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Newish with good bartending Downtown?

MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 02:04 PM

I'm looking for a bar or restaurant in the quarter-mile or so radius around City Hall: Downtown Crossing, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, North Station, Waterfront, North End.

I need something relatively new, say, opened in the past year, that does serious shaker drinks -- I've no interest in a lineup of sugary training-wheel cocktails a la The Living Room. Worthy bar nibbles would be a bonus.

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  1. Niblet RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 02:18 PM


    1. sailormouth RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 02:37 PM

      Is Spire too old and sugary?

      9 Replies
      1. re: sailormouth
        steinpilz RE: sailormouth Dec 19, 2006 04:40 PM

        I thought of suggesting Spire also but MCs standards for mixed drinks are so high I got nervous. The atmsphere was good, dark and pretty quiet - there was a soccer game on, I had a martini but no food.

        1. re: steinpilz
          MC Slim JB RE: steinpilz Dec 19, 2006 05:23 PM

          Oof, I guess I'm now known as the Chilled-Cocktail-Glass Nazi of the Boston board. I suppose there are worse monomanias to have!

          I actually like the idea of Spire, as it has a new chef, and it's a handsome bar with big, comfortably spaced stools (if you can snag one -- it gets kind of frenzied in there some nights). But it's true: I have experienced inconsistent cocktail-making there.

          Maybe this is a function of staff turnover? The great cocktail places in Boston seem to retain the high-skills bartenders for years at a time. In that vast second tier, I often see a different bartender every time I visit.

          A few places that have driven me crazy with that inconsistency: Aquitaine, Nebo, Stella, Sister Sorrel, 33, Restaurant L, Radius, Bricco. Getting a great drink on one visit and a mediocre one the next is maddening, especially at >$10 prices. It's hard not to stick to the handful of old reliables that show high seriousness and quality control: the B-Side, Green St, No. 9, ESK, the Franklin, the Rendezvous.

          1. re: MC Slim JB
            kate used to be 50 RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 05:53 PM

            You may be the Chilled-Cocktail-Glass Nazi, but you have a following!

            Antheum isn't too bad, but does depend on who is behind the bar and what event is going on at the Garden.

            Ironside in Charlestown used to be good, but I haven't been in a while.

            I pass by Red Sauce, but have never gone in (yet). Looks inviting though.

            My index for a great cocktail is now Eastern Standard. I even take the T from the financial district to Kenmore Square just for that great Friday night experience, but I know that isn't in your requested locations.

            1. re: kate used to be 50
              steinpilz RE: kate used to be 50 Dec 21, 2006 12:22 AM

              Yes, I am also a fan of MC.

            2. re: MC Slim JB
              sailormouth RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 06:30 PM

              My favourite part of all Spire is the "heirloom chickpeas" that are/were on the menu. Is that marketing gone mad or is there a veritable difference between chickpeas the commodity and extra-special chickpeas? I have yet to see heirloom navy beans.

              1. re: sailormouth
                MC Slim JB RE: sailormouth Dec 19, 2006 06:59 PM

                I actually ordered a dish with that as a side the last time I had dinner there (in the Frasca era, quite good), and made roughly the same crack to our server, who looked like she'd heard that one about a hundred times already.

                1. re: sailormouth
                  Chris VR RE: sailormouth Dec 19, 2006 07:29 PM

                  That's because you're not looking hard enough:


                  actually if you read http://www.victoryseeds.com/catalog/v... pretty much all beans are heirloom beans.

                  I know, I know, offtopic.


                  1. re: Chris VR
                    sailormouth RE: Chris VR Dec 19, 2006 07:35 PM

                    I think if you've had enough cocktails, sugary or not, heirloom chickpeas are the center of any conversation.

                2. re: MC Slim JB
                  Northender RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 08:20 PM

                  Your observations about well made shaker cocktails in chilled glasses are very much appreciated in these here parts. I have had great luck at the bar at Prezza and its sister/brother spot, Copia. I have also had good luck at the bar at Davio's where if you ask for a gimlet with fresh lime juice - it is not even an issue. I say, hold their feet to the fire and keep on inisting on retaining the art of the properly shaken cocktail - at $12.00 a drink - that is not asking all that much.

