Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shiny Toy Guns

In order for a remix album to work on anything other than a crate-digging beathead or hedonist dancefloor-prompt level the songs you're working with have to have enough going on internally to withstand the barrage of editing, condensing, rearranging and recontextualizing that efforts like this entail. For electro/dance-rock mainstays Shiny Toy Guns, the function has always been as vital as the form. That is to say they're not a sound-driven outfit who write songs, and they're not songwriters who simply color around the edges with ex post facto production tricks--they're somewhere right in the middle of that equation. Songs like fan favorites "Rainy Monday" and "Le Disko" provide enough substance in terms of both vocals, hooks, guitars, and/or distinctive crunching synths to be chopped up into a thousand little pieces. When the base is solid, a remix usually won't end up being a case of perpetually diminish returns. On the other hand, filter nothing through a strainer enough times and you end up with nothing.

That said, this collection of career spanning remixes and a few unreleased originals mostly disappoints. While Alexander Ridha (aka Boys Noize) ups the glitchy quotient of "Le Disko" with a swirling synth buzzsaw, chopping out the vocals and turning up the loops quashes the song's sassy fun. Ferry Cortsen fairs better on a second "Le Disko" remix, lengthening the canvas of the song, giving it more room to breathe. Likewise, the emotive "Rainy Monday" gets treated for both good and ill. Herve splices the earnest guitar track into a thumping house waste that wipes away most of the original's new-wave charm. Just because you can pull the hook, echo it, stutter it and add a cheeseball four-on-the-floor party beat doesn't mean that you should. The Bimbo Jones radio edit version included here brings down the guitar punch of the original, but maintains at least some semblance of the general forward momentum and groove. Elsewhere BT, Kissy Sell Out and the Teenagers bring out the knife, to varying degrees of success. Fans will be excited to have longtime live staple "Rocketship" in CD form for the first time, as well as the band's otherworldly industrial dance cover of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom." That soaring '80s space disco update alone almost makes the record worth it. Otherwise you're probably better off going back to We Are Pilots and listening to the originals. You could already dance to them anyway, but at least with those mixes you could also feel something while you did. (ULTRA)Luke O'Neil


GO DOWNLOAD: "Rainy Monday (Bimbo Jones Radio Edit)"


Alternative Press

New Year's Events

Scratching your head about what to do for New Year's Eve? We line up the best options, for singles, couples, families with kids, and those who just want to nest at home


Carnival Masquerade: Sometimes we end up regretting our New Year’s Eve shenanigans. One way to remedy that is by wearing a disguise. Blend into the crowd at this Brazilian Carnival style masquerade party. Complimentary masks, a live Latin band, Brazilian appetizers and costumes bring a little bit of Rio heat to freezing Boston. 9 p.m. $50. Felt, 533 Washington St., Boston. 617-350-5555. www.feltclubboston.com

Thunderdome MMX: Boston’s underground dance scene goes big tonight with a fancy take on its normally hedonistic dance party. Formal dress is encouraged, but it won’t get too classy - there’s a PBR toast at midnight. Resident DJs Mistaker, Redfoxx, and David Day throw down with Chicago’s Gatekeeper performing. 10 p.m. $20-$25. Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, 85 West Newton St., Boston. 617-412-8594. www.brownpapertickets.com

Great Gatsby New Year: Gatsby - now there’s a guy who knew how to throw a party! Put on your best 1920s suit (you can make an exception and wear white), get your fortune read, and drink like your name was Fitzgerald. Just try to ignore that whole cynicism about American materialism thing and you should have a blast. 8 p.m. $75. Alibi at the Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles St., Boston. 857-241-1144. www.alibiboston.com

Game On!: Balloons and confetti can be tedious on New Year’s, but not when they’re filled with prizes. Dance to top 40, eat from the complimentary buffet, and at midnight grab one of the 200 balloons released from the ceiling. They’ve got tickets to sporting games, gift certificates, and other prizes inside. Can’t see how that could go wrong. 8 p.m. $35. Game On!, 82 Lansdowne St., Boston. 617-351-7001. www.gameonboston.com

