After our outrageously fun tour of Lowell with Danna & Tom (industry pros from ICOB Burlington), Lorri & I felt like we had to pull out the big guns for a tour on our turf: The Fort Point and DTX (Downtown Crossing) areas of Boston.
“Tours” are posts about a night (or nights) of many bars, many cocktails, many experiences in one neighborhood or city. They’re similar to “Pub Crawls” in terms of stamina requirements, hazy details, and occasional regrets … but dissimilar in that we hardly ever go to actual “pubs”.
“The Regulars” are posts on places that Lorri and I have been to often enough to recommend with great confidence … well, to drinkers we have great confidence in.
Being the kind of guy who gets a perverse kick out of overplanning drinking experiences, I drew up the following initial battle plan, limiting the list to 10 locations that were within stumbling distance of each other (except for a single Lyft from Fort Point to DTX)
- Drink / Gold Bar
- Row 34
- Oak & Rowan (new to us)
- Lolita Cocina (new to us)
- JM Curley
- No. 9 Park
It was actually pretty difficult to limit the list to 10, as Fort Point and DTX are two of the most densely packed cocktail & whiskey neighborhoods in all of Massachusetts. Obviously, there was no way our livers would survive a trip to all 10 – part of the fun of a proper pub crawl is having a loose plan but letting yourselves feel your way through the night.
We started at Drink since Danna & Tom had never been to Boston’s undisputed cocktail mecca. While B Side Lounge, Silvertone and several other joints can claim to be the pioneers of Beantown’s cocktail renaissance, Drink was where the revolution picked up the torches and started sending the status quo to the guillotines.
Drink’s history is well documented in many places (Punch.com’s writeup is especially good), but here are the basics: In 2008 rock star restauranteur Barbara Lynch, coming off of her triumph at No. 9 Park (still sporting a fantastic bar) unleashed bartender John Gertsen on a subterranean space in the not-yet-trendy Fort Point neighborhood. Reflective of Lynch’s uncompromising ambition, Drink literally bet the house on the faith that Boston had enough high end drinkers to support such an establishment. Even a decade later, Drink’s approach still feels thrillingly focused:
- No tables – virtually all of the seats are bar seats, wrapping around three large stations
- No drink menus – this is a place for educated drinkers, but even more so, a place for trusting the artistry and imagination of your bartender
- No entrees – the small list of bar snacks is excellent but clearly designed to support, not overshadow, the main attraction: the cocktails
Drink gets slammed, even on an early Thursday evening, so we planned to meet up shortly after opening time at 4 PM. Yes, that makes it sound we’re setting ourselves up the alcoholic version of the Blue Plate special but starting a drinking tour early is a MUST if you’re going to get several of the most coveted bar seats in the city.
I dropped Lorri off and found some overpriced nearby parking, turned around the corner … and promptly walked past Drink’s virtually unmarked entrance even though I’d been there at least a dozen times.
Drink protip: Just look for Sportello and go DOWN the stairs.
I circled back like a total n00b and descended down the stairs, pausing to take this soon-to-be-classic “dork takes unintended reflective selfie” photo (yes, like a complete coward I checked around to make sure no one was looking).
Lorri had already taken a ride into the (non) Danger Zone with the familiar “Naked and Famous” (being equal parts Mezcal, Lime, Aperol and Yellow Chartreuse you’d think it’s an impossible drink to eff up … but it happens).
Our amusingly wry bartender Rob did NOT eff it up and then took my “something with sherry” challenge down a dark, bitter and delicious path with a “Remember the Alimony”. Sherry, Cynar and Gin is not a combo I’d casually throw out to a new patron … but this IS Drink and I did ask for sherry (not something a novice would ask for), so Rob’s choice was on the money …. in more ways than one. My alimony had just been adjusted 2 months ago – shouldn’t the drink sell better if it were called “Help You Forget the Alimony”??
I told Lorri to text Danna & Tom so they wouldn’t end up wandering Congress Street … and of course they missed the entrance too, as we could see through our basement level windows. Wry Rob said it’s a kick to count how many times people pass by the entrance.
Sadly, Danna & Tom found it on just their second try and upon taking their seats said the one thing I dreaded: “Oh we’re underdressed!”. Of course being young & hip industry folks they were perfectly dressed for a pub crawl on a steamy Boston night.
