me involved Giffard products from France, which are generally unavailable in the States: Mangalore liqueur (made with cardamom and other spices) and macadamia-nut syrup. Then there was the pre-Prohibition bourbon. Oh, and something special that caught this Bostonian’s eye: on the ZigZag’s cocktail menu was the Bohannon, created by our homeboy Casey Keenan.

I visited several other Seattle bars, including:

Jay Kuehner in perpetual motion at Sambar.

Jay Kuehner in perpetual motion at Sambar.

Sambar – Thanks to Charles Munat for insisting on driving me and Paul Clarke out to Seattle’s Ballard-Fremont neighborhood to experience this smart, little cafe connected to Le Gourmand restaurant. Bartender Jay Kuehner is well respected for mixing some of the most creative and tasty cocktails in the city, and he is a sweet guy to boot.

Keith Waldbauer tries to set fire to Vessel.

Keith Waldbauer tries to set fire to Vessel.

Tavern Law – Part contemporary saloon, part speakeasy (the speakeasy is upstairs behind a semi-hidden door). Bartender Miles “Scrappy’s Bitters” Thomas mixed me a couple of refreshing drinks from the old school — the Kemble House (orange gin, dry vermouth, Fernet Branca) and the Rose Cocktail (dry vermouth, kirschwasser, bitters) — which I enjoyed in the company of Paul Clarke and his wife, Leonora, and Jamie “the man, the legend” Boudreau, who is between bartending gigs at the moment.

Vending-machine art at the Hideout. Abu-Grape "Follypops."

Vending-machine art at the Hideout. Abu-Grape "Follypops."

Plus … the artisanal cocktail bar Vessel, where Keith Walbauer’s mixture of bourbon, Pommeau de Normandie, Benedictine and Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters was inspired by Misty Kalkofen‘s Fort Washington Flip; the hip, den-like Rob Roy, where I said hello to Anu Apte, who just started the Washington State chapter of LUPEC; the Hideout, which lives up to its name and where you can get a good cocktail and admire (and purchase) cool, local art; Spur Gastropub, whose creators are also responsible for Tavern Law; Bathtub Gin, a narrow and cozy speakeasy where Marley Tomic-Beard, formerly of Eastern Standard, now tends bar; and Brouwers Cafe, a beer bar with an impressive list of Belgian and northwest U.S. brews. Finally, I must mention that I stayed at the historic Sorrento Hotel, which itself has joined the Seattle cocktail scene with its Drinking Lessons led by some of the country’s top bartenders and drink historians.

After a pretty ride to Portland on Amtrak’s Cascade line and a brief gawk at beautiful, old Union Station, I made a beeline to Clyde Common in the Pearl District (one of those industrial-turned-artsy neighborhoods). It was happy hour, and bartending/mixology blogger, Repeal Day impresario and international playboy Jeffrey Morgenthaler was helming the bar. Twenty-somethings who were attractive in an approachable way filtered in for what appeared to be a continued sampling of Morgenthaler’s cocktail menu, with solid stuff like the Bourbon Renewal (Maker’s Mark, lemon juice, cassis, bitters) and the Norwegian Wood (Krogstad Aquavit, applejack, Cinzano Rosso, yellow Chartreuse, bitters). A “European-style tavern” — think northern European in design — Clyde Common is a jewel in Portland’s considerable culinary crown, with its pronounced focus on local ingredients and simple preparations.

Norwegian Negroni at Beaker and Flask

Norwegian Negroni at Beaker and Flask

Another such jewel is Laurelhurst Market, a butcher shop that expanded into a hip steak house in the Laurelhurst neighborhood (a little ways across the Willamette River from the Pearl). There’s a fine bar program here, too, and I had a Swoon cocktail — applejack, lemon juice, egg white, burnt chamomile syrup — before digging into my steak frites.

A quick cab ride got me over to Beaker and Flask, which has no sign and appears to occupy a building that was once a show room for cars or home appliances. It sits on an elevated spot, and its large windows offer a great view of the city lights across the river. Bartender David Shenaut, who also pulls shifts at the Teardrop Lounge (see below), made me a tasty Norwegian Negroni with Krogstad Aquavit, Cynar and sweet vermouth. Then, what with Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds walking over and introducing himself to me, we decided to do something experimental with falernum, Irish whiskey, egg white, bitters and I honestly don’t remember what all else. It was interesting, though.

Daniel Shoemaker at the Teardrop. Dig the fat necktie knot.

Daniel Shoemaker at the Teardrop. Dig the fat necktie knot.

