Lou Saban can be found behind the Oak Long bar at the Copley Plaza Hotel. Recently he found himself down south.
By Lou Saban:
Recently I took an investigative trip to the annual Florida-Georgia college football game, which is also known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (in the name of science, of course). This game is more than a football game, it’s a celebration of a rivalry that has existed since 1914 (the same year as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) and was played at a neutral site in Jacksonville, Florida for the first time the following year. There is a lot tradition to be sure, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it was officially named the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. After some extensive research I can tell you for certain that those people know how to have a good time.
Having been one of your friendly neighborhood bartenders for years now, I can tell you one thing for certain: Boston is a cocktail town. We have a long and storied history with spirits dating back hundreds of years from when we helped pioneer the distillation of rum for the New World. Today we love rum, vodka, whiskey and everything else. Shaken, stirred, with and without bitters, egg whites, infusions, rinsed glasses, orange oil, and almost any pieces of advice written by our drunken counterparts from the 1800s. As a lover of both cocktails and college football I thought it would be a shame to miss this combination of both. So I decided to go right into the heart of darkness… that’s right … Jacksonville.
Despite being largest city (area, not population) in the United States, Jacksonville has a reputation for being just a bit nondescript. It was the host of the 2005 Super Bowl where it was lambasted by many writers and bloggers for its lack of amenities. While there may be some truth to this criticism, it’s also pretty unfair. No, Jacksonville is not New York or Paris but New York and Paris are already doing a great job of being New York and Paris. It’s a sunny, friendly place with beautiful beaches and Waffle Houses as far as the eye can see (stop reading right now if you are anti-waffle). If I had to describe Jacksonville in one word it would be: nice. Despite its shortcomings, once a year it becomes host to an estimated 150,000 tailgaters for a game that these guests really care about. My good buddy
Kyle Powell (of Backbar) and I flew down to see what people are so excited about and, more importantly, what they are drinking.
So what is cocktail culture in Jacksonville and at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party? Kyle and I interviewed about 100 people ranging from bartenders to cab drivers to fraternity pledges asking them two simple questions: What is your favorite cocktail? Why? The answers differed slightly but the most frequent response was a bewildered look followed by a sheepish answer of “…beer?” Other popular answers included: whiskey ginger, jack and diet, rum and coke, and the occasional bloody mary. It quickly became apparent that this was a question that these revelers had not only never been asked before, but also something that they had never even considered. Out of all the people interviewed we probably got about four drinks that had more than two ingredients. The responses did not change all that much when we polled the local bartenders. The majority simply gave us the “can you stop talking and order a drink?” face before saying they just drink beer. We did, however, discover some bright spots including Melanie at the Mellow Mushroom who loves a cocktail of her own recipe that is made up of gin, elderflower liqueur, basil, and soda. So why no Last Words or Vieux Carres? It became very apparent that in Jacksonville, it’s not what you are drinking but why you are drinking. Very few people were interested in the balance of acid and sugar in their drink or whether they should use one or two dashes of bitters to bring the whole thing together. They want something light, smooth, and easy to drink so they can get in the proper mindset to have positive social interactions. They want a sweet mixer to match the sweet southern palate. They want to cover up the flavor of the booze so they can drink without worrying about having whiskey face in the pictures that are going to be posted on Facebook the next day. There isn’t a big cocktail scene in Jacksonville because people don’t really seem to be that interested. It’s capitalism.
We are very lucky to live in a city like Boston where you have so many great options when you want to sip a well-balanced libation that hits parts of your palate that you didn’t even know you had. As a history-centric place we love not only the flavors but also the story behind the ratios and ingredients. At the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party they are more interested in the communal activity. The girls can’t wait to throw on their cocktail dresses and the guys can’t wait to show off the new addition to their tailgate set up. Kyle and I had an unbelievable time meeting new people and talking about their experiences and ideas. We drank their cocktails, laughed at their jokes, and didn’t really care that no one had ever heard of a Ramos Gin Fizz. This Keystone will do just fine thanks. If you ever find yourself in Jacksonville you might not find the Louvre but you can definitely have a great time. I personally recommend going to see the lovely and talented Jenine at Rogue Bar and hospitality expert Paul at North Beach Fish Camp. They will definitely make you feel at home.
So is it even a cocktail party? Nah. As one young lady said its just a fancy name for a trashy party. What the denizens of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party lack in sophisticated cocktails they more than make up for in good times. And whether you are dreaming about that next Natty Light or that Sazerac with a Pernod rinse, 8 dashes of Peychaud’s, lemon oil but no lemon garnish, and just a little bit of sugar, isn’t that really the point anyway?
What I like most about the cocktail culture today is the diversity of people involved- take Paul Costello. Not behind a bar, in fact running his own company, and yet making some of the best bitters around. He generously gives us a recipe at the bottom of his post below, any inquires to:
BeaconStBitters on Facebook or on Twitter @BeaconStBitters
Prior to cocktail hour, Paul can be found mixing up unique marketing solutions for brands like Kimberly Clark, Live Nation, Olympia Sports, and Hinckley Yachts at the Boston-based agency he founded in 2010, Agency 180 (BBJ "5 Startups to Follow"). He is Owner of Beacon St. Bitters, Co-Founder of Pure n' Raw (Caribbean artisan organic foods), an advisor/investor to local start-ups, and business school guest lecturer. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College, MBA from Babson and was recently named to BostInno’s "50 on Fire."
By Paul Costello of Beacon St. Bitters
Holidays and Sunday dinners at home have always been a very special time with
my family and are how I became interested in bitters. Before my siblings and I were old enough to join in, I loved watching my father prepare pre-dinner drinks – whether it was cracking out ice for Gin & Tonics or the curious process of opening a wine bottle. From their earliest dates, my parents collected unique restaurant cocktail stirrers – and I remember looking through the colorful collection as my dad mixed up something for company or my mother as she cooked. Often, it was an Old Fashioned, which involved the small, distinct Angostura bitters bottle.
Through college and the years after, I didn’t think much about bitters – though I was an avid homebrewer, toured any brewery within reach and tried any new beer I could find. Visiting Europe made me realize just how much a beer could tell you about a region and its history. I soon added the beautiful coffee table book Drinks by Vincent Gasnier to my beer tasting/cooking books. The spirits and cocktails section pulled me in.
Not long after, I began trying to make more than my old favorite: Gin & Tonic. It also helped that more bars/restaurants in my Boston and Chicago neighborhoods were focusing on both craft beers & cocktails. The first bitters cocktail to become a personal favorite was the “Joey Joe-Joe” at Silvertone – which I still order every time. I’m lucky enough to live around the corner from The Hawthorne and Eastern Standard- candy stores for the cocktail hunter.
