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.

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