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.

Boston Globe

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