After receiving a perfect gift for any cocktail lover: Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons, I was determined to make as many of the bitters cocktail recipes my bar could muster. It helped that a good friend took a job in London and was kind enough to leave me his ample bar, including: Campari, Luxardo, Punt e Mes, and all sorts of Gins and Whiskies.
I like tinkering and figuring out how things work, so it was only a matter of time before I wanted to make bitters that matched the taste I wanted for certain cocktails. It also helped that my office is close to both Christina’s spice shop and the Boston Shaker – constant sources of ingredients and inspiration. With a bit of effort and patience, you can make great bitters at home – most recipes include 3 primary parts: high proof spirit (usually 100 proof vodka or rye), flavoring agents (e.g., dried orange zest for orange bitters) and bittering agents (e.g., cloves, cardamom, allspice).
Not only did starting to make bitters satisfy some personal curiosity, it exposed me to the creative underworld of Boston mixologists and small batch distillers. As Jackson Cannon noted in an interview a while back, the cocktail scene in Boston is a bit unique in that it is one of collaboration and stimulation between these talented individuals. The fact that a marketing agency president can start Beacon St. Bitters and participate in this dialog around new recipes and ideas shows you just how inclusive this local industry can be.
I’ve come to enjoy bitters for their sense of history – their connection to the classic cocktail culture of the past (another great book To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene). While at the same time, they serve as the “salt & pepper” for the amazing new phase of cocktails being created by industry pioneers. Add to this, they are seasonal in their flavor profiles, and new ideas constantly present themselves- Lavender or Grapefruit bitters with a Gin & Tonic in the summer, leading into Cherry Vanilla or Toasted Orange bitters with Rye-based drinks in the winter. These attributes make bitters a great conversation piece, and their bittering ingredients a natural hangover cure when added to club soda.
One of the most popular Beacon St. Bitters experimental flavors this summer was Blackberry Pablano Ginger- a perfect enhancer to most tequila-based cocktails:
Beacon St. Bitters- Blackberry Pablano Ginger Bitters
Makes about 20 ounces
1.5 cup fresh Blackberries- clean, muddle in 1 Quart mason jar
1/8 cup Hot pepper (Pablano & Scotch Bonnet work well)- clean, remove seeds and dice
1/2 cup Ginger- clean, peel gently with spoon and slice
1/8 cup Orange peel- zest and allow to dry
Heat on 300 for 5 minutes on cookie sheet to start release of oils
- 1/2 tsp Juniper
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Coriander
- 2 Green Cardamom Seeds
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks Crushed
- 1/2 tsp Quassia Chips
- 2 Cloves
After heating, move ingredients to mortar and gently crush with pestle- add to mason jar
Add 2 cups high-proof vodka, stir mixture, seal, store in cool dark place- shake once a day
After 3.5 weeks, add:
3 oz of water
75 oz agave nectar
After 3 days, filter, decant bitters into small bottles and label- bitters should be used within the next year for optimal flavor
Try 3 dashes in your Margarita or favorite off dry Tequilla, Gin or Vodka cocktail.
Slammed by Justin Stone
Once upon a time, I had a job with a chair, a desk and a door – a job that required nothing more than my presence, contribution and consistent delivery of what were called “deliverables”. Some of you out there in the readership may have this sort of position at your workplace. There may even be some in the food and beverage industry holding management positions who also do a fair amount of clerical desk work during the early afternoon or wee hours while at the restaurant, years past their last floor shift. As a manager at Tavern Road, I spent a good part of my late night ensconced at table 61, click-clacking away at spreadsheets, reports and ScheduleFly while my bartenders poured endless glasses of libations till the bitter end of 2:00 AM, commencing a 13 hour shift with aplomb. On Friday, October 4th, the tables turned (no pun intended) and I found myself back behind the bar in an apron carrying two buckets of ice, a bar back once again.
I have been considering apt cinematic comparisons for my return behind the bar over the past three days while my body ached and cracked at all the hinge points. Eastwood's “Unforgiven” comes to mind, as does Disney's “Fantasia”. At its worst, the job reminds me of the rooftop finale of Ghostbusters, four guys debating whether or not to cross the streams [read: whiskey]. Two nights ago, during a fitful sleep, I had a dishwasher dream, cycling glassware in some kind of Cohen brothers Lebowski abstract hallucination. My Chuck Taylor Converse have gone from clean, comfortable things I wear to the bar on Sunday afternoon to some vague semblance of the footwear chosen by coal shovelers on a steam engine. I can hear the smack-slam of John Henderson's tins in a double shake over and over in my head like the inner-workings of the Iron Giant. Smack-slam-shake. Visions appear, a panoply of three-deep needy faces, their eyes desperately trying to make contact with mine while I dodge their lasers and look for dirty glassware, a sci-fi zombie movie of sorts. And the yoga poses, all of the odd positions required of the bar back, a less-than-rejuvenating series of vinyasa-esque motions: the “duck under service bar”, the “third shelf bitters reach”, the “dishwasher to dry rack pivot” and the all-important, “behind you” slide. I am not built, both mentally or physically for this, not yet, and at 34 years young, I still have a lot to learn.
“How's it going?”, asked a line cook as I skid-slid my way through the dish pit towards the walk in, on a mission for an emergency ration of olive brine. “Feels like a snowball fight,” I replied as I feverishly searched the shelves for a funnel to separate the brine from the giant gallon jug in the fridge. The bar, only 12 seats plus another four or so for standing room, filled up fast that Saturday night following my initiation on the 4th. The bartenders and I had a bit of a hurried start, with football fans and random Fort Point wanderers filling the bar at 4:30 PM and not desisting until the witching hour of last call. Friday night was a beating that I had not anticipated on my first night back behind the stick. The bartenders were grateful that I'd been there as support, for it truly was an consistent stream of tickets and revelers. That numb sense of awe that you feel when the drinks and bodies keep coming, well, it wore off on Saturday as I returned to the bar with a sore back and five hours of sleep. On Saturday night I was a man behind the black ball, from start to finish. All three bartenders and I played catch-up during the shift, the bar a Maginot Line, constantly tested by our guest's persistence. The novice does not realize the atrophy one night of high-volume bartending can have on the next night. If your resources aren't reinforced and replenished, the following night will be a consistent 86 of massive proportions. It's a bar back's responsibility to make sure this does not happen, whether it's before, during or after the shift. Fire, reload, repeat.
