If you’re  old enough to remember Boston bars before the advent of Cambridge’s storied B-Side Lounge, you might recognize that we’re enjoying a Very Good Drinking Moment right now.

Finding a bar with carefully made cocktails, a well-curated wine list and a dazzling assortment of small-producer craft beers no longer requires a special trip: Chances are you’ve got one in your neighborhood. Veterans of Boston’s older craft bars (many of whom passed through the B-Side’s ranks) have moved on to open or manage great new ones. Better yet, they’re training a new generation of young talent to embody their long-honed virtues of studiousness, technical virtuosity and commitment to hospitality.

This year’s spotlight aims to capture this fortunate moment, offering a glimpse into the psyches (and hangover remedies) of a dozen worthy local bartenders. Some are seasoned pros with already-glowing reputations; others are relative newcomers who have shown enough promise to get situated among the city’s best bar programs. We’ve asked them what spirits are currently fueling their fires, where they drink when they’re off the clock and what code words they use to mark you as needing a cab home. Get to know them; you’re going to want to find a stool in front of them very soon.

Tyler Jay Wang – Audubon Boston


At the Kirkland [where Wang most recently worked], Tony Maws’ open kitchen is always a great show; it’s the only time I ever felt like no one was watching me. But even with a spectacle behind you, the relationship between guest and bartender is always more personal than at a table. That’s why I always sit at the bar, and one of the reasons I became a bartender.

Anything with gin. The craft-spirit movement is producing some wonderful New World gins. Try a Tom Collins: It’s familiar, but when made right really stands out.

Dirty martinis. Why do you want leftover waste from old olives in your cocktail?

A muddler my dad made from Osage orange wood.

“Can I have [house cocktail] but with vodka, and just a little bit of citrus, and not too sweet, but also, like, a splash of grenadine?”

A stout and a shot; a Sazerac on Sundays.

Per Se; it was just perfect. On second thought, Ribelle.

Don’t drink so much, dummy.

Stocking every whiskey or amaro ever produced. Curate those lists a little!

Visiting Katie [Emmerson, bar manager] at the Hawthorne is one of life’s great joys.

Bar High Five (Tokyo), Polite Provisions (San Diego) and wherever Scott Marshall is working. [Author’s note: For the curious, the brilliant Scott Marshall is now at 22 Square in Savannah, Ga.]

Sweat the small stuff, make it perfect, and then say f— it and take it like a shot.


Dan Valachovic – Vee Vee

More customers are learning to trust what we put on our draft list. I actually like the idea of paring our list back rather than adding more. We have four draft lines and maybe 20 bottles; it’s fun and challenging to curate those lists in a way that is interesting and exciting, with no fluff or filler.

The keg fridge I built in my home cellar.

Beers fermented with Brettanomyces, which can lend a rare, tropical, funky complexity. An example is Orval Belgian Trappist ale, which gets a second in-bottle fermentation with Brett. A young Orval has a different flavor profile from one aged several months.

“I need you to barback seat six for me” means “What’s that customer’s name again?”

Nothing beats a shandy at the beach. Narragansett and [RI frozen lemonade maker] Del’s are allegedly teaming up on one this year, which sounds awesome.

Brewers doing subtle variations on a style. Trillium and
Mystic are tweaking standards of theirs just slightly to emphasize different hops, grains or yeasts.


List serving sizes and ABV of beers on beer menus.

Craft Pride (Austin), a year-old bar with 54 lines of Texas-only craft beers and a bacon food truck on the patio.

’T Velootje (Ghent, Belgium). No heat in winter, just a rubbish-burning fireplace, and no beer list, just the owner pouring you what he happens to have that day.


Moira Costello Horan – Commonwealth Cambridge, Franklin Southie, Citizen Public House

Any upside to a night-owl existence? No traffic and no lines at the supermarket, bars and restaurants. Restaurants become your family, so you spend holidays with people you love and care about. I don’t have many friends who aren’t in the industry; my boyfriend is a bartender, so we understand each other’s schedule. Being so social in my profession makes me happy just to be on my couch and quiet on my own time.

Measure cocktails, free-pour mixed drinks.

Gin martinis with a twist.

Dirty vodka martinis. They’re disgusting.

Waving in my face, interrupting me when I’m talking to someone else, or giving me a drink order when I ask you how you’re doing.

Gin: such a versatile spirit. Too many people avoid it based on one bad experience in their youth.

A shot of Rittenhouse rye and a Notch Pils, please.

Piña coladas. I used to live and bartend in Puerto Rico.

Sarma. Delicious. Great staff. Can’t wait to go back.

Tom English’s on Dot Ave. Whitey’s. Delux before it closed.

Pedialyte and Green Chartreuse. [Author’s note: I assume separately, not mixed.]

Amaro-based cocktails.

Tavern Road—every bartender there is amazingly talented.

Peter Cipriani [of the Franklin Southie and Franklin Cafe]. He is the whole package.

The legendary Tom Mastricola [GM of Commonwealth].



