Buenos Diaz, faithful readers! For those of you newcomers, bienvenidos! Have a seat and stay awhile. Take in the sights, soak up the sarcasm, chuckle a bit and perhaps even learn a little somethin'. Today's lesson is simple: when in Boston, drink. But don't just drink, Drink.
Instinctively, you read "drink" and "Boston," and your mind likely wanders to that delightful brew of hops, malt, yeast and H2O first concocted and introduced to the world by one Mr. Jim Koch in 1985. That cold, refreshing Sam Adams lager and it's many varieties are indeed most pleasing to the palate and should by all means be experienced (especially since the tour of the Jamaica Plain brewery is $Free.99, is led by a comedic beer-lover and includes tastings of the snazzy stuff), but 'tis not what I refer to here. The juxtaposition of "drink" and "Boston" might even conjure up visions of a tall glass of Guinness or some variety of bold Irish whiskey as being in the confines of Boston seems to bring out everyone's drunk inner Irishman. Wrong again! What I'm talking about is Drink. It's not just an instruction or your favorite passtime, my people. It's a friggin' place.
As their website states, Drink is:
"A bar entirely dedicated to the craft of the cocktail, Drink blends time-honored techniques and the classic cocktails of the prohibition era with modern innovation and the very best artisanal ingredients... Our goal is simple: To provide a welcoming spot at which to enjoy a memorable cocktail, some great conversation, and sustenance. Cheers!"
Cheers indeed. Drink was named the Best Cocktail Bar in America in 2011 and Best Cocktail Bar in the World in 2013 at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards.
My dear friends the Negretes introduced me to Drink on the second night of my visit to Boston. I stepped out of the cab on Congress expecting to see some flashy sign, or hell- a sign in general- but Drink truly pays homage to the prohibition era with its understated modern-day version of a speakeasy entrance. It's one of those "you have to know it's there" sort of joints where you descend a random flight of steps and look for a dude with a clipboard taking names; it's not however so hidden that you'll never find it and you need not know a password to enter. If you see the sign below (sans the reflection of my ring-covered fingers and creme-colored coat) at the base of the steps, you're in the right place.
Señor Clipboard (who is apparently the GM!) permits you to enter only when there is room for you. This often means you're chillin' on those steps for a hot minute, but not egregiously so. The wait is well worth it when you're allowed in the door as you're pleasantly surprised to discover you're not in some overpacked club full of people either twerking, tweaking or taking too many shots. You need not scream your drink at a bartender whose ability to correctly fulfill your order is dependent on his or her supersonic hearing and/or ability to read lips. You need not push or shove anyone to get to the bar but rather casually saunter to an open seat. The decor includes exposed brick, wooden beams and overhead pipes. The lighting is thoughtfully dim but not deceptively dark; the music pulses pleasantly but allows for comfortable conversation. In short: it's the grown and sexy way to achieve dignified inebriation and on something more artfully crafted than an Adios Motherf*cker.
Drink offers a simple but decadent menu of tasty foodstuffs to complement the libations served therein. Small Bites include Japanese street corn and ice cream sammies while the Big Bites menu features everything from grilled cheese and a jar of pickles to sirloin carpaccio and the most amazing thick cut french fries. Seriously, those fries... they're served with a malt vinegar aioli and quite literally just made my mouth water; they are starchy, salty perfection. Get them, get them now. Then there's the burger, the secret-but-not-really-secret selection not found on the printed menu. You have to know about it, be told about it, or just be inquisitive enough to inquire when you see a sign like the one below (yes, only a limited number of these are served nightly). If you're a hardcore or even occasional carnivore, the burger is five notches up from sliced bread and one notch short of Jesus.
Delightful, n'est-ce pas?
Enough about food, let's talk booze. It doesn't seem appropriate to call the individuals you find here "bartenders," the word just doesn't do them justice. "Bartender" make me think of some bicep-happy dude or bustier-clad chick hurriedly throwing together a rum and coke or pouring out a Miller lite (you know the type; not universal by any means, but definitely the norm in a lot of nightlife). Some would call the folks at Drink mixologists, but if you ask me: they're straight chemists. They've traded beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks for shakers and martini glasses, but trust me- there is some serious science happening within those walls. You may scoff, but you won't once you watch someone make you a drink that involves singed fruit, pink salt and little droppers of liquid that for all I know contain sodium bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid.
