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Oct 3, 2008 09:12 PM

Drink - first impression

I made it to Drink tonight for a couple rounds.

Pros: The best bartending team in the city. Everyone was really great. They knew their stuff and were incredibly gracious. How can you go wrong when John is leading the team?

All the drinks were great. Their signature drink, the Fort Point (a riff on the Manhattan with rye, punt e mes, and benedictine) was delicious. I also had an old fashioned, a sky pilot (rum, cognac, lime, and sweet vermouth), and an opera (gin, dubbonet, and maraschino). My companions had a seelbach, frisco, green ghost, and a few others. All were superb.

The ice. The 50-lb blocks are incredible -as if there is no air in them at all. And I love the "icebergs" used in drinks like old fashioneds.

The glassware. The vintage recreations are absolutely gorgeous and appropriately-sized. The small sizes mean you can try a few concoctions without getting sloppy.

Cons: The decor. The place is cool and chic, but not particularly inviting. The oak bar with slate counters out back did not make me want to settle in for a few. Some people will love it, but just from a comfort standpoint, I don't think it's tops.

The crowds. They let too many people in. Of course, opening weekend will be packed, but limiting the crowds is not impossible. I know this is me being nit-picky, but a completely packed place is not fun. Especially not when it's packed with the DailyCandy crowd.

No menu. I know they planned it this way. I like the idea of each bartender customizing the drinks to each customer's taste, but I still want to see a small list of original creations.

The biggest problem are the prices. The drinks are $10. That doesn't seem like too much, but since the drinks are 1/2-2/3 the size of drinks at other bars (say ES, No 9, Green St.), the prices are really really steep.

If drinks were $7-8, I'd run back, but with the current prices, Drink will be a special occasion place for me.

Overall, I liked the place, but the 1/2-mile walk from South Station, the high prices, and the crowds (quantity and demographics) are definitely not going to make Drink displace other bars from my regular rotation.

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  1. Thanks for scoping it out, double. Sounds like it has potential once the kinks are worked out. Don't worry about the Daily Candy crowd, they'll move on to the next hot thing once they hype simmers down, then we can all mosey up to John's bar and enjoy some great cocktails...

    2 Replies
    1. re: purple bot

      Thanks for the reconnaissance. I've been dying of curiosity and you painted a good picture. Do you know if not having a menu is a temporary or permanent quirk? Vague menus or no menus is a pet peeve for me. The Eastern Standard menu drives me crazy.

      1. re: pollystyrene

        The ES menu, if I understand correctly, is purposefully riddled with enigmatic drink descriptions -- intended to spark a dialogue b/t the guest and service staff, leading to recommendation-based ordering. Eliminating a written menu altogether is the ultimate expression of the concept. When a guest is in capable hands (of which Drink boasts many), this can lead to a completely transcendent drinking experience.

        Let's just hope the noise from the Cosmo-swilling Beehive crowd isn't droning too loudly these first few weekends -- in order to permit those staff-clientele conversations so fundamental to Drink's ethos to take place.

        P.S. Re: Cosmopolitans...I'd love to know if Drink (politely) declines to make them, as is often done in the elite tier of mixology-driven establishments that is being aspired to here. No snobbery needed, as with the "The only thing we use vodka for here is to clean the bar" response you'd be liable to get in NYC spots of the same ilk. To be sure, the crowd at Drink will be pretty self-selected soon enough, but I can't help but think that there's a whole lotta' tongue-biting happening behind that bar this weekend.

    2. DoubleMan captured it nicely, though I'll dissent from his take on prices: I think this level of cocktail craft is worth it. A few other observations:

      The bar at No. 9 Park is one of the two or three best places in town for a serious, well-made cocktail, but it's cramped and a little stuffy (too many Brahmin regulars from nearby Beacon Hill). This place basically transports the bar at No. 9's serious cocktail craft to a more casual, industrial setting, adds scale (it can probably serve five times as many bar patrons as No. 9), and replaces No. 9's very expensive fine-dining menu with gourmet versions of 50s-through-70s cocktail-party food.

      The basement space has a sort of industrial, raw look, with giant exposed beams. The oak bar is essentially a chain of three linked bars along one wall, allowing three seating groups. There's lots of room to stand and circulate, and the room gets loud; it can feel more like a big party than a bar. There are no bottles in sight anywhere, just big lab-table like work areas (soapstone, maybe?) for the bartenders, essentially staging areas for the main event, the cocktails. Priced at $10 each, these are served in smaller cocktail glasses, many of them repros of vintage glassware that hasn't been seen locally in 50 years. The various housemade bitters are dispensed from medicine-dropper bottles, the drinks are made with a combination of scientific precision and chefly flair, the ingredients (housemade garnishes, fresh juices, aromatized and fortified wines, top-shelf spirits) are all of the highest quality. They even take their ice very seriously (ask when the bartender has a moment to tell you about it). These cocktails are both fun and refined, a reminder of how a little scholarship combined with careful bartending chops can elevate the experience of knocking back a few.

      There's no cocktail list: your bartender will suggest something based on a brief discussion of your likes and dislikes. Try a Fort Point (the signature drink, a Manhattan variant with rye, Punt e Mes, and Benedictine), an Aviation, a Sazerac, a Red Ken, something from their encyclopedic list of cocktails dating to the pre-Prohibition Golden Age of cocktail making and newer recipes inspired by that era.

      The menu is a brief list of tapas-like dishes (most in the $7-13 range) inspired by your mom and dad's (or maybe grandparents') home entertaining, naturally elevated with Lynchian craft and care. Some of these are longstanding bar at No. 9 snacks: ham-and-cheese mini-tortas that are like finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, cheesy poufs (sorry, gougeres), foie gras lollipops, housemade potato chips with dip, crudites (a gorgeous assortment of lightly-roasted or poached baby vegetables with something like Thousand Island dressing for dipping), Swedish meatballs, and a cheeky cheese and cracker plate that includes a swankified version of pimiento cheese and an oh-so-Sixties nut-encrusted cheese ball. It's all kinda cute and fun and very tasty, basically fancy finger food designed to give you a little drinking base without distracting too much from the cocktails.