It's the physical objects, not the guests that end up getting you down. My enemies on Saturday night were a rag-tag bunch of mechanical, man-made dungeon implements and torture devices, from shattered glassware, to the POS and the unmerciful liquor cage lock. The man-killer was a guillotine-styled device that some know as “the service bar”. There are various kinds in the bartending world. You have your average, “over counter” static service bar, where servers pick up their drinks as they are passed over the bar. Easy done, but frequently in the way of guests, either to the right or left of an elbow. Many bar designers place their service bar towards the end of the L shape on a hinge, away from the reach of guests, in such a place that limits the transit of the bartender freely from behind the bar. Our select species of service bar flips up to allow walking access to the bar. Good for the servers, but a portal straight to hell for the 6'7'' bar back.
I have not traversed a lot of sewers in my short time on this fair earth, but on Saturday night I was under that service bar at least 20 times, in and out like a Ninja Turtle. To add insult to future injury, both trash barrels sit right in front of the pass, along with the service wells and ice pit. It's a wet, filthy, three-foot high world of knees and crotches. To get under the service bar without toppling the cocktails resting above my head, I have to pull some kind of “Dwarf in The Hobbit” rabbit hole maneuver that's meant for no more than the mightiest of penguins. One false move to raise myself back to standing height and your “Carroll Gardens”, Allagash Black and prosecco split turns into a Newtonian physics experiment. When the going got tough, we had guests standing directly in front of the service bar exit, me a troll from the underworld in a wet apron asking them politely to move or else be trolled. Here's a good ergonomics experiment for those in the business – How does one get two buckets of ice under the service bar in a full crouch, past a busy bartender without tipping six drinks and tripping on the mats? Answer: you can't, but I managed to get it done in some odd mish-mash of parkour and brute force altruism. I'd like to thank my bartenders for accommodating my passage into and out of Hades throughout the night and I'm looking to Advil as my next corporate sponsor.
All jokes aside, high-volume bar operation is a ballet fit for only the mightiest of hospitality pirates. Servers cannot relate, nor can managers. At the end of the night, the very bitter tip of the cigarette break at 4:30 AM, the bartenders magically transform into placid money counting machines, dolefully recounting the night's highs and lows: “The girls at 10-13, how did you not get a number?”, “Did you catch that chick putting her cocktail in her purse?”, “Anyone know that pizza delivery we got the other night?” At the end of a 14 hour shift, there's nothing to do but reflect, call a cab, count your money and if you're lucky, crack a High Life, put your feet up for a while. Me, I walked it off around the dining room, marveling at how in just a week's time, I went from administrative paragon to whatever you want to call bar-backing (Russian factory proletariat?). There is some nobility, a vague reward that you served your guests in the most physical of manners. The journey of clean, chilled glass to cocktail, into a guest's hand and back onto the glass rack is quite the tale. It's worthy of a children's picture book at least. I wish Maurice Sendak was around to capture it, maybe we could call it The Night Kitchen, although I believe that's already been done.
The arrival of fall brings with it the nesting season at Chez Stone. We have always been a wandering tribe, a move marking the end of the summer; whether it was relocating to Seoul, Shanghai or Yarmouthport. This season, I have an actual house to call my headquarters and a host of accoutrements which complete the domestic experience in such a way that I can surely spend my nights off comfortably ensconced in the living room. The nomadic, off-site nature of dining or hospitality professionals tends to lead us to rely on our restaurant kitchens and satellite bars for sustenance. We rarely see a full fridge with fresh produce filling the crisper drawer. The bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth tends to linger on the door next to a bottle of Fever Tree tonic. Strangely enough, on my nights off, I'm usually found out on the town, paying tribute to friends behind the stick or catching a bite on the bar at my usual haunt. The dishwasher is always empty and my glassware rarely moves from its place in the china cabinet.
Yet with a new home and roommates comes the chance that old habits might fall by the wayside and give way to a more conservative way of living. A little more space goes a long way, as does the opportunity to share that space with friends and family - to entertain, imbibe in the comfort of the dining room and maybe watch some football at home for once. I was raised this way. Never throughout my teens and early twenties did I ever feel the propensity to flee the home, post up at the local tavern and stare into the backbar mirror. This was a habit developed over years of nightlife work, not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not the base material for building any sort of affable home environment.
It took a new roommate to prove to me, through the simple act of leaving a trail of metaphorical breadcrumbs, that a cocktail at home is just as good as one on the road or in the city. You can take that any way you like, but as a writer and hospitality professional, I often define scenarios by the evidence apparent to my eyes. Just ask your local bartender or service industry friend, when they walk into a bar or restaurant, the goggles turn on. We check out the glassware, the bar top, the settings on the tables, details. It is how we begin to build the story of our evening. Call it a survival mechanism, call it compulsion after years of prepping environments to receive guests. We care about the signs and when the tea leaves read positive, there's something fine just around the corner.
So, what was this constellation of domestic breadcrumbs that lulled me into a sense of joy and optimism for the coming fall and beyond? It was a simple collection of beaker, bar spoon, strainer and glassware, a cocktail set left in the sink from the night before. The sight of it struck me in the way a good Garrison Keillor story does: with charm, a certain niche sentiment of domesticity and the reflection that I live with people who care enough to remain here on an off night, mix a drink and enjoy the splendor of our space. Call me a sentimentalist, but when you've spent the past six or seven years in various living spaces, from a 400 square foot apartment in Korea, to a barren two bedroom flat in Shanghai, a little cocktail set sitting in the sink says, “People live here and they like it. You should too.” As I said, I spend my nights out, but now I've got a perfectly good excuse on that mid-shift day to scoot home at 10:30 PM, drop a couple of cubes into a beaker and stir up a stiff drink in the quietude of my home. How novel, how old-fashioned.
Maintaining a home inventory of tools and mixing supplies is just as important as keeping a couple of nice reds and whites around for a dinner party. The days of Captain Morgan handles and liters of Coke are so far behind me that their pictures fade in my scrapbook of memories. I might even be in the place to deny they ever existed and get away with it. I know enough of spirits now, and their proper partners in mixology, to fix a drink for myself, maybe a friend or two and catch the second half of a Sox game. I have gone from being a passive bar denizen to an active bar enthusiast. Now, you may just call that a fancy excuse for copious beverage consumption, but I could prove you wrong in a kitchen debate. I have never lived my domestic life with a bottle of Angostura bitters, nor have I ever chosen to keep more than a bottle of bourbon around for more than a week. It's just medicine, after all, good for a swig after a long night's working on my feet. Wrong.
