Our first stop in Boston on the Great Cross-Country Barcrawl was at Drink in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. Drink fills a huge basement, and it is worth taking a few minutes to look through the leg-level windows out on the street in front before going inside. The view is impressive as you look down on the room from above and behind the bar.
The plain wooden bartop runs the whole length of the basement. And rather than being simply straight, it bends outward in three rectangular humps, greatly increasing the length and available seating at the bar. The center segment is larger than either end. There is very little other seating at Drink, almost all the action is at the bar. This place is entirely about the mixology. There are no menus here. You ask your bartender for what you want, and they deliver. It’s like a giant, full-time game of Stump the Bartender. Amazingly, even if you are a serious cocktail geek, you are going to lose.
The obsession here is with classic mixology, and the bartenders are part and parcel of their obsession. An icon of said obsession is the daily special board (The black felt board with white plastic letters type) that hasn’t apparently been changed since “May 13, 1806″ when some drink consisting of “Spirit, water, sugar, and bitters” was first offered….
If you don’t get the joke of that message board, you’ll still enjoy Drink, but you won’t be able to really appreciate it. If you do get the joke, you have to go here.
We were fortunate enough to be able to share our Drink experience with Fred and Andrea of Cocktail
Virgin Slut. We met outside and made our way downstairs. Pay attention to the address (348 Congress St.), as there is no exterior signage to direct you. We went on a Friday night, which was a bit problematic as Drink is very popular on weekends. As I said, there is no real seating other than what is at the bar, and the place was packed.
But as was demonstrated numerous times on this trip, it is good to have old friends whom you have never previously met. Fred knew the hostess Rebekah Powers pretty well. (Apparently they kick box together or something. My advice is: don’t act up at Drink) Despite the crowd, she found us four seats around the corner of one of the smaller end bars before we had much of a wait. I think we were lucky with this. There was a hockey game of some importance to Bostonians going on and the crowd was “thin”. (June is of course the only logical month for championship ice hockey.)
Drink was awesome, but I really want to get back there on a night early in the week when the crowd is much less intense. The biggest problem I had was with the noise level, which was more in line with a dance club than what I’d expect from a craft bar of this magnificence. Fred assured me that it is much quieter during the week. At least I think that’s what he said….
But enough bitching about the din of all those people having fun, let’s get back to the awesome. Our bartender was Brynn Tattan, an elfin yet very intense young woman who may have paused a moment to catch her breath about twice all night. Between the noise and the pace of orders, we didn’t get much of a chance to talk, but she was a ball to watch. In the course of our visit I saw several fascinating new techniques and presentations. She also shook cocktails so long and intently, I occasionally worried about her health.
Drink is dedicated to the whole ouvre of craft bartending. As such, they posses a bewildering assortment of ingredients, spirits, tools, and barware. Brynn was particularly skilled with manipulating the block ice they employed for a variety of uses. I love cutting chunks of clear ice in my own home bar for Old Fashioneds, but they use that same block of ice for shaved ice in juleps, Tiki drinks, and other concoctions. I’d never before seen the Mexican Ice Shaver Brynn used, but I want one now so much it hurts.
The ice manipulation was not the only spectacular technique I saw that night. Most bartenders have no idea what a Blue Blazer is. Most of those that do, won’t make one. Most of those that will, will only do it for special events. Brynn made one for some random dude who came up to the bar after us, in the middle of a crowded Friday night. Fortunately, I sussed out what she was up to before she lit it up, so I was able yo get my iPhone camera set to video. The clip below is worth a watch. I know it is dark, but I didn’t punch it up for a reason. It gets really spectacular starting about a third of the way in….
I often say (especially when I want to piss off a craft bartender) that full-on craft bartending is another form of “flair“. While most of the drinks I saw being dispensed were fairly straight-forward, there was a steady stream of occasional crazy stuff to prove that point. Of course, the construction of most craft cocktails is a subtle skill, a tiny performance. But a serious skill nonetheless. It’s clear that there is a pretty rare collection of such skills staffing the bar at Drink.
I wouldn’t be much of a critic if I couldn’t find at least one quibble with how Drink works. No one should expect a craft bar to serve drinks quickly. The care and deliberation with which craft cocktails are made makes a reasonable wait for a drink expected. Throw in the occasional Blue Blazer, and no one should complain about the pace of service at Drink. (I’ll bet there still are guys who don’t recognize what they are seeing who do complain though. Screw them.) That said, I could not understand how inefficiently laid out the tools and ingredient storage behind the bar seemed to be. I think each bartender at Drink must walk a half-marathon over the course of a shift, in search of this or that.
Admittedly, a bar that seems to have the knowledge and, more to the point, the inventory to produce whatever drink you ask for can’t have all that inventory within arm’s reach. Brynn seemed to flit around from this cooler to that, and between a cabinet here and a rack there for just about every order. It made me a little tired just watching her.
I also am a bit mystified about how they maintain profitability. Drinks aren’t cheap here, but not terribly out of line either. With no cocktail menu to direct customers toward certain fresh ingredients (or even liquors for that matter), I wonder how the management controls inventory in a cost-effective manner. So far, they seem to be managing it, so Bravo say I.
Beyond the business implications, I’m of two minds about the lack of a menu. For a geek like me, it’s no limitation, and is kind of liberating in fact. Whatever I wanted, I could indulge in and not worry overmuch about whether I could get it, or seeming a jerk for asking for it. But for someone with less accumulated knowledge of such otherwise dubious utility than I have, they might actually feel a bit limited. And a customer who knows nothing of classic drinks might find themselves simply drinking G&Ts without realizing the delights available to them here. On a less crowded night, I’m sure the bartenders can more than compensate for the lack of a menu, if you ask.
Drink is a bar I can recommend to both the jaded coaktailian and the relative newbie. Don’t go on a crowded weekend if you are an old fart like me whose tolerance for shouting over music you didn’t choose has long ago run out. Similarly, if your aim is to try new cocktails, go during the week when you will have the time (and hearing) to discuss where you’d like to go. But whatever you do, if in Boston, you need to go.
This review is part of my larger Great Cross-Country Bar Crawl series. Here is the main post for our Boston stop, with links to all reviews for the city.