Our second evening in Boston for the Great Cross-Country Barcrawl, we started out with drinks at Eastern Standard. Eastern Standard is not really a craft cocktail bar, as much as it is a high-end bistro with an elaborate craft cocktail operation embedded within. Fred and Andrea were able to join us a second night in a row. This was great, because while I enjoyed the hell out of our meeting at Drink the night before, I couldn’t hear well enough there to have an intelligible conversation! Despite it being Saturday night, Eastern Standard was much quieter, and I was able to absorb plenty of local cocktail lore from our friends.
On the outside, with its huge red awning and plentiful sidewalk seating, Eastern Standard has the appearance of any of a thousand bistros scattered all over the better neighborhoods of Paris. Once you enter, the atmosphere adds elements of upscale American steakhouses, with rich woods, high ceilings, white tablecloths, and leather booths. The bar shares the same volume with the main dining room and is elegant but hardly intimate. (The is a separate small lounge area that we didn’t enter for that) The high wall of shelves and illuminated cabinets behind the bar showcase a serious array of ingredients, glassware and more. The long, beautiful marble bartop seats a great many customers. I’m not really a fan of marble or granite bartops. They tend to be cold, especially in the Summer when you are wearing short sleeves. Also, I tend to cringe every time I set down a drink, afraid of breaking the glass. But this one is made of very, very pretty stone and the rounded edge treatment makes it more comfortable than most.
A great number of the guests at the bar were eating dinner, rather than just there for a drink or waiting on a table. Indeed, I think we may have confused the staff when we said we weren’t eating! I have a strong and consistent opinion about bars where lots of the seats are taken up with diners: If I want to eat, then I find the practice a warm, inviting, and interesting one; if all I want is drinks, then I get irritated because I usually have to wait longer than I like to sit down.
The mixology at Eastern Standard is very interesting. The large cocktail menu is divided into a number of categories. Some, like Tikisms and Heritage are mostly all classics, whereas other categories hold a mix of old and new. The proffered variety is pretty comprehensive in styles and flavors. If you were to work your way through it all over the course of some time, you’d have a pretty good survey of how flavors go together with spirits.
The bartenders are friendly and informative, but don’t make quite the performance of producing your drinks that some other bars do. The result is swifter than normal service for a craft bar, but not quite the fascination.
Still, there are some delicious elements to the design and workflow of this bar. An extraordinary number of ingredients, even many of the commercial spirits, are kept in racks of identical, unlabeled, bespouted bottles. Along with other touches such as a magnificent array of bitters and aromatics, as well as very attractive bar tools, the overall effect feels very much like an apothecary.
I found it all an enchanting combination.
Finally, they certainly don’t limit you to the menu. While I stuck largely to the listed drinks, Maggi tried a Boston original, the Pamlico, at Fred’s suggestion. It used to be on the menu here, and it’s absence points out one of the downsides of menus: You have to leave great stuff off of them. (For more on the relative merits of having versus not having a cocktail menu, see my post on Drink.) Regardless, the Pamilco is a fine cocktail, you can still get one at Eastern Standard, and if you’d like to know how to make one, Fred has already done a post on it over at Cocktail
If I lived in Boston, Eastern Standard would be a regular Happy Hour-type haunt. Though we didn’t eat, the food sure looked to be gorgeous, non-traditional, and varied. The crowd seems to be a bit better-dressed than a lot of the places we went on the barcrawl. (That’s code for a lot less hipsters, and a lot more suits.) Like Bourbon in Washington, DC, you could come here, eat, and have a great time without ever knowing what kind of cocktail operation they offer. You could bring friends that only drink Budweiser and laugh at all your fancy “drinkies”, and you can both have a great time together. Unlike Bourbon, Eastern Standard is tony, upscale, and well-lit, and caters to those who are comfortable in such an environment.
If you are a cocktailian visiting Boston, Eastern Standard is not the Must See Experience that is Drink. but it is a very good idea for a relaxing high-end meal, either in the dining room or at the bar… unless I’m there just wanting a seat that is!
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.