Even if it's five bottles of spirits, a couple of mixing ingredients like bitters, liqueurs or fresh juices, maintaining that home inventory is a critical part of your cocktail repertoire. For every night that you spend at J.M. Curley, Citizen or Backbar, you could be taking in the change of the seasons with a window cracked, a small pitcher of batched sazeracs on the table and a decent album on the speakers. What a novel suggestion for your friends as well: “How about we meet at my place tonight after dinner for a round or two of Corpse Revivers and a couple hands of hold 'em?” At first mention, you may sound like your grandfather, inviting friends to the VFW for cribbage, but with a little nudging, the prospect of homemade drinks and curated company might sound like a welcomed relief. I know that my “married with children” friends understand the necessity of this. I'm looking at the bachelors out there, the ones posting up night after night with a colleague, dropping $11.00 on a few outstanding, yet easily made beverages and fighting the throng of financial district commuters for space by the service bar. Gents, pitch in for some gear, buy a decent ice mold and once a week, make your cocktails at home. You might find the conversation slightly more challenging, in a good way, or the view from your apartment just that much better with a drink in your hand. Homes aren't hammocks, they are, as the good old Corbusier said, “a machine for living.”
Justin Stone is currently a manager at the DiBicarri brother's Tavern Road in Fort Point, Boston. He has worked in the hospitality industry as a doorman, busboy, maître d', server and bartender. In the fall, he will be part of the front of the house team at
Alden and Harlow, Harvard Square, Cambridge.
“Drinking through the Apocalypse” by Justin Stone
The lockdown imposed upon greater Boston and its environs during the post-marathon manhunt spawned a host of unusual scenarios across the city, many tragic and frightening, some, downright awkward. Esquire's Dan McCarthy detailed his own personal lockdown with a one-night stand in hilarious fashion following his release into the wild after the “shelter in place” order was lifted. For many of the city's thirsty citizens, the travel restrictions introduced us to an unusual situation – What do you drink during a siege?
This may surprise some of my bartender friends, but I don't keep a liquor cabinet at home. I never have. A half-case of wine, a six of High Life is the most I have ever stored in the fridge or pantry. A bottle of wine has always been just enough and not too much. Keeping liquor bottles around seems like overkill, for I get my suitable fix from my talented friends around the city and prefer to keep it that way. I cannot imagine what glorious damage I could do with a proper mixing arsenal, five bottles of spirits and some really nice ice in the freezer. It could be that my college years, vodka in the freezer, handle of Jack gathering dust above the cupboards, turned me away from the practice of maintaining an inventory at home. It seemed trite and superfluous. I like my drinks to be taken in bars, amongst the throng. Also possible is the fact that I am insatiable, spontaneous and prone to flights of late night boozy fancy.
I arrived home late on the night of the chaos in Cambridge and Watertown. My brother, an officer in the city, called me around 11:30 and told me to get home and stay home. I woke the next morning to my roommates gathered around the television, one of them said, “Well, I guess you're not going to work today.” The feeling of confinement sunk in over the next hour, coupled with tension of the night's events. I didn't know exactly what had happened to my brother and his friends on duty. Restless, hungry and in need of a stiff afternoon drink, I began to take inventory of what I had on hand to survive the unfolding anxiety and ultimate drudgery of television reporting. In the pantry, ramen noodles, beef liver pate, shallots, gochu-jang, bitter greens and a single, lonely bottle of Bully Boy White Rum.
Needless to say, I had been a poor steward of my pantry. The Bully Boy came to me as a present from my friend Brendan Draper of Island Creek Oyster Bar after I helped him move into his apartment. Fact: If you help a bartender carry his home liquor inventory up three flights of stairs, a bottle is fine compensation. Bully Boy White Rum was a member of our bar inventory last year at Pain D'Avignon in Hyannis along with their lovely American Straight Whiskey. It throws wonderful hints of vanilla when served over ice, but should really be used as a base. I had no choice but to take it, as Thelonious Monk would say, straight, no chaser. We hadn't a mixer suitable for the rum in the apartment, so I took to managing a long day in and out of the Internet and television with the rum served on the rocks, nipping while I clicked my way through news stories. It was a welcomed lubricant for the day's bizarre unfolding, but I sure as hell wished I had a better supply of spirits on hand.
Once I am through this summer's move, I will make it a point to stock up on some essential bottles. I am not going to get carried away. Five solid options are all I need. I am a classicist when it comes to spirits. Brands will be important, as there are an ever-expanding list of options out there for the home mixologist. Gone are the days when I'd rummage through the cabinets for an aged bottle of warm Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth. Let's talk curating a personal cocktail party at the end of the world.
Note: The only guidelines are as follows: Ice is available, one bonus item [Bitters, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup] is allowed, the presence of tins and tools is assumed.
Stephen Shellenberger, Pomodoro: His private collection.
Palmer Matthews, Drink: Linie Aquavit, Old Overholt, Beefeater, Campari, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Angostura Bitters [bonus]
John O'Toole, Universal Exports, Hong Kong: Buffalo Trace, Junipero, Goslings Old Rum, Hibiki 12, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia
Brendan Draper, ICOB: Macallan 18, Bully Boy Boston Rum, Whistlepig 10, Chartreuse 111, Delamain Vesper
Ryan Noreiks, formerly of Yucca & The Alchemist, Shanghai: Highland Park 30, Murray McDavid Jamaican Rum, Chinaco Blanco, Henri Bardouin Pastis, Lillet Blanc
Ran Duan, Sichuan Garden II: Chairman's Spiced Rum, Del Maguey Espaden Mescal, Weller 12, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Campari
Ryan McGrale, Tavern Road: Rum Pompero Anniversario, Pappy Van Winkle 13 Rye, Campari, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth, Lemonhart 151
John Henderson, Tavern Road: Amaro Averna, Beefeater, Old Monk Gold Reserve, Lillet Rose, Don Julio Reposado
Junior Ryan, Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon: Chamucos Blanco, Rhum JM 12, William Larue Weller Bourbon, Lillet Blanc, Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength, lime juice [bonus]
Sam Gabrielli, Russell House Tavern: Smith and Cross, Fernet Branca, Black Maple Hill, Bombay Sapphire, Midleton Irish Whiskey
Ms. Emma Hollander, Trina's Starlite Lounge: Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia, Pimms #1, Old Monk XXX, Canada Dry Ginger Ale [bonus]
Adventure Day by Patrick Gaggiano
There comes a time in every person's work week, month, busy schedule, that they may feel a need to break the mold. An itch to do something exciting, preferably in a place that is somewhat new and unknown. Maybe a chance to channel one's inner Hemmingway or get in touch with their lost Hunter S. spirit. A rare occasion with a day or two off? A little extra cash found? Time for what I like to call: Adventure Day. It can be done in your current town, a short drive away, or a plane ride across the country, but must consist of three things: little planning, visit places/things you are not yet familiar with and once there, going only off of tips from bartenders, regulars, locals. In a sense, it's the old way- ditching your phone and walking until you see something that peaks your interest, actually talking with people and realizing it's okay to get lost.
