Have a Beer With Paul Revere

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Summer is tourist season in Boston. It’s the time of year when you see out-of-towners congregating around various stops along the Freedom Trail, taking pictures of the State House, snapping selfies in front of monuments, and crowding into Faneuil Hall. Ordinarily you just circumvent the masses and hope nobody asks you to explain why and how South Boston and the South End are two entirely different places. While they may clog up the sidewalks a bit, personally I have a great fondness for our city’s visitors. I think about how many times I’ve been traveling and have been eternally grateful for a local’s directions or advice, and I try to pay it forward, so to speak. Plus, I’m proud to live here – Boston’s a beautiful city with a rich history, and it makes me happy when I see people immersing themselves in it.

So, while it was a little outside the scope of my typical blogging assignment, I was only too happy to accept an invitation to “Have a Beer With Paul Revere,” a historical walking tour organized by the folks who oversee the Old North Church. The tour gives participants a chance to stroll through the North End in the early evening hours and relive one of the most thrilling chapters of American history – the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

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Having been on innumerable school field trips that exhaustively covered this and similar topics, I admit that the “Have a Beer” side of the equation appealed to me more than the “With Paul Revere” part. But as the organizers were generous enough to offer me a complimentary ticket, I figured a little refresher course wouldn’t hurt.

The tour commences inside the Green Dragon Tavern, named for the very tavern that was known as the “headquarters of the revolution.”

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Not that this Green Dragon is the Green Dragon; the actual tavern that hosted secret rebel meetings and served as the launching point for Paul Revere’s legendary ride was about a 100 feet away and was destroyed by a fire during the 1850s. The bar now that bears its name opened in the 1990s but does its best to capture the look and feel of a colonial-era public house. Wooden tables and booths, exposed brick walls, an ancient-looking hardwood floor, and a whole host of lanterns are part of a good-faith effort to make you feel like you might be sipping a brew in the same room where George Washington once sat.

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Speaking of beer, your ticket includes a pint of – what else? – Sam Adams. You get a Sam Brick Red, an Irish red ale that’s only available on draft and not sold outside of Massachusetts.

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Along with that comes another New England staple – a bowl of clam chowder. Spoon that up while listening to the events Paul Revere’s harrowing journey to Lexington, and you’re fully immersed in the Boston experience.

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After beer and chowder, the tour heads toward the North End, passing the spot where the original Green Dragon once stood. After pausing to look at a map of old Boston etched into the side walk, the tour winds through the streets of the North End.

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You stop by Paul Revere’s home and a number of other key historical sites, all the while learning about Boston’s involvement in the early days of the American Revolution and the cast of local characters who played critical roles. But it’s not merely a recitation of historical events; the tour seeks to separate fact from fiction and explores mysteries about that night which have never been answered. Much of Paul Revere’s ride has become the stuff of legend, and while the actual events may not be as poetic as “Listen my friends and you will hear,” the truth is more fascinating by half.

The tour culminates at the Old North Church, Boston’s oldest surviving church building and one of the most celebrated landmarks in the city. This is where the famous lanterns hung on that fateful night, signaling to colonists whether British troops, marching to Lexington and Concord to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, would be departing the city by land or by “sea” (actually the Charles River).

As much as I was in this for the beer and chowder, visiting the Old North Church at night was easily the coolest part of the tour. Climbing the narrow stairs to where the lanterns would have hung, it’s hard not to get a sense of the significance and danger of that night. The church’s interior is elegant but somewhat understated, which serves to underscore the fact that Paul Revere and his fellow revolutionaries were ordinary citizens pressed into performing extraordinary deeds in the interest of freedom.

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While it’s exceedingly rare that I attend events like this, I can say in all honesty that I was impressed. Our tour guide was positively unflappable – in addition to the vast knowledge he displayed of his subject, he was challenged by dozens of questions and had a quick answer for each one. And it takes a certain personality to don colonial garb and commit to the role; this guy had a comfortable blend of authenticity, humor, and irony.

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The tour is a fun way for visitors to explore one of Boston’s most famous neighborhoods and learn the true story behind an episode of American history that’s more daring and dramatic than its countless retellings. And for me, that old saying about being a tourist in one’s own city rings true. When you walk by monuments, statues, and landmarks every day, it’s easy to overlook the risks and sacrifices borne by the individuals they commemorate.

If you're interested in having a beer with Paul Revere, you can get tickets here. For more information about the iconic Old North Church, click here. To everyone visiting Boston this summer, enjoy your trip (and try to avoid driving, it's always a nightmare).

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Three Years of Boston BarHopper

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When it comes to creative writing, I’ve always had a tendency to get excited about an idea, only to later find myself lacking the discipline to coax it into existence. I can’t tell you how many times my enthusiasm for a writing project wore off at some point between conception and creation. Maybe it was lack of dedication, a crisis of confidence, or just the simple fact that quality writing takes time and focus, and life is full of so many other things that demand attention. So if you’re surprised to learn that today marks the third anniversary of Boston BarHopper’s inaugural post, I can say with all certainty that I’m far more shocked than you are. I have read that 60% to 80% of all new blogs are abandoned within one month; honestly, even amid my early elation, I figured mine would ultimately fall into that dubious category.

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I’m not telling you this as a means of publicly patting myself on the back. I suppose I’m just feeling a little reflective today about why I actually stuck with this. I think there are a few reasons, and I hope you’ll indulge me while I elaborate.

First, I’ve been blessed with an unending stream of support that predates my decision to start this blog and continues to this day. That encouragement takes on more forms than I can possibly describe, and it has buoyed me in times of doubt, extreme writer’s block, and general ennui.

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Second, I have had the great fortune of meeting some incredible people through this blog. I’ve gotten to know talented bartenders, industry professionals, and fellow bloggers over the past few years, and I find it so stimulating to have a fascinating conversation over a good drink, learn something new, and come away feeling better and smarter for it. This world is full of wonderfully intelligent and creative individuals. I’m grateful to count some of them as friends and acquaintances, and I know I couldn’t have established those relationships except under the auspices of Boston BarHopper.

And that leads me to the third reason why, for three years, I’ve not only maintained this site but also poured my heart and soul into it. I certainly enjoyed going to bars, drinking well-made cocktails, and talking about quality spirits long before I decided to devote time to writing about such things. But I can’t honestly say that I ever gave the nuances of that stuff much thought.

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As my knowledge of this industry has grown, so has my understanding of the challenges associated with it – and my respect for those who toil under some frustrating and exhausting conditions. Most of us don’t think about the fact that shaking dozens of cocktails every night can wear down your shoulder, or that a tiny slice on your fingertip can be torture when you’re faced with a long night of squeezing lemons and limes into drinks.

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For those of us who always pay our tab, leave a generous tip, and thank our server, it’s easy to forget there are jerks who don’t.

I think it’s worth remembering that a humble bar with just a few beers on draft might have been built with someone’s life savings. Or that a fledgling brewery or small distillery is the culmination of somebody’s lifelong dream.

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There was a time when the sum total of thought I devoted to a cocktail was simply whether I liked it or not. Now I find myself pondering the flavors, wondering about the process behind it. Why did the drink’s creator choose that particular combination of ingredients? Why did she use one brand of spirit over another? Chances are, it took a lot of trial and error. How much booze got poured down the drain before the right chemistry was discovered?

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I guess what I’m saying is that as I’ve gotten to know people in this industry, I’ve learned their stories. And I’ve felt compelled to tell those stories to the best of my ability. If I’d stayed with the formula of “I went to a bar, here’s what I ordered,” I’m sure I would have lost interest in this venture, and BBH would have died on the vine like the vast majority of blogs. But hearing people talk about their struggles and triumphs, their vision, their passion, or something they created – I find all of that profoundly interesting. My goal is to make those stories interesting for you, too, while at the same time giving my subjects the respect they deserve.

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So as the Good Ship BBH sails into its fourth year, I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped make this such a fun, challenging, and ultimately fulfilling adventure. There are many more stories to be told, and I’ll keep telling them as faithfully as I can.

Thank you for reading.

Best,

Matt

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

The Third Annual Boston BarHopper Christmas Special

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I lament the loss of what was once a clear division of the major fall and winter holidays. Christmas was always my favorite time of year as a child; but impatient as I was for the sights, sounds, smells, and ultimately the spoils of this most festive of holidays, I knew you had to wait until the day after Thanksgiving for the magic to happen – claymation Christmas specials on TV, neighbors adorning their homes with colored lights, stores unveiling elaborate holiday displays. Even as a kid, I realized there was a time and a place for all that stuff and that Santa’s big scene would lose a bit of its luster if you overdid it.

Yet with no regard for such traditional boundaries, Christmas continues encroaching on Thanksgiving. Call me old fashioned, but I find the idea of department stores opening on turkey day to be nothing short of obscene, and I physically recoil when I walk into a mall in October and see holiday displays or hear Christmas music.

So I take a small but satisfying measure of comfort in visiting Salem, Massachusetts – which may be the only city in the world where Halloween encroaches on Christmas.

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With its cobblestone streets, classic brick buildings, and historic architecture, Salem embodies the spirit of colonial New England. First settled by Europeans in 1626, the coastal city has a rich maritime history, with Salem Harbor having served as a key port during the Revolutionary War, and was home to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the 19th century author who grappled with his Puritan heritage in some of the most famous works in American literary history.

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But the episode Salem is best known for is the infamous series of legal proceedings known as the Salem witch trials. Between 1692 and 1693, a climate of superstition, religious zealotry, and mass paranoia led to the execution of 20 individuals accused of practicing witchcraft. The trials inform Salem’s cultural identity to this day and have made it a year-round destination for those looking to immerse themselves in the city’s spooky lore. Never is this truer than during the Halloween season, when tourists from near and far don costumes and descend upon the city in droves. If you think finding a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday is bad, try driving to Salem on any weekend in October.

