The Price of Being a Trendsetter
I first visited Barbara Lynch’s Fort Point watering hole, Drink, a couple months after it opened. I repeatedly told myself that I wanted to wait until the novelty of the bar died down a bit but, truth be told, I was nervous as hell. Something about the idea of no cocktail list or visible alcohol to jog my aging memory scared the sh*t out of me. I found my first visit to be about as intimidating as losing my virginity. No matter how much I read or spoke with Drink pioneers beforehand, it wasn’t anything like the moment my tush hit the barstool. Everything I rehearsed left my mind an empty slate but no one at this rathskeller was there to offer any input. No, they patiently (and smilingly) waited for me to nervously fumble for descriptives that they could then metamorphose into a cocktail. Josey, my favorite Drink bartender, certainly delivered on my unusual request of “something hot and spicy” with a perfectly executed Bone (a David Wondrich delectable for those of us addicted to the burn).
Maybe unbeknownst to you, Audubon Circle, a division of Matthew Curtis and Chris Lutes’ growing restaurant empire, began in much the same manner as Drink. No drink menu or cocktail list. No branded beer tap displays. No visual information about the spirits that were served in any capacity. In fact, the bar was designed with large Padouk wood cabinets meant to keep any sight of alcohol firmly behind closed doors. The idea was that Audubon’s bartenders could make anything you desired so no guidance was necessary. If you’ve been there recently, then you know that they now boast several expertly mixed cocktails on an approachable menu and over-sized chalk board. Ever the trendsetters, Matthew and Chris were one of the first in Boston to introduce the cocktail-less menu. And being as keen as they are, they were one of the first to realize that it doesn’t translate well beyond the true cocktail aficionados. Why? Because most people believe that it is the establishment’s/bartender’s responsibility to help make up their minds for them. When I go to the bar and cannot decide between a Sam Smith Organic Lager and a Manhattan, the onus is on my ‘tender to tell me that they actually infuse their whiskey with cinnamon and vanilla beans on site for a seasonal iteration, thereby winning me over to the house-made drink.
Twelve years span the opening of Audubon and Drink. In other words, maybe things have changed. We’ve had a decade and then some to fully immerse ourselves in the “tell me how you feel” rhetoric and other mantras that play to our psyche but, judging from a follow-up visit to Drink with a colleague, we still want to be guided along in our actions and feelings. I ordered the same thing I had on my first visit and my friend asked for several obscure spices and tomato water before she announced that she actually wasn’t fussy and would be happy with anything that the bartender could procure. We’ll have to see whether Drink will stand the test of time. I do hope it pans out in the long run—if only to consistently provide opportunities for me to exercise my judgment and independence.
Posted by Elizabeth