The things you can stumble upon on Adventure Days can be quite interesting, whether in your back yard, or a trip to visit some relocated roommates in Puerto Rico. On a Sunday afternoon I booked a flight out of Boston to San Juan: 1) it was surprisingly cheap, 2) I've never been and had a place to crash (I hoped) and 3) it was the dead of winter here. 3:30pm, after finishing up a work shift, I grabbed a beer and a shot, called a cab, and arrived at the airport for my 6am flight.
In Puerto Rico around 10 something, I called my buddies to let them know I was at the airport- and to my good luck- they still were agreeable to have me crash on their couch for the next 48 hours. I had zero Spanish speaking knowledge, my MA ID, credit card, cell phone and whatever cash was in my back pocket. I also had a button down, hat, jeans, and flip flops (my only real planning detail). While fielding a phone call from my parents asking how Boston was (I said we were having quite the heat wave), I headed down the street with a borrowed pair of shorts and introduction to Barrilito Rum. Walking past the beautifully colored houses, we stumbled into our first bar- El Batey. In every way, the place confirmed that, in fact, I was indeed no longer in Boston. The bar was a hole in the wall covered with graffiti from Sharpies, an old man at the bar and a surly looking gent behind it who did not seem in much of a talking mood- all the more perfect in our book. In Old San Juan, no one does straight shots, so after skating by in broken Spanish, we ended up with the town favorite- a Chichaito (anis and white rum), layered, no chill, no shake, in what seemed like a water glass. From there we walked down around the hill and found a sign at Barrachina Restaurant, informing us that, in 1963, the Pina Colada was invented there- interest peaked. Walking past the cages of vibrant parrots everywhere you reach a courtyard bar where bartenders in white tuxedos make your Pina Colada. And you know what? It was actually the best I've ever had- Adventure Day.
From there we wandered down to the water for what might have been the most magnificent sunset I've ever seen. Got a little geography lesson on where Bacardi and such was located, and decided to hit the beach. In the tourist parts of San Juan, you can stumble upon any of the private resort beaches because they assume you are a guest- and after a quick story about how "I left my room key upstairs and didn't want to wake my wife, but had some cash" with the bartender, we had an open line of credit on the plethora of fruit, frozen, and tiki drinks at the resort bar. Adventure Day.
After a defeated fight with the waves, and a quick beach walk- we stumbled upon an amazing looking building right on the water, which turned out to be La Concha casino. Perfect- betting after a long stint on the beach posing as Mr. Doe in a casino where I don't speak the language. I quickly found that when at Puerto Rican casinos, you get free drinks- Medalla Light became my best friend- and in 10oz cans makes it the perfect beer of choice for moving around a lot. In addition, I also got the offer to enjoy many complimentary ham and cheese panninis- dinner was served. Then shots with the bartender friend we made, a big hit on craps (still not sure how that happened) and a dare on who would get a tattoo first- well, let me stop there in case my Mom is reading this.
Adventure Day, traveling to an unknown place, with the only intention of making everyone your friend and become a local for a day. Step out of your element and immerse yourself in the life that is going on around you. To quote Neale Donald Walsch "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." So next time you find yourself with a few days to kill, step out of the box.
Justin Stone is currently a manager at the DiBicarri brother's Tavern Road in Fort Point, Boston. He has worked in the hospitality industry as a doorman, busboy, maître d', server and bartender. In the fall, he will be part of the front of the house team at
Alden and Harlow, Harvard Square, Cambridge.
“The Lexicon” by Justin Stone
I would like to take this opportunity to first congratulate the people behind Drink on Congress Street in Fort Point for their accolades at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. They are neighbors of Tavern Road, where I make my nights, and have shown us both outstanding neighborly charm and great hospitality when we stop by for a beverage after work. Good neighbors in the restaurant industry are hard to find. In fact, John Gertsen's parting words to me after I met him were “Let us know if there's anything we can do for you.” Not an ounce of insincerity there. All hospitality aside, those words ring through to a deeper sense of meaning for those in the beverage service industry. The Drink model, from what I've learned through a handful of visits, puts the responsibility of composition in the hands of craftspeople who excel in their knowledge of ingredients, methods and assembly. We all know that there's no list at Drink. Some of us in the industry know why they're not offering something so traditional as a list. At Drink, the people behind the bar are required to be walking lexicons of cocktail knowledge. Yes, their tendencies lean towards the classics, which are my wheelhouse, but I'm always impressed by their ability to tweak a drink here and there and put something novel in front of me. I am a curious consumer, one who appreciates the odd or unexpected learning experience while out for a night. There's a cocktail for every day of the year and beyond. I question the necessity of the lexicon: Why is variety necessary, who cares, and when was the last time you ordered a “Sex on the Beach”?
Variety happens in nature. It's an inescapable facet of human behavior. In the search for individuality, most humans conjure something they believe is unique, they name it “The Mojito”, serve it to some expat transients in Cuba and a hundred years later, some 21 year-old bartender in South Korea is making his mojito with soju, kaffir lime leaves, hyssop mint, pine soda and Demerara syrup and calling it “The Kojito”. Is a soju mojito delicious, I'm not one to know, but in mixology, bartenders love to put a ring on it. Now, whether or not it's useful for a class A bartender to know the entire PDT lexicon or the catalog of drinks in The Gentleman's Companion is a debate left for closing time. I will venture to say that cocktail variety can go two ways, in the hands of the customer or the hands of the craftsman. It's a situation based on inventory, context, audience and sometimes even whimsy.
A few years back, before my journey to China, I held a brief position with the lovely folks at La Morra, a fantastic Italian restaurant in Brookline run by the Ziskin family. They were kind enough to give me Sundays behind the bar. I had to spend the greater part of my early days learning their drink list, their take on the Negroni and Manhattan. It was great to be back mixing again under the tutelage of Bernie Keavenany. Shortly after my first week behind the bar, my aunt sent me The Bartender's Black Book by Stephen Kitteridge, a friendly gesture as it'd been some time since I tackled the tickets. The book is rather ubiquitous at many of the bars I've worked at over the years. It is not a tome based on brevity or curating, but mostly based on gathering the who's-who of cocktails into an easy reference guide. It's a rookie's best friend, a bible where one is just as likely to find five drinks that include blue curaçao sitting right beside classics like the Sidecar or the Ward Eight. Flipping through the book is like thumbing through the old Yellow Pages tossed at your grandmother's doorstep. As a reference guide, it does the job, but as a statement of craftsmanship, there are other classic volumes that most bartenders would recommend.