Joshua Tree: The list of New Year’s songs is admittedly pretty short, but there’s no doubt about the best one ever. Pretty likely you’re gonna hear U2’s “New Year’s Day’’ when Joshua Tree takes the stage tonight. Otherwise you should totally demand your money back. 9 p.m. $25. Hard Rock Cafe, 22-24 Clinton St., Boston. 866-777-8932, www.ticketweb.com

* Kristin Hersh: Most musical performances on New Year’s are dance-driven, party atmospheres. The quintessentially peculiar Hersh, founder of seminal New England rockers Throwing Muses in the ’80s and now a riveting solo performer, is the antithesis of that. She’ll perform two sets of her haunted, hallucinatory indie folk tonight. 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury St., Boston. www.emmanuelboston.org

* ICA: It’s a time for reflecting on the year and making plans for the one to come. Where better for a few moments of contemplation than a museum? First Night button holders can avail themselves of free admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art today. Need a resolution? Damian Ortega’s series of installation deconstructions, “Do It Yourself,’’ might help you learn to appreciate the small stuff. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ICA, 100 Northern Ave., Boston. 617-478-3100. www.icaboston.org

* Bombay Cinema: Think you’ll see some interesting costumes and dance movies around the city tonight? Just an average day for Bollywood. Boston’s Bombay Cinema presents a film festival featuring some of the best in recent Bollywood hits free for First Night button holders. 12:30 to 11 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

The Honey Brothers: There are probably a lot of people out there who’d love to spend New Year’s partying with Vinnie Chase from “Entourage.’’ That’s not gonna happen. You can, however, see the actor who plays him, Adrien Grenier, and his band the Honey Brothers (below) perform a set of countrified indie and ukulele rock at this KISS 108 New Year’s bash. Close enough. 9 p.m. $65. The Roxy, 279 Tremont St., Boston. 617-931-2000. www.ticketmaster.com

* Best of Both Worlds: Having trouble deciding how to spend the evening with two friends, one that likes gospel and R&B, and another who reads Shakespeare? This musical adaptation of “The Winter’s Tale’’ splits the difference. 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Free for first 100 button holders, $25-$69. ART Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-547-8300. www.americanrepertorytheater.org



Red Bull Sled Style: Can’t make it to the slopes this week? They’ll come to you instead. Freestyle snowmobiling stars like X Games bro Heath Frisby bring their sleds downtown for an afternoon of aerial awesomeness. 2 p.m. Free. Boston City Hall Plaza. www.heathfrisby.com

* Grand Procession: The centerpiece of the First Night celebration rolls its way through the streets. The Back Alley Puppet Theatre and Puppeteers Cooperative will display their wildly imaginative creature creations while jazz and marching bands, cyclists, circus performers and everything in between wow the crowds. 5:30 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* New England Anime Society: If there’s one thing on which kids and parents usually agree these days, it’s a love of animation. The New England Anime Society brings together a program of popular Japanese anime including two of our favorites, “Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still’’ and the amazingly titled “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.’’ 1 to 10:30 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Kaiju Big Battel: The only thing better than watching giant anime monsters fighting on film is seeing it in person. Kaiju Big Battel brings fantasy to life with its often-hilarious, always-weird pro-wrestling-meets-disaster-movie spectacle. 9:30 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Ellis Paul: He may have just won the Boston Music Award for folk artist of the year, but the veteran troubadour has a few tricks ups his sleeve for the kids as well. His album for children, “Dragonfly Races,’’ won him a Parents Choice Award last year. Music that the whole family can appreciate. 3:30 and 4:45 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Guthrie Family Show: Speaking of music that crosses generations, this show from Sarah Lee Guthrie and family has a little something for both grandparents and the kids. Alongside her husband, Johnny Irion, she’ll perform playful children’s songs, traditional favorites, and incorporate some of granddad Woody Guthrie’s old lyrics into new songs. 1 and 2:15 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