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All of this forms a unique backdrop for the holiday season. The city definitely gets into the Yuletide spirit, but spirits of another kind seem loom in the background. Through the illuminated trees of Salem Common, you can see the eerie red glow of the Salem Witch Museum.

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Lampposts are festooned with green wreaths and bright red bows, and behind them are boutiques catering to practitioners of modern witchcraft and kitschy shops selling all of your occult needs.

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A giant Christmas tree stands in the town center; in front of it is a statue of a witch riding a broom (and holding Christmas tree ornaments).

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And it’s hard to walk by the Old Burying Point cemetery without thinking about scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

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But supernatural heritage aside, the reason I chose Salem for the location of this year’s Boston BarHopper Christmas Special is because of its deep New England roots. Christmas is an occasion to reenact centuries-old traditions, and for me, I’ve long been enamored of that classic, late-19th-century vision of the holiday season – bundled-up shoppers walking along gas-lit streets on a snowy night, carrying wrapped packages back to their home, where they could enjoy a brandy and warm their bones by the fire. Salem is one of the oldest cities in the country, and with its narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets, unique shops, and timeworn buildings, I feel closer to the source of that romanticized image.

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Plus, it’s great for barhopping, with plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance of each other.

The Tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel

The Hawthorne Hotel, named for one of Salem’s most famous sons, has seen many a wintry holiday.

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The stately hotel first opened its doors in 1925 and remains a Salem institution. Hotel guests and locals alike congregate at the Hawthorne’s cozy Tavern, which has a decent-size bar, comfy chairs, and a fireplace.

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And even here, there’s a hint of the macabre. The Black Cat is made with hot chocolate, Baileys, and Kahlua, and topped with whipped cream. The name may invoke Halloween, but this decadently rich and sweet drink is well suited to a December night.

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If sitting by the fire doesn’t take the winter chill out of your bones, the Fireside cocktail will. Made with hot apple cider, spiced rum, and stirred with a cinnamon stick, it packs all the flavors of the season into a warm mug.

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The Irish coffee gets sweetened up with a little whipped cream but is otherwise pretty traditional – Jameson, coffee, and a teaspoon of brown sugar. It’s a simple drink, and a timeless one; and exactly the sort of beverage you can imagine generations of locals ordering when stopping in to warm up after a night of Christmas shopping.

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Address: 18 Washington Square West, Salem

Website:http://www.hawthornehotel.com/

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Opus

If the familiar confines of the historic Hawthorne Hotel conjure the ghosts of Salem’s past, Opus offers a glimpse of the future. Bringing craft cocktails to the North Shore, Opus has the polished look of a modern cocktail bar – exposed brick walls, a long, curvy bar with an illuminated surface, and an impressive array of infused spirits and house-made mixers. Not to mention a cocktail menu that’s inventive and brimming with the flavors of the season.

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The Flipjack is made with Applejack, house-made pumpkin spice syrup, and an egg. Creamy and well balanced, it’s garnished with a dash of dried cinnamon, which is extracted from Opus’s house-spiced bourbon and then dehydrated. The pumpkin syrup gives the drink a special seasonal flair. And while “flip” cocktails may be in vogue, Applejack first became popular back in the colonial days, making it an entirely appropriate spirit for a Salem bar.

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The Sophia also captures the flavors of autumn and winter. It combines vodka infused with apples from nearby Brooksby Farm in Peabody, Vya aperitivo, and cinnamon, with a dried apple slice serving as an artful garnish.

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My friend took one sip and pronounced it “trouble in a glass,” and she was right. Crisp, fruity, and smooth, it’s a potent drink that goes down way too easily.

Address: 87 Washington Street, Salem

Website:http://www.salemopus.com/

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Witch’s Brew Café

The Witch’s Brew Cafe is unlikely to make it onto a Salem tourist map. It certainly won’t be a destination for anyone in search of a contemporary cocktail menu. But I’m giving it honorable mention for this year’s post. If you happen to be exploring Salem on a cold December night, it’s hard not to be attracted by the bar’s front windows, strewn with Christmas lights, and be drawn to the warmth beyond them.

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The Witch’s Brew is a basic neighborhood tavern favored by locals. It may not have the cushy furniture of the Hawthorne or the sleek visage of Opus, but it does have a fireplace – which I greatly appreciated after enduring the frigid temperatures while attending Salem’s Christmas tree lighting.

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And I didn’t see any seasonal microbrews or holiday cocktails on the menu. But when you stop into a warm, cozy bar on winter’s night, sometimes nothing beats a classic.

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Hot drinks have their merits, but a Guinness has a special way of fortifying you against cold weather, holiday shoppers, and any supernatural phenomena you might encounter in the Witch City.

Address: 156 Derby Street, Salem

Website: http://www.witchsbrewcafe.com/

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Salem Puritans’ fear and loathing of witches is well chronicled. You know what else they didn’t like? Christmas. They dismissed the holiday as a Catholic thing and condemned celebrations associated with it. Today, of course, Salem happily embraces witchcraft and Yuletide alike. When I was a kid, I used to wonder whether Santa had to dodge airplanes when he made his way out of the North Pole. In Salem airspace, I suppose he’d have to contend with broomsticks, too.

Whether your celebrations involve fuzzy red hats or pointed black ones, I hope your holidays are warm, safe, merry, and bright.

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P.S. If you're looking for seasonal drinks closer to Boston, check out last year's holiday post for a few unique suggestions. And if you find yourself in the confines of Faneuil Hall, here are a few ways that even a Boston native can enjoy this tourist mecca in the wintertime.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

One for the Road – Key West: The Adventure Continues

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About a year ago, my travels took me to one of the most celebrated tourist destinations in the United States – Florida’s Key West. It’s a city rich in culture, legend, and history; but since the occasion of my visit was my brother’s bachelor party, the vast majority of my sightseeing was relegated to the island’s many bars. I can’t say I had any complaints. But Key West is much more than just a cluster of bars. And so I promised myself that if I ever returned, I’d take the time to explore the nation’s southernmost city and get better acquainted with its unique character. This past fall, I did exactly that. With a little more time and a lot less urgency, and accompanied not by 13 other dudes bent on drunken shenanigans but by a small, dedicated team of fellow barhoppers, I was able to immerse myself in all those activities that make Key West famous.

Like getting up close to schools of radiantly colored fish on a snorkeling expedition.

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Visiting the onetime home of Ernest Hemingway, a writer whose work earned him a permanent spot in the canon of American literature and whose exploits infuse island lore to this day.

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Relaxing with a cigar on a warm, lazy afternoon.

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Partaking in a sunset celebration in Mallory Square, with musicians and other street performers putting on a show while the sun gracefully bowed out for the day.

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Visiting the concrete buoy marking the nation’s southernmost point and the mile markers designating the start/end point of U.S. Route 1.

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Having an obligatory margarita at the original Margaritaville.

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You could even say we made a few friends this time around.

When not hunting down rogue Jedi and Rebel scum, the Dark Lord of the Sith enjoys relaxing with the banjo.

When not hunting down rogue Jedi and Rebel scum, the Dark Lord of the Sith enjoys relaxing with the banjo.

Now don’t worry – we still did our share of drinking. We chugged down Pirate’s Punch at Captain Tony’s, walking away a few commemorative cups the richer.

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We drank craft rum drinks at the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn, listening to tales spun by bartender Bahama Bob.

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And there was plenty of cheap, light-bodied beer to help us keep the good times afloat.

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All of that might embody the typical weekend in Key West, but we also managed to find a few bars that stood in sharp contrast to traditional island drinking culture.

The Porch

You don’t see many people walking around Duval Street sipping a Guinness. No offense to the godfather of dark beers, but Key West’s perpetually temperate climate naturally calls for lighter fare – Corona, Land Shark, Bud Light, that sort of thing. Even the choosiest beer snobs tend to adopt a when-in-Rome attitude in the Keys. And that’s what makes a Key West craft beer bar so unusual.

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The Porch occupies one half of the Porter Mansion, one of the oldest houses in Key West. Built in 1839, the mansion is named for Dr. Joseph Yates Porter, Florida’s first public health officer, who lived in the house for eight decades. Despite his death in 1927, some say Porter never actually left – the house is reported to be haunted.

But The Porch feels more homey than haunted, with two small, cozy rooms, hardwood floors, and a well-worn, scraped-up bar.

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Movie posters and other memorabilia adorn the walls, giving the space the atmosphere of a man-cave. But for all its interior charm, the best place in The Porch to drink is, well, the porch.

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This spacious veranda, decked out with tables, chairs, and ceiling fans, overlooks the mansion’s garden, with tall, leafy trees helping to keep the sun at bay.

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All you need to complete the picture is a good brew, and The Porch offers 18 rotating beers on draft and another 50 or so in bottles. Everglades Pale Ale is one of a handful of local options. Bold but drinkable, with clear notes of citrus, it’s well suited to sipping on a warm afternoon.

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High-quality craft cider has also made its way to the Keys. Rekorderlig Pear Cider is light, crisp, and sweet, with a natural, subtle pear flavor.

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If beer and cider aren’t your thing, the B. Nektar Meadjito is an unusual mead that features elements of a mojito. It still has a strong honey profile but the sweetness is tempered by hints of mint and lime.

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Address: 429 Caroline Street, Door #2, Key West, Florida

Website:http://www.theporchkw.com/

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The Other Side

The Porch isn’t the only bar to have set up shop in this allegedly haunted mansion. On the other side of the hall is a bar called, appropriately, The Other Side. And like The Porch, it offers something that’s a bit of a rarity in Key West – classic cocktails.