I have never delved into the importance of lexicographical cocktail knowledge with my bartender colleagues. Most American customers do one of three things, I've observed. They either go “vodka soda”, they shoot off the cocktail list - “Tartini Sling” at Tavern Road, or they have some kind of classic in mind that they prefer made with a certain spirit, “Bulleit Rye Manhattan”. The need for bartenders to possess more than 20 or 30 drinks under their belt is rarely necessary for the general watering hole, but there is a trend lately, because of the abundance of information on cocktails, for the customer to let the bartender “make them something delicious.” The ladies and gents at Drink thrive on this model and are trained to work with it from the ground up. Yet I wonder, sometimes, what I'm missing. How many variations on the rye Manhattan can I find? I can tell you that I have been searching. I can also tell you that because of the nature of all this “research”, I have to start writing down recipes when I encounter a doozy.
Are we, as consumers, stuck at the extremes? What kind of customer has the sand to step into a place like Death + Company in NYC and tell the bartenders there what to do? As much as I like visiting some of my favorite mixologists in the city and let them take the reins, I too would like to possess some kind of control, beyond the cocktail list, over what I'm having and how I would like to have it. It's a tough line. Bars that have lists tend to get customers ordering off the list – not a bad thing, according to Mr. Childs. Lists, as I stated in a previous column, are a bar's mission statement of sorts. However, out there somewhere is my perfect whiskey drink and I don't want to get my wheels stuck in the mud drinking either something that I know, like the Toronto [a drink not every bartender knows, I've noticed] or something close to a Manhattan-style drink off a list. You won't find me carrying around a Moleskine with recipes nor will you see me take out my phone and look up the ratios for the Revolver (2 oz Bulleit Bourbon, 1/2 oz Stirrings Espresso Liqueur, 3 dashes Fee Brother's West Indian Orange Bitter). That's a kind of pretension I'm not prepared to offer to some professional that has a two-deep bar of customers and tickets popping like Jiffy.
Frankly, I would like to have it be a more complicated affair. However, most nights, I am just as content with a Vesper or a solid Sazerac, two drinks that are just right for my discerning palate which veer on the classic side. Palmer Matthews at Drink would be happy to mix up either of these beverages on any given day. However, I can't say that some of my land lubber friends could just rattle off a drink like the Carroll Gardens and expect any bartender from Boston to Philadelphia to know the deal. We, the general consumer, must rely on this thin line between the lexicon and the whim of the bartender. Some people just don't give a damn, and that's fine with gents like me or any of the bartenders at Tavern Road. The goal is to make you happy, right? I have spent enough years in this business to know that most customers have a short road to their contentment. Much like Mr. Childs, I am happy with a High Life and a whiskey back on any given night. At my beloved Quarterdeck in Hyannis, there's really no other way you should go. Jimmy or Buster would most certainly whip you up a fine cocktail if you requested it, but their specialty is cold, quick beer. I would never pop into the QD and ask for anything beyond a shot of Woodford Reserve, with a couple cubes of ice to loosen the flavors. When I am in the presence of skill and greatness, I let the bartenders have their way, or, on occasion, will riff off of my first round. My point is, don't carry around recipes, be flexible and always trust your bartender.
Even though Drink pioneered the model of “bartender's trust” by hiring staff with a propensity for learning and development, the trend exists throughout most major American cities. You need to do your homework if you want to explore the edges or even the true classics of the cocktail world. It's also necessary to engage the bartender, to ask questions. The bartenders at Tavern Road, Drink, Eastern Standard or West Bridge are happy to ask you about your preference of spirits and flavors. Yet it is far more entertaining for you as a customer if you come prepared. If you're into the cocktail scene these days, if you're a customer reading this column and love what recipes Josh has shared, learn a couple, find what you like. Expanding your personal lexicon of spirits and concoctions is just as easy as ordering a non-fat, half-caf, soy latté with extra foam. Maybe one day, you'll find yourself in Ward 8, drinking a Ward 8 and it will make all the difference.
Justin Stone is currently a manager at the DiBicarri brother's Tavern Road in Fort Point, Boston. He has worked in the hospitality industry as a doorman, busboy, maître d', server and bartender. In the fall, he will be part of the front of the house team at
Alden and Harlow, Harvard Square, Cambridge.
How many craftsman do you know? Working in food and beverage service is the closest I have come to working with and for craftsman. They are my favorite kind of professional colleague. I simply appreciate those who can make something out of a series of parts, using skills learned and developed over time. Cooks and chefs tend to get the accolades in my line of work. Just take a look at my Instagram feed for examples; I'm following three times as many chefs as bartenders. Maybe it's because cocktails don't photograph well at night, or it's possible that as of the moment, the chefs have the floor. Over the past few years, though, the word kitchen has been slowly married to the word cocktail into something of an awkward marriage. Is The Hawthorne a cocktail kitchen? I am sure that Ms. Carrie Cole would say “No.” I have heard many bartenders say that their bar space is an office. Others have remarked that the bar is a river where animals come to drink and get eaten by alligators. Both images conjure interesting associations, especially for those who have had to work the door on a busy weekend, but I digress.
When you place a food or drink order, a magically odd thing happens. You, the human being, perfectly capable of making a grilled cheese sandwich or a lemonade, have relinquished this responsibility to another human being. Expectations are set and a contract is written in the air. “My grilled cheese will appear as I have imagined it,” you think while reviewing the menu one last time before placing your order. It's a matter of trust. You are paying for the pleasure of not having to do a thing yourself. You are letting one whom is deemed “a professional” craft this item for you, sometimes without knowing what the end result will be. I contend that food and beverage service is the closest humans come anymore to the craftspeople who produce their consumer goods. I haven't visited a Chinese IKEA factory lately, so I can't vouch for the poor guy drilling holes in my Burjta bookcase shelves.
Trusting a craftsman used to be a necessity for those interested in purchasing quality consumer goods. You had to visit the carpenter for your chairs or the cooper for your casks. Nowadays, that relationship is diluted by matters of convenience. Who needs to shake the hand of the craftsman anymore? Who pays patronage to the hands and the brains behind something truly well-made? I believe that kitchens and bars are some of the last remaining places where people can regularly appreciate craftsmanship. I also maintain that the kitchen, especially in recent years, is receiving the bulk of the attention from the consumer. I would like to turn the focus to the bartenders for the time being. Sometimes, they're the only people I trust.
Two years ago I decided to pull up the roots again and move to Shanghai for work. I had visited the city while still living in South Korea and it seemed to have everything I wanted in a metropolitan environment: a vibrant nightlife, diverse expat population and a booming restaurant and bar scene. Luckily, I had an industry contact in the city. While on my reconnaissance mission in 2010, my contact took me to a bar in the Luwan district of Shanghai called The Alchemist. The Alchemist was unlike any bar I had seen in Korea. It was aesthetically well-designed, driven by a cocktail program, stocked with all sorts of wonderful spirits and directed by a man named Ryan Noreiks of Brisbane, Australia. Mr. Noreiks and I would develop a friendship over the following year and he would go on to share with me the best of his craftsmanship.