Libby Spencer – Deep Ellum, Lone Star Taco Bar

We’re getting there. I always push the kids to taste new beers or let me make them a cocktail. It’s fun to watch someone’s palate evolve, and I think we’re promoting that in a cool, comfortable way.

Manhattans. So many great variations, and an easy way to try new whiskeys.

A Mr. Boston guide from the 1940s, a fun reference and research tool.

Making out at my bar. Just don’t.

Mezcal, neat or in a gimlet.

Tuesdays after 11 pm at Lone Star; Thursdays after midnight at Deep Ellum.

Vodka and Red Bull.

Strip-T’s. Love the grilled romaine salad with braised oxtail and a poached egg. I’m obsessed with that place.

The Sil’ [The Silhouette Lounge] and the Model in Allston, Galway House and the Drinking Fountain in JP, Charlie’s Kitchen and Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square.

Eggs, bacon, home fries, toast and a Bloody. Works every time!

Wild yeasts and sour beers.

Highland Kitchen. I can go there to party with my girlfriends, have date night or bring my parents for dinner.

[Deep Ellum/Lone Star GM] David Cagle, aka Cousin Dave.

I can talk to anyone about anything—and I’m really great at eavesdropping!


Melinda Maddox – Backbar


Backbar is located off a random driveway, behind a bunch of dumpsters, down a weirdly lit hallway. Once you find us, you’ll realize we are unpretentious, make cool cocktails and have a uniquely chill attitude. I want to serve guests something that gains their trust and makes them excited to be here. Sometimes that means I get to light cocktails on fire or smash the heck out of some ice!

Jiggers always, except for finger-stirred Negroni Mondays.

The Scofflaw.

Cocktail Techniques by Kazuo Uyeda.

I’ve been punched into a bloody nose by an overzealous co-worker’s cocktail shaking.

Baileys on the rocks with a Guinness back.

The Mount Vernon (Somerville) is super old-school, staffed by ancient bartenders in black vests and bow ties. I need to try their martini machine.

Cocktails on tap, and coffee brewing techniques applied to cocktail making.

Don’t make assumptions about me, like that I might want a “girly” drink.

jm Curley.

Experimental Cocktail Club (Paris), Bourbon & Branch (San Francisco), Bar K (Osaka).

That my hair was messy.

I can relate to just about everyone, and I will always be able to find work in a restaurant or bar if I am willing to work hard.


Nicole LeClair – jm Curley


Absorbing new information. If I make or taste something, I remember it better. Just reading can feel like I’m faking it. I want to give people my opinion, not one I got secondhand.

Negroni Sbagliato.

Tiki mugs from Bali Hai.

People grabbing me to look at my tattoos.

Amari and sweet vermouths like Montenegro and Carpano Antica.

Thursday afternoon.

Jack Monkey (idiot), Meat Pie (terrible mess), Bear Trap (someone you can’t escape).

Rye Pines’ A Portrait of Dissonance as a Young Man, a great album by a local band I never get to see because of work.

Anything from a blender. Miller Lite in a Vortex bottle.

Sarma; the fluke was delicious.

Charlie’s Kitchen.

Two showers, a towel nap, coffee, ginger ale with bitters.

Cocktails on draft and in bottles.

Mason jars.

State Park. I could take anyone I know there and have a good time.

Mocking my eyeglasses. Is my poor vision really affecting your experience?


Frederic Yarm – Russell House Tavern


Sitting at lots of bars has influenced my bartending more than my writing—observing good and bad hospitality, techniques, recipes and interactions. Manning the stick professionally has made me a more easygoing guest.

Cocktails with vermouth; I like a 2:1 or 1:1 martini at home. Vermouth and other aromatized wines are also a delight to drink on the rocks with an orange twist.

“Those ’70s drinks.” I refuse to remember the difference between a Bay Breeze and a Sea Breeze.

My CME Handworks inlaid three-wood ice-crushing mallet, actually a furniture maker’s woodcarving mallet. It’s beautiful.

Dealing with the (rare) disruptive, aggressive customer, the kind that makes other guests uncomfortable. It’s difficult to switch from hospitality to authoritarian mode.

A Rusty Nail, though it’s a legitimate-enough drink.

Paddy’s Lunch, Charlie’s Kitchen.

Turn over their cocktail menus. A static menu betrays a lack of focus.

Two quotes neatly encapsulate the profession for me. [Backbar manager] Sam Treadway: “Bartending is about watering down spirits and babysitting adults.” [Drink GM] John Gertsen: “If you know where everything lives and know how to smile, you’ll be a great bartender.”


Markus Yao – Shojo

We get locals or people from all over, including the PRC. Unfortunately, Chinatown doesn’t have many full liquor licenses.

Japanese whiskies.

The Last Word.

Anytime but five minutes before closing.

We speak Chinese in front of customers: No code needed!

Casino bars: $1 beer and whiskey, though you have to play table games.

The Instagram Negroni: It’s a Negroni posted on Instagram.

The Instagram Negroni.

Yelpers are the best people on the planet. They have tasted every known thing. That’s why they Yelp, right?

See the world.

[Silvertone bartender] Nick Korn: “Fat is happy.” Also, [Spike TV’s Bar Rescue host] Jon Taffer: “How the eff is that workin’ out for you?”