            3. Joanie RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 02:41 PM

              I don't think there's anywhere you haven't been. What did the Vault become? I think it's more pub-like now from something I heard. Maybe the slightly revamped 75 Chestnut? Have you been to Copia? There's not that much new that I can think of.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Joanie
                hiddenboston RE: Joanie Dec 19, 2006 02:54 PM

                A friend of mine went to Copia the other night. She absolutely loved it. Said it wasn't a whole lot different from Meze. She got the pan-seared scallops; not sure what she had for drinks, though. The drink menu looks decent, though (grappa, hennessy paradis, and jagermeister--oh, boy!).


                1. re: Joanie
                  lissy RE: Joanie Dec 19, 2006 03:06 PM

                  I love the coziness of the bar at 75 Chestnut but have to say, I am not a big fan of their shaker drinks. I know that neither is new, but the bartenders at #9 and Radius would be my picks in that area.

                  1. re: Joanie
                    Alcachofa RE: Joanie Dec 19, 2006 04:28 PM

                    Neither the Vault nor 75 Chesnut would have what I consider "good bartending". The Dirty Dirty martini at 75 Chesnut is good, though.

                    The only place I can think of is the "new" bar at Beacon Hill Bistro. Not sure how consistent their bartending is, but they have at least one person who has a clue.

                    If you can wait a couple days for a report, I will be at District either Wednesday or Thursday.

                  2. g
                    Gabatta RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 05:27 PM

                    Now that I think of it, the bar at Ruth's Chris has both an outstanding atmosphere and top notch drinks that I have found to be very consistent.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Gabatta
                      Joanie RE: Gabatta Dec 19, 2006 06:27 PM

                      I know I was only there the one time, but giving drinks to the wrong person, waiting forever to be asked if you want another, and serving martinis in warm glasses was not a great experience at the Ruth's Chris bar.

                      1. re: Joanie
                        Gabatta RE: Joanie Dec 19, 2006 07:20 PM

                        Did you sit at the bar, or at a table in the bar area?

                        I have found the bar tneders there to be excellent.

                        1. re: Gabatta
                          Joanie RE: Gabatta Dec 19, 2006 07:45 PM

                          Yep, we were at the bar. It was the long President's Day weekend and pretty packed which maybe contributed to the bartender screwing up left and right. And it wasn't really his fault they ran out of glasses and came out hot. But he still give wrong drinks, didn't ask how things were, didn't properly chill the hot glasses, etc. My boss said it was like being at Doyle's cuz we got a kind of townie vibe from the RC bartender. Which is fine if you know what you're doing but he didn't seem to that nite. Maybe things have gotten better, was Alcachofa there a while ago too?

                        2. re: Joanie
                          Alcachofa RE: Joanie Dec 19, 2006 07:23 PM

                          I agree with Joanie. They barely knew how to make an ordinary martini at Ruth's. "Top notch"? They didn't even have Noilly Prat.

                          EDIT: This was on a relatively quiet night in, I think, September.

                      2. a l i c e RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 05:27 PM

                        Does anyone know what has happened with the new bar that the Alstrom brothers (of Beer Advocate fame) were slated to open? It was going to be called "Sanctuary" or something along those lines and I remember seeing a bunch of ads in the local rags stating "coming soon." Did they lose their financial backing?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: a l i c e
                          lissy RE: a l i c e Dec 19, 2006 05:41 PM

                          Not sure if this is the place you are talking about, but there is a bar called Sanctuary on State Street that has been open for a few years now. I went once or twice when they first opened and found it to be a bit younger and clubbier than I prefer.

                          1. re: lissy
                            MC Slim JB RE: lissy Dec 19, 2006 06:12 PM

                            The Alströms' proposed place is the Purgatory Alehouse, and it's still under development. More here: http://beeradvocate.com/forum/list/38

                            1. re: lissy
                              gini RE: lissy Dec 19, 2006 06:13 PM

                              It was supposed to be Purgatory Alehouse and it looks like that project is on hold for now.