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Just as complex microbrews tend to take a backseat to lighter, simpler beers in Key West, you don’t see Manhattans or Old Fashioneds on many drink menus down here. Tiki drinks and rum drinks are norm, and they come in every flavor and variety – from hand-crafted cocktails made by a skilled mixologist to slushy plastic cups full of cheap booze poured out of a machine.

But The Other Side caters to drinkers with a more refined palate, or at least anyone looking for a change of pace from the sweeter drinks that dominate the island. It also differs notably in terms of décor; a marble bar, cushy bar seats, and a fireplace give The Other Side a sense of sophistication that sets it apart from the many dives that populate nearby Duval Street.

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Comfortable leather couches, a coffee table, and bookshelf wallpaper make you feel like you’re enjoying a cocktail in a friend’s living room.

Not that it lacks that vital sense of Key West irreverence.

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As with The Porch, I didn’t encounter any ghosts in The Other Side, but I did see plenty of spirits (har har har). The Other Side’s cocktail menu is loaded with classic choices like Manhattans, Blood and Sand, and Negronis, along with some inventive twists like the Raspberry Ramos.

Needless to say, there’s a Hemingway Daiquiri available, made with the excellent Papa’s Pilar blonde rum, grapefruit, lime, sugar, and maraschino liqueur, garnished with a generous wedge of grapefruit. This one was a tad sweeter than other Hemingway Daiquiris I’ve had, but I’m sure “Papa” would still be OK with it.

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The French 75 is pleasantly dry and effervescent, combining gin, lemon, sugar, and Prosecco.

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The unusually named Polish Apple Juice is a variation of the Dalmatian cocktail. Simple and sweet, made with Bison Grass vodka and a rich apple juice, it was like drinking a glass of apple pie.

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And our bartender was happy to whip up something that wasn’t on the menu. The Million Dollar Sunrise is a variation of a Tequila Sunrise.

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Address: 429 Caroline Street, Door #1, Key West, Florida

Website:http://theothersidekw.com/

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Agave 308

Rum is unquestionably the most popular spirit in Key West, but tequila might take home the silver. This is, after all, “Margaritaville.” And who knows how much tequila gets consumed via shot glass in Duval Street bars while cover bands tear through classic rock and 80s tunes.

You can get sugary margaritas and shots of Jose Cuervo anywhere in Key West, but Agave 308 is the island’s only bona fide tequila bar.

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Named for its address on Front Street, Agave 308 specializes in tequila-based craft cocktails made with fresh ingredients. There’s more than 50 types of tequila, a small selection of mezcal, and not one bottle of sour mix.

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Despite being steps from popular destinations like Mallory Square and a block from Duval Street, Agave 308 has a tucked-away, hidden feel to it. Dimly lit, with candles on tables and funky artwork on the walls, it can serve as a respite from the hustle and bustle of those arduous Key West days.

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You can, of course, get a margarita here, which by virtue of its being made with fresh lime juice and high-quality tequila will differentiate it from what you might find elsewhere. But bar manager Jules Mavromatis’s drink list is fun and inventive and bears some exploring.

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The Basil Citrus Splash seems to be the most popular offering, and it’s easy to see why. Made with Milagro Reposado tequila, orange, agave, and fresh lime. The distinctive herbal aroma of a basil leaf accompanies every sip.

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The Mezcalita swaps tequila for mezcal and adds jalapeno for a smoky, spicy twist on a margarita. It’s garnished with grilled pineapple, and bits of chopped cilantro contribute an aromatic freshness.

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There’s also a variety of house-infused tequilas, with flavors like ranging from strawberry to pineapple to jalapeno.

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I mean, if you’re going to do a shot of tequila, you might as well make it a good one.

Address: 308 Front Street, Key West, Florida

Website:http://agave308.com/

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On the final night of my trip, before heading out for the evening, my brother and I were sitting in the hotel bar, quietly sipping drinks and waiting for everyone else to get their shit together. At one point we toasted and made a solemn pledge that we would someday return to this quirky tropical paradise. Key West may seem like party central and all that, but having vacationed there twice now with my brother, it’s become a place where we’ve not only drank and laughed but bonded and made a lot of memories (even if some of them are a little hazy).

And one of the great things about Key West is that when you go back, whether it’s a year later or five years, or ten, so much of it looks exactly the way you remember it. Every day will end with a breathtaking sunset.

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Sloppy Joe’s Bar will be in the same place it’s been since 1937. Same with Captain Tony’s Saloon.

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There’ll be icy rum drinks everywhere you look and plentiful cheap beer to cool you down on a hot day.

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With its deep roots and colorful history, much of Key West feels preserved and unalterable. At the same time, the island isn’t impervious to trends. Microbrews, old-school cocktails, and handcrafted drinks will always be exceptions in a city where people like to keep things simple, but Key West is anything but uniform. And I’d like to think when I go back someday, there’ll still be plenty to discover.

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Closing the Book on Year 2

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Dear friends, family, and readers, Today marks the two-year anniversary of Boston BarHopper’s debut. That’s two solid years of barhopping, picture snapping, note taking, late-night writing, and swearing to the heavens over infuriating technical issues.

But the purpose of today’s post is not to celebrate myself. Instead I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s helped make the past two years so interesting, illuminating, and wonderfully fulfilling. That means every mixologist who’s whipped up an original cocktail at my request and hasn’t minded me taking pictures while they do it.

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Every bartender who’s taken a few minutes out of their busy night to answer my questions. Every manager who’s let me in their bar before it opens so I could take a few pictures.

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It means every person who’s ever made a point to say “Hey, I went to this cool bar, and you should write about it.” It means complete strangers who’ve shared one of my stories on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else. It means fellow barhoppers who’ve patiently waited to sip their drink or eat their meal so I could photograph their order.

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And of course, my most heartfelt thanks goes to every person who’s spent even a minute visiting Boston BarHopper. I’d like to think I would do this even if no one ever read a word I wrote. But the truth is, connecting with people is what inspires me most. Whether I get five visitors a day or 5,000, I feel blessed whenever I see that someone’s spent a couple of minutes looking at my work. It truly means the world to me, and I hope you’ll keep coming back.

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This year’s journey will bring us to some exciting new bars and plenty of Boston classics. We’ll check out some hotel bars, a Boston distillery, and a couple of suburban gems. And when this brutal winter is finally behind us, we’ll heartily celebrate warmer weather with a return to the outdoor seating series.

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But for now, I just want to say thank you, again – for reading, for reaching out, for contributing in any way, obvious or subtle. I give you my word that if you’ll keep visiting, I’ll do everything I can to make the coming year of BBH the best and most entertaining one so far.

I’m looking forward to another year of exciting discoveries, interesting characters, fantastic drinks, and a lot of laughter. And as always, I’d be honored if you would join me.

Cheers,

Matt

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

The Second Annual Boston BarHopper Christmas Special

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This is the season of special occasions.

This is the time for sentimental old films, songs you only listen to once a year, and claymation TV specials that offer a portal to your childhood. It’s a time when the very landscape is transformed – from the snow that blankets the ground to the lights, wreaths, and bright red bows that adorn street lamps and shop windows.

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It’s the time of year when we gleefully endure subzero temperatures so we can stroll through a colorfully illuminated city.

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If you’ve been watching your waistline all year, this is when you look the other way. This is the month for wearing comically garish sweaters. It’s a time for decorating trees, attending parties, and taking a chance under the mistletoe.

This is the most wonderful time of the year. And while it’s famous for flying reindeer and brown paper packages tied up with string, the holiday season also brings out some of the best cocktails known to man. The winter weather inspires all manner of fortifying beverages, but holiday-themed drinks occupy a special class all to themselves.

Don't judge.

Don't judge.

A cup of cheer can be very simple – just dust off that rarely used bottle of peppermint schnapps, pour some in a mug of hot cocoa, and you’ll be rockin’ around the Christmas tree in no time at all. It’s also possible to go overboard, and I’ve had holiday cocktails made with unnaturally sweet spirits, dyed with artificial coloring, ornamented with candy canes and chocolates, and served in brightly tinted glasses.

But like a carefully decorated house that you make a point to drive by when the calendar turns to December, the best yuletide drinks are artful, well thought out, and beautifully presented. They call for more effort than spiking some store-bought eggnog with whiskey or rum, but they’re also not overdone to Griswoldian proportions. These libations may reflect the colors of the season, but more importantly, they evoke its essence. They capture the aromas of an all-day baking session, the warmth of an open fire, the coziness of a snowy night. They are an annual indulgence as unique as the season itself.

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With that in mind, I asked three of Boston’s top mixologists if they’d be each willing to devise an original cocktail for this year’s Boston BarHopper Christmas Special. The drinks they responded with were festive, imaginative, and fully imbued with the holiday spirit.

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Our first stop is in Somerville, where Union Square is tastefully lit up and decked out for the holidays. Not that the extra lighting makes Backbar any easier to find. This hidden bar might be a tad challenging to locate if you don’t know where to look, but for some of the best cocktails in the Boston area, it’s worth a little confusion.

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Principal bartender Joe Cammarata has been working at Backbar since it opened two years ago. I met him during my first visit a few months back and was immediately impressed with the way he went about his work. No matter how crowded the bar got – and this small space can get busy – Joe never seemed frazzled, making drinks according to his own unflappable tempo. He always found time to inquire about his customers’ spirit preferences, offer suggestions, and explain the nuances of a recipe – all while consistently mixing up the sort of top-notch drinks that have made Backbar such a renowned destination for cocktail enthusiasts.

I stopped by on a recent Saturday evening, and before Joe unveiled his yuletide concoction, he presented me with a fun Backbar original – a Root Beer Float Milk Punch.

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The flavors of root beer and ice cream may seem best suited to summer, but this milk punch, made with rum, amaretto, and citrus falernum, had a creamy texture and notes of vanilla that were right at home on a cold winter’s night. And yet this was only a prelude to the main event.

