THE REGULARS is a series of posts covering the bars we frequent most often, featuring background information, tips and drink recommendations.
To us, Yvonne’s is that uber-successful, fashionable and a maybe-too-glamorous longtime friend who instantly drops all the corporate d-bags and society wanna-be’s when you come through the door and makes one-on-one time to catch up with you. This ain’t your trendy new barreled Negroni joint, it ain’t your favorite cozy speakeasy and it’s definitely ain’t Cheers. It’s where you go when you want a sure-fire cocktail experience, where you know the bartenders can handle anything you throw at them.
The building for Yvonne’s is historic, formerly Locke-Ober, one of the oldest restaurants in the country (est. 1875) . This is where the movers and shakers of the Boston elite dined and wheeled and dealed for over a century and you can still feel the ostentatious soul of Locke-Ober in the ornately carved and textured walls and ceilings, the marble, the leather, the chandeliers … you get it.
Getting into Yvonne’s is a bit of a challenge : while its address is on Winter Street its essentially in an alleyway between Temple Street and Winter Street. Since we’re usually arriving from the south, Lorri & I usually crawl through a semi-secret tunnel from the Temple Street side that dumps you right on Yvonne’s doorstep, but it’s not for the meek since it’s barely big enough for two people to squeeze past each other, doesn’t always feature the most friendly characters and usually gives off the heady aroma of eau-de-piss. Look, no one said becoming a cocktail enthusiast was going to be all caviar and Corinthian leather (well, at least until you get INSIDE Yvonne’s).
Look for the pink neon Yvonne’s sign and then go through the heavy door to the right of it.
You CAN make a reservation at Yvonne’s but not at either of the bars (well not officially). Our recommendation: Make a safety reservation to get a guaranteed table, then when you arrive tell the (inevitably well dressed, attractive and warmly cheerful) host/hostess that you’d like to get a seat at the bar, if possible. If things are busy they’ll wave you through and give you a chance to check out the two bars for open bar stools – if not, then they’ll seat you at a table or low top.
The Library Bar is to the left – it’s smaller and more intimate and our preferred destination (UNLESS Katie Soules is manning the Big Bar). The Library Room is also our preference for a dining table, as it features the notorious paintings of JFK in a wife beater, scandalously flanked by his glamorous wife Jackie and (his supposed mistress) Marilyn Monroe. His sidemen are decked out in full military regalia and are easily recognized as Sergeant Bill Murray, Corporal Patrick Swayze and the incomparable Christopher Walken (which would ALONE make me want to drink here, the Dead Zone, Pennies From Heaven and the Deer Hunter being a trilogy that no other actor in history could pull off).
The Main Bar is straight ahead – on a busy night it’s a cocktail blood sport, usually crammed to the gills with every stool taken and every seat on the back rail taken as well, also with standing room only hovering in the space between. Our usual Blue Plate Special solution is to get there early (Yvonne’s bar mercifully opens at 4 but be warned that the food doesn’t start until 5) because that’s where Katie Soules takes center stage. We’ve known Katie from her days one block away at JM Curley’s (another of our regulars) and she’s always been the epitome of fun, class and brilliant cocktails from the beginning.
In my lesser drinking days my usual was a dry Hendricks martini, a choice born of cowardice, reliability and the desire to achieve a degree of simultaneous sophistication AND efficient inebriation. Once I discovered whiskey and craft cocktails, I didn’t touch a martini for several years UNTIL I read that a 50/50 martini (equal parts gin and vermouth) executed by a true artisan that you trusted was a thing of rare beauty. I waited until we got Katie at the quiet hour of 4:30 pm and made my virgin order of a 50/50 martini. She remarked that that was one of her current drinks of choice (it’s nice when the cocktail universe comes into perfect alignment like that) and produced one of my all time favorites, simple, pure and perfect: Gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, orange bitters and orange peel (bonus: it’s a relatively low ABV cocktail that gives you all the pleasure of a heavyweight).
The actual cocktail menu of Yvonne’s has stayed relatively consistent over time, so it’s worth going over our favorites
- The Penicillin ( a Sam Ross modern classic from the legendary Milk and Honey/Attaboy in NYC) is probably the best in all of Boston AND competitive with the NYC stalwarts – a rare Scotch cocktail with spicy honey-ginger syrup and a peaty Scotch float. Not for everyone but something you must try once in your life.
- Corpse Reviver – again, one of the best in Boston and the cocktail I dare any non-gin drinker to give a try. Equal parts gin, Lillet Blanc, lemon and Cointreau with a slight absinthe rinse for decadence and complexity to what is otherwise a light refreshing drink. Yvonne’s spin involves flaming absinthe which is admittedly gimmicky but also effective in enhancing the absinthe aroma while also a witty nod to the traditional method of serving absinthe worth a flaming cube of sugar
- Clover Club – a pain in the ass drink to make because of the raspberry and egg white involved (in addition to lemon and gin), so it’s great to see it faithfully executed here. Again, likely the Best in Boston.
- The Rubicon is almost always one of my orders – gin, lemon, flamed rosemary and Chartreuse. It smells just as good as it tastes.