                              1. re: gini
                                sailormouth RE: gini Dec 19, 2006 06:31 PM

                                Is it too early to hope that tourists get confused between the Purgatory Alehouse and Purgatory in Provincetown? Or continuing to hope they get the two Vaults confused?

                          2. f
                            Fort Point RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 06:11 PM

                            Have only had lunch there (without a cocktail) so I can't vouch for the drinks but Ivy is new in that area. Anyone tried the bar there?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Fort Point
                              MC Slim JB RE: Fort Point Dec 19, 2006 07:04 PM

                              I liked the food at Ivy okay, but the bartender was one of the worst I've run across in recent memory. Given the emphasis on modest wines (a nice idea), I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but any place that has the nerve to offer a cocktail menu full of expensive drinks should give their bartenders some training. It was painful to watch this guy fumble and bumble.

                            2. j
                              jpeso RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 06:36 PM

                              I know its not new, but i heard things will be changing soon, What about the Fed.

                              Who is the new chef at Spire?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jpeso
                                MC Slim JB RE: jpeso Dec 19, 2006 07:05 PM

                                Last I heard, The Fed was still being run by Mistral's chef. It is a nice bar, if a little on the outrageously priced side. I can't find any clue about who Frasca's replacement at Spire is.

                              2. Food4Thought RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 11:14 PM

                                Not really newish and I have not been there in about a year, but I always enjoyed the very small bar at 29 Newbury. The bartender (if still there) has a nice quiver of signature cocktails with amusing names and he is very attentive. The bar is so small it's a one man show with a bus person/ bar-back replenishing glases and garnish.

                                1. c
                                  cmd RE: MC Slim JB Dec 19, 2006 11:49 PM

                                  It's the antithesis of new, but I've had very well made cocktails at The Last Hurrah at the Parker House. The chow is notsogood--we had a cheese plate that include ritz crackers and about 8 oz of ice-cold brie--but the bar mix isn't bad.

                                  Edit: I should clarify--I haven't tried the fancy cocktail menu cocktails, but they serve a good martini and a properly not-sweet cosmo.

                                  1. MC Slim JB RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 02:43 AM

                                    Thanks to everyone who contributed: lots of good ideas for future nights. I ended up trying the one place suggested that truly met my "newish" criterion, the bar at Ruth's Chris Steak House. The good: a properly-made shaker cocktail in an ice-encrusted, ultra-chilled glass, no word of explanation needed, not even for the unusual but traditional garnish. By-the-glass wines were kind of comically overpriced: $28 for a glass of recent-vintage Banfi Brunello? Are you kidding me?

                                    The bad: a formerly genuinely beautiful old space has been given what I think of as the Disney treatment, substituting fake-old-looking, obviously veneered surfaces and a cheap imitiation of old lighting fixtures for the real thing. It's exactly the kind of faux-luxe look that so bummed me out at Vintage Restaurant in West Roxbury. Even if you only remember Maison Robert at the tattiest low point of its former elegance, this remodelling has to seem tragically tacky.

                                    (I was also surprised at the number of people who showed up to eat $45 steaks in jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers, but I get a tiny bit less surprised by this every time I see it. At some point soon I will likely just be grateful that adjacent diners have bathed recently and are wearing shirts with sleeves.)

                                    Not a place to go out of my way for, but based on one drink, a decent option for a proper cocktail in that neighborhood.

                                    1. k
                                      kate used to be 50 RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 02:07 PM

                                      Thanks. I love the chilled glass locator, but seriously disturbed to hear about the tacky decor!! I so loved the Maison Robert space.

                                      1. Alcachofa RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 02:50 PM

                                        "not even for the unusual but traditional garnish"

                                        Aaaaaaaaa, am I the only one who wants to know what drink JB's referring to?

                                        I'm gonna guess, but these are probably wrong: Gibson? Hendrick's martini?

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: Alcachofa
                                          MC Slim JB RE: Alcachofa Dec 20, 2006 03:26 PM

                                          It's my standard serious-bartender test: only the best know that a Sloe Gin Flip (sloe gin, light cream, powdered sugar, whole egg, nutmeg) is traditionally garnished with a small caramel popcorn ball.