As with other beings in nature, bartenders come in many forms. You have your pint-pullers, your nightclub gun-slingers and the guy named Al who cracked beers at the VFW for your grandpa. There is no blueprint for what a bartender “should” be, but I do believe that out there in the ether, a formula exists which creates the perfect match of skill, service and professionalism. I've known hundreds of bartenders by acquaintance and had the pleasure of knowing a handful personally. I will venture to say that Mr. Noreiks ranks among some of the best, not because he is an upstanding fellow, but for one simple reason, he exuded craftsmanship through his work. He was a special breed. What I learned from him and his drinks changed the way I consider cocktails, customer service and presentation.
The cocktail list at The Alchemist resembled an old travel journal, much like the list at The Hawthorne. You could easily tell there was authorship behind it. For those customers interested in spending time considering their beverage, it was a lovely object to behold. It was not built for push-button ordering. A cocktail list should be more like a bar's resume or a statement than a multi-doored portal that ends in a buzz. It doesn't have to be pretentious, but it should represent the establishment and its bartenders. Over the years, I have come to be more interested in the people behind the drinks than the lists themselves. Rarely do I tip on product alone. I have had a hundred Manhattans, most of them shoddily composed. I know a good one after the first nip. What I'm looking for these days is craftsmanship, composition and creativity.
I made my way through The Alchemist's list in a matter of a month or so. It wasn't a daunting task if you had some friends to help. It was actually not my kind of list, heavy on the molecular side, very avant. I had no intention of repeating myself and going back to classics. One night, I remember it vividly, I asked Ryan to “give me his take on a Sazerac.” What Ryan produced was my first recognizable example of craftsmanship in a cocktail, something I like to call “Off List”. It wasn't complicated, but it was inspired.
2 ounces of Willett rye whiskey, 5 drops of cardamom tincture, 15 ml sugar syrup and 2 dashes of Peychauds bitters. Shake hard and double strain.
We called it “In Cold Blood”. It changed the way I drink cocktails and consider the craftsmanship behind a beverage. “Drinking off list” became a way of life at The Alchemist. Once Mr. Noreiks broadened my palate with “In Cold Blood”, once I could trust whatever came off his bar, I didn't want to go back to a list. However, without the man behind the drink, the experience was not the same. There had to be a marriage between the product and the craftsman. Given the chance to share with a guest not only craftsmanship but humanity, a skilled bartender should do both, simultaneously. What Ryan brought to the bar beyond his skill and charm was a genuine interest in my taste. He learned, he listened and put these interactions into a crafted drink based on my previous orders. In turn, I showed the same interest in his work. It's the best kind of service based relationship, one based on mutual appreciation.
Ryan and I continued our friendship along these lines for the remaining time that I lived in Shanghai. He moved on to renovate another bar called Yucca and I followed. At Yucca, on the slower nights, we would converse over the bar on all things spirits, service and hospitality. Towards the end of my time in Shanghai, I rarely ordered drinks by name. I wanted, more than anything, to be educated, to put the pleasure of discovery in the hands of a craftsman. It's not often that I can have this experience. I don't look down at my burrito and consider the man or woman who rolled it up in foil and paper. These days, when I visit a new bar, if there's a list, I'll generally order something from my wheelhouse. However, the drink that follows, if I dig the person wielding the shaker and spoon, will be up to them. I understand that this has been happening at “Drink” for years now. It's going on everywhere, even in the homes of people who have decided to practice the composition of cocktails on their own. Liquor stores carry better spirits, people read Imbibe magazine and David Wondrich's column in Esquire. Even apps help. We're moving forward as a consumer culture, hopefully towards a place where we once again consider the people behind the products and not just the brand.
I encourage you, the consumer, the customer, to seek out craftsman, to give them your patronage and to take an interest in their skill, their humanity. With your interest and curiosity will come the reward of discovery. You'll come to find that behind every wonderful drink or dish there is a human being who has spent years working towards that sweet spot between product and consumer. This is why I tip, why I return time and time again. This is why I come back and bring my friends and family. A stage can be as small as 6 ounces.
I'm stepping out of the box again for a moment, and having a friend take over; it's the literary equivalent of a minor leaguer (me) having Lou Gehrig (Justin) pinch hit.
Justin Stone is a manager at the DiBicarri brother's Tavern Road in Fort Point, 343 Congress Street, Boston. He has worked in the hospitality industry as a doorman, busboy, maître d', server and bartender. He asks you "all to tip vigorously, mind the service bar and say please followed by thank you."
In the hospitality industry, we operate on a very simple economic principle authored by a lovely Italian man named Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto. Pareto’s economic principle, known commonly as the 80/20 rule, breaks down simply by stating, 80 percent of your business is generated by 20 percent of your customers. Now, you may ask, “How does this relate to bartending?” Well, any bartender will tell you that at the end of any night, if the regulars did not swing by for a drink or two, their take home will inevitably suffer. A bartender doesn’t necessarily rely on their regular customers for sustenance, especially on a busy night, but over time, the economic principles never lie. Frequent and return customers are the foundation of most successful hospitality enterprises and it’s an essential skill of a talented bartender that they identify, cultivate and nurture their “regulars”.
There’s no bartender that will disagree with me on this principle. The next time that you’re at the airport, stop by one of the bars, buy a round and strike up a conversation with the bartender. I guarantee that they have regulars, business travelers who fly a regular route from Boston to Charlotte and stop in for a drink before hopping on their flight. They don’t necessarily wait around on a weekly basis for these people to show up, but remove these individuals from any group of customers over the long term and most bartenders are reduced to piña colada factories instead of service professionals. Every bar has regulars and these people are the coveted jewels for any establishment. Transient guests may drive their budget or fluff the numbers at the end of a month, but it’s the customers who return time and time again, regardless of their purchasing power, that make the difference in a gratuity based service position.
Serving drinks, as I said, is a mixture of sales and technical skill and it’s very physical. The bar is a stage that is under constant surveillance, siege and bombardment. Head over to Eastern Standard on a Saturday night around eight and see what I mean. You have been there, wading into a three deep bar after work, competing with the throng for the eye contact of a bartender in the middle of shaking and pouring or snapping off a pint. In the midst of all of this physicality and dexterity there’s something every bartender is also doing, they’re watching the crowd. What they’re looking for are familiar faces, return customers, even the person they poured a drink for two hours prior who stopped by the bar for one last round. It’s about staying ahead of your tickets. Generally, a regular will have a preferred beverage and if a bartender sees that face amongst the crowd of drink list requests and whiskey smashes, they can at least take that person of the list of those who desire an inquiry.
