Monthly Archives: July 2010

Periodista Tales: Highland Kitchen—McGuirk’s Vindication

I was sitting at Highland Kitchen in Somerville drinking my third glass of water. I’d sweat my weight biking up Central Street to get there. On my right, an old man with a handlebar mustache was chasing a cucumber slice around his glass with a straw. On my left, three women were talking loudly with Boston accents.  ighland Kitchen is your best bet on finding a good Boston accent and a good Aviation in the same room.

Joe McGuirk was behind the bar. I’d been watching him for an hour. The man’s a maestro. He pours spirits with a sixth sense and quarters limes like a ninja. He’s a big man with a ponytail and a light beard—the Mario Batali of the bar. His face is a mirror of his guests’ faces. Serious drinkers get a somber McGuirk, happy drunks get a smile. Women always get the smile.

One of the women next to me leaned across the bar and leered at him.

“I’m looking for something strong,” she said. “Do you come in a glass?”

McGuirk winked and refilled her water. He keeps his bar packed and happy.

McGuirk was the last piece of the puzzle. For the past 18 years he’d been at the vanguard of Boston’s cocktail evolution. He’d been on the opening staff of practically every bar in town—The B-Side Lounge, Toad, Salamander, Green Street, Game On, Bleacher Bar, Highland Kitchen, to name a few. Most importantly, he’d been there at the beginning, when Chez Henri first opened. When the Periodista first appeared on the scene.

Paul O’Connell had led me to expect a challenge. “Joe’s grumpy,” he said. “He doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who are that enamored of what he does.”

When there was a drop in the action I asked McGuirk if he could solve a mystery for me.

“I can try,” he said.

I asked about the Periodista.

“We usually have it on the menu,” he said, “under Highland Classics. But we can always do them. You want one?”

I said I did, and McGuirk swept out of earshot.

At the front of the bar, tall windows look onto Highland Avenue. A kid on the sidewalk smoked a cigarette and reached through a window to drink his beer. On the back wall, a steer’s skull was celebrating Christmas while Jonathan Richman played on the juke. A family of five had wedged themselves in the front entrance and were being led to a table.

McGuirk returned with a full shaker. As he poured my drink I asked him where the Periodista came from.

“It’s a Chez Henri drink,” he said. “We had it on the opening menu there. We were the first bar to serve it that I know of. At the time nobody knew what it was.”

McGuirk smiled.

“I remember,” he said, “I was drinking at another bar—it must have been ’95, ’96—and somebody ordered one. I laughed, because I watched the guy make it. He put in, like, sweet vermouth, triple sec. He was just making it up. But it was really popular at Chez Henri, especially among regulars. Around ’97 or so, one of the local magazines, Stuff at Night or the Improper Bostonian, gave it props as the Best New Cocktail.”

Before he could escape I asked him how the Periodista ended up on Chez Henri’s menu.

Paul and I were kind of under the gun when we were opening Chez Henri,” he said. “We were putting together the cocktail menu—we knew we were going to do a Mojito, and we were looking for an up drink. We found a recipe for this drink called the Periodista in this little tropical cocktail book.”

I held my breath.

“It was a really small book,” he said. “Almost like a pamphlet. It looked like something put out by liquor companies in the ‘50s or ‘60s to try to sell Bacardi, you know what I mean? It looked like Hawaiian Punch drawings on the cover. I can’t remember the name of it.”

Why was I not surprised?

“But the recipe in that book called for white rum,” he said. “White rum, triple sec, apricot brandy, Rose’s lime, and a pinch of sugar. We tried it and we were like, ‘oh, it’s kind of insipid.’ It lacked character, it lacked body. It was sweet, but it didn’t have any depth. So I decided to try it with dark rum. Myers’s was the dark rum at the time, Gosling’s wasn’t really around. So we tried it with Myers’s. It had a nice viscosity, a nice mouth feel, a nice smoothness. We decided that was the best way to do it. And that’s the way it’s been made ever since.”

McGuirk smirked.

“It was kind of a source of mirth when the B-Side first opened,” he said. “I was working there, and Pat Sullivan would be like, ‘Oh yeah, Joe, you invented the Periodista.’ And I’m like, you guys can keep laughing, but at some point I’ll be vindicated. It is my drink. The drink that we served at the B-Side is from Chez Henri.”

