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.

Boston Globe

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