The Teardrop Lounge is one of those must-visit bars for any cocktailian visiting Oregon. They make a lot of their own ingredients, including tonic water, liqueurs and bitters. The space, with its large, oval bar, is like a shrine to the artisanal cocktail, and the bartenders dress sharply. I was happy to see dry-humored Daniel Shoemaker, whom I had met at Tales of the Cocktail, again on his home turf.

It's a beer store. And a beer bar.

It's a beer store. And a beer bar.

After all that cocktailing, man, was I thirsty for a beer. Luckily, Portland can satisfy those cravings and then some. On my last night I pub-hopped from the venerable, English-style Horse Brass Pub (terrific mix of British, European and Northwest brews) to Belmont Station (a no-frills beer bar that grew out of a kick-ass craft beer store) to Prost (new and a rarity in the States — a contemporary beer bar focusing on German beer and cuisine; great stuff) to, finally, Cassidy’s — a 30-year-old saloon-style bar that attracts industry types late-night after their shifts. Given Cassidy’s reputation, what choice did I have but to end my Northwest bar hop with a Rainier tall-boy and a shot of Fernet?

Thanks to all my friendly Northwest guides for a fabulous time!

Nightcap at Cassidy's: Fernet with a Rainier back.

Nightcap at Cassidy's: Fernet with a Rainier back.

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Posted in Seattle | 13 Comments »

November 24th, 2009

Remembering Cocoanut Grove

Cocoanut Grove after the fire.

Not to dampen your holiday spirit, but if you’re out on the town this Saturday, November 28, you might take a moment to drink to the memory of Boston’s infamous Cocoanut Grove fire — the worst nightclub fire in history — which claimed almost 500 lives that night back in 1942.

Formerly a speakeasy, the swanky South End club had three bars and a ballroom that was decorated with highly flammable paper palm trees and cloth covering the ceiling and walls. The fire started when a busboy lit a match near one of the palm trees where he was replacing a lightbulb. As flames rapidly engulfed the club, many in the over-capacity crowd were trapped; the revolving-door main entrance jammed, and the other exits were locked or blocked. Within 15 minutes, 492 people were dead or dying. In the aftermath of the tragedy, fire safety codes, manslaughter law and medical treatment for burns and lung injuries were transformed.

If you’re a student of Boston and bar history as I am, you might want to check out “The Haunting Legacy of the Cocoanut Grove Fire” on the anniversary of the tragedy. It’s a free, illustrated lecture by former Boston Herald reporter Stephanie Schorow, who authored The Cocoanut Grove Fire. I befriended Schorow in the course of doing my own research on bar-related Boston topics, and her book is a fascinating read. Her talk, which will feature newly discovered photos and explore various theories about the cause of the fire, happens on the 28th from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Jamaicaway Books & Gifts, 676 Centre St. in Jamaica Plain.

The Boston Globe published a detailed remembrance of the Cocoanut Grove fire on its 50th anniversary in 1992, and the article serves as a good primer about the tragedy. One interesting tidbit among the hundreds connected to the event: one of the waiters who escaped the fire, Chico Adolf Cecchini, soon after began working at Locke-Ober, where he was headwaiter for about 40 years.

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Posted in Books & resources, Boston bars | 12 Comments »

November 20th, 2009

Barstool Mountain Monday – Nov. 30


Polish your cowboy boots and dust off your bolo ties! Drinkboston, the Independent and Brother Cleve are throwing a big ol’ hillbilly hoochfest on Monday, November 30 at 8:00 p.m. — Barstool Mountain Monday: Country Drinking Songs and Country Drinks. What says “only 25 shopping days ’til Christmas” more than bourbon, Lone Star beer, Georgia Mint Juleps, and “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home?”

Cleve will spin highlights from his vast collection of country drinking songs and “hillbilly noir,” while Evan Harrison — on his last night at the Indo, folks! — doles out the Lone Star, the bourbon and the cocktails. Drink specials ($8 each) include:

  • Country Gentleman Cocktail: apple brandy, orange curacao, lemon, sugar. Served up.
  • Georgia Mint Julep: fine whiskey, fresh mint (not muddled) and powdered sugar. Served over crushed ice.
  • Mississippi Mule: gin, creme de cassis, lemon. Served up.
  • Tennessee: Tennessee whiskey, lemon, maraschino liqueur, cherry. Served up.

If you’re ready for solids again after Thanksgiving, there’ll be some pork rinds and shell peanuts to snack on. This is (obviously!) a casual party, so no reservations or tickets required. The party goes ’til closing time or ’til you get tossed out by the belt loops of your Wranglers. See y’all there!