Odyssey Cruises: Staying up for the toast at midnight isn’t always feasible when you’ve got the kids in tow. Doing it at noon sounds a little more feasible. Toast in the new year a little early with this lunch cruise while coasting around the harbor and taking in the view of the city. Kids with a sitter? Later that night the real party starts with a dinner and dancing cruise with great views of the fireworks display. 10:30 a.m., $38.90, $19.45; 8 p.m., $152.90. 866-307-2469. www.odyssey.com/boston

* Maximum Velocity: It’s a good thing the ceilings inside the convention center are pretty high, because the dudes from Maximum Velocity are going to grab some serious air. This high-energy skateboarding and biking stunt team brings its act to Boston today for a family-friendly exhibition. Your New Year’s resolution? Convince the kids not to try this stuff at home. 1:15, 2:15, and 3:15 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org

* Yorick’s Marionette Theater: Death-defying stunts a little much for you? Perhaps the relative calm of marionette theater will agree more with your constitution. Wooden puppets bring the timeless story of “Sleeping Beauty’’ to life. After all the excitement today, we’ll probably all need a nap. 1:30, 2:45, and 4 p.m. Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. www.firstnight.org



Maybe you don’t want to head out into the crowds tonight. Who can blame you? There’s enough on the tube.

Countdown to Midnight: Anchors Lisa Hughes and Jack Williams give you the play by play live from the steps of the Boston Public Library, in Copley Square, the center of much of the First Night festivities. The swaggering noir-rock band Black Taxi rock us through the countdown with cinematic excursions. 10 p.m. Channel 4

Live From Lincoln Center: Classical music aficionados will find much to revel in when the New York Philharmonic and baritone Thomas Hampson celebrate with a program of Gershwin, Copland, and old Broadway hits. We’ll be checking in to watch host Alec Baldwin crack wise. 8 p.m. Channel 2

New Year’s Eve With Carson Daly: Say what you will about Daly - at least he’s not Ryan Seacrest. He also knows how to put together a pretty good bill. Daly and company broadcast live from Times Square with a slate of performers that includes Green Day and Rihanna. 10 p.m. Channel 7

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest: Speaking of Seacrest, he continues his gradual takeover of the universe hosting the latest edition of this long-running New Year’s staple. He’ll tag team with Fergie checking in from Las Vegas. The slate of heavy hitters set to perform includes the Black Eyed Peas and Jennifer Lopez. 10 p.m. Channel 5

Billboard’s New Year’s Eve Live: It’s a very “American Idol’’ New Year’s with performers Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta. Take a look back at some of the best moments in entertainment in 2009 and ring in the year with host Carmen Electra in Vegas. 11 p.m. Channel 25

Boston Globe

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Barcode: Beacon Hill Bistro

Charles Street is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in the city. Tourists come from around the world to breathe in its rarified brahmin air; locals avail themselves of the bounty of high-end boutiques so precious you could snap them in half in your hands. Gliding down the gaslit, cobblestone streets framed by handsome, historic brick buildings decked out this time of year in holiday luminescence, it’s easy to imagine yourself playing a part in some idealized Capraesque vision of city life. Minus all the traffic and cabs blasting their horns, that is.

There’s also a wealth of dining options to choose from here, cozy Italian bistros and pizza shops in particular. Bars not so much, unless you’re partial to the quintessential dive bona fides of the Beacon Hill Pub, or the slouching collegiate charm of the Sevens. Perhaps it’s that dearth of bar real estate that made the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro such a welcome respite when we ducked in on a glacial December evening. The dry blast of warmth from the fireplace didn’t hurt either. Coupled with the flush on our cheeks and the smell in the air, the fire made us feel like we were coming home for a family holiday gathering, except no one criticized what we were wearing or pestered us about getting married.

