On the way to Logan Airport the other day, we stopped at Drink, Boston’s destination bar for craft cocktails. It’s an anything-but-squalid basement lair located under Sportello (both are owned by restaurateur Barbara Lynch) designed to indulge cocktail fantasies. There’s a respectable wine and beer list but ordering from it seems depressingly unimaginative. Ditto for demanding a martini made to your usual specs (Tanqueray, on the rocks, olives, in my case). Nor is this the place to cruise a specialty-drinks menu.
Instead the idea is a one-on-one with your server–or directly with the mixologist (aka bartender)–to identify a cocktail that suits your mood and your palate and, with luck, expands your cocktail horizons. In short, cocktail therapy.
We started out standing at a side table–not ideal after a long day of museum prowling–our spot carved out by four glasses of water intended to chase whatever we ordered. I asked for a new take on one of the most ancient of cocktails, the Old Fashioned, cautioning that it not go a sweet direction.
Minutes later my drink arrived, amber liquid swirling around a columnar ice cube resembling an ice sculpture, and after the first sip my mood improved abruptly. In lieu of an Old Fashioned’s bourbon, this drink had other warming brown spirits, whisky and cognac. The addition of Peychaud bitters gave it a more subtle flavor profile than Angostura bitters alone. There was also a touch of red vermouth and a finishing splash of Benedictine. Absolutely delicious.
Had this brilliantly conceived cocktail been invented just for me? Not at all. I was drinking a Vieux Carré, invented in New Orleans back in the ’30s. It was new to me, though not to more sophisticated drinkers. The real genius of my cocktail therapist was intuiting that this was a drink I’d enjoy–even more, as a matter of fact, than the more familiar cocktail I’d used as a cue.
By this time we were seated comfortably at the bar and developing a relationship, however fleeting, with our bartender Josie. My daughter Mary asked for a “mojito with a wintry feeling.” Josie nodded sagely and, without further discussion, produced a cocktail substituting brown rum and brown sugar for the usual white rum and simple syrup made with white sugar. Mint and lime, like a regular mojito, and then a topper of champagne. Another hit that, again, turned out to be a standard drink: in this case, the Old Cuban. It’s in the repertoire of other bars besides Drink, but part of the pleasure surely came from articulating an elusive cocktail-hour desire to an understanding ear.
We ordered warm olives and thick, golden-crusted french fries the old-fashioned way, from a menu, and were not sorry. Then it was time to catch a flight that, thanks to our cocktail therapy, seemed shorter than usual.