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB
                                            Northender RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 08:24 PM

                                            You must have been reincarnated and have been, in a previous life, the bartender at some exotic place like Raffles Bar in Singapore! :-)

                                            1. re: MC Slim JB
                                              Bob Dobalina RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 08:30 PM

                                              Have you ever actually HAD one of those? If so, where can I get one (w or w/o popcorn ball)?

                                              1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                                MC Slim JB RE: Bob Dobalina Dec 20, 2006 10:54 PM

                                                Actually, I've never had this drink: it was just a random, fairly terrible-sounding entry from one of my vintage cocktail recipe books. I think flips had their heyday sometime before Prohibition. They remind me of low-test eggnog, creamy and sweet-spiced. I expect the cocktail folklorists in town (the staff at those top-flight cocktail bars I mentioned above) will know more about them than me.

                                                Salmonella risk from raw eggs probably isn't helping any chance the flip has at a big comeback. A modern alternative might be to use advocaat, a sweet, egg-yolk-rich Dutch cordial.

                                                I think this kind of flip is traditionally served without a garnish except for the dusting of nutmeg. The popcorn ball was just the most unattractive thing I could imagine floating in this drink, even if flavor-wise it might make some sense.

                                                A good acid test for a bartender's seriousness is to order a Sidecar or a Negroni. These aren't difficult to make properly -- the classic recipes are pretty simple -- but I'm amazed at how many awful variations on these I've been served in Boston. To see if they merit Adept status, I might order something like a Sazerac or a Ramos Fizz. Most bartenders have a signature drink, often one they invented; that will tell you a lot about their sensibilities, too.

                                                I've actually had a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Bar. Not my usual kind of tipple, but the atmosphere there made it taste pretty amazing, even if it was kind of a silly, touristy moment.

                                                1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                  Rubee RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 11:07 PM

                                                  Okay, I have to admit, I'm really curious, and totally confused. You mentioned re: Ruth Chris' "The good: a properly-made shaker cocktail in an ice-encrusted, ultra-chilled glass, no word of explanation needed, not even for the unusual but traditional garnish.", So, what did you enjoy at Ruth Chris if wasn't a Flip? I'm dying to know, and then I'm going to go have one :)

                                                  1. re: Rubee
                                                    MC Slim JB RE: Rubee Dec 20, 2006 11:28 PM

                                                    I ordered a Negroni up, the traditional garnish for which is a twist of orange. The barman got the classic proportions right, too: one-third gin, one-third sweet Vermouth, one-third Campari.

                                                    The common error on this one is to make it more Martini-like, with >80% gin, which results in a pink, nasty concoction, instead of a well-balanced, garnet-red potion. The lazy orange slice instead of the twist is another common misstep. A lemon twist is a better fallback if the bar doesn't stock oranges than the more commonly-improvised lime wedge.

                                                    Joe C at Caffe Umbra does a masterful Negroni, using Vya vermouth, a boutique California product.

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                      Rubee RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 11:33 PM

                                                      Good to know that they do a good one, that's one of my favorite cocktails - thanks for the tip!

                                                      My top three spots to order excellent Negronis are No 9 Park, Eastern Standard, and recently, Anise.

                                                      1. re: Rubee
                                                        steinpilz RE: Rubee Dec 21, 2006 12:24 AM

                                                        I had my first Negroni ever at Eastern Standard, after reading an article about Negronis in the WSJ I think. I was surprised at how bitter it was, glad to know they make a good one. I also like the Jack Rose a lot, my NJ grandmother's favorite drink.

                                                  2. re: MC Slim JB
                                                    wontonton RE: MC Slim JB Dec 20, 2006 11:13 PM

                                                    My girlfriend decided she liked whiskey sours after I made one for her at home. You'd be suprised how uneven the results are when she orders one out, and this is not an exotic drink: not shaken, wrong garnish, blah tasting, or a combination of the three. And if you as ask the bartender for it shaken, or maybe an orange slice, (some, not all) look at you like you're being a wise guy.

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