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Learn how to Make a Fort Level, Boston’s Unimaginable Reply to the Manhattan

Learn how to Make a Fort Level, Boston’s Unimaginable Reply to the Manhattan

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In October of 2008, a bar opened in Boston called Drink.

This is not a good name. The bar was infuriatingly ungoogleable; the Google of the late-aughts hadn’t yet achieved omniscience, so a search for “drink boston” would simply return a list of the ample places in Boston to get boozy. It also didn’t enjoy much foot traffic—it wasn’t located in stylish Back Bay or regal Beacon Hill but in Fort Point, a then slowly gentrifying collection of industrial warehouses on the northern tip of South Boston. It didn’t even have its own proper url; was a popular cocktail blog that predated it by a couple years, so the bar was stuck with the clunky

But for Drink, none of that mattered in the slightest. Whether chef/owner Barbara Lynch and bar manager John Gertsen didn’t know about any of this or simply didn’t care, these cosmetic setbacks were irrelevant to the bar’s success, because once it opened, Drink was all anyone was talking about. It was bathed in glowing reviews in its first year, from the local press to The New York Times to itself, in which Lauren Clark wrote that it “is re-inventing the concept of a bar in this city.” Boston as a city can feel a little grumpy about its perceived provinciality—indeed, at times it feels more chip than shoulder—but Drink was different. It was a world-class bar and everybody knew it, at one point achieving No. 8 on the list of the 50 Best Bars in the World. 

What made Drink so special was that it was a bartender’s choice bar, all the way down to the studs. Gertsen designed each bar station to be a peninsula surrounded on three sides by guests, to maximize bartender interaction. There was no menu and no visible bottles behind the bar, so every cocktail that ended up before someone was the product of a conversation about likes, dislikes, flavors, and vibes. Herbs like mint came from potted plants behind the stick, attached to the stem until about 10 seconds before getting muddled in your drink. And ice came from a 50-pound block, cleaved to order and chipped to size. Pair this intimate creativity with a ludicrously overpowered bar staff in people like Gertsen, Misty Kalkofen, Josey Packard, Ezra Star, and many, many others, and Drink’s 15-year reign as Boston’s most indispensable cocktail bar starts to make sense.

Despite not having a menu, they felt like they needed a house cocktail, so Gertsen invented the Fort Point. It’s a play on a Manhattan, and like the classics Brooklyn and Vieux Carre, and the neo-classics Red Hook and Greenpoint, it is named after the neighborhood in which it was invented. It is simple and protean, elegant and robust, and is indeed so delicious it’s a wonder it wasn’t invented somewhere else first, but nonetheless, a Fort Point: rye whiskey and bittersweet vermouth Punt e Mes, with a small kiss of the herbal French liqueur Bénédictine, stirred, strained up with a cherry on the side.

A week ago, it was announced that Drink was suddenly and permanently closed, citing rising and unsustainable costs (the gentrification chickens, perhaps, coming home to roost). Fifteen years is about a hundred in bar terms, though the abruptness of the closure was still a shock. It’s possible we’ll learn more details in the fullness of time, but it won’t really matter. What matters is that Drink was a truly great place for a very long time, and that to honor it, it seems like the perfect time to make a Fort Point, to toast the bar that taught so many of us—those lucky enough to be living there when it opened—that even truly world-class bars can have silly and ungoogleable names.

Fort Point

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe, and garnish with a cocktail cherry, on the side.


Photo: courtesy Heaven Hill

Rye: In recipes for this drink you’ll see Old Overholt Rye a lot—the original whiskey in the cocktail—and certainly isn’t bad, but keep in mind 2008 was a very different time for rye whiskey. Personally, I prefer something punchier like Rittenhouse, or even Old Overholt Bonded.

Vermouth: To make a proper Fort Point, you need to get a bottle of Punt e Mes, a sweet vermouth with a bitter edge (“Punt e Mes” is Piedmontese slang for “point and a half,” as in, a point of vermouth and a half point of bitter). This has a ripe cherry and deep chocolate character and is truly delicious here. It also obviates the need for cocktail bitters, seeing as the bitterness is in the vermouth.

If you don’t have or can’t get Punt e Mes, subbing in another sweet vermouth and adding a dash or two of bitters makes a totally delicious (though quite distinct) cocktail, so feel free to make it that way if you like.

See Also

Bénédictine: One of the greatest liqueurs ever invented, Bénédictine is an 80 proof, honey-sweet liqueur redolent of herbs and baking spices. Normally I’d entertain a substitute like Yellow Chartreuse, but that makes a different drink entirely. Get some Bénédictine. You won’t regret it.

Source: Robb Report

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