Monday, October 17, 2011

Dueling Bartenders: The Manliest Sweet Drink

It's the weekend, which means we're back at the bar with AskMen's resident bartenders, Josh and Luke. They're both skilled at their trade, but between them runs the age-old schism of bartending: Should you drink the "original" version or a recent innovation? We won't pick sides, but it's worth doing lots of experimenting to figure out who's right.  

Luke, the traditionalist: The old-school Sidecar

While the Sidecar is a cocktail with a rich tradition and a predecessor from the very early stages of cocktail history, for our purposes here, it's helpful to think of it this way: It's the best, most foolproof way to get people to drink brandy.  

Bush sounds nostalgic and new

BUSH With Chevelle and Filter
At: the House of Blues, Saturday

When the iconic, hard-charging guitar riff of “Machinehead’’ from Bush’s 1994 massive hit debut bit through the thick air of the sold-out House of Blues on Saturday night, it seemed an indication the British band would make good on the implied premise of this nostalgia-mining tour. (Or that a New England Patriots game was about to kick off.) After all, the three acts on the package, including industrial-rock screamers Filter and sludgy metal trio Chevelle were all formed in the early ’90s.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bitter truths


We spend much of our time talking about alcohol in consideration of its form (its tastes, colors, and textures), but less frequently do we turn to its functions. The primary one is obvious: it makes you feel really, really good - or really, really bad. (One often follows the other, you may have found.) Throughout much of history, drinking served another function: alcohol was believed to have medicinal properties. During Prohibition, one of the only legal ways to purchase whiskey or brandy was by getting a prescription from your doctor (!), and people throughout the world have long sworn by certain boozy home remedies. Some still laud the digestive-aid qualities of certain bitter spirits like Italian amari, including fernets, which are typically made with dozens of botanicals, like rhubarb, myrrh, gentian root, chamomile, red cinchona bark, and galangal, to name a few. The most popular variety is Fernet-Branca, which has been produced in Italy since 1845 (though as you'll see, "popular" is a relative term). 

EITS: Songs make message clear, even without words

Explosions in the Sky at the Orpheum 

Genre-tagging is a necessary shorthand evil. You’d typically refer to the Texas band Explosions in the Sky, who performed at The Orpheum Theatre last night, as post-rock and call it a day. More interesting is how the “emo’’ qualifier has followed the band around for its 12-plus years. Granted, no one knows what that means anymore, but in this case it’s oddly apt.

After dubstep controversy, Blake steps lightly

James Blake at the Paradise Rock Club, Monday

You might not expect a precious London electronic music composer to be at the center of a music beef, but that’s where James Blake found himself last week, when an interview he gave to the Boston Phoenix decrying the “macho’’ “frat-boy’’ posturing of the American dubstep audience kicked up a controversy. At his sold-out performance at the Paradise Rock Club on Monday, he arrived as the British ambassador politicking for the gentler, more thoughtful potential of the genre.

Home Entertainment Going Out thursty Storyville: Live happily ever after

Night clubs are known for lots of things. Dancing is one of those things. So is prowling for sketchy hookups. And perhaps most renowned is blowing hundreds of dollars on bottle service so everyone knows how important you are. Conspicuously absent from that list is enjoying quality cocktails and bar service. Storyville, the re-imagining of the longtime Saint space in the Back Bay, could change that perception.

The bar program in its intimate, speakeasy-like Bordello Room is off to a good start in that regard, with Bill Codman (recently of Island Creek Oyster and Woodward) at the helm, as well as inventive food from Louis DiBiccari of Sel de la Terre.

The focus here is on seminal New Orleans-style cocktails and a full range of tiki drinks and fizzes, as well as Codman’s own neo-classic recipes. One standout, the Lady Day, is a perfect (if unpredictable) pairing of bitter with bitter, with Campari and passion fruit taking a gin base. The sweetening touch of honey and a softening egg white play back and forth on the citrusy edge. Another must-try — the Pineapple Fizz, made with pineapple and sage-infused tequila shaken with citrus and an egg white to a fluffy consistency — is supremely quaffable.

A Day At The Races represents from the tiki realm, but interestingly eschews the de facto rum base. Made with Beefeater 24, falernum, lemon and pomegranate, it’s like a more sophisticated version of a Mind Eraser, with a palate-cleaning champagne float toward the end.

