Celebrating Ten Years at Boston’s Menu-less Landmark, Drink
Establishments flip regularly. In fact, very few bar openings in the last 20 years have really impacted the U.S. cocktail evolution. However, one standout establishment that has certainly made their mark in Boston's Fort Point neighborhood is the Drink.
The ten-year old cocktail bar adopted its ethos from Milk & Honey’s late Sasha Petraske where menus are replaced with conversation, encouraging guest and bartender engagement – a fresh and fixated method thanks to General Manager and Beverage Director, Ezra Star.
Star joined chef-entrepreneur Barbara Lynch’s acclaimed Drink two years after the 2008 opening. She rose through the ranks of barback to bartender, eventually replacing the renowned John Gertsen as General Manager in 2014. Star continues to champion the bartender’s choice drinks while constantly improving the inner workings that keep Drink buzzing today; its distinctive character and systemizing staff training programs to further some of Boston’s leading bar talent.
The industrial-style space, set below Congress Street, stands free of wall mirrors, photography and televisions to encourage conversation amongst guests and bartenders. There aren’t any visible cash wraps for entering orders or back bar shelving for displaying branded bottles – only skillful mixology to catch a wandering eye. “It’s an open space providing a journey,” explains Star. Guests are held at the door – hence the lengthy lines on Friday and Saturday nights – to maintain the comfort level for seated and standing room drinkers.
The weaving, custom-built bar is divided into three stations. Each station provides roughly nine to seventeen stools rested atop the original rocks and cement of the building structure, a once wool warehouse. Around three to four expert bartenders power the bar – one per station plus the service area. From spirit connoisseurs to basic vodka-soda drinkers, guests typically request a rendition of a classic, or simply choose one spirit and mixer allowing the talented bartenders to roll with their creativity.
Although bartenders have a solid knowledge of cocktails, they enter the night with eight go-to cocktails in mind to match their guests’ preferences, normally standard cocktails that they tweak to satisfy certain palettes. “Our bartenders must understand certain dialect and words used by guests to describe taste and flavor, then translate into an original drink,” Star says.
Refreshing, gin-based, aperitif – Three words I threw at the bartender. Minutes later he returned with a narrow highball glass suffusing a light violet hue and releasing an abundance of bright, botanical aromas. Undoubtedly, this was an updated version of the timeless Attention containing Crème de Violette.
“It’s a high volume, no-menu bar, so everything should be quick, easy and flawless,” states Star. “We try to keep it three to four ingredient builds.” Star and staff meet on a monthly basis to discuss improvement and interesting trends for guests. Jointly, they craft sixteen cocktails for the “new menu;” allowing two cocktails to fall off depending on consumer liking. “I have a very start-up management style,” says Star. “Together, we consolidate ideas to turn into profit.”
Becoming a bartender at Drink isn’t easily achievable. Everyone starts off as a barback with little to no experience then transitions into an apprentice role where he or she shadows a current bartender, taking ticket orders on the floor (and reservations at the door). After two years – and completing Star’s ‘Staff Education Program’ – he or she rises up to principal bartender. “[I want] to grow everyone; help them achieve at the same time,” Star expresses. Her Program consists of crafting five drinks in ten minutes and passing a 55-question test over a three-day span.
Drink will continuously evolve under Star’s leadership. It plans to build a social presence outside of Boston to keep the word flowing. Today, guests can expect monthly ‘Sunday Tiki’ night; not to mention a curated wine program and exceptional food menu – think tartare and crispy steak fries – from the hidden kitchen… and maybe Star herself socializing behind the bar. “It’s all about conversation [with people],” she adds.