An old-timer waved to McGuirk from the other side of the bar and he disappeared again.

That was it. The cocktail that Boston has been drinking for the last fifteen years, the one on the menu at Noir, at Eastern Standard, at Clio—it’s a Joe McGuirk drink. I should have felt some sense of triumph. I had my answer. Except I didn’t.

McGuirk didn’t create the damn thing from scratch. He reinvented it, but there was an original Periodista out there.  A white rum drink with a story. Where did the first Periodista come from? Did Hemingway drink them? Was it even Cuban? I still didn’t know.

McGuirk came back around. I asked him, just for the hell of it, if he had any idea where the thing originated.

“I would guess that that recipe is probably from the ‘50s,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of cocktail recipes out of Castro Cuba, so it must pre-date ’61. Of course, there’s La Floridita and the Hemingway Daiquiri, and everybody says the Mojito showed up at the same time—so I guess that’s the idea with the Periodista, too. But Hemingway talks about a lot of the drinks that he drank, and I don’t recall any Periodistas.”

He shook his head.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I don’t think any of us ever think, when we’re putting together a cocktail list, that anybody’s actually going to give a fuck. You know what I mean? We talk about how World War I history contributed to drinks like the Sidecar and the French 75. We should remember that someday, and maybe that day isn’t too far from now, people are going to want to know the history of these things.”

McGuirk ripped off a printout and started on an order from the restaurant. Mostly bottled beers.

“I would like to see that little book again,” he said as he popped the cap off a Bud.

So would I.

I biked away from the bar, letting the hillside on Central Street carry me back toward Cambridge. I thought about the people I’d talked to over the past two months. Paul, Scott, Dylan, Alice, Cleve, Jackson. I had all their stories. McGuirk had filled in the last part of the Boston puzzle. And after all that, I still didn’t know where the Periodista came from.

It was time for me to start knocking on some new doors. I needed to get at the heavy hitters of the cocktail world. The hard core historians. The true scholars of cocktailia. Fortunately, I knew where most of them were going to be…

Highland Kitchen’s Periodista

1 ½ oz Gosling’s dark rum
¾ oz Cointreau
¾ oz Leroux apricot brandy
½ oz fresh lime juice

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Tasting notes:  Joe claims that the Leroux apricot makes his Periodista taste the best.  “The test for a Periodista is smelling it,” Joe says.  “When I make them I smell it to make sure there’s enough apricot in there, because that really makes the difference in the drink—it’s that apricot flavor that wins people over.”  With the same proportions as the Eastern Standard recipe, Joe’s Periodista makes for a nice comparison between the Myers’s and Gosling’s versions of the drink.  Joe’s is a more intense, spicier cocktail than Jackson’s, but doesn’t taste as delicately balanced.

Bonus recipe! Below is the recipe that Joe used when the Periodista first appeared at Chez Henri.  It underwent some modifications on that menu, including dropping the pinch of sugar, and eventually switching from Myers’s to Gosling’s (though that was after Joe had already left).

Chez Henri’s Periodista (1995)

1 ½ oz Myers’s dark rum
¾ oz Leroux triple sec
¾ oz Leroux apricot brandy
½ oz Rose’s lime juice
A pinch of sugar

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Periodista Tales: Eastern Standard—Lifting Hemingway’s Prints

It was 3:25 in the afternoon and hot as hell. I should have been at work. Instead, I was racing down Commonwealth Avenue and breathing exhaust. I had an appointment to make. Jackson Cannon, the bar manager at Eastern Standard, had agreed to an interview. If I could do it that day.

I crossed into Kenmore Square sweating bullets and pulled my bike up in front of Eastern Standard. Beneath the red overhang, people in polos and shades were dining al fresco. I felt like a barnyard animal. I wiped my dripping forehead with my shirttail and went inside.

Cannon was sitting at the corner of the long marble bar, talking intently with a man in a suit. I let the AC dry my face before interrupting. He asked for fifteen minutes. I ordered a drink. It was a Wednesday.

