These Boston bars are reinventing the city’s drinking scene
- March 19, 2023
- No Comment
Bar scenes across the country have had to be rebuilt in recent years, but the task has been particularly arduous in Boston. Not only has it struggled with rising costs and staffing shortages across the state, but the city’s Bay State-specific blue laws — including an outdated cap on liquor licenses that makes acquiring one prohibitive (half a million dollars, expensive) — have led to it that the closure of many popular local hangouts; Among them Allston’s beloved Deep Ellum and longtime local talent incubator Eastern Standard. But as of 2023, a remarkable comeback has taken shape — and it’s being spearheaded by a slew of new establishments exploding with global flavors and challenging Boston’s provincial reputation.
The underground bar Hecate is located under James Beard nominee Krasi in Back Bay.
Hecate’s Wandering City Cocktail features gin, trakal liqueur, maqui berry and yerba mate.
A shining example is Hecate, which opened in April 2022 to take full advantage of its windowless, subterranean space beneath James Beard-nominated Krasi Greek restaurant. The imaginative cocktail bar whisks guests from Tony Back Bay to a dimly lit image of the underworld for a grimoire menu of supernatural-themed drinks that evoke far-off realms with elaborate presentations and ingredients ranging from a fig leaf syrup to salted mead foam.
Hecate beverage director Lou Charbonneau sees a link between the pandemic-era rise of home bartending and a desire for a different kind of evenings. “People have had to make cocktails for themselves in lockdown and we saw people coming back hungry for different types of cocktails.”
This desire to experience new tastes and destinations through drinks lives on at Birds of Paradise, which opened last December at Brighton’s Charles River Speedway – a former racecourse-turned-open-air marketplace. It’s the latest concept from bartender/restaurateur Ran Duan, whose growing local empire includes the acclaimed Baldwin Bar and Blossom Bar. Its latest drink embraces the theme of the Golden Age of Travel, with destination-inspired drinks like Rio to Tokyo, made with cachaça, amontillado sherry, miso pineapple and wasabi coconut — as well as snacks like sushi hand rolls, all on one menu presented are designed as an airplane seat back instruction card.
Duan hopes the creativity exuding from his bars and other up-and-coming concepts will help Boston’s cocktail scene take off on its own. “Boston has always been overshadowed by New York and LA,” he says. “We hope that as more programs open, it can compete with a global cocktail program, one of the top 50 best,” he says.
Charles River Speedway is also home to the Koji Club, which became Boston’s first-ever sake bar when it opened in February 2022. It’s the brainchild of Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale, who spent years frequenting sake bars in New York while working for Tim and Nancy Cushman, the culinary power couple behind O Ya. The Koji Club’s intimate size — with just 16 seats and 250 square feet of space — is run like a classroom, with a seasonally rotating menu showcasing the variety and depth of the beverage category for those who’ve never dabbled in sake.
“Our values are education and access, and everything we do – from a dinner series to a ticketed tasting to a massive cherry blossom disco celebrating unpasteurized sake that we will be hosting this spring – has to to be within that lens,” says Mikiko DiPasquale.
Dear Annie, a natural wine bar off Porter Square in Cambridge
The menu is more pescetarian, from cheese boards and beet hummus to raw bars and an “uncanned” fish menu featuring homemade seafood
In nearby Brookline Village, street-food-focused Thai restaurant Mahaniyom was unlucky to open in February 2020 — and has used its bar program to further differentiate itself from the status quo. “Boston’s Thai food scene is takeout only — it’s like Thai comfort food,” says co-owner Boong Boonnak. To shake things up and complement the homemade crab curries and salt and pepper beef cheeks, Boonnak has developed a cocktail menu that integrates Thai ingredients into classic cocktails; a Mahaniyom Sazerac made from Thai tea-infused rye; and a Malai Daiquiri made with pandan syrup and rum flavored with Thailand’s famous Eleven Tigers spice blend.