      The place will be too crowded for its own good for a while (and you may not like the crowd), but it should be worth seeking out on a quieter weeknight when you can see what magic Gertsen and his superbly trained crew can work with a shaker. Not a great place for beer and wine drinkers (a scant few options apiece), but if you love serious cocktails and want to expand your range with the help of artisans who are also friendly and engaging hosts (not just beer-and-highball slingers), you need to check this place out.

      1. I'm with DoubleMan on the prices. It's weird, but 9 dollars wouldn't bother me, but ten does. When I go to a great cocktail bar, I like to have three or four over the course of an evening, and that extra dollar adds up between two people. I love having smaller portions, but I don't expect to have to pay the same for them.

        I disagree, however, about the menu. The only real downside I see long term is that Ben and John have come up with some really great drinks in the past (Copenhagen, Widow's Touch) and I would like to keep up on those new drinks (as well as things like new additions to their bitters or other ingredients) without having to make them reel off a list. While it would be nice to know what they have that is new, I always prefer talking to the bartender anyway, and I like the casual atmosphere of it. The short-term downside is in these first few weeks when the bartenders are crushed by patrons and you can't really have a talk with them about what you want.

        And, frankly, I'm extremely disappointed in the space. I understand what they were going for, but in the location it is in, I would have preferred something warmer and more welcoming, a destination rather than a drop-in. Personally, I have always found the bar at no 9 to be warm and relaxing, particularly when you are sitting at the bar. It's very easy there to settle in and ignore the crowd that is there for vodka on the rocks on their way to their table (much easier, actually, than at Eastern Standard). Overall, I think it's a step down in terms of space, but a small sacrifice for the freedom to really focus on spectacular drinks, which I look forward to having there as many times as I can.

        And yes, the crowd was just awful last night. I hope to see it improve considerably.

        BTW, the chips and dip, while expensive, are insanely decadent and excellent.

        1 Reply
        1. re: bza

          Here's my 2 cents- I tend to agree on the space: it's gorgeous, and totally in line with the casual/industrial feel they were going for (kind of reminds me of an old high school chem lab), but I have to agree that it's not particularly cozy. Those of us who adore the bar at No. 9 (and I agree with bza on the ability to ignore the crowd that is there for a Grey Goose on the rocks on the way to their table), may miss the intimacy of that space. It just feels really big. Granted, the crowds (I'm also in complete agreement about the demographics) these past 2 nights haven't helped the noise level or made it easy to have a little chat with John or Ben, but even down the line, I wonder if it won't be more of a challenge to achieve that warm, relaxing, coziness that we've all grown to love in No. 9. With that said, the drinks were fantastic as expected and the food...oh my. That chip and dip is worth every sinful calorie. The ham and cheese sandwiches are also excellent, as was the foie gras lolipop. The fact that most items are priced per piece is brilliant, as it allows you to decide how many delicious little bites you want with your drink. Even if it's not as comfy as the No. 9 bar, the place is a sure thing.

        2. I visited Drink last night, and I'm familiar with No. 9. I respectfully disagree with anyone who thinks $10 is not worth it for a @5 oz. cocktail (how drinks used to be served, and for good reason) of this quality. I had a $14 ill-prepared and bland 10oz (?) drink last week at a newer Fort Point bar over on Summer st., with mediocre service and left feeling like i had just thrown my money away. At Drink, I watched the bartender make each cocktail with what seemed like love and care. Leaving, I felt like I just invested $10 (even $30 in the end) in my own sheer enjoyment of life. To me- that's worth it. I'll be back.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sam70

            That other place you mention (and those in the same category) just plain suck. The drinks there are absolutely not worth $14, not even worth $5. I'm not comparing Drink to those places.

            I think you get a similar level of service and quality at Drink as you do at No. 9 Park, Eastern Standard, and Green St., but you pay less per drink at those other places. For example, Tom's Prospect Park at ES is $11, but it's served in a bathtub-sized coupe.

            I don't think that the drinks are NOT worth $10 (they are!), I just think it's steep compared to comparable establishments.

            And I'm also living on a grad student budget, so I feel the couple extra dollars here and there.

            1. re: DoubleMan

              haha- i get your point , DoubleMan. I relate to the student angle...

          2. I liked the place. Didn't get price shock (I was worried about twelves and fifteens popping up on the check, tens are eminently doable). I liked the high level of service, but hope some of the recent crowd thins out a tad. Loved the food, just what I hope for when I'm drinking my dinner. The gougeres were especially good: sops up the booze a bit without being too filling. I would have preferred a small cocktail list, which for me, anyway, helps me branch out and I can see what they're working on. I really like the smaller cocktail size too. I liked the bar proper as well. Good for people wathcing and chatting with new people.

            A few complaints, two minor and one, I suppose, moderate. The moderate one is the damn locks on the bathrooms., they're like this tiny push-pin thing. The minor ones were that I found it a bit bright in there, and I think that emphasized the "bad" part of industrial rather than the "good" parts, meaning that there wasn't much coziness and I felt kind of like I was on a set. Both my date and I also thought it was pretty loud too. These, to be sure, a minor quibbles on a great new spot, and might connote something else all together when the place isn't hopping.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sailormouth

              How cool would it be if they could adjust the lighting to "spotlight" the bartenders but darken the rest of the room a bit? Now that you mention it, I think the brighter lighting is a big part of what makes it seem less cozy...hmm...