There are only about six or seven seats at the bar, and that means competition for a spot can be tough. A cushion in front of the fire was occupied by two women drinking hot coffee drinks, so we bided our time with the Monsoon (Wu-Wei tea infused Woodford Reserve bourbon, ginger beer, all drinks $11) until a seat opened up. With the heavy spice of the AJ Stephans, one of the more intense ginger beers, and the variety of herbal notes (Wu-Wei is a tisane made from a mixture of hibiscus petals, orange zest, lemon balm, cloves, lavender, licorice root, and sweet leaf), we were a bit taken aback by this cocktail at first. Alternately the ginger would overwhelm, or the tart citrus of the herbs would bowl us over. Next the bourbon would punch through with heat. It took us a while to realize we actually could drink it, but we’re glad we waited. The Monsoon recipe evolved when customers found the simple bourbon infusion too heavy and strong, says bartender Francie Doyle. “The ginger beer helps to thin it out a little while still complimenting the spices nicely.’’ We found the infusion again in the Seven Suns (We-Wei tea infused Woodford Reserve bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, cinnamon stick) where it was more instantly palatable with the leavening sweetness of the syrup.

As a seat opened up we relaxed a bit more with the Mistletoe (green chartreuse, St-Germain, fresh lime, sparkling float, sugar-coated cranberries). “We bartenders are big fans of chartreuse, and we’re trying to make it a little more user friendly,’’ Doyle says. “St-Germain is hugely popular right now, so we thought it would be a good addition to a chartreuse cocktail. Looks like we were right; it’s selling like crazy.’’ A third spirit, gin perhaps, wouldn’t hurt, but we appreciated the light touch, in terms of alcohol content and flavor.

With the weather howling, and the fire burning, rum seemed to be in order. The Ginger Snap (apple cinnamon infused rum, ginger simple syrup, fresh lime, cinnamon stick) came through in the clutch. “The Ginger Snap was an easy one once we tasted the ginger simple,’’ says Doyle. “The spiciness of the ginger cuts out any cloying sweetness from the sugar. We added it to our house infused apple cinnamon rum with a dash of lime for some acidity. Another holiday cocktail was born.’’

Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro 25 Charles St., Boston. 617-723-7575. www.beaconhillhotel.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Selections from 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do

Herewith is a modest list of dos and don’ts for servers at the seafood restaurant I am building. Veteran waiters, moonlighting actresses, libertarians and baristas will no doubt protest some or most of what follows. They will claim it homogenizes them or stifles their true nature.

Bruce Buschel, New York Times, October 29

Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting. Like, literally, do not let them enter. For example that means if someone walks into the restaurant and you greet them less than warmly, march them right back outside and tell them to wait until you're ready to apply a greeting of sufficient warmth. But not too warm, because in certain remaining cultures this can be interpreted as threatening and/or discourteous. A lukewarm greeting perhaps. Not too lukewarm though. Also, don't show your teeth. Consult the audio portion of your trainee media packet for clips of acceptable greeting-like sounds in your specific geographical sub region. Not on the clock though.

Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, 'Are you waiting for someone?' We do not want to make the significant percentage of our clientele that is friendless feel ashamed about their enduring loneliness. Consider reminding them that life for each of us is brutish and short, and that we all will die alone someday. Actually, don't do that. But sort of imply it. Another idea might be offering to join them at a table for two, although we're a little behind on that table situation as of this week, so perhaps the bar instead? We should have a bar installed soon. You will be required to punch out for the duration of this meal, however, and any expenses incurred will be assumed by you. See, life is unfair. Just a reminder again though, no go on showing the teeth. Not joking on that one.

If someone is unsure about a wine choice, help him. That might mean sending someone else to the table or offering a taste or two. Unfortunately in re: of last month's staff re-imagining there is no one else, which is probably best not to think about. We also don't sell wine anymore on account of that whole thing with the grapes and the fire. Perhaps suggest a nice ginger ale instead?

Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness. In order to be safe here, it's probably best to just avoid any sort of conversation whatsoever with the guest. There are certain methods we're working on downstairs (Related note: no going downstairs) that should soon enable the restaurant to operate almost entirely without imposing upon guests our corporeal forms what with their perfumes and oils and petty human names and those cute little flirtatious things we do with our perfect noses and the way our hair looks when it's pulled back and such, as in Elizabeth that one new girl we just hired, say. Back of the house guys have nothing to worry about on this one though, we should point out. Even the thing we've got going downstairs could never wash dishes like Manuel, ha ha! Just kidding Manuel, you're fired. But seriously though, you are. We told you about going downstairs.

Do not lead the witness with 'Bottled water or just tap?' Both are fine. Remain neutral. Leading questions will be saved for the standard cross-examination following the meal. However, if at any point the witness becomes hostile, it might be permissible. Granted, this won't happen so long as you avoid questions like the one about water, with respect to bottled or tap as per above. Questions that contain implicit assumptions, on the other hand, are fine. A classic example of this is “Why haven't you been eating in our restaurant lately? Were you beating your wife?” (Note: most of customer's do not have wives, but you know what we mean).

Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?” Because we don't serve shrimp, which you should know from page 217 of your trainee rules manual novela. Incidentally, constructive criticism of the book is welcome! For example, what did you think about introducing the character of the race car-driving vampire in the second half?

Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition. Except that it sort of is in that you're auditioning for the role of keeping your job every time you head out there onto the floor. Also, we have robots out back we could use to recite the specials all robot-like, so don't make us put them back on the schedule. Those robots are strong.

When you ask “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right. Unless the guest's response mentions loneliness in one fashion or another, in which case see above. Maybe offer them a copy of a certain novela to just sort of page through a little bit if the opportunity arises.

Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout. Except of course in instances where consistency might be reasonably construed as redundant.

Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad. Although it's important to keep in mind the implications with respect to relativism this philosophy suggests. If every guest's choice of any given item on the menu is considered valid, then that simultaneously implies that all choices are equally worthless. The calamari for example, which just between us is not so great. Relativizing truth to an individual server, one might argue, destroys distinctions between truth and belief, and then what sort of restaurant would we be? A bad one that's what. Be prepared to defend this argument at length upon the presentation of the bill and/or if any incidents concerning “cold fold” or “not what I ordered” arise. Which they won't, by the way, or else the thing about the robots.

Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant. Except on Favorite Dessert Wednesdays, whereupon replace “never” with “always, under penalty of termination” and “irrelevant” with “paramount.”

Do not curse, no matter how young or hip the guests. This rule may be treated as flexible in some of our younger, hipper locations, if and when any such branches are opened. (They will not be).

Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else. Insulting someone else in front of the guest, provided they are dining alone, which who are we kidding, they definitely will be, is actually encouraged, provided this information is communicated non-verbally. Like with some sort of dance or pantomime. Per above, “this is not an audition,” although some of our past employees of a certain attractiveness, say, have used this opportunity as a stepping stone to move on to bigger and better things in the world. Maybe it was show business, maybe it wasn't. Hard to know for certain, but anyhow we are just saying Elizabeth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Barcode: Bristol Lounge

Luxury can be taxing

When your cocktails are $15 and the average price of a glass of champagne is over $20, you’d better be bringing some added value to the experience in terms of atmosphere and service. You’d better be, well, the Four Seasons. For many of the regular clientele here, residents in the luxury condos upstairs, hotel guests, visiting politicians and celebrities and the like, price may not be much of an issue. But for average bargoers like us, the amenities here might make up for the cost. As long as you don’t plan on stopping by every day, that is.

If we did, we would find a variety of ways to experience the Bristol Lounge. The bar is humming with an after-work crowd early in the evenings, but it ebbs and flows over the course of the night. Lounge seating scattered throughout the stately dining room creates ample space for romance by the fireplace or near the piano. There’s live music every night of the week and a jazz trio on weekends.

“The atmosphere changes like that,’’ says Jason Irving, the beverage director. “Late nights and weekends it is romantic. People will come and dance in front of the piano. And we’ve got all these window tables. People love looking at the park.’’

