The city that helped kick off the cocktail renaissance steps up for another round
Photo (above): Yvonne’s Large Format Moscow Mule
Massachusetts outlawed happy hour in 1984. Perhaps there’s some justice in the fact that, in the years that followed, Boston was among a handful of cities that kicked off the modern cocktail revolution. Without the ability to entice guests with discounted drink specials, the logic goes, bartenders were free to focus on making elegant, high-quality cocktails that use innovative recipes and fresh ingredients to justify their price tags.
Fast-forward three decades and Boston’s bars are still at it, pushing mixology to greater heights with artisanal spirits, local produce and exciting new combinations. We spoke with three local experts to get their take on the city’s cocktail scene.
“I saw the cocktail revival happen in front of my eyes,” says Boston-based musician and cocktail enthusiast Brother Cleve, whose time spent touring with lounge music pioneers Combustible Edison opened his eyes to the potential. “We were out there bringing the cocktail and lounge experience to life. Los Angeles and San Francisco were foremost, but Minneapolis, Seattle, Austin and Boston really got it.”
“On our first tour (around 1995) there might be two women dressed up like Audrey Hepburn and two guys dressed up like James Bond, and they’d be drinking something in stemmed glassware or rocks glasses,” recalls Cleve, now an accomplished bartender, bar consultant and DJ. “On the tour after that, it was 12 people, and by the next one it was entire clubs.”
According to Cleve, cocktail fans in Boston are spoiled for choices these days, with veteran spots like Drink, The Hawthorne and Eastern Standard being joined by unique new bars like Hojoko. “It’s a little Japanese place in what was once a Howard Johnson’s motor lodge, which is now a boutique hotel,” he says. “They do tiki and have a whole sake bomb menu and a lot of really fun stuff.”
Occupying the former Locke-Ober space since 2015, Yvonne’s provides a seamless connection with Boston’s cocktail past and present. Beverage director Bruno Prado presides over a menu that features a modern take on the classic Ward 8 cocktail, along with creative recipes like Money Make Her Smile (vodka, pineapple, ginger and kaffir lime). There’s even a selection of cocktails designed for sharing—upping the fun factor while reducing labor.
“Our large-format cocktails are for four-plus people, and on a Friday or Saturday night we’ll see eight of them go out,” Prado says. “And we just came out with what we call a tea service cocktail—it’s for two or more people and it’s served in a teapot with teacups with garnishes.”
While some venues do well with big drinks, others prosper by going small. Dave Willis, co-founder and head distiller of Boston’s Bully Boy Distillers, has seen success in his tasting room with cocktail flights containing sample-size drinks—perfect for experimenting.
“You’ll get three servings along a certain theme,” Willis explains. “We’ve got an old-fashioned cocktail flight with a gin old fashioned, a rum old fashioned and a whisky old fashioned, and we have classic cocktails like a Sazerac as well.”
Underscoring Bully Boy’s local roots, there’s nothing in the glass that isn’t house-made. “From the spirits to the cordials to the individual syrups, everything that’s going into the cocktail we’ve made onsite,” Willis explains.
Bully Boy Tasting Room