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.

Boston Globe

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