“When you emailed me,” Joe said, “the first thing I thought of was turning a Mai Tai into an eggnog.”

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I was stunned. Mai Tai? Eggnog? These are a few of my favorite things, but the citrusy sweetness of a Mai Tai and the rich, dairy base of eggnog sounded even less compatible than the Snow Miser and Heat Miser. What I didn’t realize, though, is that the drinks have more than just rum in common.

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“There are a lot of spices in tiki drinks that remind me of Christmas,” Joe explained, as he began making a cocktail that combined the best of two very different worlds. He started by shaking a whole egg and heavy cream before adding a couple of house-made syrups – orgeat and falernum. Then came the booze – orange liqueur, Clément VSOP rum, and Bacardi 8-year rum.

“It wouldn’t be eggnog without nutmeg,” he said, grating a fresh clove of nutmeg over the creamy concoction. “And it wouldn’t be a Mai Tai without a little bit of lime.”

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The Nog Mai Tai – a working title, Joe said at the time – was a unique, masterful mix of ingredients that evoked snowy days and tropical nights in equal measure. The almond flavor of the orgeat syrup, an essential component of a genuine Mai Tai, is exactly the sort of warm nuttiness found in all manner of holiday treats. Likewise, the falernum syrup, common to many tiki drinks, combines the flavors you might find in Christmas cookies and pumpkin pies – cloves, ginger, allspice, and vanilla. The Clément added a touch of coconut and caramel.

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This was fantastic – clever, unexpected, and representative of the innovative spirit that gives Backbar its impeccable reputation. With notes of molasses and vanilla, balanced by hints of lime and coconut, this full-flavored cocktail conjured the odd image of sipping a cold-weather classic in the land where palm trees sway.

For our second drink we head into downtown Boston, where Boston Common and the Public Garden both sparkle with holiday splendor. The huge Christmas tree, a gift from our friends in Nova Scotia, is celebrated with an annual lighting ceremony that officially ushers in the holiday season.

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An illuminated footbridge offers a majestic path through the Public Garden.

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Trees all throughout the Common are adorned with festive lights. If you don’t mind the cold, strap on some skates and take a whirl on the Frog Pond.

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But when Jack Frost starts nipping at your nose, there’s no better place to warm up than at nearby Stoddard’s.

With an excellent beer selection, a universally lauded Moscow Mule, and an impressive list of old-school craft cocktails, it’s no wonder Stoddard’s is one of Boston’s most popular drinking establishments. It draws a strong after-work crowd that’s never in a hurry to leave, and if you score a seat at the bar before 7 p.m., consider yourself lucky. But no matter how busy or noisy Stoddard’s gets, you’ll probably hear the voice of Jamie Walsh above the din.

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As Stoddard’s’ drink coordinator and bar manager, “Walshie” usually looks pretty busy, bouncing between the main bar and a second one downstairs. But he still finds time to mix up a few drinks while talking and laughing with customers.

A mouthful of awesomeness.

A mouthful of awesomeness.

My first meeting with Jamie was a memorable one. I was at Stoddard’s on a rare quiet evening, working on a piece about the bar. Jamie introduced himself and offered me a sample of Founders Breakfast Stout, an imperial stout that he characterized as “a mouthful of awesomeness.” He immediately struck me as a good-natured fellow whose knowledge of his craft was exceeded only by his enthusiasm.

For the BBH Christmas Special, Jamie offered Stoddard’s’ Downtown Flip. “It’s our play on an eggnog,” he told me. This was a more traditional eggnog than the one I had at Backbar – no lime zest or falernum here – but it was no less inventive and complex. Jamie adds a whole egg, Old Monk 7-year rum, Drambuie, a house-made cinnamon syrup, and Aztec chocolate bitters to a shaker. “This is called a ‘dry’ shake and will help incorporate all the ingredients,” he explained. “It also helps make a more frothy drink.” After that he adds ice, shakes it again, and strains it into a coupe glass.

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With a thick consistency akin to that of a milk shake, and tiny shards of ice that added texture and a deep chill, this exquisite drink paid tribute to the holiday season’s quintessential beverage while giving it a few creative, modern twists. The flavor from the chocolate bitters was subtle but unmistakable, while the cinnamon syrup blended with the honey and spices of the Drambuie to create a beverage worthy of being sipped in front of a roaring fire.

When I asked Walshie if he had anything else of the seasonal variety, he responded with a drink called Paradise and Purgatory. This variation of a Manhattan combined rye whiskey, Benedictine, green chartreuse, absinthe, and three dashes of Fernet Branca.

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With all those bitter ingredients, I was expecting the cocktail equivalent of coal in my stocking. But I was surprised by the complex, herbal base, and none of individual components were overly assertive. The Paradise and Purgatory isn’t necessarily a holiday drink, but it will surely surely reinvigorate you after hours of walking in a winter wonderland.

Our final stop is in Central Square. Gritty, Bohemian, and alternative as it may be, this Cambridge neighborhood still dons its gay apparel in December.

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Now if you’re a regular reader of mine, you could be forgiven for wondering whether I’m secretly on Moksa’s payroll. True, this Pan-Asian restaurant and cocktail bar has featured prominently in my 2013 posts, from bartender battles to evenings spent watching the Three Amigos. But Moksa regularly hosts fun, creative events; and when Noon Summers’ cocktails are at the center of them, I find it hard to stay away.

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Noon is the beverage coordinator at Moksa and a brilliant mixologist. She’s had her work featured in Imbibe magazine, has designed cocktails for numerous events around the city, and makes a mean Manischewitz punch.

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For this project, Noon came up with a fresh, highly original cocktail called a Holiday Collins. Made entirely with local ingredients, it’s versatile enough to accompany any holiday dinner.

“Collins” might make you think of gin, but the base liquor in Noon’s cocktail is Bully Boy whiskey.

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In place of soda water, she uses Lambise – a Champagne-like “cocktail beer” produced in Belgium and currently sold only in Boston.

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To that she adds lemon juice and a special house cordial made from herbs given to her by the guys from the Bully Boy, who grew them right on their own farm. “I call it a farmhouse cordial,” she told me. “It works well with the lambic, which is known as a farmhouse beer.”

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Finally, this beauty was ornamented with a sprig of sage (also from the Bully Boy farm), an orange twist, and a playfully festive straw.

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Strong, complex, but mellow overall, this was an easy-drinking cocktail designed to complement a winter feast. “It’s food-friendly,” Noon explained. “There’s so much food on your table at the holidays; what goes with it all?” She’s right; think of all the strong flavors competing for your attention on Christmas Day –­ roasted turkey, ham, cranberries, figgy pudding. “You need an aromatic cocktail, something easy to drink.”

Potent but smooth, and not overpowering, the Holiday Collins was a pleasure to drink. As soon as I lifted the glass, I was met with the unmistakable scent of sage. The Lambise provided effervescence and a subtle tartness. But the farmhouse cordial, a blend of sage, thyme, rosemary, and two types of basil, was the most dramatic component. “You find all these herbs on your table,” Noon noted, “and this drink goes with all of them.”

For me, the flavor brought back one of my most visceral holiday memories: stepping into my aunt and uncle’s house on Christmas Day and being greeted with the savory aromas of fresh herbs and spices wafting toward me from the kitchen.

Before I left, Noon’s bar manager, Tyler, offered me one more surprise – a sip of candy-cane-infused rum. Colorful and sweet, it tasted exactly like a liquid, adults-only candy cane.

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Since I’m pretty certain they made this by soaking candy canes in a bottle of Bacardi, it was an ironic follow-up to the artistry of Joe’s Nog Mai Tai, Jamie’s Downtown Flip, and Noon’s own Holiday Collins.

“We were just having fun there,” Noon confessed, a little sheepishly.

But its sweetness and simplicity evoked the holiday season in a different and no less poignant way. Our ability to appreciate the depth and complexity of a well-crafted cocktail is a product of the same maturity and sense of awareness that inevitably diminishes the mystery and majesty of the holiday season.

Now we know how the presents got under the tree and how much they cost. We understand that glowing lights and cheerful songs can make some people feel terribly lonely.

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We realize that spending the holiday with our loved ones is a blessing, and yet our hearts note the absence of those who are missing from our celebration. That’s all on top of crowded malls, complicated logistics, and family politics.

We are far removed from the days when our year-end responsibilities included drafting a letter to Santa and trying to evade the naughty list. But sometimes all it takes is the flavor of a candy cane – whether it’s wrapped in plastic or soaking in rum – to bring back the thrill of running downstairs on Christmas morning. And if that renews your ability to believe in magic, even for a moment, then this will always be the most wonderful time of the year.

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The holiday season is hurtling toward its epic conclusion, but there’s still plenty of time for a cup of cheer. Check out these fine establishments when you need a break from last-minute shopping or are just looking to celebrate the season:

Backbar: 7 Sanborn Court, Union Square, Somerville

http://backbarunion.com/

Stoddard’s: 48 Temple Place, Boston

http://stoddardsfoodandale.com/

Moksa: 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square, Cambridge

http://www.moksarestaurant.com/

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

From Watertown With Love

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“What’s your favorite bar?” It’s a question I get often, which makes sense; I do, after all, have an entire website devoted to the topic of Boston-area bars. But I always get a little flustered when I try to answer (which, ironically, makes me sound like I know very little about the subject). I try to tell people that I don’t really have a favorite; what I enjoy most is the variety that our fair city offers. I explain to them how the contours of my evening or mood play a key role in determining what bar I’ll go to on a given night (or day). Am I headed out to watch a Bruins game? Am I meeting one of the Brew Dudes for good, complex microbrews? Am I playing pool with a friend? Am I going out with a group? Do I want fancy cocktails? Is it a dive bar kind of night?