- The Remedy is also a big crowd pleaser – tequila, mezcal, lime, ginger and honey in just the right proportions
- The Ward 8 – yes, I know the Ward 8 is an old semi-classic and one of the very very few Boston originals but like most orange juice cocktails its original incarnation is a hot mess that’s a MINOR upgrade from a fucking Tequila Sunrise. However it is rumored to have been invented RIGHT HERE in the Locke Ober days when Boston’s Ward 8 delivered a (probably corrupt) electoral win to Martin Lomasney in 1898, so it kinda had to be one the menu. Thank God (or the closest cocktail equivalent of it, a collaboration between our favorite beverage director ever Will Thompson and cocktail historian David Wondrich) for a vastly improved version of it, adding Palo Cortado sherry (one of the driest sherries_ to the usual base of rye, orange and lemon juice and grenadine (because nothing says OMG HELP ME more than a triple hit of fruit to a non-tiki cocktail)
Now, even if Katie isn’t in the house (or serving your seat), you’re in good hands. More than any other spot in Boston, Yvonne’s has a Murderer’s Row of mixology talent behind the bar. We’ve had wonderful nights with Nick (whose technique is wonderful to watch), Sebastian (who we first met at Ruka when it was spectacular), and Sabrina (who gave me perhaps the best daiquiri/tiki mashup EVER ever with Denizens Rum, Falernum, Orgeat and Demerara), in addition to several others whose names are lost to our history.
On THIS particular night, we scurried over to Yvonne’s after seeing the Book of Mormon – technically our second viewing but really kind of our first since our first viewing about 3 years back was marred with audio difficulties throughout the first act. THIS time we got most of the dialogue and were completely appalled by the raunchy, sacrilegious, profane dialogue and lyrics mocking serious topics such as infant AND reptile rape, and the plight of Africans under the thumb of tribal warlords, and saying EFF YOU to God Himself. So yeah, we fucking laughed our heads off and only felt a little bad about it because we were seated next to ACTUAL (and unamused) Mormons. OK, I’m lying … if you can somehow manage to see the Book of Mormons next to offended Mormons, I COMPLETELY recommend it.
Note: I’ve known plenty of Mormons who LOVE the Book of Mormon … and you gotta hand it to the Church of Latter Day Saints’ marketing gurus, they know how to reach heathens like no other:
ANYWAYYYYY … on this night our safety reservation came through for us because it was one of those rare nights when Lorri’s mutant superpower of conjuring bar seats in the most exclusive of places wasn’t successful and we had to settle for prime low top seats (still so valuable that our host had to eject some vultures who were ambling in that direction) like mere mortals.
Lorri ordered from Another Katie (also, blonde, also welcoming, also precise and knowledgeable with our orders … and had many nice things to say about working with the O.G. Katie) and went for the Rhythm Nation (a Rum Old Fashioned with Ango and Orange BItters), which was a rare unbalanced misfire rom Yvonne’s: While the rums were well chosen, the demerara simple syrup was too heavy in combination with the residual sweetness of the (probably overproof) rum and the ango, orange bitters and orange peel were not enough to keep it from being an overly sweet concoction (to be fair, it’s VERY easy to overshoot the simple syrup in a rum old fashioned, especially if you’re using what is probably a 2:1 demerara syrup – I typically hedge my bets with rum old fashioneds and use another liqueur for sweetness and depth like Giffard Banane Bresil or an orange liqueur like Dry Orange Curacao).
I went with the Rubicon, which never fails:
For our second round, I badgered Lorri into getting a Scotch that was promising on three levels: 21 years, an Old Pulteney (one of our favorites, from the northern-most mainland distillery in Scotland (that gimmicky newcomer be damned) where you can taste the salt spray in the whisky) and an independent bottle from Gordon and Macphail, the gold standard for indie bottlers. We eagerly tried it and … pffffffffttt … it was aggressively MEH, actually more MEH than the regular Old Pulteney 21 which gets its ass kicked by the regular Old Pulteney 17 (I guess there’s such a thing as Too-Old-Pulteney). We actually ended up seeing the same exact bottle a few days later at another place.
For my second, I requested a Dr. Funk from Sebastian (who we recognized at the Library Bar) because Sebastian introduced me to this drink of extremely bizarre origin back from our Summer of Ruka. There WAS an actual Dr. Bernhard Funk of German origin who somehow ended up in Samoa and treated Robert Louis Stevenson (yes, the Treasure Island/ Jekyll and Hyde author) in his final days.
Well, Dr. Funk was apparently a better mixologist than a doctor since Stevenson croaked at the tender age of 44 while his creation, the Dr Funk cocktail STILL lives on as a pre-tiki Tiki drink (and the only one that has bona-fide Polynesian origin). It has many variations, mostly involving Dark Rum, Absinthe, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, Grenadine, and Soda Water and comes colors ranging from red to pink to queasily purple. So yeah, it’s basically a complete abomination of a cocktail but it’s a uniquely dry and refreshing tiki cocktail that makes me stupidly happy and I will always order it from Sebastian, my personal Dr. Funk.
And so ended another memorable night at Yvonne’s, our favorite downtown Boston bar.
PROTIP: Yvonne’s is a stone’s throw from other excellent Downtown Crossing (DTX) bars such as the bar at No. 9 Park, the sushi and Japanese empire at Pabu, the affordable premium whiskey at Legal Crossing, the beer experts at Stoddard’s, the huge and solid Merchant, the tiny yet sneakily good hotel bar at Godfrey’s and the faux-divey/actually-crafty JM Curley’s. We say this only because we think you’re more likely to go for Yvonne’s if you know you can make a cocktail crawl out of it OR if you have excellent backups in mind.