Next door in the club room, the cocktail list is more streamlined, but still interesting, considering that yes, they do have bottle service. Here the focus is again on fresh ingredients, but the menu is broken into four types of cordials that guests can mix with their spirit of choice. One highlight is the Cafe Mole, a base made with fresh-ground coffee bean, cocoa, vanilla, orange peel and chipotle. Whether you take it with tequila, vodka, rum or whiskey is up to you.

Club membership

“What I wanted to do with crafted cocktails itself isn’t revolutionary,” Codman says. “Putting it inside a club is.”
It’s an approach that will hopefully rub off on the clubbing crowd.

“I think the club people will come and embrace it, because there’s certainly nothing like this available anywhere else.”
90 Exeter St., Boston

Boston Metro 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kasabian ‘Velociraptor!’

Turns out that defiant swagger, festival-filling anthems, and snarling melodicism aren’t the only things that Kasabian learned from Oasis. The British rockers have also got the melody-borrowing bug. Listening to “Velociraptor!,’’ Kasabian’s fourth album, you’ll spend half the time trying to figure out the melodic quotation. Sometimes it’s easy, like the breezy ’60s psychedelic tones of “Le Fee Verte,’’ where the band sings about “Lucy in the sky.’’ “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To’’ lifts the melody from 1980s dance pop hit “Let the Music Play’’ or whatever mystical Eastern musical mode it came from originally. “Switchblade Smiles’’ has pounding hip-hop beats under triumphant cinematic strings, like the soundtrack to a Hong Kong martial arts blockbuster. “Days Are Forgotten’’ churns on threatening bass loops that open up to expansive choruses before tightening on a hairpin turn. “Goodbye Kiss’’ is the rare acoustic, relatively slower, “sensitive’’ number that crests on a simplistic retro-girl band romance vibe. Brain tickling aside, this is a supremely enjoyable, stylish, and modern-sounding record, which isn’t easy to pull off for a guitar band with a tendency to look backward. (Out today) ESSENTIAL “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To’’

The timely pop return of Emergency Music

The music industry as we once knew it is dead and buried, and the pre- and post-Internet eras seem like two entirely distinct periods now. But there exists an entire generation of bands who had the unenviable fortune of forming during the uncertain limbo years, still tethered to the swiftly expiring traditions, but without clearly delineated paths through the tangled electronic future. Around the turn of the millennium most of us were online, but compared to the way we consume music now, with constantly updated music blogs, SoundCloud, and Spotify streaming an infinite supply of newness nonstop, that approach — a mix of rudimentary online services mixed with actual trips to the record store — seems positively archaic.

I bring this up in relation to Emergency Music, a longtime Boston favorite, because they came along at what may have been exactly the wrong time.

Ladytron’s ‘Gravity the Seducer’

This is “our most coher­ent work, in terms of moods and themes,’’ Daniel Hunt of the venerable British electro-pop act La­dytron has said of his group’s fifth album. That’s an under­state­ment. There’s lit­tle variation at play here in an album whose creeping, somber tone re­mains largely stat­ic. Mis­s­ing are hints of the more epic, gui­tar-forward forebod­ing of their album “Witch­ing Hour.’’ “White Ele­phant’’ chases a baroque harpsichord fig­ure over horn synths that spread out and dark­en like spilled ink; it’s a chamber dance with a beautiful ghost bride who turns to tendrils of mist in your embrace. “Mirage’’ is a punchy dark-wave track whose hook hints at pop po­tential and serves as a touch­stone for the mildly repet­itive album. The occa­sion­al live drums, as on the in­stru­mental “Rit­ual,’’ pop out amidst the typically flat, programmed af­fect. Strangely, one of the only songs with­out a human voice here somehow seems the most organ­ic. With La­dytron, the aloofness is the appeal, but sometimes it would be nice to be invited in. (Out today) 

ESSENTIAL “White Ele­phant’ 

Boston Globe

Motion City Soundtrack dig through their past to bring fans tour

When’s the ideal time to become a fan of a band? Right from the start? Perhaps, but then you’re inevitably going to reach a day when they stop playing your favorite songs live. Show up to the party late and you may miss the good old days. The idea behind Minneapolis’ favorites Motion City Soundtrack’s “4 Albums. 2 Nights. 7 Cities.” tour is to make everyone happy. Over the course of two nights, they’ll play their four records in their entirety, reaching back to 2003’s debut “I Am the Movie,” where the band established their Moog-heavy pop-punk sound.