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Usually people listen, nod along, and then ask “But which one is your favorite?” I sigh, resignedly, and just say Stoddard’s (and why not, it’s awesome).

The thing is, that question always puts me in an awkward spot. My website certainly isn’t the ultimate resource for Boston nightlife (yet), but often enough, someone will tell me they tried a bar based on my recommendation. That makes me feel like I have a certain responsibility to be credible. So when I’m explaining my project to a complete stranger who’s wondering why I’m taking pictures of my drinks, and then they want to know what my favorite bar is, I feel like I should respond with one of Boston’s best. I mean, what am I supposed to say? “Oh, I really love these two townie bars down the street from me”?

That’s the truth, though. As much as I love drinking in pubs with 50+ microbrews on draft and chatting with artists of alcohol who can whip up unique cocktails, my favorites are decidedly unremarkable. They aren’t even in Boston. See, I live in a town just outside the city; perhaps you’ve heard of it…

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Yes, that Watertown. We were a quiet, under-the-radar suburb that was close to Boston but without the traffic, congestion, and exorbitant living expenses. We were known for good restaurants and some quirky shops – if we were known at all. I’ve had to describe Watertown’s existence and geography on more than one occasion. That all changed at about midnight on April 19, when the two men suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon sped into Watertown in a stolen car.

It was approximately 1:40 a.m. when Melissa woke me up. I’d slept maybe two hours. “You have to see this,” she said, turning on the TV. All we knew at first was that there was some serious police activity about a mile away and shots had been fired. Soon, though, creepy amateur footage of cops firing their weapons at unseen assailants made it onto the news. Filmed through a window by someone with an iPhone, the video was dark and grainy, but the sounds of the gunshots were clear, unmistakable, and utterly chilling. Reporters soon revealed what we’d all suspected – the marathon bombers were in Watertown.

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In the wake of that news came the police instructions, which grew increasingly ominous as the minutes dragged on: Stay in your house. Close the windows. Move to the rear of your home. Do not answer your door.

For hours, the only lights in our house came from the TV and our phones when we’d get a text or check Twitter to see if anyone had any news. The details were sketchy, but eventually we learned that one of the two suspects was dead and the other was at large somewhere in our town. He was considered armed and dangerous; but armed with what, we didn’t know. A gun? Another bomb? A suicide vest?

Morning brought with it a sense of relief; at least sunlight limited the bomber’s ability to hide. But he was still unaccounted for. And thus began a strange, interminably long day marked equally by anxiety and tedium. Like the rest of Boston and the towns surrounding it, we were instructed to “shelter in place” – a term I hope never to hear again that essentially meant we had to stay in our homes. And in the case of Watertown, there was the added precaution of roads being closed. No one drove in, no one drove out.

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There was little to do but watch the news. Not that there was much news, mind you; just anchors repeating themselves while interspersing the previous night’s footage with shots of the growing army of Watertown and state police, military personnel, and FBI and ATF agents. Every now and again there’d be a big commotion when a SWAT vehicle drove 50 feet down the road and then parked, or when the governor or police chief would hold a press conference to announce that there was nothing to announce. As the day stretched into the late afternoon, the prohibition on driving meant that Mel wouldn’t be making her scheduled flight out of town to meet a friend, and I wouldn’t be making it to a concert with my friend Mario (who also lives in Watertown).

Our plans scuttled, our patience sorely tested, one thing kept running through my mind – if the Halfway Café is open tonight, I’m making a beeline for it the second they lift this stupid lockdown.

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When I first moved to Watertown, the Halfway Café possessed something of a mythic quality. Whenever I told someone where I was living, I’d hear “Oh, have you been to the Halfway Café? I used to love that place.” Despite its legendary status, nothing about my first visit blew me away. It was pretty much your standard pub. There was a dining room and a bar area, the latter of which seemed narrow and felt cramped. The food was pretty good, and it was affordable. The beer selection was average. The best thing about it, from my perspective, was that it was within walking distance of my house.

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But as my personal roots in Watertown deepened, the Halfway Café went from being a typical neighborhood bar to a beloved home away from home. It’s where I go after a long day of shoveling snow. It’s where Melissa and I go when we’ve had a tough week or just don’t feel like cooking. It’s where Mario, my sister Kelly, and I have watched countless Sox games and eaten our weight in wings. Mario's wife (and basketball aficionado) Ivys tries to drag me to the Halfway a couple nights a week for whatever hoops game she’s got money on.

It’s the first bar at which I ever considered myself a regular.

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Halfway has a fair beer selection, which they’ve expanded since I first started going. Nothing extraordinary, mostly standards like Guinness, Harpoon, and Sam Adams, but it’s nice to find less common options like BBC Steel Rail and Batch 19. I typically start off with something decent – a Guinness in the winter, a Blue Moon or a Sam Summer when it’s warm out – before downshifting to a PBR (at $2, it’s hard to beat).

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You could probably eat enough of the complimentary popcorn to have it count as a meal, but I usually order something more sustaining. The menu is mostly your standard pub fare; for me, it nearly always comes down to a choice between a burger and wings. The Halfway’s chicken wings are their bread and butter. I realize that like barbecue food, wings are often the subject of heated debate among aficionados. I don’t know where the Halfway’s wings rank on the regional respect scale, but they’re easily my favorite. It’s a good size portion for $11, but you can get a double portion if that’s the way you roll (and you will roll if you have the double portion all to yourself).

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But the burger always gives the wings a run for their money. The burgers themselves are pretty standard, but the toppings can be inventive. Take, for example, the decadent Reuben burger, topped with corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese, served on griddled rye. I mean, they’re essentially taking a burger and topping it with an entire Reuben sandwich for a gastronomically shocking yet satisfying experience. I’d suggest ordering that only on special occasions. My go-to choice is the pub burger, topped with citrus chipotle BBQ sauce, jalapeno bacon, and smoked gouda and cheddar cheese. That’s a whole lotta flavor goin’ on there, and worthwhile at $9.99.

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Comforting as my old standbys are, they’re challenged on a monthly basis by the Halfway’s “8 for $8” specials. That’s eight monthly specials for $8 a pop. The specials run the gamut from painfully ordinary to somewhat creative, but either way, it’s a good deal for dinner.

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Wings, PBR, and any environment that was not my living room were the very things I was dreaming about when we got the word that the lockdown had been lifted. It was around 6 p.m., and while there was still a madman on the loose, we could finally go outside again. The world hurriedly tried to return to something resembling normal, and the Halfway announced it would open at 8. Melissa and I made plans to meet Mario and Ivys there later, but first things first – we were getting out of the house, at long last, and going for a much-needed walk.

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If the bombers were looking to further infuriate the people of the Boston area after Monday’s attack, forcing us to stay inside on the first 75 degree day of the year certainly did the trick. We took a stroll around the neighborhood and saw so many people out of doors, happy to stretch their legs and feel the fresh air.

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It turned to be a brief respite. Barely 20 minutes had gone by when helicopters suddenly passed overhead and sirens wailed in the distance. We got home and discovered that the day had taken a dramatic turn – Suspect #2 was holed up in a boat in somebody’s backyard. We reluctantly settled in for another hour or so of must-see TV. Eventually, the 9,000-to-1 man-advantage that law enforcement held proved to be too much for the wounded 19-year-old to overcome. He succumbed to the inevitable and the standoff was over. Cue the Standells’ “Dirty Water.”

In the tense interim, the Halfway decided not to open after all. Fortunately, my other favorite Watertown bar did.

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My first impression of Asiana Fusion was, like that of the Halfway Café, underwhelming. I went there a couple of times and it seemed just alright. Then one night, Melissa and I were supposed to meet Mario, Ivys, and Kelly at the Halfway, only to find it too crowded; we went to Asiana instead, and kind of never left.

It’s a quirky place, that Asiana Fusion is. There’s a decent-size dining area with about a dozen tables, but the 12-seat horseshoe bar, with its sleek metal siding, is where you’ll normally find the BBH crew and me. There’s more of a lounge vibe to the place anyway. They’ve got a couple of TVs if you’re there to watch a game, as Mario and I often are. Asiana hosts trivia on Thursdays – behold, the spoils of recent third-place finish by Mario, Ivys, Kelly, and me.

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They used to have karaoke nights on the weekend, but I think they dropped that. There’s also a pool table, surrounded by some comfy leather sofas; as far as I know, it’s the only place in Watertown with billiards.

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As their helpfully descriptive moniker would imply, Asiana’s menu is a mix of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine, with some distinctly Americanized touches like steak-and-cheese spring rolls. Bizarrely, they also have a dedicated frozen yogurt station.

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But what I most associate Asiana Fusion with is their Mai Tai. A Polynesian-style drink by way of Oakland, California, the Mai Tai is a staple at any Asian restaurant. Its recipe has endured countless variations; the only ingredients on which anyone can agree are rum, pineapple juice, and some sort of orange flavor, either from juice or a liqueur. I’ve had very simple versions as well as inordinately complex renditions; I’d put Asiana’s version somewhere in the middle. Regardless, it’s a sweet, potent cocktail that often comes to mind when I’m slogging through a brutal workweek.

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Since it is most unwise to consume Asiana’s Mai Tais on an empty stomach, mine are nearly always accompanied by chicken and shrimp Pad Thai. The regularity with which I order this meal is such that the bartenders don’t even bother giving me a menu anymore. Is it the very best Pad Thai around? Probably not. But I’m enamored of it, and at $9.95, it’s reasonably priced (especially since I usually bring half of it home).

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I wish I could tell you more about Asiana’s food, but I rarely venture beyond my typical order. I can vouch for their delicious scallion pancakes. And when I was last there, Kelly ordered General Gau’s chicken, just to lend the post a little culinary variety; she was pretty pleased with it.

