Being the greatest wife ever, Lorri circled the last of the Hawthorne’s Swizzle Sundays as a MUST-GO for us, even though crushed/pebble ice drinks and tiki drinks are solidly in MY half of our drinking Venn diagram and solidly NOT in any of the overlapping area between us.
It didn’t hurt that Sean Frederick (familiar of a pile of places around Boston) was the guest bartender that day OR that we hadn’t been to the Hawthorne in far too long. So long, in fact that I wondered if it was STILL really THE bar to go to for the most civilized, most cultivated and the most overall skillfully executed drinks in all of Boston Proper. Those of you who know us have heard us rave about Drink, the Gold Bar, Yvonne’s, Wink and Nod, JM Curley’s and the world renowned Eastern Standard (just a stone’s throw from the Hawthorne) … but still, if I had to choose ONE bar within the formal city limits of Boston to drink in for the rest of my life, the Hawthorne would have been my choice for the last 3 or 4 years.
Kind of a quasi-speakeasy in the Hotel Commonwealth (just take an IMMEDIATE right once you go through the front doors and descend down to the bar), the Hawthorne is the smallest and most under the radar of the Jackson Cannon universe of bars in our great Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
If I were to get started on the multitude of ways that Jackson Cannon has been the most influential figure EVER in Boston cocktail culture (and of much less import, my personal cocktail ethos), I’d never get to cover today’s experience. I’d go on and on about his Jack Rose Society (featuring the highest cocktail talent per square foot in history when he roomed with Brother Cleve and Misty Kalkofen), how his brilliantly easy and intense grenadine recipe finally cracked that category for me, how his citrus knife developed with R. Murphy is my most prized cocktail tool … I’ll stop right now. It doesn’t help that Danna from ICOB and everyone else who works with him that we’ve met says that he’s just a regular guy. FAKE NEWS, PEOPLE!!!
Our afternoon started off miserably when Lorri and I took my daughter to Crazy Rich Asians (not the miserable part – even though seeing it is practically a requirement to maintain one’s Asian American bona-fides, the movie’s terrifically crafted and transcends rom com tropes and it was actually our second viewing – even my fully Caucasian wife could appreciate the dumpling scene). But something Lorri had in the theater hit her hard on the way back and it was one of those pull-over-now-i-don’t-care-if-it’s-the-highway situations that involves an absurd level of vomit. Clearly, our reunion with the Hawthorne was to be postponed indefinitely.
OOOOOOOR WAS IT? As fast as the nausea hit, it was gone and Lorri rallied and said she wanted to give the final Swizzle Sunday of the year a go. Personally, I would just pack it in for the day, lay in bed and milk the situation for as much saltines, ginger ale and chicken noodle soup as Lorri could tolerate but clearly my wife is made of sterner stuff and two hours later we were on our way to Fenway.
The Hawthorne’s small patio was packed but festively decked out for Swizzle Sunday, the “OFTD” sign being an instant alert that these drinks were not going to be the trashy mai-tai and pina coladas that spring up like weeds anytime warm weather and the outdoors meet with rum. “OFTD” is of course the sublime overproof dark rum made by Plantation under the collaboration of nearly every living rum celebrity on the planet (including Cate, Berry, Wondrich and McGee). OFTD officially stands for “Old Fashioned Traditional Dark” but it’s a poorly kept secret that insiders call it “Oh Fuck That’s Delicious” which is a testament to its luscious flavor triumphing over its mind-bending 138 proof.
All of the swizzles on the menu were enticing, but we BOTH went for the OFTD Swizzle (not a great move blog-wise, but what do you expect from rum lemmings?).
The OFTD Swizzles were sublime, even for tiki and absinthe averse Lorri. Strong, rich and pure, without being overly sweet or overpoweringly absinthe flavored (a mortal sin for Lorri). It reminded me once again that a common hack at NYC’s Death and Co. is to add a drop of absinthe to any cocktail that needs a subliminal boost in complexity or depth.
We spotted the man himself, Jackson Cannon on the patio sampling Sean’s Watermelon Swizzle and chatting up some patrons as if he were a REGULAR GUY … but we WERE NOT FOOLED and retreated into the main bar in the Hawthorne for some much needed food and more relaxed surroundings.
The bar at the Hawthorne is small (maybe 10 seats) but simple and elegant, as is the surrounding lounge. This is a place to appreciate the artistry of the bartenders, not to party it up or to drown a traveler’s sorrows. We followed up our swizzles with some bartender challenges: “Something with Batavia Arrack” (for me) and “I Like Mezcal Drinks Like the Naked and Famous But Not That And Nice Try I’ve Had a Ton of Division Bells Too”.