While Hugh was filling my order, I looked around. Eastern Standard’s back bar is a metropolitan skyline of bottles, like something Hector Guimard would have dreamed up in a drunken slumber. At scale, it goes for miles. A row of high tops separates the bar from the restaurant proper. I’ve never been on the other side.

Cannon wrapped up and I joined him. He has hair from the ‘50s, glasses from the ‘80s, and his finger on the pulse of the drinks industry. He talks about things like “regulating depletion levels” and “shifting the landscape on the Old Fashioned.” He’s also created some of the best original cocktails in Boston.

I remembered Scott Holliday telling me about Cannon getting the cocktail religion hard. I asked him how that happened.

Cleve and Misty,” he said. “Without a doubt. I was working as the assistant to the booking agent at Lizard Lounge when Brother Cleve started Saturnalia. And of course Misty was bartending. Misty unlocked a lot of this world for me. She and I lived together for many years leading up to my opening this place in 2005. We shared a house with Cleve—he and his wife had the top floor, we had the bottom floor. There were a lot of late night, bartender-centric meetings in that house. That’s how the Jack Rose Society started. Me, Cleve, and Misty are the founders. Gertsen came along pretty shortly after. But I think it’s safe to say that as far as the Boston bar scene goes, if there was no Misty, there’d be no Jackson.”

That was sweet, but not why I was there. I asked about the Periodista.

“Our first menu had six cocktails,” he said, “and the Periodista wasn’t on it. I think my first order for a Periodista actually had to go unfilled. You know, when you open a bar this size, you order several tens of thousands of dollars of liquor, and I think we had a pretty robust ingredient list at the time, but I didn’t order an apricot brandy right away. I just didn’t like the products that were available. So I couldn’t make the drink.”

So people were ordering the Periodista at Eastern Standard before it was even on the menu. Boston had already discovered the drink by the time Cannon came on the scene. There was no question in my mind where: the B-Side Lounge.

“At a certain point a higher-quality apricot brandy came on the market,” Cannon continued. “The Marie Brizard Apry, which I enjoyed mixing with, and so I decided to do a Periodista.  I remember the day we started to get our recipe together. Andy McNees was here, and I think he was doing the mixing, and I was calling out the ratios—”

Ratios of what, I asked him.

“Most cocktails are based on pretty simple formulas,” he said. “The ‘classic’ formula is 2:1:1.  Like, a daiquiri is two parts rum, one part simple syrup, one part lime juice. I have another formula called the ‘set,’ which is six parts base spirit, three parts fortified wine, two parts sweet liqueur, and one part bitter—it sounds more complicated than it is. And these formulas are tools for bartenders.”

Cannon pointed at Kit. Kit was shaking a cocktail and talking loudly to two women about a book he’d just read. Apparently it was about oysters.

Cannon continued, “I want Kit to be able to get into a dialogue with you about what you like, and to create a cocktail for you that’s of the moment. Well, he has to have some tools to do that, and an understanding of the underlying formula of cocktails will allow him to indulge your current interest in—”

Cannon’s eyes flicked up to the back bar, taking in the skyline.

“—Macchu Pisco, say. He can take that as a base spirit and plug different things into the other fields based on what he knows about complementary flavors. Using a reasoned judgement, he can do what we call ‘mix by assignment’—you know, you’ve assigned him an ingredient—and create something of the moment that achieves our standard of quality. It’s living mixology.”

Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was because I was skipping work, but I’d heard enough on ratios. I was there for one reason. I grabbed a cocktail menu and told Cannon to tell me what it said there under Periodista.

“Oh,” he said.  “‘Rum for the intrepid reporter.’  Yeah, I mean, I come from a family of journalists and historians.  Hemingway was a big presence in our household growing up. My dad was from the generation that—you know, when he was cutting his teeth as a reporter, the old-timers could tell stories of overlapping with Hemingway. I still remember when I was a kid, my father was reading The Sun Also Rises to me out loud. I guess I wasn’t showing a lot of interest, because at one point he turns to me and says, ‘You enjoying this?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ He’s not convinced. He tosses the book at me. ‘Well, you’re on your own now, kid,’ he says, ‘Finish it yourself.’”

Cannon grinned.

“And I did,” he said. “And it was great. So Hemingway was an iconic personality to me even when I was really little, and then more so as I grew.”