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Also in the spirit of variety, I asked our regular bartender if there was a drink other than the Mai Tai she’d recommend. She whipped me up something original and off-menu – the Rockstar. A mix of whiskey, Southern Comfort, Chambord, cranberry juice, and Sprite, it was fruity and intense.

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There’s a small but decent draft beer selection, including Sam seasonal, Blue Moon, Rapscallion Honey, Baxter Brewing Company’s Stowaway IPA, and Angry Orchard cider. But after a couple of Mai Tais, about all I can handle is a Bud Light – which, at $2.50, is a pretty good deal.

As with the Halfway Café, at some point, Asiana became my local. When I walked in the other night, I wasn’t even in my seat before the bartender said “Hey there…Mai Tai?” We had a similar exchange shortly thereafter about the Pad Thai. I always tell her that one day I’m going to surprise her and order something completely different. It’s an idle threat, though. Further solidifying my predictability is that if I walk in alone, I always get the same question – “Where’s everyone else?” That would be some combination of Mario, Ivys, Kelly, and Melissa. And yes, at least one of them is usually on the way.

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So yes, I go to Asiana with the same people, order the same drinks, eat the same food, and see the same bartenders. But that familiarity is what made it such a comforting destination at which to meet Mario and Ivys after such an unusual, tense day. The post-lockdown atmosphere at Asiana wasn’t necessarily celebratory; no USA chants broke out, no one gave a loud toast to law enforcement. I would call it more of a collective sigh of relief. It was the kind of night where you’d laugh a bit and swap stories with people, whether you knew them or not. We’d been through an ordeal, after all, the likes of which we’d never experienced in our hometown.

How appropriate, then, that we’d all gather at the neighborhood bar. From its very earliest incarnation, the public house was often central to its community – it was where people met, exchanged news, and engaged in public forums. We might not think of a bar that way anymore, but when people in Watertown needed to connect after a traumatic day, that’s where a lot of us went. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t rush out that night because I wanted to get drunk. I simply felt the need to act normal again and be with people who could relate to my experience.

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The Halfway and Asiana were the first and only places that came to mind. As I said earlier, on the surface, neither bar is extraordinary. If you lived in Boston, I doubt you’d come out to Watertown to eat and drink at either place. But the value a bar can bring to a community isn’t neatly calculated by how many beers it has on draft or how trendy its drink list is. It’s measured in loud fits of laughter, quiet conversations, and hugging a complete stranger after watching an exhilarating playoff win. It’s measured in the comfort of a familiar environment. It’s measured in catching up with a friendly bartender while sipping a beer and watching TV. My favorite bars might not look like anything special to you, but they mean the world to me.

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bottles-edit

Likewise, Watertown is a relatively low-key place. We’re unaccustomed to midnight shootouts and national media scrutiny. The police log in the local paper doesn’t exactly read like an episode of Law & Order. But in the face of potential catastrophe, our town exhibited character and strength. Boston underwent a terrible tragedy on Marathon Monday; it affected all of us. We wish it had never happened, and we would have been happy not to have two murderous terrorists set foot in our quiet town. But we answered the call, just the same. And while I’ve only lived here for 5 years, it made me proud to call Watertown my home.

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Halfway Café: 394 Main Street, Watertown

http://www.thehalfwaycafe.com/

Asiana Fusion: 1 Waverley Avenue, Watertown

http://www.asianafusion.com/

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

Undaunted

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Figuring out what I was going to write for last week’s post was hard enough, given what transpired on Marathon Monday. I certainly wasn’t going to submit my usual lighthearted bar review. Then all hell broke loose in the wee hours of Friday, and like most of you, I spent the day glued to the TV. Oh, and I live in Watertown, so…suffice to say, military helicopters overhead and gunshots in the distance contributed another layer of anxiety to an already tense day. What follows is an updated version of the piece I’d prepared for last Friday. I’ll have a more Watertown-centric post to share later this week. After that, it’s back to business – which, thanks to the actions of law enforcement and the bravery of so many ordinary citizens, I’ll be able to do.

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Boston40

I’ve never had a job that’s given me Patriots’ Day off. And since I haven’t had many close friends or relatives participate in the Boston Marathon, I’ve never spent the day on the marathon route, watching the runners. Certainly, it’s a fun thing to do; there’s a festive air about the city, and we’re often blessed with a beautiful spring day, which is such a relief after a long winter. But usually I just go to work, listen to the 11 a.m. Red Sox game, and occasionally check Boston.com for any marathon news (which typically isn’t that exciting unless you know someone from, say, Kenya).

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That’s where I was and what I was doing this past Monday. I went for a walk at lunch, as I always do, and like everyone else, remarked on how ideal the weather was for the runners. Later that afternoon, I was thrilled by the Sox’ walk-off win over the Rays. That evening, I was planning on having a drink with a friend.

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Boston5

All in all, it was a fairly routine day. Work was busy, so I wasn’t paying much attention to anything outside my office. Nor was I particularly aware of the ambulance sirens; when you work on the same street as Mass General, that’s a sound you become mostly immune to.

I can’t even say any alarm bells went off when I got a text from my friend Christine, who’d heard a report of explosions near the Lenox Hotel and wanted to be sure I was OK. Yes, I was fine. And my initial reaction, like that of many people, was that it was probably an electrical issue or something involving a gas main. An accident. Hopefully nobody was hurt. Plus, Christine is afraid of thunderstorms; her telling me about a loud noise in the city hardly seemed like a cause for panic.

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boston3 005

Of course, it was much more than just a loud noise. As details began trickling in, it gradually became apparent that something was wrong. That’s when I realized I’d been hearing sirens for a solid 20 minutes. Boston.com was maddeningly offline, overloaded by a surge of unexpected web traffic. I scrolled through my Twitter feed instead, desperate for scraps of news.

And the news was devastating. The explosions were not accidents – they were bombs. This was deliberate. Observers uploaded pictures taken with their camera phones, and the images were shocking. It was startling to see a place we’re so familiar with, so profoundly transformed. Back Bay buildings we walk past every day were obscured by smoke and dust. People were lying on the ground along Boylston Street. The sidewalks were stained with blood.

Each grim revelation brought with it a heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Suddenly there were reports of suspicious packages all over the city – on footbridges, at Harvard Square, at the JFK library. Should we stay in our buildings? Was it safe to take the subway? Were there more bombs waiting to detonate? There were questions, conflicting reports, and confusion; and in the center of it all, one ugly, disturbing, and unavoidable truth: Boston was under attack.

If you’re a regular visitor to this website, you know to expect a weekly article chronicling my ongoing adventures in Boston-area bars. I hope you’re not disappointed to find something a little different today. I realize there would be some justification for writing my typical entry; there may be no better display of defiance to the perpetrators of terror than to continue going about our daily lives. Truly, though, I couldn’t fathom publishing another post about sitting in a bar and having fun while there are so many people sitting by the hospital bedsides of their husbands, wives, parents, or children, praying for them to wake up.

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Boston6

But since reporting on the bar scene is my raison d’être, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the important role that so many Boston bars and restaurants played in the aftermath of this horror. Within minutes, they took to their Twitter and Facebook pages and reached out to a reeling community. “Anyone wanting to get out of the Back Bay, come over; plenty of tables and calm here, and don’t worry – you don’t have to buy a thing,” tweeted El Pelon Taqueria; they also offered people cold drinks, bathrooms, and a place to charge their phones. Tasty Burger, Mass Ave Tavern, and many others offered free or discounted food to runners and emergency responders.  Sweet Cheeks brought food to the Park Plaza Castle, where runners were trying to reunite with their families.

These are but a few examples, and such generosity didn’t end on Monday or Tuesday. In the days that followed, countless bars and restaurants donated portions of their food sales to victims’ funds. Some began fundraising campaigns or passed on word of other charitable endeavors. Nearly all showed some form of support for a community badly in need of it, even if it was just an encouraging message written in 140 characters or fewer.

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Such gestures, great or small, serve to remind us how deeply any local business, a bar in particular, can be woven into the fabric of a community. Such establishments offer more than just beer and cocktails. They give us a place to gather and be together. A place to celebrate the best times, to embrace each other during our darkest hours. In that respect, even the newest, trendiest bars are part of a very old tradition.

As for the bars and restaurants on Boylston Street, they’re gradually beginning to reopen as the scope of the crime scene diminishes. They could use your support, and not just in the form of a good tip. I’m sure they’d be happy just to see a few faces on the opposite side of their bars, given all that’s happened.

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Boston10

Unfortunately, one Back Bay bar that won’t be reopening for some time is Forum. Given its proximity to the finish line, Forum was a popular destination for spectators. That also made it a target – Forum’s outdoor patio was ground zero for the second bomb. Guests and employees alike were seriously hurt in the blast. And now one of the area’s most beautiful bars, open only a year, faces the prospect of rebuilding. I’ve only been to Forum on a couple of occasions, but I count it among my favorites. The people who work there are so friendly and down to earth.

As it turns out, they’re also courageous. Although some of the staff were badly injured, those who were not incapacitated rushed to help guests and people on the street, pulling them inside and tending to them as best they could.

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Boston1

They certainly weren’t alone; bravery and heroism were in abundance on Monday. Boston’s police and firefighters rose to the occasion, as they so often do. Doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical personnel worked tirelessly. And there are innumerable stories of ordinary people running toward the danger to pull people out of it. In the face of catastrophe and despair, this may have been Boston’s finest hour.

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I know some cynical people who think that when disaster strikes, it’ll be every man for himself. I don’t believe it. All I’ve seen since last Monday is kindness and compassion. From restaurants offering free food, to people on Twitter offering complete strangers a place to stay, it seems like everyone wants to help in any way possible.