Describing the bar’s style? “You’ve got people who want to come because it’s the Four Seasons and we do have a lot of businessmen and lots of actors and celebrities. But we like to consider ourselves casual,’’ he said. “I’d like to see more of a younger scene, which is why I’m trying to do better cocktails.’’ He’s also doing nightly specials like “Burgers and Burgundy’’ on Wednesdays, where their gourmet burger is paired with two Burgundy style wines ($30).

Wine is his specialty, but gently changing the cocktail habits of his guests is something he hopes to do - incrementally. “These people know what they want and they don’t want change. I hate pinot grigio, for example, but it’s our highest seller. It’s the same thing with Cosmos.’’

With that in mind, the specialty cocktails here are primarily based on vodka. That’s what people want, he says. “A lot of women are afraid of brown liquors and a lot of guys only drink vodka.’’ With a drink like the Yule Mule (Hennessey VS, house-made sassafras syrup, fresh lime juice, ginger ale, $15), he wanted to make something that was different, but approachable for everyone. The sassafras also turns up in the Macintosh Manhattan (Crown Royal, Grand Marnier, fresh apple cider, sassafras syrup, $15), where it brings a buttery root beer flavor.

Scotland’s Negroni (Hendrick’s gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, cucumber, $15) and the Not So Old Fashioned (house infused apple bourbon, fresh ginger, cranberries, fresh lemon juice, $15) are the two we’d order, but they aren’t the populist, approachable sort. The latter is tart, crisp, and seasonal, not to mention very strong. Skip the dessert cocktails like the Mink Coat (B&B spiced cognac, Bailey’s Irish Cream, milk, $15) and the Icebreaker (Reyka vodka, crème de cacao white, crème de menthe, chocolate garnish, $15) unless you’re hankering for chocolate.

As for that issue of price, you’ll notice most of the cocktails are made with top-shelf ingredients, and four ounces of alcohol. In the Strawberry Blossom (Ketel One vodka, St. Germain, rose champagne, fresh strawberry puree, $15) they use the Duval-Leroy Brut Rose Champagne that goes for $20 a glass. That stuff adds up. So will a lot of visits to the Bristol over time. But one or two certainly won’t hurt.

Bristol Lounge, Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St., Boston. 617-338-4400. www.fourseasons.com/boston/dining/the_bristol_lounge.html

Friday, December 11, 2009

Barcode: Starlite

We can already hear the ghosts of rock scenes past rattling their chains: yet another neighborhood dive gentrified. But considering our beer-soaked memories of the dingy old Abbey Lounge, we think Trina’s Starlite Lounge is an improvement. Maybe we’ve just gotten old.

“I used to hang out there, I can appreciate it more than anybody,’’ says co-owner Beau Sturm. “But before it was a rock club, this was a neighborhood bar for 70, 80 years. We wanted to harken back to that feel.’’ That manifests itself in the touches of ’50s and ’60s decor. It’s a tastefully executed retro approach to what can be an overly stylized cliche. The dark-stained wood walls, hardwood floors, comfy black leather vinyl seats and bar wrapped in stainless steel are practically gleaming with that new bar shine and smell. The old green room is now the walk-in freezer. The stage is a kitchen.

It will feel like home to fans of the old B-Side Lounge, Silvertone, or Highland Kitchen. (Co-owner Josh Childs also owns Silvertone; Sturm worked at the HK bar.) “We wanted that older feel, but still relevant and modern,’’ says Sturm.

Befitting the cocktail-forward, tradition-minded pedigree of those other bars, the drinks here match that description exactly. The Fallen Angel (spicy mango margarita, Angelique tequila, BBQ dusted rim, all drinks $9) gives off a peppery blast of heat, but the thick mango throws the breaks on before you fly over the cliff. The BBQ rim hints at the dinner menu’s southern-style cooking influence. Samata (Bison grass vodka, Canton ginger liqueur, lemon juice, green tea, mint), like some of the other drinks here, is carried over from co-owner Trina Sturm’s stint at City Bar. It’s a nice contrast to the Fallen Angel, with high grassy notes of the tea and the tickle of the ginger as an undertone.

