Before Porto’s cocktail cart was zipping through the Mediterranean restaurant, beverage director Neil Quigley wheeled it up the block from the nearby Crate and Barrel. Originally, the team just wanted to offer a Champagne service at brunch, but they soon started highlighting a specialty off-menu cocktail, having bartenders drop by to explain the concept, preparation and ingredients. “It’s basically like having a bar right at your table,” Quigley says. And the monthly rotating specialties have gotten more elaborate in the short time the restaurant has been open. “It usually starts a chain reaction. Once one person orders it, everybody’s snapping their necks, trying to see what’s going on.”
-Through November, Quigley is mixing up Mid-winter’s Breakfast, a cocktail with Drambuie, Great King Street blended scotch, Laphroaig, lemon and lapsang souchong tea. “It’s sort of a mix between a hot toddy and a Rusty Nail, but it’s got this cool smoky element.” Next, as we head deeper into winter, he’ll play with notes of spruce, fir and pine.
- -To make the carts eye-catching, Quigley has displayed piled limes, large chunks of sugar and even mounted an axe in a halved wooden log. Here, the tea lover and vintage collector brought in pieces from home to style a whimsical centerpiece.
-Past theatrics include smoking the glass with white sage or cherry wood and throwing the cocktail, “a hybrid between stirring and shaking.” Quigley explains, “You pour the liquid from a very long height between two shaker tins back and forth a few times.” The current cocktail lends itself to some drama too. “We pour boiling hot water out of the kettle through a strainer full of tea into the cup. Very slowly, you get this nice aroma and steam.”
- -“One of the things I like to do with the cart is not serve the spirit out of its standard bottle,” Quigley says. “There’s a different feel if you’ve got it decanted into a separate container.”
-Quigley has some other ideas for impressing guests at home. “I love magnums of wine, especially when you get into the 3 liter and above sizes,” he says. He also suggests prepping a punch before guests arrive to cut down on hosting duties. “My trick of the trade is to get one massive cube of ice so it doesn’t get over diluted,” he says, also noting that you can balance garnishes on top of it.
Porto Ring Road, Boston (617-536-1234) porto-boston.com