March 16, 2011

Boston's Best Cocktails: 1-5

In January, Boston Magazine released a list of the Top 30 Cocktails in Boston. Though for us, newish Bostonians and avid tipplers, it's less a list than a challenge. Surely, we could try them all before the same magazine released the 2012 list?

So far, our progress has been good. Here's our take on the first 5:

We started at Stoddard's, for no other reason than it's close to the movies, and we wanted to see The Fighter before the Oscars. The recommended drink was the Moscow Mule: vodka, lime juice, ginger beer and mint, a combination that yields more than the sum of its parts when served over tons of crushed ice in a copper mug.

The mug alone is gorgeous, as are the bar, the restrooms, the decor (vintage corsets!) and the food. We had meant to have one drink. We stayed for three and dinner. After a second visit and a broader sampling of the cocktail menu, which features drink recipes from as far back as the 1850s, this is possibly my favorite bar in the whole city. An auspicious start to our endeavor. But was it the best Moscow Mule I've ever tasted? Sadly, it was my first, and I've nothing to compare it to. I shall surely endeavor to correct this error - provided I can be coaxed away from Stoddard's, that is.

Our next stop was a no-brainer. Not only do I love a classic champagne cocktail, but the featured establishment, City Bar at the Lenox Hotel, is probably the closest bar to our apartment. When a gorgeous drink can provide a quick respite from freezing rain along the way from our empty fridge and Shaw's, we go for it. And having been to City Bar a bunch of times, we'd never ordered a champagne cocktail there before. And it was good - not great, but good. I'm not sure what brand of bubbly is used at City Bar, but I'm pretty sure it was the x-factor here. I'm happy to drink cheap champers, but I do like it to be dry, and this drink was on the sweet side. Sugar fans are sure to love the kane-stalk garnish, however. Fortunately, the rest of the cocktail menu has never disappointed, and we're quite fond of both apps and sandwiches here, so if you skip this drink, don't skip the bar.

I was pretty excited to try the Bloody Mary at Masa when I read that it contained 22 ingredients. Unfortunately, it turns out that 22 might be a few items too many. It was salty and sour - this from a woman who includes a liberal amount of pickle juice in her homemade version - and I missed the tomato-y purity that makes this such a refreshing drink.

But that's not all - rude service and a lackluster meal hurt the overall experience. Hambone ordered some sort of mimosa, and we found it to be equally unexciting. It was our first, and, hopefully last, true disappointment of our cocktail crusade. Luckily, I enjoy making these at home, and California friends can try my favorite spicy Bloody at Max's Opera Cafe.

With a college friend staying downtown one weekend, we thought we'd have ample opportunity to hit a number of financial district bars, but we had a bit of ill luck and ended up at Stoddard's for much of the evening. (Where our luck changed, natch.) But before striking out at Mr. Dooley's (over capacity!) and Locke-Ober (closed temporarily for renovations), we were able to find some very chic seats at Woodward, located inside the Ames Hotel, just a stone's throw from the Old State House. Ordering a Daiquiri - the old school kind, sans strawberries - at Woodward is tough, considering that it has one of the craziest cocktail menus in town. (Campfire Hollows, anyone?) But I went for it, and it was quite a pleasant experience. A mix of just three ingredients - white rum, lime juice, and simple syrup - means a nice clean taste, and if I were a rum person, I'm sure it would have knocked my socks off. And, let's be shallow for a moment: the daiquiri is served straight up in a martini glass, so it's a good choice for those nights when you want to be seen holding a martini glass, but don't feel up to gin or vodka. Cocktails at Woodward arrived with a dish of house-made pickles, many of which were fruit, all of which were delicious, and our server was very sweet. So if you want to get all Far From Heaven somewhere in Boston, stop by the Ames Hotel.

Having been somewhat haunted by Mr. Dooley's after being turned away at the door, we returned the following Saturday for lunch. I feel no shame about drinking during a weekend lunch, but for those of you wearing judgey pants, 1. we wanted to be sure to get a table, since the place is clearly uber-popular.  2. !e wanted to warm up after standing in front of the State House for 90 minutes. 3. Irish coffee is one of the great day drinks of all time. I first had an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista in San Francisco, quite by accident. Which is hilarious, because I would later learn that this is the definitive American Irish coffee. It may be the definitive Irish coffee worldwide. Who knows? So I had high hopes for Boston, as it's way more Irish than anyplace in CA, and, after watching the bartender at Stoddard's (yes, I'm obsessed) go to great lengths to fix us a round, we speculated there must be some sort of code: No bartender in Boston is allowed to refuse to make you an Irish coffee. Lunch turned out to be a great idea. There were plenty of tables, and it gave us the opportunity to (duh) have lunch, and Mr. Dooley's serves wonderful Irish food as well as the Ted Kennedy burger. Which I, of course, ordered.

Boston Magazine postulates that it's the atmosphere at Mr. Dooley's that really makes the drink, and I will concede that it is authentically pubby and wonderful. The Irish coffee was good, too, and hit the spot on a cold day. Was it Buena Vista, though? No, and I'll tell you why - proportion. Buena Vista serves theirs in a signature glass, kind of a baby goblet, and the ratio of whiskey to coffee to whipped cream to single cube of sugar is what makes it the platonic idea of Irish coffee. With sweetened whipped cream standing in for the sugar cube, Mr. Dooley's hasn't quite achieved the sublime, but does a pretty good job.