Romancing the Bean

The spare confines of Boston’s Drink, where what you’re going to drink is, literally, whatever you feel like if your bartender has anything to say about it.

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Powerful evidence of my cocktail geekery lies in the fact that whenever I head to a new city, one of the first things on my agenda is to sniff out the best cocktail bars in the area. Recently I found myself in Boston, which for years has been all buzzed about as a major nexus of mixology, and I could barely contain my glee at finally getting to throw down in Beantown.

Knowledgeable friends raved about Drink, near the waterfront, in the city’s Fort Point neighborhood. The concept is as spare as its name: A simple sign on the wall, straight out of a 1960s insurance office, tells you where you are, and inside, a smooth wooden bar snakes around Drink’s dimly lit, low-ceilinged confines in the shape of a Princess telephone receiver, two squares joined at the top by a long narrow line.

Crowd size is carefully controlled. This is because it is imperative that you sit at the bar. You are your bartender, see, are about to have a conversation. No pointing at the drink menu. And by the way, where is the drink menu? There isn’t one. In fact, now that you think about it, you don’t even see any actual liquor bottles. They are kept out of sight, like at grandpa’s house. You’re about to go off-road here.

The bartender swings around again. Do you know what you want? She wants to know what sort of spirit you prefer, what kind of mood you’re in, what your tolerance for adventure is, anything that will help her decide what kind of drink you’re going to have. And then she returns, with a concoction dredged from the past or riffed on the spot, and it is delicious.

I wanted something gingery, but something I’d never had before — and knowing that gin is often paired with ginger, I asked for something without gin. Certainly no vodka. The drink I got was dark and robust, with a gingery bite. Turns out it was a Dark and Stormy, a mix of rum and ginger beer that I had in fact had before — and had I seen it on a drink menu, I wouldn’t have ordered it for that very reason. A small complaint, but there it is. I comforted myself with as many sips of a friend’s Maximilian Affair (mezcal, St. Germain, Punt e Mes, lemon) as she would allow.

The class of the city is probably Eastern Standard, a cavernous, glamorously Sinatra-esque spot reigning over Commonwealth Avenue near Boston’s Kenmore Square. Primarily a restaurant, Eastern Standard’s has a pleasant stretch of a bar that you’ll want to find a place at, if only to see a waitress climb atop the back bar at midnight to scrawl late-night happy-hour food specials (lobster roll, anyone?) on the chalkboard. Eastern Standard’s drink menu is playfully vague, with creations like the Periodista (“Rum for the Intrepid Reporter”) and Le Grande Flip (“Big Time Sexy Beast”). 

Eastern Standard has been on my short list ever since getting to know Marley Tomic-Beard, one of my favorite Seattle bartenders whose impressive Emerald City pedigree (Spur, Bathtub Gin, Golden Beetle and The Sexton) is made even more awesometastic by her Eastern Standard origins. The drinks here were well-crafted and perfectly presented, from the tiki-ish Hapa N’ui to my personal favorite, the Aprilia — a blend of Beefeater 24 gin, Cocchi Americano, Amaro Nonino and grapefruit bitters as elegant and pure as a Vesper.

In the end, I found my favorite Boston cocktail at Brick and Mortar, a semi-hidden gastropub above busy Massachusetts Avenue. As at Drink, the crowd is carefully monitored for size; as with Seattle favorite Rob Roy, the atmosphere is casually unfussy and the music often blasts via turntable. Brick and Mortar’s killer menu features a short list of house cocktails — including the fantastic A Bullet for Fredo, whose aged grappa, dry vermouth and Campari was as poignant and powerful as its name. A second? That was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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