“There’s no strong whiskey, just weak men.”


Ezra Star – Drink


It can be very difficult, especially in a place that doesn’t have a menu. The first way I deal with this is to not think about making drinks. The more focused I can be on the people at my bar, the better.

Brandy-based drinks, especially for women. When someone claims to not like whiskey, I can surprise them with a brandy cocktail, and they usually love it.

My ice saw: I engraved stars on it to mark it as my own. Plus, it looks pretty badass sticking out of my bag. I feel like an Edo-period samurai walking through the city.

While making a Ramos gin fizz, the shaker slid from my hand and covered a customer in cream and egg. She was really nice about it, though I doubt she’ll ever order another one.

4 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

“In the pool”: someone only getting water or too drunk to have drinks.

Apricot sour: two ounces Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot liqueur, half-ounce simple syrup, half-ounce lemon. So good, so sweet, so wrong.

Fairsted Kitchen; I was blown away by what they are doing over there!

After the occasional night of hard drinking, a salt-rimmed Italian Greyhound and a bowl of pho help get me through the workday.

Improve their sound systems and soundproofing.

“They have a line to get in. Why don’t they just let more people in?”


Will Isaza – Fairsted Kitchen


If someone wants to make a career in this industry, hospitality should be the first priority. I’ve always loved meeting new people and interacting with many different personalities; it’s cool to have a job where I do that nightly. Fairsted’s owners want every guest to feel as though they’re eating and drinking with family. That only works because we have that sensibility as a staff.

Vieux Carré.

A couple at my bar got into a huge argument and proceeded to start their divorce over dinner. I gave them a couple of shots and told them to love each other. The woman immediately started crying and left. Whoops.

Rum and rhum agricole.

“Getting Crowed”: We treat our VIP guests to a shot of Old Crow Reserve.

Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts (1953), on how to be the life of any party.

Daiquiris all around, please.

Sligo (Somerville). O’Leary’s (Brookline) is a black hole of greatness.

Bottled cocktails and beer cocktails.

Focus more on helping me have a great time, less on feeding me information. I’m mostly there to drink and eat, not to be educated.

Bar High Five (Tokyo). Two I’ve already hit: the Floridita and Bodeguita del Medio, both in Havana. The bartender at Bodeguita said, “Here is the first mojito you have ever had; all the rest have been merely an imitation.” Paired with a Cohiba, it was the best bar experience I’ve ever had.


Kevin Mabry – Merrill & Co.


Opening a bar isn’t supposed to be easy. The hours are long, the work is tedious and the risk is high. We never know if all the effort and money invested is going to yield a return. But I love being a part of an opening team: the creativity, the team-building, executing a new concept top-to-bottom. A restaurateur friend and I agree: It’s like an addiction, an emotional thrill unlike any other.

Fireball cinnamon whiskey.

Gran Classico amaro. It’s in my Negronis, my secret weapon.

Antique glassware. I could never live on the West Coast for fear of earthquakes knocking them off my shelves.

“Team Meeting”: a staff half-shot of Fernet to get our minds right.

White Russians! I don’t care who sees me drinking them.

Alden & Harlow.

An ice-cold V8, an egg sandwich and a shot of mezcal, not necessarily in that order.

Sherries and session IPAs.

Educate your staff. For instance, all spirits you stir; any citrus you shake. I’m a shaken Negroni away from a meltdown.


Artesian (London), Aviary (Chicago), Canon (Seattle), Anvil (Houston) and Polite Provisions (San Diego).

“The staff being in Ed Hardy did not add up.” I was that server, and I don’t do bedazzled or dragons.

A series of selfless acts that reflect genuine caring about others: not just the guests, but your co-workers, friends and family, too. Hospitality should not be something you punch in and out of.


Ryan McGrale – Tavern Road

My very last bar shift in Manhattan, the place was slammed. Some Jersey dude was waving his credit card and cash at the end of the bar, then started snapping his fingers. I got on all fours, walked down the bar, jumped onto the bar in front of the guy, crouched down, cupped his face in my hands, licked the side of it and said, “We are here to serve you as best we can. We are people, not dogs. Don’t you ever dare snap at anyone who serves you.” Then I hopped off the bar and took his order. The crowd started cheering like crazy. He smiled and said, “You’re right, I’m sorry, never again in this or any bar!” Then he and I had a shot together, and the night continued as it started.

First-edition The Bon Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas.

Yelling drink orders at the bartender while he’s making other drinks, taking another drink order or interacting with another guest.

Sherry, as in the perfect Bamboo cocktail.

No shame, but a NASCAR Spritz: Bud Light Lime dosed with Aperol and a lemon twist.


Delux (RIP), Anchovies, the Field.

Mists and foams.

Cocktail competitions, except the Cocktail Wars and World Class contests.

The underrated Blue Dragon.

That I literally had to be on drugs to like my job this much.

I introduced two strangers sitting at my bar, involved them in conversation. They started dating, married, had a child six years later. His middle name is Ryan.

Related Articles

Comments are closed.