Thursty: Abigail’s nails it


Another month, another new Kendall Square restaurant. Forget technology, this is the new dining hub of Cambridge. The most promising of the lot, so far, is Abigail’s, a craft beer and cocktail gastropub from co-owner and chef Jason Ludwig, formerly of East Coast Grill (my favorite restaurant, by the way).

Like many of the other spots in the area, there’s a certain minimal, science lab aesthetic at work here, but it’s tempered by organic touches. The long wooden bar made from English elm rescued from a barn in Western, Mass., takes in tons of light from big windows that span the length of the space.

Getting an alt rock buzz cut with Yuck

DINOSAUR JR, JR “It’s quite nice, the bands that we’re compared to are good and stuff,” says Yuck’s Daniel Blumberg. “I love those bands.”

Somewhere along the line in the history of music journalism, writing about the way a record sounds turned into drawing up a laundry list of predecessor comparisons. Roughly around the time the second rock and roll record was made, I'd guess. It's a problem that's become further convoluted in recent years as the vast well of influence-bait has grown deeper, and we've entrenched ourselves in a postmodern retro morass of referential one-upmanship. The ever-shortening recovery period between the reemergence of music past has led to hash-tag (and headline) criticism. Yuck: LOL via @DinoJr #grunge

That might not be fair. The extremely young, extremely hyped UK indie guitar band Yuck aren't merely grunge revivalists after all. They also seem like they're into shoegaze too.

Liquid: Cordially Yours

photo: joel veak

The laws regarding drinking in Massachusetts are a bit complicated. In fact, they're so Byzantine that many bars, particularly those without full liquor licenses, have a hard time understanding what they can and cannot serve. This summer, the Boston Licensing Board dropped the hammer on two such spots, Cafe Meridian in Eastie and Vlora in the Back Bay, inspecting stock that had been seized by police to determine whether it complied with the specifications of their limited licenses. The board ultimately ruled that Meridian's infused vodkas and tequilas could be categorized as cordials; much of Vlora's product, on the other hand, was essentially hard liquor. 

The Rapture, ‘In the Grace of Your Love’

New York’s post-punk-electro pioneers the Rapture invigorated the indie-rock world with their chaotic rhythms, disco beats, and tattered guitars melded with electronics. A decade of imitators later and you might not fault them for meandering further afield with “In the Grace of Your Love.’’ The expansive “How Deep Is Your Love?’’ revolves around a looping house-style piano riff, saxophone, and layers of dense percussion that build toward a spiritual righteousness you’d expect from a preacher on the saving-souls circuit. “It Takes Time to Be a Man’’ is a soulful slow jam over what sounds like a pensive hip-hop piano sample. “Come Back to Me,’’ on the other hand, features a disposable vocal from the campiest gay club in town, and the title track is a sodden heap of wailing. Opener “Sail Away’’ is a better execution of that same approach. With its meat-and-potatoes disco-punk beat and rousing keys, it feels like it’s reaching beyond the known universe of the typical club scene. (Out tomorrow)

Shaking his way to the top

Tyler Wang
The 24-year-old San Diego transplant and Somerville resident is a rising star in Boston’s cocktail scene. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Wang spent a year and a half as an apprentice, then bartender, at Barbara Lynch’s Drink, one of the best cocktail bars in the city, under the tutelage of renowned bar whiz John Gertsen. He’ll soon begin a new job at No. 9 Park, where he hopes to help revitalize the bar that was instrumental in elevating the art of the cocktail.

Q. How did you get started in the industry?
A. The last thing you need to do at culinary school is an apprentice program. I started off externing at Drink in March of 2010, and I was doing that under the auspices of the school for about six months. After that, no way I could leave, so I stuck on board. I wanted to learn about the ground rules of a really great restaurant and I worked alongside some really amazing bartenders. About four months ago I started bartending, real bartender shifts, taking care of people myself. It was a big step.