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Posted in Cocktails, Events | 3 Comments »

November 14th, 2009

Nips – 11/14/09


Finally, last night, I met Seattle legend and internationally renowned bartender Murray Stenson. What a treat. As I’ve said here before, I’m one of many people nationwide who have encountered Murray’s hospitality from afar, by way of a surprise, complimentary drink delivered by a mutual bartending acquaintance. (I first heard about Murray from one of our city’s best bartenders, Scott Holliday, and was flattered to learn that Murray has been a drinkboston reader from early on.)

Acting as ambassador of the Murray Stenson Fan Club, New England Chapter, I presented him with a book on the history of Boston signed by several of our city’s bartenders — most of whom, like me, have only admired him from afar — plus a bottle of Chartreuse milk punch from the staff at Drink. Murray opened the punch right then and there and poured several shots for patrons at the bar. Then he mixed a few rounds of strong, elegant drinks — doling out some rare treats like the above — for me and my companions, West Coast drink writers Paul Clarke and Charles Munat. I’ll tell you more about Murray and my Seattle bar-hop in a later post.

johnny-bond-10-bottles» Save the date for drinkboston’s next event: Barstool Mountain Monday: Country Drinking Songs and Country Drinks, November 30 at the Independent in Union Square, Somerville. Think southern-style cocktails, shots of bourbon and Lone Star beer flowing to a soundtrack of classic country drinking songs spun by Brother “Taco Brim” Cleve. There’ll be well-known faves like “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Made a Loser Out of Me),” but also lesser-known gems like “Four on the Floor (and a Fifth Under the Seat),” and “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinking Doubles).” More details to come soon.

» Also this month, swing by the bar at Clio between the 16th and 22nd, when bartender/mixologist Todd Maul celebrates the birthdays of David Embury and William “Cocktail” Boothby. Embury, born in 1886, is the author of the biblical Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Boothby, born in 1862, was perhaps the best-known bartender just before Prohibition. He plied his trade most notably at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and authored World’s Drinks And How To Mix Them and The American Bartender.

“We will be serving the Boothby Cocktail, the Casino and two creations from the Clio bartenders. For 10 bucks you get a drink and some rock shrimp,” says Todd, who provided the recipe for his homage to Embury and Boothby below.

Todd Cocktail

2 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice, serve straight up.

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Posted in Bartenders, Cocktails, Events, Nips, Seattle | 3 Comments »

November 9th, 2009

The net net on Fernet Night


Bankers, you know what I’m talking about: the bottom line is that Fernet Night at the Franklin Southie last Thursday was a good time. As I made my way through the crowd handing out Fernet Branca swag — shirts, aprons, posters — I clinked glasses with a mix of old acquaintances and drinkbostonians I’d never met before, sprinkled with a few bar industry folk. Joy Richard and Peter Cipriani kept the six Fernet cocktails on the evening’s menu coming, along with shots in iced ponies that Joy spent days painstakingly freezing.

This was the first of several upcoming “industry” nights at the Franklin Southie. Generally, the second Thursday of every month will feature drinks with a certain ingredient. Coming up — St. Germain and Chartreuse. See the Franklin’s calendar or connect with them on Facebook for updates.

You asked for recipes? You got ’em.

Work in Progress
Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli – Craigie on Main

3/4 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Bols Genever
1 oz St. Germain
3 dashes orange bitters

Stir over ice, serve down, flamed orange peel.

Bonita Applebum
Emma Hollander – Trina’s Starlite Lounge

1 oz Applejack
3/4 oz Fernet Branca
3/4 oz Drambuie

Stir over ice, serve down, orange peel.

Jackson’s Night Cap
Jackson Cannon – Eastern Standard

1 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1 oz yellow Chartreuse
1 oz Fernet Branca
Dash of chocolate mole bitters if you have them; whiskey barrel-aged work as well.

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled glass, garnish with lemon twist.

Casey Brown
Josey Packard – Drink

1 1/2 oz Sazerac Rye
1 oz green Chartreuse
1/2 oz Fernet Branca
Dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled glass with a lemon twist.

Improved Toxic Moxie
Joy Richard – The Franklin

1 1/2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
3/4 oz Fernet Branca
3 dashes whiskey barrel-aged bitters

Build in a highball glass, fill with ice. Top with Moxie. Garnish with an orange peel.

Villa de Verano
Misty Kalkofen – Drink

2 1/4 oz El Tesoro Platinum tequila
3/4 oz Jarabe de Cacao Ahumado*
1/4 oz Fernet Branca

Stir over ice, serve straight up. Garnish with grated coffee bean.

*Jarabe de Cacao Ahumado
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup cocoa nibs
1/4 tsp Mexican smoked salt

Make a “tea” with the water, cinnamon, cocoa nibs and salt by bringing to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Allow to cool and strain.

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Posted in Bitters, Cocktails | 9 Comments »