That’s what I’ll remember most about these past few days – the love and the sense of closeness. I’ll remember the messages I got from people I’ve not spoken with in years, expressing relief that I was OK. I’ll remember “Sweet Caroline” being played at Yankee Stadium and other MLB parks. I’ll remember the feeling that the whole country and people around the world had our backs.

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DSC02026

I’ll also remember the lives we lost: the young woman who used to work at Summer Shack and liked hanging out at Bukowski’s. The graduate student who came to Boston from China to continue her education. The 8-year-old boy who still had his whole life ahead of him. And more recently, a 26-year-old police officer at MIT who died while protecting the rest of us.

As I write this, there’s a sense of relief in the Boston area. One of the terrorists is dead, the other is in police custody. But there are victims still clinging to life. Some are coping with the loss of limbs. Others are recovering from head wounds and any number of life-changing injuries.

All of us, though, are moving forward. We have no other choice.

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DSC02041

Without a doubt, the road ahead is more difficult for some of us today. But if the events of the past few days have shown us anything, it’s that there are plenty of people willing to help us along the way. We were attacked, yes; but we were not defeated. And the signs of our collective strength can be found everywhere. Our compassion can be seen in the makeshift memorials along Boylston Street.

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Boston23

Our endurance was on display in that stirring, emotional national anthem sung by 17,000+ people before the Bruins game last Wednesday. Our patriotism will be celebrated on the Esplanade on the 4th of July, when the Boston Pops strike up the opening notes in front of a crowd that will top 500,000.

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boston2 026

And our determination, and that of free people everywhere, will be unquestioned next April, when the 118th running of the Boston Marathon will have the highest attendance in history.

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IMG_1461

Next year, I promise not to be stuck in my office. I won’t be running in the race; I can barely run 26.2 minutes, let alone 26.2 miles. But the least I can do is take the day off and support those who spent months training, raised thousands of dollars to run for a charity, and refused to be intimidated by the cowardly acts of two deranged lunatics.

Finally, the images emerging from Boston this past week have been disheartening. We’ve seen smoke, fire, destruction, blood, military vehicles, and eerily empty streets. I thought we could use a break, so most of the photos in this week’s post are of the city in the best of times. Some I took this past week, others I’ve accumulated over the years. I hope they lifted your spirits a bit. Our city is beautiful; but as we’ve learned over the past week, it’s the people who truly make it strong.

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IMG_1444

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

The BBH Book Club

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Are you sitting down? Good. Because I’ve got some bad news. As a result of my procrastinationstunning hangoveranxiety due to persistent rash scheduling restrictions, I’ve had to hold off on publishing my usual Friday post. I realize this is simply devastating for many of you, and it breaks my heart to let you down. Fortunately, all is not lost – today’s would-be post will should be up on Monday. In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce a new feature here on Boston BarHopper – the BBH Book Club.

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bookclub 010

Don’t let the name fool you. There’s no required reading, and I won’t be organizing discussion groups. It’s not even a club, really. But it will involve books. My thought is that whenever I happen upon a book that has some sort of relevance to my mission – whether it’s about Boston, cocktails, spirits, beer, what have you – I’ll give it a mention here on BBH. And don’t be cowed by the rigidity of that criteria; I encourage you suggest any tomes that might qualify. I figure this will be an occasional thing, something I do once every couple of months (I’m a slow reader, don’t judge).

Anyway, just such a scenario presented itself about a week ago, when I got an email from a gentleman named David Kosmider, founder of 27Press.com, which recently published a book on a topic that’s dear to me – Irish whiskey.

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IrishWhiskeyCoverV2

7 Lessons on Irish Whiskey: An Introduction to Drinking and Enjoying the Whiskeys of Ireland is an informative guide that outlines the fundamentals of what can be a daunting subject. Whiskey itself is an acquired taste, and for the uninitiated, the path to enjoying it is cluttered with questions: Should I drink it with ice? Should I add water to bring out the aroma, or is that messing with the flavor? Which whiskeys should be enjoyed on their own, and which are best suited for mixing in cocktails?

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No matter how long you’ve been enjoying whiskey, there was a time when you didn’t know the answers to those questions. That’s why it’s helpful to have a resource like this at your fingertips. And although 7 Lessons is aimed primarily at whiskey novices, it addresses topics that might be of interest to a more experienced drinker. Maybe you don’t need to brush up on terms like “neat” and “rocks,” but perhaps you’re gaining an appreciation for single malts over blends, or learning to distinguish between Irish whiskey and Scotch. Having a guidebook with you on such an auspicious journey never hurts. Plus, when you find yourself at a fancy bar, staring at whiskeys ranging from $20 to $75 a glass, you can never be too informed.

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outdoors 050

In addition to accessible discussions about the flavor profiles of various Irish whiskeys, the book explores the spirit’s long history, describes the events that nearly brought Irish whiskey production to a standstill in the early 20th century, and acquaints you with Ireland’s few remaining distilleries. There are even recommendations for making Irish whiskey cocktails, along with helpful advice on why you should think twice before ordering an Irish Car Bomb here in Boston. And while the focus is on Irish whiskey, there’s plenty of useful and interesting stuff on the spirit in general, including an overview of the distillation process and the characteristics of non-Irish varieties.

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flash 032

None of these topics are covered exhaustively, but that’s very much by design. "What we're doing with 27Press is working to create really good, short, information-dense, inexpensive beginner's guides on a variety of topics," Kosmider told me (they also have a book on tea). Thus, while learning to appreciate whiskey's subtle charms can be a lifelong endeavor, 7 Lessons is brief and to the point. And unlike a top-shelf whiskey, the book is affordable – you can download it for $0.99 from Amazon (available exclusively for the Kindle). That leaves plenty of money in the jar-o to buy yourself some Jameson, Bushmills, or Tullamore D.E.W. Sláinte!

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DSC_0273

The book is 7 Lessons on Irish Whiskey: An Introduction to Drinking and Enjoying the Whiskeys of Ireland. It’s published by 27Press, a new-ish publishing company devoted to sharing their knowledge of food and drink. And if you have a Kindle and 99 cents to burn, you can acquire 7 Lessons at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BOWUBNO .

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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.

The First Annual Boston BarHopper Christmas Special

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When I was a kid, going into Boston seemed kind of like a big deal. That was where dad worked, and where the Sox and the Celtics and the Bruins played, and where the governor lived. I grew up about 20 miles north of Boston. That’s not prohibitively far from the city, but going there still felt like a special occasion. Everything in Boston just seemed bigger, faster, more special, more important. The tall buildings, the fast pace, the busy subway, the constant barrage of sounds – those things are fascinating to a child.

So you can probably imagine – actually, some of you might remember – how exhilarating it was, as a kid, to visit Boston during the holiday season. I vividly recall those occasions when my family and I would head into town for a day of Christmas shopping, and what a feast it was for the senses.

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Picture 007

The city, already imbued with a sense of majesty, seemed suddenly and impossibly grander. The Christmas spirit was in the air – you could see it in the huge department stores in Downtown Crossing and the small shops on Charles Street. You could hear it in the ever-present Christmas music in the stores or outside, played by street musicians or the occasional vocal group, decked out in gay apparel. You could smell it when you walked by a food vendor selling hot treats on a bitterly cold day. And when night fell, the lights clicked on and bathed the city in a wintry glow. The colored bulbs on the trees in Boston Common, the warm glimmer from store windows, and a skyline dotted by the illuminated windows of skyscrapers conspired to weave a tapestry of Yuletide splendor. It felt like the entire city was in full holiday swing.

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And while that sense of celebration seemed, in my young eyes, to extend to every block of Boston, no area of the city better encapsulated the magic of the season than Faneuil Hall. Just approaching it felt special – you could see lights on the horizon and hear all sorts of commotion.

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DSC01157

And when you got there, it was just as good as you imagined. There were impossibly tall Christmas trees, big green wreaths with red bows hanging in store windows, and holiday classics playing on loudspeakers. Ordinary trees became extraordinary when draped with white lights. When it got too cold, we’d go inside, where – behold! – the promise of a hot chocolate awaited, and the warmth would refresh us as we perused carts selling keepsakes or squeezed through the crowded, narrow hallway lined with food vendors.

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Picture 013

For me, all the elements of Faneuil Hall in December combined to bring Christmas alive in a manner that went beyond Santa Claus, talking snowmen, and flying reindeer. In a way, this was real-life magic. I must have cultivated an idyllic image of a Victorian-era Christmas, maybe from reading or seeing “A Christmas Carol” in my most formative years. Because something about the bricks and cobblestones of this centuries-old marketplace infused color, sound, and texture into a deeply embedded impression of a snowy night in 19th century London, passersby greeting each other as they navigated gaslit streets, arms full of brown paper packages tied up with string. I felt like I was witnessing the reenactment of a profoundly old tradition, and it was absolutely thrilling to be part of it.

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I’m all grown up now, whether I act like it or not. I still love the holiday season, but these days it means finding time for shopping, deciding on the right gifts, paying for it all, dueling for parking spots at crowded malls, coordinating travel plans, having my triumph at finishing my shopping doused when I remember at the last minute that I need something for the office party, bugging people for their addresses, mailing gifts, sending cards, coming up with holiday cocktails, and telling people what size I wear in a sweater (medium) or jeans (32/32, but keep the receipt). And that’s on top of everyday stuff, like working a full-time job, writing blog posts, and answering BBH fan mail. All while the mercury plummets to bone-chilling temperatures.

The city, where I spend 60+ hours a week, doesn’t possess quite the same holiday mystique that it held I was a kid. Sure, I still notice the decorations and hear the songs, but most of the time I’m walking to work and thinking about the day ahead, or dashing for the train, trying to get home. Always somewhere to be.