Acknowledging regulars, delivering great service and being efficient are core bartending skills. It is a simple and beautiful relationship. The bartender stays on top of the ticket wave and the customer feels attended to, remembered and now they’ve got a drink without saying more than “Yes” or nodding. Find me another industry that can deliver that kind of service. Google, with all of their algorithms relating to your search history, will never be able to nonverbally connect with their customers like a good bartender can with their regulars. It’s a human relationship based on mutual understanding and as I said, it’s the foundation of every successful bartender’s repertoire. Everyone likes being remembered just as much as they like to be thanked.
The regular is more than just an easy way for a bartender to stay ahead of their orders. For a business, the regular is a one man public relations machine. True, the guy sitting at the bar five days a week at my beloved Quarterdeck in Hyannis isn’t the kind of PR machine I’m talking about. He’s just a good dude who works at the airport. Here in the city, a respectable establishment counts on their regulars to spread the gospel, invite their friends to join them on their usual nights and expound on the wonders of the hospitality. My bar visitation habits are almost 100% referral based. I won’t trust a person if they recommend at bar that they havent visited in the last week. My dollars are precious little things and I’d rather give them to a bartender who I’m counting on seeing from week to week instead of the guy who works at the bar next to the pool serving me a $15 Heineken.
In late 90’s I was a budding regular at a Brookline pub. I’d frequent the place on my own, walking a good 25 minutes up Harvard Avenue from my apartment just because this was a place where people knew my face and my name. This pub seemed full of regulars, somewhat neighborly and above all, geared first towards hospitality. I had a hell of a time convincing my friends to come with me for quite some time. If you made the decision to venture out with me, you had to come live on my hospitality island. I was always welcomed by name. My friends thought this was quite magical. What they didn't know was that I had put in my time, been a generous and patient guest, and now I had the title that we're discussing here, “a regular”. It's an intangible title, with somewhat elusive benefits to anyone other than the person upon whom the title is bestowed.
I need to make a few distinctions before I go further. There are a few customer-related misconceptions that I've noticed over the years from bar to bar. First, there are people who may come to the bar regularly and may often be recognized by name. However, I've found that there's a difference between someone with a mug hanging above the bar and the person who abides by the code of the “regular”. Repeated patronage does not make a regular. Charles Bukowski was a regular customer at a handful of L.A. Bars, but the bartenders probably hated his guts. If you're a bartender, you know these kind of customers exist. I once worked the door at the old Back Bay Last Drop. There were always customers that would come by around 1:55 AM every Friday night, buy a last call beer, and have to have me kick them out when all the chairs were flipped. They'd push back every time and felt slighted when I stood there and “made them” drink their beer while all the lights were on and the drawers were being counted. Were they regular customers, yes, but they weren't “regulars”. Regulars know when to pay, when to leave and they always say “Thanks” to the bartender on the way out if they can.
Knowing the bartender's name doesn't necessarily make you a regular either. This is also a common sticking point with customers I've dealt with over the years. Come into a bar one afternoon, drop a hundred or so with some of your friends and the bartender, out of sheer salesmanship, might introduce himself before handing you the bill. It's common hospitality. You might come back every Sunday afternoon and be this bartender's bread and butter on the brunch double. However, if you truly care about making your mark, come back solo, make friends with other guests, feel the bartender's pain when it looks like they've had a long night. Tip two bucks on your $3.00 High Life. Build the relationship, make it personal.
A couple of weeks ago I announced to one of the Curley's crew that I had left my job in the neighborhood and taken a position over the river. No more jaunts to the bar on the way home from work. Cambridge and Somerville would become my exclusive territory. One of the lovely people at Curley's asked a question that I think every newly minted customer wants to hear, “Does this mean you'll not be coming back?” I said that I'll most certainly be back as often as possible. I was already halfway through the first half of becoming someone of value – we had passed the name barrier and I've seen some of the bartenders out at other joints. Not returning because of geographic limitations would violate an my old model that I developed back in Brookline, when I walked uphill both ways to get to the pub, despite the weather or lack of companions. We're regulars because we love to be remembered. We love to participate in the great hospitality game. We cherish our relationships and do our best to nurture them with our patronage and good graces. In the end, the great karmic wheel spins for both bartender and customer alike. It's the last vestige of person to person relationships built on mutual appreciation. You can't hashtag that, brother.
America (or in this case 'Murican) and the 4th of July; I'm riding shotgun, driving is noted Campari enthusiast Steve Bowman who co-owns the forthcoming Fairsted Kitchen, opening Fall 2013 in Brookline’s Washington Square. Take it away Steve:
The ‘Murican: A Bitter Pedigree by Steve Bowman
Summer is the season of the aperitif. As the dog days swelter and the lithium rises, it’s time shelve the weighty, spirit laden refuges of winter and look for something new. Something light, something cool, something refreshing. Something you can quaff all day on decks and patios and still make it to dinner. Something like Campari.
Look around your favorite watering holes this summer and you’ll see its brilliant red hue shining like a beacon from within glasses and tumblers of imbibers in the know. Not only is the bright and bitter Italian infusion of herbs, fruits, spices, and barks a perfect on its own with nothing more than a little ice and a twist of citrus, but Campari is the proud papa of a whole family of thirst quenching aperitifs.
It all starts with in Gaspere Campari’s little cafe in Northern Italy in the mid 1800’s where he crafts his soon to be famous eponymous liqueur. There he serves a simple mixture of Campari and sweet vermouth called the Milano-Torino. The Campari is from Milan, the vermouth, either Martini & Rossi or Carpano, is from Turin. Soon enough, an enterprising bartender adds a top of soda water and serves his creation long in a highball. He names it after the American tourists that flood Italy after the first world war and the Americano is born.
But it takes a true rogue, a member of what cocktail historian David Wondrich calls the “Sporting Fraternity” to create a classic both modern and timeless. Florentine gentleman Count Camillo Negroni, aristocrat, rodeo cowboy, gambler, and barfly extraordinaire, is no stranger to the Americano. But one day between 1919 and 1920, Count Negroni finds himself craving something a little stronger. He stops in at his local, the Cafe Casoni, and directs the barmen to replace the soda water in his Americano with a little gin. Soon enough, locals start requesting their Americano in the “Negroni way”. That recipe of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, has stood the test of time to become a standard of the cocktail craft.
But history doesn’t stop there. From the hands of adventurous barkeeps you can now enjoy a Negroni Sbagliato, a “wrong” negroni replacing the gin with prosecco. Or Negroni riffs based on genever, whiskey, or tequila. I’ve even seen a Negroni sorbet. Inspired by the traditions of Gaspare Campari and Camillo Negroni, I present my answer to summer's oppressive heat: The ‘Murican. Find the biggest glass you have, add equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth and fill with lots of ice. Top with America’s finest champagne of beers, Miller High Life, and garnish with freedom. Or a slice of orange. Whatever you have on hand.