On the other hand, Lorri and I had just fallen into the Deadly Escalating Couples Wardrobe Feedback Loop, where I plan to wear shorts and flip flops , then Lorri thinks sundress, then I think “Oh Geez, I better wear pants”, then Lorri thinks “OK, now I have to go a LITTLE stylish” … and it escalates until I’m in a fucking burgundy tux with tails and a paisley bowtie and Lorri’s wearing Gaultier and That Hat She Bought For The Kentucky Derby. Maybe not THAT bad, but it did inspire me to get my second drink going ASAP!
A new bartender Will came by and immediately won me over when I asked him for “Cognac, but not a Sidecar or Vieux Carre” by shaking his head in a “but of COURSE not, we gentlemen are far beyond that” manner and delivered a Sasha Petraske classic*** the Champs Elysees (Cognac, Green Chartreuse, Lemon). I’ve made them before but never had a proper one until now … and it was gorgeousness in a glass.
*** edit: Fred Yarm, long time cocktail journalist turned masterful bartender informs us that the Champs Elysee is NOT a Petraske original but was documented in the classic 1930 Savoy cocktails book referencing an even older book in 1925 (see comment below). Thanks Fred!
Will nodded towards Petraske’s posthumous classic “Regarding Cocktails” which was on their bookshelf and I was reminded once again of Petraske’s minimalist magic – a few ingredients in perfect proportion executed with monk-like precision. It was rumored that John Steinbeck would sometimes slave an entire day to perfect one sentence – he and Sasha would have been great pals (or killed each other in an immaculate steel cage death match).
For Lorri, Will knocked out another item from “Regarding Cocktails”, the Fallback. Featuring rye, applejack,, sweet vermouth and amaro (probably Montenegro), it definitely wasn’t a typical Lorri drink … but isn’t that part of the Drink experience? It was complex yet surprisingly easy to drink.
Danna & Tom got a double serving of mezcal cocktails, the Las Palabras ( a Last Word with mezcal instead of gin) aaaaand … some other variation on that.
Bartender Nerd Alert: I was silently overjoyed to see that Drink’s choice of jigger was also mine! The Oxo Steel Angled Jigger is my favorite because:
- You don’t have to hold it when you’re pouring into it
- It has measurements from 1/4 oz to 2 oz
- It doesn’t drip all over your hands like the double sided jiggers
- It washes in the dishwasher much better than Japanese jiggers (well, until the markings wear off)
- They stack on top of each other perfectly
All of these benefits aside, I’ve always felt a little lazy for preferring these. They’re definitely not as precise as the Japanese jigger, due to their width and you definitely can’t due the flashy jigger spinning and juggling and double pouring that makes my heart go a-flutter. But screw it, if it’s good enough for Drink, it’s more than good enough for me, I think.
And sure enough, Danna said not a minute later ,”Hey, look at those jiggers they’re using!”. GMTA, right? Or maybe not – I can’t see Jackson Cannon letting those things in his establishments.
At this point it was time to get going to our next stop (Gold Bar was just one flight up but only had 6 bar seats and opened at 5), but I made the mistake of mentioning the Red Hook (another classic from “Regarding Cocktails” but by Enzo Errico). Will was all over THAT and pulverized my drink pacing strategy with the THIRD perfectly executed Petraskian cocktail. We ordered the truffle fries as reinforcements!
OK, NOW we’re ready to go …. but noooo, Will whips out the farewell Cynar toast, which is met with a triple “YES!” and a single “ERRRRRR…” from Lorri. Undeterred, Will smoothly substituted Pierre Ferrand 1940 cognac for Lorri. I noted how the Fernet handshake (Fernet being Liquid Kryptonite to my wife) had hilariously given way to the Cynar handshake (also a Lorri un-favorite) and Danna said that Sfumato was starting to become THE NEW HANDSHAKE among those behind the stick. I’d never had Sfumato but figured it it was half as much fun to DRINK as it was to SAY, I was ready!
Yes, there are bartenders who are gracious, fun, devastatingly skilled and deeply knowledgeable, but Will’s real gift was being able to effortlessly share his enthusiasm for his craft with us. We would go on to encounter several terrific bartenders on this night (compatriot Rob definitely being among them), but Will was the one we’d all remember as the top of the heap.
Next Stop: The Gold Bar