As with other like-minded bars, playful variations on traditional cocktails shine here. Santa’s Little Stinger cuts out the crème de menthe by infusing cognac with candy canes. We were skeptical at first, but the peppermint is subtle. “We don’t do sweet,’’ explained bartender Dan Beretsky. “The rule is we have to want to, and be able to, drink the drinks ourselves.’’ Adirondack (butter infused bourbon, real maple syrup) is rich and full of flavor, but candy-driven as well, like a butterscotch lifesaver. “This time of year we do a few dessert-type drinks, but they are still serious drinks. There’s some purpose to them.’’

One misstep, for our taste, was the Woo Wha? (raspberry infused vodka, Mathilde peach, lime and cranberry juice), which, it turns out of course, is the most popular. “You need that drink that appeals to a Cosmo drinker. We don’t want to do throwaways, but we’ll at least do infused raspberries and use Mathilde instead of Schnapps. We get a lot of cocktail-savvy people, but we want everyone to come in and feel comfortable.’’

We were quite comfortable with the wintery and spicy but soothing Brenda (vanilla chai infused cachaca, Canton, lemon and orange juice), an idea that came from a traditional Brazilian winter festival drink, says Beretsky. Likewise with Popeye (Old Monk rum, tamarind syrup, lime, ginger beer) which brings fresh and tangy tamarind pulp into a Dark and Stormy.

If none of that sounds appealing, you can always order a Carling Black Label can, $3 and try to relive the glory days. Just don’t hold it against them too much, says Sturm. “We’re not Starbucks, we’re not this corporate thing that took over the old rock bar. For the most part I’m the guy who used to hang out at the Abbey. Now he’s in his mid-30s.’’

Trina’s Starlite Lounge, 3 Beacon St., Somerville. 617-576-0006. www.trinastarlitelounge.com

Boston Globe

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Hello Hurricane

It doesn’t take a music critic to connect the dots between U2 and “Needle and Haystack Life’’ from Switchfoot’s seventh full-length album. The San Diego band has long been drawing from its forebears’ deep spiritual and musical well with shimmering guitar anthems. It’s a vibrant blast of accumulating momentum tailor-made to run over an inspirational montage of slow-motion football highlights. And it’s no surprise if you detect tonal and thematic similarities to like-minded dreamers of a more recent vintage on ballads like “Your Love Is a Song.’’ Switchfoot was the Fray before the Fray was the Fray. It’s where the band diverges from the well-trod blueprint that the pleasant surprises come in. On “Mess of Me,’’ singer Jon Foreman trades his earnest croon for a more blistering attack in a punchy, hurtling screamer. On “The Sound,’’ the band rolls out the type of filthy bass riff and drum loop that UK dance rock outfits like Kasabian hurl in controlled blasts of hedonism. More than a couple of the mid-tempo light rockers here lack teeth, some of them even lack gums. We’ve heard Switchfoot as weepy soundtrack peddlers before, but Switchfoot the rock band, it turns out, is pretty darn good.

ESSENTIAL “Needle and Haystack Life’’

Boston Globe

Friday, December 4, 2009

Barcode: Biltmore

In a musical mashup you take the bass line of one song, lay it out over the beat of another, then drop in the hook of a third to create something entirely new. The Biltmore translates all that into bar form. It’s one part gastropub, one part sports bar, one part history-rich tavern, one part dive, and one part retro-cocktail-scenester enclave.

That means you can order carefully crafted drinks mixed with house-made bitters and shaved ice in a former speakeasy while basking in the warm glow of football on the TV near college kids pounding Schlitz and neighborhood couples on a date night drinking from a wide selection of carefully chosen beers. All of that plus authentic Nashville barbecue and a surprisingly cool soundtrack of old punk rock on the juke? Welcome to every bar ever all at once.

The room is chockablock with retro kitsch, like antique beer adverts and old gas pumps, but they jockey for space with video games and a few too many TVs (and this is coming from a sports fan). All of that comes before you even consider the century of history in the room; the place was a speakeasy during the Prohibition era. It was also a run-down dive for many years before owner and chef Jason Owens came aboard in 2008.

