March 3rd, 2011

Todd Maul

Todd Maul, Boston bartender

Bartender profile
Much of the Boston fine-dining scene still neglects to put the kind of pizzazz into the bar that comes out of the kitchen. Todd Maul is changing that. With his tattooed forearms, Mercury-era NASA spectacles and tendency to recite from Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d find behind the slab at one of the city’s more haute dining rooms — Ken Oringer’s Clio. But he has in fact put that little bar on the map as a destination for serious and inventive cocktails.

I first met Todd when he was honing his chops and trying to sneak vintage potions like the Lion’s Tail onto the drink menu at Rialto, in Cambridge’s Charles Hotel. When his efforts hit a wall, he moved to Clio, where he steadily gained creative license. Chef Oringer told him, “If you can think it up, and it tastes good, do it”– oh, and don’t be afraid to raid the kitchen. With that mandate, Maul does things like “use ice as a garnish.” For gin and tonics, he’ll deposit loomi — dried Middle Eastern black lime — into patterns he drills on square cubes (see above), or he’ll put a cylinder of violet-infused ice in a Todd Collins (Old Tom & Old Raj 110 gins, lemon, seltzer, Benedictine-soaked cuke) so that it slowly turns your drink bright blue while you sip. In the past couple of years, Clio has gone from a brief list of mostly vodka-based mixtures that blended into the background to a fun, 80-item menu (with retro font and graphics) of both faithful and fanciful interpretations of classic recipes. It’s like an album of Great American Songbook standards, some sung by Frank Sinatra and others sung by Bjork.

Maul’s other passion is furniture making; he studied the craft at the prestigious North Bennet Street School. He compares knowing various types of wood and how to build a table with them to knowing, for instance, different types of whiskey and how to build a cocktail with them. “Had I not gone [to North Bennett Street], I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to bartending the way I did. It’s a trade — you’ve got to work at it.”

Kinderhook, NY.

Past bartending jobs
Rialto, Boston Park Plaza, Four Seasons.

First drink you ever had
Genessee beer. It’s an upstate New York thing.

Favorite bar in Boston other than your own
No. 9 Park. I have always liked what they do there.

The drink you most like to make
One for a regular.

The drink you least like to make
The first/last drink for someone that you know is going to be a problem.

What you drink at the end of your shift
PBR tallboy.

If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be…
A furniture maker. My shop misses me.

Most beloved bartending book
If you’ve ever sat at my bar you already know: David Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

The best thing about tending bar in a fine dining setting is…
The conversations (it’s a little more mellow, so you can actually hear the person across from you), and seeing the milestone events in people’s lives.

The worst thing about tending bar in a fine dining setting is…
People can be intimidated by what they perceive as the culture in these restaurants.

People drink too much ________
What I call “lifestyle beverages” — when someone orders marketing, not booze.

People don’t drink enough ________
Old Raj 110.

Unlikely drink for a cold winter night
Dr. Cocktail.

The best thing about drinking in Boston is…
I can get a drink from Joe McGuirk somewhere where they don’t mind if my kid throws something on the floor.

The worst thing about drinking in Boston is…
That you can get spoiled by the other people on this list, and realize that they only work in Boston. The standard they set doesn’t always travel.

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10 Responses to “Todd Maul”

  1. Mytch

    Todd is a straight up “Rock Star behind the bar”!

  2. Devin

    Todd makes one of the most surprising and delightful Periodistas in Boston. Cheers to him!

  3. Francois

    Have always enjoyed the knowledge, enthusiasm, knowledge and charisma Todd brings to his bar and the craft. Forward thinking yet possessing an almost anthropological knowledge of his products prepare to be charmed by his concoctions and his hospitality!! Only drawback “we need a bigger boat” the bars to small to accommodate a good night of drinking with a group of fellow cocktail comrades!

  4. ljclark

    I agree, Francois — the man needs a bigger playground.

  5. Rob Marais

    Lauren, thanks for featuring one of my bar artist heroes, a true craftsman (and the furniture making fits in with that quite nicely). I think though that a major charm of sampling the waters at the Bar at Clio is its intimate size. You’re almost guaranteed some quality time with Todd or his equally fine associates as they craft your quaff. Do I wish Todd a larger venue? Sure, but put some other guys in the big bar up front: give Todd an intimate bar in the back where his devotées can pay him proper homage and sip the truly good stuff.

  6. Ted

    Todd kills it at Clio. Among his many other triumphs, their Zombie is the best I’ve had.

  7. Myles

    Todd is great!! Love his cocktails and the menu styling. I would like a bigger bar I have a big family!

  8. Liquid Therapy from DrinkBoston | Public Radio Kitchen

    […] week Clark profiles bartender Todd Maul of Ken Oringer’s Clio restaurant, which has a small bar with a massive –and breathtakingly creative–cocktail […]

  9. phf

    Wait till you try his Spring Cocktail List… holy mother of god. It’s not even printed yet and I am going out of my mind thinking about it!!!

  10. BeantownEats {We Eat It. You Read It.} – Boston MA Food and Drink Blog » 5 Cocktails in Boston We Love

    […] me, it doesn’t get any better than having a cocktail at Clio. Todd Maul is a genius and knows how to properly manage a bar. The first thing you will notice about this […]

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