Again, sweet. But what did it have to do with the Periodista?

“Hemingway is someone who’s pretty dear to mixologists,” Cannon said.  “When you look at the 20th century, I don’t think any other non-practicing person has as many fingerprints all over our trade as he does. He invented the Bloody Mary. That’s a fact. When he was living in Cuba, La Floridita changed their ‘No. 3 Formula Daiquiri’ to the ‘Hemingway Daiquiri.’ And of course it sold off the charts. And I think it was during that same period in Cuba when the Periodista was created for him. But, honestly, I’d have to hit the books to remember if that was it.”

What books, I asked.

Jackson shrugged. “I’d probably start with the reproductions of the recipe books from La Floridita. And Sloppy Joe’s—that was another major bar in Havana.”

I told him it wasn’t in them. Brother Cleve had done my homework for me. Jackson rattled off the names of a number of classic cocktail books in which I was likely to find it. All the same books Cleve had checked. It wasn’t in any of them.

“Well, they got it from somewhere!” Cannon was a little flustered. “I mean, periodista. It’s Spanish for ‘journalist.’ Hemingway was the journalist. There’s no question about it. It’s a rum drink, you know what I mean? I mean—that’s—that’s just good marketing—whoever came up with it.”

Kevin Martin, the assistant bar manager, appeared behind Cannon and said something about refrigerators. Cannon excused himself. He was a busy man. A busy man who sold a lot of drinks.

I looked around some more. Hugh was at the register, counting out bills and muttering to himself. Nicole was pulling a beer for an old man in a Red Sox shirt. Kit was still talking over the sound of his own shaker. Bar backs swept to and fro. Jackson’s army.

Cannon came back and sat down. He looked at me. I looked back at him.

“It’s funny,” he said. “People might look to me as a bit of an expert on certain historical things. Hemingway in particular.”

He paused.

“But I don’t have the connection you’re looking for.”

I didn’t say anything. Down the bar, Kit emptied his shaker into a frosted coupe. Golden amber, like sunset in a glass. I could just smell the apricot.

“I will say this,” Cannon said, after a moment. “Hemingway was called the ‘Periodista’ as a nickname, that’s a fact. And the minute I saw that drink.” He snapped his fingers. “It connoted all the stuff I just told you about. And I’ve been selling with that ever since.”

He sat back and looked out over his bar. Maybe he saw the same things I saw. Maybe a thousand others. He smiled.

“When my brother comes in here,” he said, “He always orders a Periodista. And he goes, ‘Oh there’s this great drink my brother invented for me.’ And I’m always like, ‘That drink’s as old as dirt,’ you know? It’s become our own little mini oral tradition that we’ve invested a certain romance in.”

He shook his head.

“But we had to get the spark,” he said. “There’s a spark somewhere.”

There was.  I didn’t know where.  But maybe I knew who did.

I thanked him and started to leave. As I was pulling my bike bag over my shoulder, Cannon put his hand on my arm.

“I just got this weird feeling,” he said. “What was the Cuban place that the guy who did the Four Seasons opened up in the ‘60s in New York City? Joe Baum’s place. Joe was putting things like the Pisco Sour on the menu in like 1962. He’s was a keeper of the flame. If anyone had had a Periodista on the menu back in the day…”

I’d never heard of him.

“That might be a question for Dale DeGroff,” Cannon said. “Dale had all these original menus from Joe Baum’s restaurants. The only problem is, they were in Windows on the World when the Trade Center went down. Cocktail menus from everyone for decades in New York City. They disappeared with the towers.”

Eastern Standard’s Periodista

1 ½ oz Myers’s dark rum
¾ oz Marie Brizard Apry
¾ oz DeKuyper triple sec
½ oz fresh lime juice

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled coupe glass.  No garnish.

Tasting notes:  If you want to hear a story involving pomegranates and Ernest Hemingway, ask Jackson why there’s no Rose’s in his Periodista.  Eastern Standard’s Periodista is one of my favorites.  Myers’s is not a challenging rum, but the Apry and fresh lime complicate the drink just the right amount.  In Jackson’s words, “Dark rum with orange liqueur and apricot—it’s a rich, sweet drink, but I think it’s complex enough to support it, and it’s sour enough that it works.”  Works for me.

