If you’re lucky enough to be biking past the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square at 1:30 in the morning, you might begin to hear a dull roar. It’s summer, and the patio at Noir is a dense, throbbing mass of loosened ties and fallen-strap dresses. From one until two in the morning, Noir is your last chance for a last call in Cambridge.
If you show up during daylight hours, it’s a different story. I locked my bike by the Legal Sea Foods, walked through the hotel lobby and past the beaded curtain into Noir. It was happy hour, when you can drink at any bar you want. Most people were drinking elsewhere. Inside, a small staff of young women in black uniforms shuttled beers from the bar out to the patio. On the sound system, James Brown was singing about it being a man’s world. I couldn’t argue the evidence.
I took a bar seat and asked for the menu. There it was, under “classics”—Periodista. I ordered one.
Noir has the curious honor of being one of the only bars to have a recipe for the Periodista attributed to them in print: Food & Wine magazine’s Cocktails 2006. For all posterity knows, the damn thing cropped up at Noir one night in a frenzy of misplaced bottles.
As Alice Rodriguez made my Periodista, I told her what I was up to. Her reaction was typical.
“Really? Not even in New York? That is so strange!”
A row of martini glasses sat upended in a bed of crushed ice. Rodriguez flipped one over and filled it. I asked her how the Periodista found its way onto their menu.
“The whole classic cocktail revival really started around here with this bar called the B-Side Lounge,” she said. “And one of the guys who quit there and came here brought the Periodista to our classics list. Yep, a guy named Paul McGowan. He doesn’t bartend anymore, he teaches.”
The name was new but the story was familiar. I asked her about the recipe.
“I think I have that book around here,” she said, and disappeared under the bar for a minute. Across the room, a black and white film flickered blearily on an exposed brick wall. I couldn’t tell if it was Cagney or Sinatra.
Rodriguez emerged with the book, dog-eared and water-warped, and flipped to the page. “Yep, here it is,” she said. “I really don’t know how this recipe got into the hands of Food & Wine. It was so many years and so many managers ago. Just a sec.”
Rodriguez went to consult with a group of waitresses gathered around the cash register. I watched the couple sitting three seats down from me sip languidly at piles of olives wet with vodka. I drank my Periodista.
Rodriguez returned. “I think I was the only one here who would have been around for that,” she said. “I’m honestly not sure how it happened.”
I nodded. A dead end. I finished my drink and ordered another. It’s what Cagney would have done. Or Sinatra.
As Rodriguez made my second, I flipped through Noir’s menu. A solid selection of classics. Some inventive originals. I began to wonder why no one ever mentioned Noir in the same breath as other craft cocktail joints around town. I asked Rodriguez.
“Well,” she said. “It’s probably because we’re really known for being an after hours bar. We’re open until two every night, so lots of restaurant industry people come here, but it’s right when they get out of work, so they can only just get in here before we close. And by that point in the night every other person that’s been drinking is here, too. The place is jam-packed—it’s crazy, we move all these tables here out of the way—and it’s just, like, High Lifes and Fernets, High Lifes and Fernets. I can easily double my sales in one hour.”
One of the waitresses had been listening in. “Never a dull moment,” she said, laughing.
“And everyone is just wasted, too,” said Rodriguez. “I can understand cocktail people not wanting to come here, and that’s too bad—I do enjoy having a conversation like this, instead of just ‘youyouyouyouyouyouyouyou,’ late-night.”
Rodriguez smiled. “But I love that, too. It’s like my hour when I get to do whatever I want.”
I smiled back. It was a fine story, but I began to see a list of interconnected names—McGuirk, Gertsen, Cannon, Kalkofen—with Rodriguez’s name not on it. That told a different story. Maybe the wrong one, but I wondered.
A chill breeze washed through the open patio doors, carrying with it cigarette smoke and the promise of rain. I thought about the B-Side Lounge, which by all accounts had that same manic, late-night energy and still managed to make a reputation for its cocktails. I asked Rodriguez if she used to go there, knowing the answer.
“The B-Side was such a hub for all of us,” she said. “You never had to call anybody, you could just show up and someone you knew would be there. A bartender you knew would be there—no matter who it was, you loved them. And it was such a weird place because it was just a little bit out of the way, you know? It was good food, but it wasn’t exactly outstanding. It wasn’t super cheap. It was kind of dingy. It smelled. But it was fantastic.”
Lightning in a bottle, I thought.
“Pat was actually here today,” she said. “Yep. You pretty much just missed him.”
I raised my eyebrows. Patrick Sullivan, the former owner of the B-Side Lounge. Add that name to the list. I ordered another drink. Rodriguez was kind enough to oblige.
Back at my inbox that night, a little foggy from Rodriguez’s Periodistas, I found a message waiting from another name I recognized. Ben Sandrof, former bartender at No. 9 Park, Drink, and former manager of—coincidence?—Noir. I thought that maybe Alice had enlisted him to clear up the Food & Wine situation. I was wrong. His message was four words.
“Talk to Brother Cleve.”
Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a small wedge of lime.
Tasting notes: These proportions are the ones published by Food & Wine. The brands were scouted at the source. Myers’s is a much rounder, sweeter rum than Gosling’s, and the Marie Brizard is one of the sweeter apricot brandies. However, using only fresh lime (Alice: “I don’t like anything with Rose’s”) keeps the drink from getting cloying. A solid combination.