Drinkable History (And A Tasty One It Is)


What’s in a cocktail’s name? More than you might expect.
By Kara Baskin Globe Correspondent

Bartenders love to get creative when christening drinks. Of course, sometimes things go too far: Recently Cambridge’s Friendly Toast quickly plucked a Strange Fruit cocktail from their menu after a customer noted that is was named after Billie Holiday’s song about lynching and racism. Oops.

Many cocktail names are a potent mixture of history, folklore, and pop culture. Take the Bloody Mary: Urband legend says the timeless hangover cure is named for England’s Queen Mary I, infamous for her Protestant executions in the 1500’s. Or the Tom Collins, supposedly named for a notorious 19th-century practical joke.

The Boston area is home to plenty of fascinatingly named tipples, too. Here are a few with unusual, mysterious, or historic origins. Let’s indulge in a bit of drinkable history, shall we?

Sixth century: At Fort Point’s Drink, the warming St. Kevin Sling immortalizes Irish saint Kevin of Glendalough, the mythical hermit who built a monastic community later known as the City of Seven Churches, now a popular tourist attraction. It uses the new-to-Boston Glendalough Double Barrel Whiskey – something Kevin never would have touched.

15th century: At Lynn’s Blue Ox, a Bear Hunter rye whiskey cocktail is mixed with Barenjager honey liqueur, reportedly originating in 15th-century East Prussia. “Barenjager” means “bear hunter,” According to lore, woodland hunters trying to lure innocent bears into their traps concocted the first variations of the sweet drink. (Apparently even bears can’t resist a stiff cocktail.)

1860s – 1890s: Back Bay’s Clio asks diners to pick sides in America’s most infamous family feud. Choose The Hatfield, made with apricot liqueur, or The McCoy, with yellow chartreuse.

1890s: Visit the North End’s Ward 8 to drink their eponymous cocktail named in honor of powerful Ward 8 czar Martin Lomasney, a polarizing figure in North and West End politics in the 1800s. The cocktail was invented in 1898 at the late, legendary Locke-Ober restaurant to buoy Lomasney after a particularly hard-won race.

Early 1900s: If you’re feeling melancholy, visit the new River Bar in Somerville’s Assembly Row and sip a Hollow Men, named for the classic T.S. Elliot lament about post-World War I Europe. Bar manager Thea Robin Engst thought the poem’s last lines – “this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper” – mirrored the rye cocktail’s herbal and bitter notes.

1919: At Nebo near the Greenway, try a Molasses Flood Mojito, named after the 1919 North End disaster. The drink reminds owners Carla and Christine Pallotta of growing up on Endicott Street, where they smelled the lingering scent of molasses on warm days.

1960s: Downtown, Legal Crossing gets frisky with its drinks, many of which pay homage to a grittier, seedier Boston. The rum-based Bob Lee’s Islander is named for a 1960s-era Chinatown Tiki bar famous for its staggeringly strong Scorpion bowls. The party ended in the 1970s, when the bar closed due to financial difficulties. A vodka drink, Good Time Charlie, immortalizes a legendary seamy, long-gone Combat Zone bar.

1970s: Kenmore Square’s Eastern Standard recalls the underbelly of punk rock with their Sid and Nancy rum cocktail, a twist on the classic Tom and Jerry. The Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious murdered his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in a dingy room at New York City’s Chelsea Hotel, and he later died of a drug overdose.
1991: At Deuxave, hoist an Andrea Gail, named to honor the Gloucester fishing vessel lost at sea during 1991’s “perfect storm.” It’s a new take on a Dark & Stormy, using Left Hand Brewing Company’s Good Juju ale and Cape Cod’s Twenty Boat Spiced Rum.

2014: At Somerville’s Foundry on Elm, Medford residents might wonder about the origins of a Hot Medford Mess. Don’t worry, they’re not trying to spark a town rivalry: The drink is named after a key ingredient, GrandTen Distilling’s Medford rum. Foundry does make a political statement with the Referendum, though, a drink commemorating Scotland’s 2014 quest for independence. Naturally, it uses Highland single malt scotch.

Even more unusual drinks:

CLOSE FOR COMFORT Newton’s Sycamore is known for its outstanding cocktail program. The mellow bistro mixes a beverage called Family Jewels made with gin, Dolin Veritable Génépy Des Alpes liqueur, sweet vermouth, Cynar, and orange bitters. A popular Valentine’s Day choice? In Harvard Square, Alden & Harlow sells a Kon Tiki Tropical Itch. Made with rum and gin, it’s possible to drink a few of these and wake up not quite knowing why you’re itchy.

A BIT DANGEROUS The new Viale in Central Square has a drinks program run by cocktail maven Patrick Gaggiano. While there, bring a Knife to a Gun Fight with bourbon, Aperol, zucca, and Laphroaig rinse. If you forgot your weaponry in a tipsy haze, then it’s Death in the Afternoon, mixed nearby at Kendall Square’s Blue Room. It’s made with absinthe and named after the book by Ernest Hemingway (who was, of course, a dedicated drinker.)

A LITTLE FRIGHTENING Cambridge’s Cuchi Cuchi is a beloved after-work spot for strong and funky drinks. Curse an evil boss with a sip of Satan’s Whiskers, made with gin, sweet and dry vermouth, orange curacao, orange bitters, and orange juice. At Downtown Crossing’s JM Curley, a concoction called Bobby’s Bones showcases bone marrow-fat-washed scotch – a variant that does sound a bit deadly indeed.

FAMILY TRADITIONS Ever since he cooked at the late, lamented Gargoyles in Somerville, chef Jason Santos has maintained a tradition of selling weirdly named cocktails. At his Back Bay Harry’s, look for MA! The Meatloaf, made with Ipswich rum, pistachio, lime, and allspice. Just like dinner at mom’s, right? At Abby Lane in the Theater District, sneak a sip of Grampa’s Special Juice, a potent rye and maple liqueur combo.

STYLISH SIPPING Somerville’s backbar is a fitting place to impress a date, so it’s only natural that they sell an Improved Tuxedo – a fresh take on a martini, made with gin, sherry, maraschino, and absinthe. Still, sometimes you just need to unwind with a strong, soothing drink. The South End’s Toro comes to the rescue with dark rum, Laird’s brandy, lemon, and pumpkin syrup. The name? Yoga Pants, of course.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kcbaskin@gmail.com