There’s a cocktail party in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood and everyone’s invited. It’s in the basement of a former wool factory dating back to the late 19th century, but the hosts have put efforts into making the space as slick and organically stylish as it is inviting. But Drink does not deliver the standard bar experience. That’s immediately evident upon entrance. With a white oak bar that zig-zags to form three separate stations set against an exposed brick backdrop and a network of raw ceiling beams, you can’t help but wonder: “Where are the bottles? Don’t they serve cocktails in this joint?”
There’s no back bar, with its regiment of familiar figures on bottles’ logos gazing out like steadfast protectors of capitalism, nor are there televisions, which are as fundamental as water in Boston’s bars. There’s no cocktail menu, either. There are, however, bartenders who greet guests with a glass of water and engage them in a quick, efficient dialogue to collect enough information so that they can create a drink that suits a guest’s taste and mood to a T.
Drink opened in 2008 and is part of BL Gruppo, the empire created and overseen by James Beard Award-winning chef Barbara Lynch. According to John Gertsen, the general manager who’s worked in Lynch’s restaurants for eight years, it’s the bar’s simplicity that draws national attention—not to mention fosters its devoted, diverse fan base. Hipsters in hoodies commonly rub elbows with buttoned up workers from the nearby Financial District; tourists stopping in on their way to the airport (it happens, Gertsen says)’ and a well-heeled set including residents of the neighboring luxury condos and gourmands en route to one of the two connected Lynch restaurants: Sportello, an upscale cafeteria-style Italian, or Menton, a high-end foodie mecca. Drink hasn’t advertised and that hasn’t been necessary. Word of mouth, Gertsen says, is the most effective advertising. An in-house public relations team abets that with an increasingly active social media presence to keep guests informed about special events.
A Unique Focus
What appeals to guests about Drink? “We’re translating guests’ language into custom drinks,” says Gertsen. “My favorite bars have incredible lists that I enjoy, but we want to simplify the process. A well-done cocktail list is organized, but our bartenders do the work for the customers, which saves eyestrain. People expect the words on the page and on the bottle, but it can be scary. We want to demystify that, give them a hug and say ‘it’s ok.’”
The room’s minimalism lends itself to focus, he says. “We don’t want people to have a barrage of bottles and words that accompany them, just with the great cocktails and food pairings. People love the discovery process, the novelty of the experience.”
Gertsen helped craft that novelty factor. It started with design firm C&J Katz Inc., which designed a number of Lynch’s other properties. They had to work with the building’s vintage infrastructure, so they constructed the bar to meander around the room’s bulky concrete support column pillars. Each station has custom designed units, from the freezers and bar racks to stainless steel sinks and level decks for constructing drinks. The concealed racks have challenges, of course: liter bottles don’t fit, and there’s only space for 30 or 40 bottles to make hundreds of drinks, Gertsen says.
Citrus is juiced and fresh herbs are kept in pots on fire slate table in the middle bay. The station closest to the door is the stage for the ice show. A bartender chisels away at a fresh 50-pound ice block each night, using pieces for shaved ice and dense, clear hand-hewn pieces that end up in Old Fashioneds and other stirred drinks. Cubes from a Kold Draft machine are used in long drinks.
The logistics of service are a display of military precision that provides a steady tempo for the kind of instinctive, gracious hospitality typically dispensed by a grandparent. Each station has a team comprised of a bartender, an apprentice responsible for tools, garnishes and working with customers and a backup (bar back or manager) who oversees ice, food, music, lighting and capacity and makes sure a variety of vintage glassware is accessible. “It’s set up so guests feel double served,” says Gertsen.
They focus on drinks that not only have a history, but future, Gertsen says. The most popular recipe is the namesake Fort Point, a fourth generation Manhattan with Old Overholt rye, Punt e Mes and Benedictine ($12). Guests can choose from a limited, well-curated bottled beer list, which usually includes a Harpoon selection since the brewery is down the street. All beers fetch $5. Gruppo’s wine director Cat Silirie selects an equally thoughtful wine list. Punch is popular among groups who linger and many cocktails are available in punch format. It lends itself to the cocktail party theme, says Gertsen.
Same goes for the food. There are no forks and knives for the chic finger food ($4 to $17). The menu, created by Gruppo’s executive chef Colin Lynch (no relation to Barbara), is prepared by Drink’s own cook. “You have to control the room to control what happens in the glass or on the plate,” he says. “Making someone comfortable and happy and answering questions is just as important as memorizing 27 recipes.” Only one question goes unanswered: Is the bar’s name a noun or a verb?