The Red Sox were at home. Kenmore Square was a river of red caps and jerseys flowing toward Fenway. Inside the Hotel Commonwealth, the bar at Eastern Standard was packed. B-school types wrinkled their noses at dirty martinis while cocktail nerds ducked Sox fans who were in for a quick one en route to the game.
I sipped my Periodista.
Eastern Standard makes them differently than Chez Henri. The character is softer, drier. But all the right flavors are there and the tart slap on the tongue is unmistakably Periodista. The mythology is the same, too—their menu reads:
rum for the intrepid reporter
one of the many cocktails
I took another sip. I was watching the landing at the top of the stairs that leads into the hotel. I’d been there an hour already and he hadn’t surfaced—Jackson Cannon; ES bar manager, Jack Rose Society founding member, Boston cocktail luminary. He runs one of the busiest craft cocktail bars in town, but he doesn’t take up the shaker too often these days. Not that day.
I paid my bill in cash and biked across the river to Green Street.
Dylan Black greeted me with a handshake. I knew he’d worked at the B-Side Lounge and Chez Henri, dueling ground zeros for Boston’s Periodista. These days he owns and operates Green Street, a neighborhood bar tucked away on a Central Square backstreet of the same name.
I sat at the bar and asked for the A to Z. It was medium busy. Some guys from the neighborhood were drinking bottles of Budweiser and craning their necks up to the TV. Manny Ramirez was back in Boston wearing Dodger blue and opinions were being expressed.
The A to Z is Green Street’s cocktail menu. It’s six pages and a hundred and two drinks long, but the Periodista isn’t on it. When Black came behind the bar to pull some beers, I asked him why. Dylan Black talks about cocktails the way he talks about the Celtics. He’s a stats guy. He knows a player’s history and what he brought to a team. Same with a drink.
“Because it’s a Chez Henri drink,” he said, “And coming from Chez Henri I didn’t want to take it. A certain Joe McGuirk will claim he invented it, but it’s an old cocktail that’s been around since like the thirties.”
Black delivered the beers and I flipped pages. Brambles, flips, snifters, fizzes—all fresh juices, house-made syrups—classic cocktails, local nods, originals. It may be hard to find, but Green Street’s no modern speakeasy. It’s the closest you’ll find to a beloved dive on the craft cocktail scene in Boston, with the best menu.
When Black passed by again I asked about the A to Z’s origins.
“I knew that when I opened I wanted to have a big, giant cocktail list with everything that I like,” he said. “So I went over to Gertsen’s house one night, got him drunk and stole all his cocktail books. I spent about a year going through them, pulling out drinks I thought would be appropriate for the tone of this place. Then one night before I opened I invited Jackson, Misty, Scott, and John over to my house and made them drinks. We talked about the list, how to pull it off right, that kind of thing.”
“Well, I worked with Misty at the B-Side,” he said, “and everyone came in there. I mean everyone. Like, growing up around here, everyone I knew came in there. My friends, their families. My folks. Just everybody.”
The B-Side Lounge was before my time. Its doors closed in 2008, but it casts a long shadow over the Boston cocktail scene. People go teary-eyed when you mention it. It was where Joe McGuirk brought the Periodista when he left Chez Henri. I asked Black what it had been like.
“Some people said it was like lightning in a bottle,” he said. “You know, it just shouldn’t have happened. I’d say the B-Side is definitely responsible for the idea of really doing cocktailing in Boston. Okay, probably eighty percent of our cocktail business was Cosmopolitans, but still, it was a place that created trust with cocktails. Cocktailing without pretension. You could drink an Aviation while the Misfits were playing on vinyl and it was totally packed. I worked there six nights a week for four years. The energy of the place was really, really, really great.”
I wondered if the Periodista might have reached more people there than at Chez Henri. When Black came around the bar again, I said as much.
“Well,” said Black, “I made more Periodistas when I was at Chez Henri than the B-Side. Absolutely. It’s a small place, but they have a crankin’ little service bar.”
No doubt, but could Chez Henri, a ten-seat bar on a Cambridge side street, hope to match the exposure of a hotel bar next door to Fenway Park? I thought about the Periodistas cranked out nightly at Eastern Standard. I needed Jackson Cannon’s angle, but the guy was harder to nail down than an eight-penny in a grease storm.
The B-Side talk had put a little half smile on Black’s face. I flattened my palm against the wood of the bar and felt the rumble of the dishwasher beneath as he spoke.
“It was seeing the success of the B-Side that made me realize I really wanted to do this,” he said. He gestured at the bar around him. “I’d always had my eye on this place. You know, I’m from the neighborhood. I’d come in here when I was a kid, play the juke box. The old man threw me out once for getting too close to the bar. So there’s memories. There’s also history. I have the oldest operating liquor license awarded in Cambridge—1933—and the 69th common victualer’s license. I’m only the fourth person to own this place. My landlord is Charlene Wax, and her father was Charlie Wax, who opened up Charlie’s Tap. He was the first owner here, and he sold it to two guys, O’Driscoll and Feeney, and then Feeney dropped out and O’Driscoll sold it to John Clifford, who opened Green Street Grill in the ’80s. Then Clifford sold it to me back in ’06. Doing research for the place I came upon all these old ads that really give you a sense of its history. There used to be a piano upstairs in the back, shoe shines, blue plate specials.”
As he spoke, Black gestured at the large, black-and-white prints that adorn the walls of the bar. Archival images of the pre-war streets of Cambridge. The Charlie’s Tap marquee. The names O’Driscoll and Feeney in lights. I could almost hear the plink of the old upright in the back.
“I don’t really think of Green Street as my bar at all,” Black said. “It’s Cambridge’s. I’m just a steward, shepherding it on to its next phase of life.”
I’ll drink to that.
Green Street’s Periodista
Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a small wedge of lime.
Tasting notes: Dylan’s recipe makes a slightly smaller—and more affordable!—cocktail than the Chez Henri version. However, if you were to multiply every quantity by 1.5, it would give you the same dimensions as Chez Henri’s Periodista (and Beth concedes that when she makes it at Chez, she often puts in closer to 2 ¼ ounces of Gosling’s). This may be the closest currently available Periodista to the Chez Henri original.
“I always felt the Periodista was a soulful cocktail, meaning imperfect,” says Dylan. “You either love it or hate it, it’s a very personal thing. Like if I was drinking one it would be the hottest, most humid night, but some people consider it a winter drink. Because dark rum is sluggish, it’s slow, but it’s cold and with a little tartness it can be refreshing. And obviously the alcohol behind it is very refreshing as well. It turns from, this is fucking hot, to this is fucking hot, you know what I mean?”
I’m not sure what he means, but I agree one hundred percent.