Periodista Tales: Brother Cleve—The Godfather

In a Harvard Square basement, exposed-filament bulbs burned golden beneath steel housings, Arcade Fire rumbled in the eaves, and a man in a straw porkpie hat and a beard sat alone at the bar. Outside, it was ninety-five degrees and the 4th of July. Down there, the AC had already started to dry my throat. I was at one of the newest fixtures of the Boston cocktail scene, Russell House Tavern, to meet with one of the oldest: Brother Cleve.

I’d heard whispers about Cleve since I started drinking cocktails in Boston. Some call him the Godfather of the cocktail scene. He was there when the B-Side Lounge opened. He’s a musician. He’s an influence. His name appears in print alongside all the notables: Kalkofen, Gertsen, Cannon—a familiar list by now. He’s mythic.

I introduced myself and took the seat next to him. Cleve knew the story thus far.

“I have, like, two hundred and fifty bartending books,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to look through every single one of them, but the Periodista’s not in any of Trader Vic’s books. It’s not in the La Floridita guide and it’s not in Sloppy Joe’s—those are the two most famous bars in Havana. It’s not in any of Jeff Berry’s books, it’s not in Ted Haigh’s book, it’s not in Paul Harrington’s book, it’s not in the Savoy, it’s not in the Waldorf, it’s not in David Embury’s book, it’s not in Bottom’s Up. It’s not in any of the classics.”

We were off to a great start.

“I never thought about this until you brought it up,” he said. “It’s really fucking weird. Now I’m fascinated.”

Cleve sported large, round glasses and a blue silk kimono-print shirt. Plus the hat. I felt like drinking a Mai Tai. Aaron Butler, the bar manager of Russell House, asked for our order.

“I’ll have a ginger beer,” Cleve said.

I raised my eyebrows, then ordered the same. We drank our ginger beers. I asked Cleve how he fit into the puzzle.

“I was really the guy who introduced the whole classic cocktail thing to the city,” he said, matter-of-factly.

I told him I was going to need a little more than that.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this in chronological order. Back in 1985 I was on tour with this band. One night we were at this diner in Cleveland, and on the back of the dinner menu was a cocktail menu.  I started looking at the names of the drinks, and I was like, ‘Whoa!  Grasshopper? My grandmother used to drink those. Ward 8? My aunt used to drink those.’ I left the restaurant and on my way to sound check I went over to a bookstore and bought an old Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide. I said, I gotta get to the bottom of this. What the hell is a Ward 8?”

I knew the feeling.

“What you have to understand,” he continued, “is that at that time in history, in America, there were people of a certain age who were seeing parts of their culture disappear for the first time in their lives. Things like drive-ins, Tiki bars, spy movies, certain types of ’60s fashions. Cocktails were part of it. You know, shots were the thing in the ’80s. But things like martinis and Manhattans, nobody drank them.”

He looked at his ginger beer for a moment before taking a drink. Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me” had started playing in the bar. I thought about Ghostbusters II and the things from your past you let go of at a certain age. If you let go. Cleve continued.

“In Boston, things really coalesced in the early ’90s,” he said.  “There was this band called Combustible Edison. They started playing down at Green Street Grill in Central Square, back when it was John Clifford’s place. They would play the kind of stuff you’d get on vinyl for fifty cents at a record store because nobody wanted it. It was the musical equivalent of the drive-ins and Tiki bars. Spy scores, lounge, exotica. Mancini and Esquivel. Elevator music. Space age bachelor pad music. The first time I saw Combustible Edison I was standing there with my jaw on the floor.  Like, these guys broke into my house and stole my records and were playing them back to me.”

Cleve’s eyes glinted behind his spectacles. I could see the picture, sun-bleached, like a record left too long in the window display: Cleve’s fingertips flipping deftly through a stack of records. Vintage sunglasses perched on his ears. A thrift store pinstripe on his back. Looking for outsiders to be outside with.

“When the first Combustible Edison album came out,” he said, “it was bigger than anyone ever imagined. The Combustibles were on Sub Pop, and they were their highest-selling band next to Nirvana. When it came time to go on tour, the Millionaire—he was their front man—the Millionaire approached me and asked if I wanted to go on tour with them as their keyboard player. I said, ‘Sure.’ So we went out there in the spring of ’94, not knowing what the reaction was gonna be.”