Liquid: Glam glasses

If there's one thing I've learned from heroic TV marathons spent on the couch, it's that in fashion, one day you're in, and the next day you're out. Sure, certain classics stay with us: the little black dress, say, or the sleeveless T-shirt silk-screened with an image of wolves fighting dragons with American flags. But other trends change quickly - a truth that applies whether you're dressing up yourself or a drink. And though they may not parade their libations down a runway for Heidi Klum's yea or nay, locals know that when it comes to cocktails, you still need to turn heads. 

Privateer practice: Meet a new rum distiller with very old roots


In talking about rum, we're talking about Massachusetts history. In fact, we're talking about our country's history. (Does that mean downing a Hemingway Daiquiri is a show of patriotism? Go America!) Back in colonial days, rum production was a hugely important industry in Massachusetts, one that played a key role in its prosperity and development. Our thirst for the sweet nectar of the sugarcane was great. So we were not pleased when the British starting levying sugar taxes and screwing with the "triangle trade" system that ran between the Caribbean (where sugarcane was grown), the colonies (where the byproducts were turned into rum), and Africa (the source of slaves who were shipped to the Caribbean to harvest the cane). In fact, that interference helped get the American Revolution rolling. It's like they say in the history books: "Give me liberty or give me death. And don't get in the way of my rum business."

The Yanks Lost? Sell! Sell! Sell!

James Yang for The Wall Street Journal

A new online game combines fantasy sports and investment strategy, letting you build a portfolio of teams as you would stocks

Playing the stock market and being a sports fan are similar beasts—and not just because they're the biggest reasons you keep checking your phone for updates. The overlap is at the heart of a new online game called SportsGunner (, which is slated to launch this weekend. In a hybrid of fantasy sports and stock market strategizing, players use their sports acumen to predict the movement of teams in a virtual marketplace. As teams win and lose, their SportsGunner values rise and fall. Your job, just as it is in a real market, is to correctly predict which way they'll go.

Bully Boy Distillers: The spirits of Massachusetts

Craft breweries have been the big story in the drinking world  for the past couple of  years, but more and more small-batch distilleries are cropping up throughout New England. The recently launched Bully Boy Distillers is the first distillery in Boston in at least 20 years, says Dave Willis, who along with his brother Will turned a hobby of distilling at home (learned on their family’s farm in Sherborn) into a burgeoning company.

“It’s a fourth-generation working farm where we grew up making craft products, like ciders and jams,” says Willis. “We learned to distill on a small, two-gallon stove top still.”

Thursty: Brahmin

After a series of violent crimes, 33 Res-taurant closed with a bad reputation, but it should’ve been better known for serving some top-notch cocktails.

The Brahmin American Cuisine & Cocktails, the new tenants in the space on the suddenly-crowded Stanhope Street, hope to pick up with they left off in the latter regard.

The owners — also behind Red Sky Restaurant & Lounge — say the idea is to pay homage to the old-monied Boston culture the name evokes. That shows up in touches like antique cabinets, tufted couches and old-timey knickknacks strewn throughout the dark brown, candle- and chandelier-lit interior.

Hot Water Music | The Fire, The Steel, The Tread/Adds Up to Nothing

It's been seven long years since Gainesville, Florida's Hot Water Music have released any new music. Together, that is. Frontman Chuck Ragan took a turn into folkier landscapes with his solo records, including a punk-troubadour turn in Feast or Famine in 2007, while the balance of the four-piece maintained a similar, gravelly, shouted-punk style with their offshoot band, the Draft. This two-track 7-inch and digital release is an arbiter of things to come from the newly reformed outfit. As one might expect, returning to the fold for a punk band with some miles on the tires brings with it a certain amount of veteran introspection. "Up to Nothing" chugs along with the band's memorable push and eminently shoutable chorus: "Somehow it all adds up to nothing," Chris Wollard sings, with a gritty defiance. But it's an edge tempered by time. "The Fire, The Steel, The Tread" seems like it may have initially been a Ragan solo song, with its dusty countrified edge and love-at-the-bottom-of-a-whiskey-bottle tone, but here it's charged with the full band's instrumentation and invigorating spirit.

