2000s Archive

The Mixologist’s Tale

Originally Published August 2008

They have names like Death & Co., Milk & Honey, The Violet Hour, Bourbon and Branch, Seven Grand. Together they form a kind of Cocktail Nation, a semisecret society with its own rules. Few of these places have a sign, so you need to be an insider just to find them. And while there is no secret handshake, there is certainly a sense of community. Even in New York City, my nephew Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, a mixologist (sorry) at Boston’s Eastern Standard, usually recognizes the people behind the bar and knows what styles of drinks they mix; often, he even recognizes customers (he calls them cocktailians) from his bar up north.

As you would expect, there is an unspoken code of proper behavior. You don’t, for example, order a specific cocktail. That’s not playing the game, and it’s no fun for the … mixologist. Instead, you indicate which liquor you prefer in your drink, along with perhaps a couple of other characteristics: yes or no to fruit, let’s say, or a hint as to your preference along the sweet/bitter continuum. The artiste then creates the right drink for you at that time and place. Although this can lead to some obnoxious moments—I was present when a customer’s request for a Cosmopolitan was denied with the comment “The only thing we use vodka for here is to clean the bar”—the results are usually pretty spectacular. Even more impressive, however, is the intellectual rigor of these nouvelle bartenders.

When I sent a friend to Eastern Standard and Tom served him a drink named the Prospect Park, I was impressed: That park is two blocks from the friend’s Brooklyn apartment. But I wondered what a drink like that was doing in Boston, so I asked how it got its name. Here’s Tom’s answer:

“We believe in families of cocktails. So in the last reformat of our list, in addition to sections like Standards and Heritage, we added a section called Lineage ~ Legacy, which allows us to explore a particular drink’s progression through time. The opening section was the Manhattan/Brooklyn family, with our own addition of the Prospect Park. The progenitor cocktails of this family, of course, are the Manhattan and Brooklyn cocktails, but with other, more modern variations like the Red Hook (originated by Enzo, formerly of Milk & Honey), the Greenpoint (from Little Branch), and the Little Italy, which debatably stems from New York’s seminal Pegu Club. It’s about being true to the family of drinks that it would fit into.”

Right. And here I was thinking it was just a drink.

But this type of earnest attention to craft pays off. The cocktails these guys create are not only delicious but also surprising, innovative, and fun to talk about. It makes going out for a drink a whole new ball game.


Prospect Park

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