Cleve grinned.

“But people were so ready for this it was unbelievable,” he said. “There were like-minded souls in cities across the country. Across the world, really. I would say that it was a movement, it really was.”

I asked him what this all had to do with cocktails.

“Our fans were called the Cocktail Nation,” he said. “Cocktails were a huge part of it. At a time when everyone was wearing flannel shirts and drinking Rolling Rock, we wore vintage suits with flowing ties and ascots, we drank martinis on stage. It was kind of a punk rock moment. We had a signature cocktail, the Combustible Edison cocktail. It was flaming brandy, Campari, and lemon juice. At lots of our shows you’d get a free cocktail with the price of your ticket. We eventually got a Campari sponsorship. Entire venues would be sold out, and at least half the crowd would totally get it and be completely dressed up, and everyone in there would be drinking some kind of cocktail. Much to the dismay of bartenders, who didn’t know how to do this stuff, especially in rock clubs. The best one was in Philadelphia. I remember this, when the older bartender looked at me toward the end of the night, totally exasperated, and said, ‘Why can’t you people just drink beer like everybody else?’”

Cleve laughed.

“When I got back to Boston I was a celebrity,” he said. “My picture was on the front of the Globe Arts section, with a two-page interview inside. I’m sitting there drinking a martini, looking like one of those ‘What sort of man reads Playboy?’ spreads. There was an Esquire magazine cover story, GQ, all these different major major publications at the time.”

I thought about the man on that Globe Arts cover meeting the man flipping through records in that thrift shop. A like-minded soul? Maybe.

I still hadn’t heard how the Periodista came into play. I asked about the B-Side Lounge.

“Patrick Sullivan and I opened the B-Side in the winter of 1998,” he said. “Back in ’95, Patrick had been bartending at a place called Flat Top Johnny’s in Kendall Square. I had my fortieth birthday party there, and I was going up to the bar and ordering all these drinks. Sidecars, Negronis. Patrick didn’t know what any of them were. I was like, ‘Can I tell you?’  ‘Sure!’ he said. So I showed him how to make all these drinks. That was his moment, his version of that Cleveland cocktail menu.”

Cleve took a drink of his ginger beer. I thought about asking, but didn’t. I’d finished mine, so I ordered a Coke.

“Fast forward to 1997,” he continued. “I’m back from the first Combustible Edison tour, and the Lizard Lounge is just opening up in Porter Square. The booker there asked me if I wanted to do a night.  I said, ‘Sure.’ I called it Saturnalia. My idea was to play a bunch of lounge and exotica records and have classic cocktails.”

He gave me a wry look.

“This is where it starts,” he said. “This is where it really all begins, because the bartender at the Lizard was Misty Kalkofen. So, I brought in my cocktail menu—it had eight or ten classic drinks on it—and Misty was like, ‘I don’t know anything about this. I know how to pour beer.’ This is why when you read interviews with Misty now, she calls herself my protege, because I showed her, ‘Look, here’s how you do it.’ And the rest is history. All credit goes to Misty. She took that ball and ran with it. Saturnalia was huge. It was written up in the Globe, the Phoenix. We were sold out every night, lines down the block—and nobody drank beer, everybody ordered cocktails, and Misty made every drink. It was trial by fire. She learned how to do it, and she learned how to do it fast.”

The making of a star. These days Misty is nominally bartending at Drink, when she’s not being flown to cocktailing events all over the world by tequila companies. I met her once, but that’s another story.

“After that, Misty pretty much became my personal bartender,” Cleve said. “We ended up down on Lansdowne Street—everyone does, eventually. I was DJing at Bill’s Bar and Misty was making drinks. One night Pat Sullivan comes in. He’s like, ‘You don’t remember me—.’ He tells me the story of that night at Flat Top Johnny’s. Now he was opening up a new bar. He’d bought the old Windsor Tap, which was this real lowlife kind of dangerous bar that you only drank in if your father and your grandfather had drunk there before you. He was re-dubbing it the B-Side Lounge, and he wanted the focus to be classic cocktails. He asked if I would come on to create the menu. I said, ‘Sure.’”