Our bartender Caitlin (yes, that spelling is a total stab in the dark, but really is there a lovely name with MORE nasty variations than Katelyn/Kaitlynn/etc? Someone please correct my spelling if you know better) was a Hawthorne bartender through and through – dignified but engaging, effortlessly confident and knowledgeable but understated, as smooth as a high end hotel bartender but as creative as the most mustachioed and arm-banded speakeasy slinger.
Catilin more or less Jedi Mind-tricked me into a Rum Old Fashioned – we’ve had probably a dozen good to great rum old fashioneds (the Giffard Banane Brésil tinged one from The Ghost Walks being the latest revelation) and I can produce a crowd pleasing version from memory so it’s normally not an exciting recommendation for me.. But something about the way Caitlin offered it “Batavia is one of the rums we use in OUR Rum Old Fashioned … have you had it?” made me feel like I was missing something (yes, I know that Batavia might not technically considered a rum but tell my tastebuds otherwise) ….
… and geez, I had no idea what I was missing. A mix of Batavia Arrack, El Dorado 12 and Appleton Reserve with Peychaud’s and Ango and a dual orange/lemon peel turns out to make a rum old fashioned that has the elegance of cognac and the richness of dark chocolate … no, no mole bitters … I asked and was told that THAT dark chocolate flavor note comes naturally from the blend of rums and Batavia. That’s the kind of next-level cocktail wizardry that inspires and haunts me. How do you take several ingredients and make them produce a flavor that NONE of them have on their own?? I feel like a n00b raving about a Rum Old Fashioned but you gotta give cred where it’s due.
Lorri’s drink started ominously with mint (Lorri Strike One!) and cucumber (John and Lorri Strike Two!) muddled with lime, Yellow Chartreuse and mezcal (in place of the usual tequila) … but once again Caitlin knew better. Somehow this cocktail had the freshness of cucumber without the vegetal nastiness and the effervescence of mint without its overbearing chlorophyll presence, all in service of the mezcal (it was a Del Maguey, so probably Vida?). Brilliant, one of a kind and a psychic-level recommendation. Caitlin called it a variation on the Silver Monk which Google revealed to be a creation of … Jesus, how many secret masterpieces has this guy created? … Phil Ward.
It was clear that we had to up our game if we were to be even a mild challenge to this bartender. Lorri went double or nothing, saying “This was great – you got anything else like this?”. Caitlin remembered from our previous order that Lorri mentioned that she liked Aperol but NOT Campari and produced a drink called the Spitfire (NOT related to the cognac Spitfire from Tony Congiliaro, who is NOT the beautifully tragic Tony Conigliaro of Red Sox lore). THIS Spitfire had mezcal and chili infused Aperol and could not have been MORE in Lorri’s wheelhouse (unless it was served by Channing Tate-yum on Ko Samui island with a Rosebank 21 chaser while Taylor Swift and a resurrected Prince serenaded her with a medley of Brandi Carlile tunes).
Undeterred, I went nuclear and gave probably my most idiotic drink order ever : “I really don’t like Citadelle gin … can you make me a drink that will MAKE me like it?”. Instead of throwing me out like I deserved, Caitlin made something with Citadelle gin, housemade ginger, and lemon with a rose water rinse. It wasn’t to Lorri’s taste but I thought it was a total knockout – succulent, subtly spicy and refined.
I’ve tried to work with Citadelle (on my friend Augie’s estimable recommendation – check out his fascinating mad scientist blog at http://blog.auddex.com/) especially since it’s one of the most respected gins that you can get for bargain prices. While I respect its varied botanicals, I just couldn’t make them work in my favor (especially for my company’s cocktail hour where gin can be a hard sell). “I just tame it with some spice”, Caitlin casually remarked. OH OK, why didn’t anyone tell me it was SO EASY?? (I’m sure it’s not).
We had one more shared drink, so we went a third time into mezcal and got Under the Volcano (possibly named after the Albert Finney movie from the 80’s), a Chichicapa mezcal (smokier than Vida) and Lustau Solera Sherry down & brown concoction (with flamed orange peel) graciously split into two glasses. Completing Lorri’s “Bizarro Night of Cocktails”, she even liked this one even though it had a stiff amount of sherry.
Ultimate verdict? As much as we love the heavyweight Eastern Standard down the street (the most famous Jackson Cannon joint) and several other wonderful places within the Boston city limits, the Hawthorne is still SOLIDLY my Boston Proper cocktail champ for its understated serenity, consistent excellence and ability to inflict delicious shock and awe surprises to our jaded palates.
Long Live the Hawthorne!