But this post isn’t about growing up and becoming jaded, with some clichéd moral about taking time to stop and smell the Christmas trees. It’s about one area of the city that, despite the passing years and my diminished ability to believe in magic, still manages to fill me with a sense of wonder.

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DSC_0296

In some respects, it might seem odd to assign Faneuil Hall such an elevated status. Christmas is too commercial as it is, and Faneuil Hall is pretty much just a bunch of stores, few of which are interesting or unique. It’s also a five-minute walk from my office, so for me, making a trip there isn’t exactly novel. And it’s mostly tourist-driven; I seldom need a Boston sweatshirt, a stuffed lobster, or a snow globe of the State House, and I’m certainly never going to Cheers.

Yet I still get excited when I walk across Government Center and see those lights in the distance. I don’t know – maybe it’s because standing in front of that mammoth Christmas tree makes me feel tiny, but I walk into Faneuil Hall and can’t help feeling like a kid again.

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DSC01093

Of course, as an adult, my tastes have expanded beyond that hot chocolate I used to look forward to. So with that in mind, I took a whirl around Faneuil Hall in search of some seasonal cocktails that can warm your bones on a cold winter night, give you a boost when your holiday shopping expedition loses steam, or just serve as a reward after a long day of rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Ames Plow Tavern has always been an underrated favorite of mine. It’s down a flight of stairs and there are no windows, making it a convenient hideaway whenever you feel the need to block out the noise and crowds. Ames Plow is a cozy basement bar that’s always a pleasure to drink in, and the Christmas lights on the back wall add a little holiday cheer. The $3 PBRs are a year-round attraction, but on a chilly night, try the spiked hot apple cider made with vanilla vodka and cinnamon schnapps. If your shopping trip needs a quick jolt, this will do the trick.

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Once you’re sufficiently recharged, walking up those stairs and reemerging into Faneuil Hall’s Yuletide radiance will make you feel festive all over again.

Upstairs from Ames Plow is that sprawling all-purpose bar, Ned Devine’s. Ned’s is all decked out for the season, and even though they don’t offer much in terms of holiday-themed cocktails, it’s a festive atmosphere for drinking a winter brew.

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DSC_0315

When I stopped in last week, it seemed like the right time to have my first Sam Adams Winter Lager of the season. This sturdy classic with wintry spices will help fortify you against the chill outdoors.

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Despite the modern-day corporate nature of Faneuil Hall, it’s still possible to feel its sense of history. And as I said before, that’s a little easier this time of year, when the place looks like the front of a greeting card. What better occasion, then, to check out a true Boston classic – Durgin Park.

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Picture 059

I’m not sure whether I’d ever been to this Boston landmark; honestly, I can’t imagine going there unless I had a guest who’d never been to Massachusetts and demanded a taste of traditional New England. But the bar area, comfortable and well worn, is a very pleasant surprise, and Christmas lights add a festive air. The drink options are pretty straightforward, but they do have a cocktail that seems seasonal enough – the Johnny Apple Cider. This mix of Smirnoff Kissed Caramel vodka, sour apple schnapps, and triple sec isn’t a hot drink like the one at Ames Plow, but it still hits the spot and captures the flavors of fall and winter.

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Picture 065

Finally, Anthem provides for one of the classier and more upscale drinking experiences in Faneuil Hall. In terms of holiday décor, Christmas lights strung along the dark wood walls and behind the bar are festive and playful, but the candles on the bar evoke a quieter, more intimate holiday atmosphere. Anthem has several seasonal options to choose from, and I started with the elegant ginger fizz – G’Vine gin, ginger cognac, and prosecco. Dry and bubbly, the ginger flavor permeated the drink but remained soft and subtle.

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DSC01144

The undisputed hit of my holiday drinking tour, though, was Anthem’s mulled cider. Made with Domaine de Canton ginger cognac and hot mulled cider, topped with homemade whipped cream, this is quite possibly the most satisfying winter cocktail I’ve ever had.

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DSC01156

Warm, creamy, and delicious, it’s a well-conceived drink perfectly suited to a cold December night. I think I’ll stop in and see whether they’re still serving it in January. And February…

No matter how many times you’ve been there, Boston’s most famous tourist attraction is still worth a pre-Christmas visit – especially if you need something to take the edge off or simply want to toast the holidays. After all, this may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful. So swing by, enjoy the lights, and treat yourself to a cup of cheer.

Even if it’s the kind you drank when you were a kid.

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DSC01430

A Holiday Cocktail

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I’m often tempted to break up my bar reviews with the occasional short post devoted to making a particular cocktail at home. Not that I have anything profound to contribute to the world of mixology. I just figure it would serve as a nice change of pace and give me a chance to talk about some of my favorite drinks or share a recipe for something original. The reason I always talk myself out of the idea is because, over the course of the past 9 or 10 months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some highly accomplished bartenders who have clearly worked hard to perfect their craft. I have the utmost respect for those individuals who have spent countless hours learning how different ingredients complement each other, interact with one another, and combine to make a unique cocktail. The kind of drink that, yes, might get you buzzed, but will also prompt you to take notice of the flavors and appreciate the thoughtful composition.

My fear is that if I put my own concoctions on the blog, then regardless of how many qualifiers or disclaimers I include, it will look like I’m putting my drinks on the same level as the talented mixologists I write about. Maybe I’m overthinking it. But I’d rather focus on the work of people who do this for a living than on amateur cocktail hour at the Boston BarHopper headquarters.

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cocktailcollage

This week, I’m making an exception. A fellow blogger, Erika, who runs the excellent Beautiful Life and Style site, asked a few other bloggers to submit their holiday-themed cocktail recipes for a post she was writing. I was honored to be invited and excited to participate.

Given the occasion, I wanted to make a special drink. Something decadent and desserty, with flavors that recalled the season; the kind of thing you’d only make this time of year. After a week or so of mixing, matching, making my ingredient list, checking it twice, sipping, pacing, and sipping again, I settled on what in bartending parlance would be called a Frangelico flip. But I call it the Hazelnutcracker.

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DSC01309crop

This simple recipe yields a creamy, frothy, nutty drink that you can reward yourself with after a long day of Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, sending greeting cards, rigging up the lights, what have you. It calls for a raw egg, which tends to make people a little squeamish. An egg was not uncommon in older cocktail recipes, but over time it became something of a lost art. I’ve been seeing it more frequently in recent years, as mixologists revisit classic concoctions like fizzes and flips. It contributes a meringue-like creaminess that, unlike milk or cream, doesn’t weigh the cocktail down. Still skeptical? Just use a fresh egg (organic if that’s the way you roll), shake well, and you’ll be fine. Adding a little extra alcohol can’t hurt, either. Plus, I downed enough raw eggs to make Rocky blush while I was testing this bad boy, and I lived to write the blog post.

Here are the ingredients:

One large brown egg.

2 ounces Frangelico (if the holiday stress is really getting to you, throw in a little vanilla vodka).

Nutmeg.

Crack the egg into a shaker. Shake vigorously for at least one minute; your egg should look thick and frothy. Add the Frangelico and four or five ice cubes. Shake again, for at least another minute; frost should form on the exterior of the shaker.

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DSC01347edit

Strain into a glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg, and use a stirrer or straw to swirl the nutmeg on the surface.

I also tried this with a few variations before settling on the final recipe. The coffee flavor of Kahlua nicely accompanies the hazelnut, but it spoils the texture. Bailey’s works with the soft, frothy texture, but it completely dominates the flavor, rendering it a large glass of Bailey’s (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). As mentioned above, vanilla vodka is the best addition, if you feel like it needs something more. I tried one version with all of the aforementioned liqueurs, but when I thought I heard reindeer clopping around on the roof, I knew I’d overdone it. Ultimately, the Frangelico by itself allows for a warm, nutty flavor that needs no further accompaniment.

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The Hazelnutcracker is best enjoyed on a snowy night in front of an open fire, with the holiday jazz stylings of the Vince Guaraldi Trio providing a peaceful, happy soundtrack.

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DSC01416

It might also help take the edge off when the magic of your Christmas celebration gives way to the powerful lungs of young children or the vocal political opinions of relatives. (If things really take a turn, you can just say the raw eggs didn’t agree with you and excuse yourself; it’s a very useful drink.)

You should also check out Beautiful Life and Style if you have a chance. It’s a lovely site, and in the same post that I contributed to, you’ll find three other tempting seasonal drinks. Despite my week of nightly cocktails, I couldn’t resist trying two of them (I’d have made the third, too, but I didn’t have the ingredients). There’s nothing like a hot, potent drink to help you shake off the winter chill, and this Hot Buttered Cider did the trick.

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DSC01362edit

The Yule Mule offered a tasty, festive twist on a Moscow Mule.

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You’ll have to follow the link for the recipes, and you’ll be glad you did.

Thanks again to Erika of Beautiful Life and Style for coming up with such a fun idea. I wonder if Santa would bring me a new liver…

Bear With Me...

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Dear subscribers, readers, visitors, devoted fans, vocal critics, and barhoppers everywhere: After months of deliberation, hand-wringing, and procrastination, I have decided to give Boston BarHopper an upgrade.

First, the good news – the final product will have a whole new look and feel. The content will be organized differently, there’ll be some cool new features, and overall, I think it will make for an enhanced reading and barhopping experience.

The bad news? I’m the equivalent of an NFL replacement referee when it comes to the technical side of blogging.

So I’ll ask for your patience if you get test posts sent to your e-mail (which happened earlier today…oops), or if you log on and the site is down, or you find the text presented in wingdings. I might also have to skip a week of posting. But whatever the problem is, rest assured that I’ll be taking regular breaks from my fits of pounding the desk and swearing to get it resolved.

My hope is that BBH Mach II will be up and running within the next week or so. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

Cheers,

Matt

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