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.’”
“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.”
“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
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.