“When we renovated, our vision was that of a revival of how we thought the Biltmore would have felt like in its original 1930s prime,’’ he says. To that end they restored the original pressed-tin ceilings and hardwood floors.

In keeping with that old tradition, says Owens, “We feature many pre-Prohibition cocktails and pay homage to their creators. I feel that craft cocktails are a lost art and many libations have been bastardized and watered down over the years.’’

Bar manager Mike Stankovich keeps the flame alive behind the bar with revived staples like the Tequila Sunrise (tequila, lime juice, crème de cassis, soda, $9.75). It’s served in a tall, thin glass, like a cocktail in a flower vase. It’s a cascade of billowing purple and cloudy, shaved ice. “It’s classic, not what you think of when you think of a Tequila Sunrise.’’ Definitely not. We used to think of permed ’80s hair and fluorescent suit jackets.

His Jack Rose (Laird’s Applejack, fresh lemon, grenadine, $8.25) is commendable as well. The house-made grenadine is the key. “You boil fresh pomegranate in sugar and water for long enough and the little seeds pop and release all the juices.’’ The Jack Rose has come back to prominence of late in trendier bars, but how it still hasn’t completely taken over everywhere remains a mystery.

For his Old Fashioned (infused blended rye, bing cherries, navel orange, $6.75) he infuses rye with cherries, orange zest, and sugar and simply serves the product over ice. “I drink a lot of Old Fashioneds and people make them different from place to place. The real way you take a sugar cube, pour the whiskey over it and just add garnish. Now people muddle fruit in them and stuff.’’ No need for anything but the rye here, which carries over all the flavor of the fruit.

The Bees Knees (gin, fresh lemon, organic wildflower honey, $7.25) was a winner as well, something like drinking a zesty bed of flowers. The Minuteman (Laird’s Applejack, local cider, bitters, $8.25) and the Autumn Apple (Woodford Reserve bourbon infused with fresh apples and spices, $9.50) misfired for us though, the former being too sweet with cider and the latter too heavily spiced with nutmeg.

There’s a lot here to take in, both in terms of drinking and bar history. But this is the type of mashup that will definitely mix well in our drinking playlist.

The Biltmore Bar and Grille , 1205 Chestnut St., Newton Upper Falls. 617-527-2550. www.thebiltmoregrill.com

Boston Globe

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


California screamers have delved deep into the ’80s to bring back a type of song you thought you might never hear outside of the roller rink

Nearly everything from the ’80s has been brought back by this point. But the quintessential power ballad has remained mostly on the sidelines. Not for Newport Beach, California screamers Saosin.

Their hit “You’re Not Alone” from the 2006 self titled debut was a direct line between the thrashing metal and hardcore riffing of the Warped Tour set and the lighter waving sentimentality of ’80s hair metal weepers. Tracks like “It’s All Over Now” and the expansive, eight-minute ballad “Fireflies” from the band’s latest “In Search of Solid Ground” continue in that sensitive vein.

“I feel like a lot of bands are scared of doing it,” bassist Chris Sorenson says. “There’s this whole tough guy aspect that revolves around the genre, or one side of the genre I guess. But we’re just huge fans of that stuff. If we love those types of songs why should we not pay tribute to that style? Especially in the late ’80s, as crappy as some of those songs were, there were some really, really good songs. It’s kind of weird to see your typical hardcore kid in the pit, then when ‘You’re Not Alone’ comes on him and his buddies are singing it the loudest. I guess that’s proof that there’s room for songs like that.”
‘In Search of ...’ a balance

On the new album, Sorenson says the band tried to strike the right balance between the two extremes of their scorching metal style and pop aspirations.

“I feel like the most important thing for us is that if we’re going for a more harder edge song we incorporate some of those pop elements and vice versa. If we’re going for more of a pop song we incorporate the technical aspects of the riffs. If a song is good, it doesn’t really matter what type of song it is.”