Cleve sat back in his chair. At the rear of the restaurant, black-clad staffers were anxiously tugging curtains, blocking the view of a long table. At the front, a large group of men and women in rolled sleeves and sundresses were tapping their feet, cracking their knuckles, and one of them was giving the hostess a piece of his mind. Such as it was.

“You know the rest,” Cleve said. “The B-Side was a huge success pretty much from the beginning. And all the folks that are the leaders of the bar scene in Boston now—Misty, Jackson, Dylan, McGuirk, Rob at Chez Henri, Dave Cagle over at Deep Ellum—they all came out of the B-Side.”

The prophet and his disciples, spreading the cocktail gospel across the land.

“And here’s the B-Side’s first menu.” Cleve opened a black folder and pulled out two narrow, beer-stained sheets of paper. There it was. Periodista.

“We knew the Periodista from Chez Henri,” he said. “Joe McGuirk had been working at Toad, and he knew I was into cocktails, so when he opened at Chez Henri he told me, ‘Hey, you gotta come check out this new place. We’re going to be doing real cocktails.’ And they had the Mojito, and they had the Periodista. That was the first place I had one. We knew it was a great drink, and they sold a lot of them, so Patrick and I put it on the menu at the B-Side.”

Talk about the story thus far. What about the Hemingway connection, the American reporters during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the whole Havana thing?

“It’s probably all bullshit,” Cleve said. He laughed. “It’s not in the books. But when you see it on menus, sure enough, it’s always tied to the Cuban thing. Puts it up there with the Mojito or even the Daiquiri—which are famous Cuban drinks. The Mojito is in the La Floridita guide. The Daiquiri is named for the beach in the town in Cuba where it was created. The Periodista—”

He shook his head.

I thought about the legend behind the drink, the stories on the menus. All those Periodistas Joe McGuirk sold at Chez Henri, all the ones Jackson Cannon sold at Eastern Standard. Did you need a story to sell a drink?  If so, how bad did you need it?

I’d been putting it off, but I knew who I had to ask.

Brother Cleve’s Periodista

1 ½ oz Appleton rum, 12-year or 21-year (depending on your budget)
¾ oz Rothman & Winter Orchard apricot liqueur
½ oz Cointreau (or Bols dry orange curaçao)
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 barspoon (⅛ oz) simple syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.  “A lime garnish,” says Cleve.  “A wheel if you’ve got it or a wedge if you don’t.”

Tasting notes:  Cleve is an advocate of Jamaican rum, and his friend Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry claims that the Appleton 21-year is the closest you can get to the old Dagger’s rum, which is no longer produced.  If you can’t afford that, the 12-year (or Reserve, even) will do as a substitute.  He observes that there is no Cuban dark rum, which is why he recommends a Jamaican spirit here.  (A classic Cuban cocktail with a non-native base spirit? Hmm…)  He’s also an advocate of another unavailable product, the Bols dry orange curaçao, but Cointreau will do in a pinch.  Cleve uses only fresh lime juice and adds a bar spoon of simple syrup to balance the sour.  (NOTE:  A big thanks to Aaron Butler for indulging Brother Cleve and I and making this delicious Periodista to Cleve’s specifications)

This week’s post also comes with a bonus recipe.  Brother Cleve brought with him the original B-Side Lounge menu, and the recipe cheat sheet he would hand out to all his bartenders.  The instructions for constructing an original B-Side Periodista, the first Periodista for many a Boston imbiber, is as follows:

The B-Side Lounge Periodista

1 ½ oz Myers’s dark rum
¾ oz triple sec (generic bottom shelf)
¾ oz apricot brandy (generic bottom shelf)
1 splash Rose’s lime juice
G: lime wedge

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Tasting notes:  Cleve is certain that Joe McGuirk would have brought this recipe over from Chez Henri.  His comment on using bottom shelf brands: “That was the other thing with cocktails, and why a lot of places got into it: the markup on these things was incredible.   As far as what it actually cost in ingredients.  Because cocktails were never made with top shelf ingredients.  These drinks were cheap to make.  We sold them—you can look at the prices, I mean these drinks were mostly five or six dollars, and most of them cost about 85 cents to make.”  Yum!