You will not find a drink menu as there isn't one. If you have a cocktail in mind, lay it on your chemist (I'm going with it). If you don't, splendid! Someone will pick a poison for you based on your given flavor profile. These chemists aren't adept at this alcoholic brouhaha by chance, either; as I understand it, Drink keeps it real O.G. when selecting who gets the privilege of getting you tipsy and adopts an apprenticeship approach in its hiring. Each of the lead bartenders is paired wih a barback who must apprentice for at least a year before earning the title of bartender themselves. Cocktails are their craft and you get to consume it, and in a pleasant atmosphere no less.
On the occasion in which I found myself at Drink, I sat in a section tended to by chemists Ezra and Sebastian. At first, I admit I was unsure about Ezra. There is an air of mystery about this fair, thin-framed woman with an almost elfin quality in her bone structure and facial features that makes you want to know more about her- and I'm not alone here (L. Negrete and J. Vidaurrazaga, lookin' at you). I am the consummate Chatty Cathy and curious cat rolled into one, so I immediately attempted to make conversation with her in between the rounds of science-in-a-glass she pushed in my direction ("How long have you been bartending? Where are you from? What does that tattoo on your forearm mean?) She revealed where she's from but otherwise gave evasive and ambiguous answers (to my tattoo inquiry- "I don't know, one day it just showed up there"). Her replies were seemingly curt and disintersted, but I'm persistent and she makes a mean Bohemian (who knew elderflower liqueur, gin and grapefruit could be so delectable?).
I quickly learned that my initial analysis of Ezra (who buy the way is the bar manager) was cursory and ill advised. She's reserved, yes. She's also incredibly talented. She throws herself into her work and it's amazing to behold. She may not say much, but there's an art to her method when she starts tossing and chopping and mixing and pouring like the bottles, knives, glasses and other barware are extensions of her own extremities. She may appear dry, and perhaps at times she is! If you look closely though, you'll catch the slight upturning of her mouth on one side, a sneaky little smile that betrays her otherwise cool façade. Don't let her fool you, she likes what she does. She may not chat you up but she will keep pouring. So I say, pour away lady. And thank you.
Ezra plus grapefruit.
Chemist #2 Sebastian is pint-sized fun. This super cute five-foot-something character originally hails from Colombia. He bartended there for a few years before bringing his South American flare to Drink where he apprenticed under Ezra, and get this- he's the ripe old age of twenty one. If you're like me, you're thinking "Twenty one?! What the hell do you know about craft cocktails at twenty one?" Pssh, plenty. While the rest of us may have been knocking down Jose Cuervo, Kamchatka and jungle juice out of red cups when we were his age, this guy knows his stuff. The combination of his tenure abroad and tutelage under Ezra have served him well as his craft is finely honed. He didn't miss a beat while tending to us that evening, serving us a variety of tasty and potent potions pleasing to both the eye and palate while also engaging in a bit of levity.
As for the actual drink... For my first round, I kept it simple and asked for something that was both spicy and sweet. I was served a tequila based beverage with cassis, ginger and lime, I believe it was called an El Diablo. It's a bit of a taste bud awakening- your tongue is hit with both bitter and citric notes that cut through the initial sweetness of the drink; the last thing you taste is a smokiness that's unexpected but pleasant. I then had a Bohemian, the gin/elderflower/grapefruit combo I mentioned earlier which was recommended to me by my BFF Leandra. Easily a new favorite! I've historically loathed gin with a fervor, but this just works. The grapefruit is the perfect sweet and sour balance to accompany the floral injection of the St. Germaine. It's served with finely crushed ice and tastes as elegant as it looks. Order this, please. Do it for me.
Double Diablos (and Victor and I)
Bohemian on the left, El Diablo on the right
Then my pal Victor decided to be that guy and aimed to challenge our chemists' creativity: he asked for something that tastes delicious but looks obnoxious. He got this: hollowed out grapefruit with singed edges dipped in pink salt filled with I don't even know what, perched most unceremoniously atop a basic glass as seen below.
The drink went in that weird monkey, not to be confused with Sebastian.
By the end of the night with warmth in our cheeks and smiles on our faces, we were all singing the praises of this dynamic duo. So much so that Leandra found crayons (?!? I came back from the ladies room and they were just there) and drew Sebas a picture.
Who knew Crayola had a bar presence?
Apparently gin makes my Lulu artistic.
We finally left Drink shortly after the masterpiece above was fashioned (but not before half of our foursome sang the first verse and chorus of "Under the Sea" to dear Sebas). I knew even as I floated back to Beacon Hill that I'd want to blog about this place- excellent food, excellent cocktails, excellent service, and above all: crayons.
Because you clearly MUST go:
348 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210
Open nightly from 4pm-1am
To purchase your very own "Team Ezra" tshirt, please contact Leandra Negrete at... Just kidding :)