Identity Festival rocks out the dance party

MASS APPEAL “Electronic dance music is such an important part of music culture in general,” says White Shadow. “It has been for the last 30 years.”

Genre predictions are dumb, but there is one thing absolutely certain in music: rock music is dead, and the era of electronic dominance is finally here. Look no further than last week's Hard Summer Music Festival at the Paradise or this week's Identity Festival, making a stop on a national tour at the Comcast Center with Steve Aoki, Avicii, Booka Shade, Rusko, DJ Shadow, the Crystal Method, Datsik, Data Romance, Holy Ghost!, White Shadow, Afrobeta, and others in tow.

Electronic beats on ‘Blue Songs’ by Hercules & Love Affair

The trend in electronic music has been to mix the hedonistic rhythms and neon beat of classic disco with a detached, indie aesthetic. Hercules & Love Affair mostly skip the postmodern irony here, sounding sincerely dorky enough to have arrived straight from the disco era. That’s both good and bad. “My House,’’ somehow already an international club hit, has a barely there beat and a boring soul-lite vocal line that devolves into annoying scatting. “Painted Eyes’’ fares better, with dramatic synth strings and a pleadingly romantic vocal. “Answers Come in Dreams’’ dirties up a club comedown reflection with biting funk. “Leonora’’ strikes a languid pose, conjuring a hazy summer block party circa 1982 New York. Meanwhile, Bloc Party’s Kele Orekeke stops by on “Step Up’’ to drag the effort further into the ’80s with a new wave disco effort. “I Can’t Wait,’’ with its glitchy cutups and ice-princess coo, brings the group into the current moment. (Out today)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Digital Bar Crawl

Illustration by Harry Campbell for The Wall Street Journal

Can your smartphone tell a 'power' scene from a 'hipster' one? A thirsty writer puts several nightlife apps to the test

It used to be there were so many different bars to choose from that we had to turn to technology to help us narrow things down. Now there are so many different apps trying to help us find the best places to drink, we need an app to sort through the nightlife apps. Don't steal that idea.

A bar-finding app, much like a bar, is only as valuable as what it has on tap. Most of them operate under the same premise, using your GPS location to recommend the nearest bars, which you can then narrow down by search parameters such as cost, style of bar or level of sausage-fest-ness. So I went out on a test run of them in Boston, where I write about bars for a living. Man versus machine. Like when a chess master battles a supercomputer, only much more important to the human condition.

Dom: Family of Love

Family of Love

Seems like only yesterday that we were calling Worcester’s Dom the band most likely to succeed in a young Massachusetts rock class. So far so good, as the deliriously delinquent surf-psych pop-rock of their debut EP, “Sun Bronzed Greek Gods,’’ has made its way around the world. On this follow-up EP, the band, led by the mercurial, skewed-pop savant Dom, keeps the party going with five songs that crest the wave between rough-around-the-edges garage rock and twee keyboard pop. The awkwardly romantic “Telephone’’ revolves around a chiming dial tone solo. The fuzzy prismatic rainbow of “Happy Birthday Party’’ is the stylistic bridge here, with its refrain of “time to get gnarly/ happy birthday party’’ serving as the motto for both the record and the band. That song, and the careening, reverb sugar of “Damn,’’ have the deceptive staying power of a self-applied tattoo. They’re perhaps hastily put together but still fraught with a moment’s sincerity that will nonetheless stick with you long after the party is over. (Out now)

Liquid Pop art: House-made sodas are raising the bar


 There's really no delicate way of putting this, so I'll just come out and say it: if your default drink is an "and" drink, meaning a rum and Diet, say, or a Jack and ginger, then you have shitty taste. I'm sorry - I don't make the rules, but that's how it is. (Okay, I do make the rules, and I guess I'm not really that sorry.) 

Not only is it boring, but the sugared-up soda you find on the gun at most bars completely obliterates any nuance the spirit in question may have had in the first place. But that doesn't mean you have to abandon sodas altogether when it comes to cocktailing. There are plenty of local spots, like Erbaluce (69 Church Street, Boston, 617.426.6969), for example, that are making their own house-made sodas and incorporating them creatively into their bar programs. "We don't carry any commercial soda products. Our soda gun has two speeds: sparkling and still," says bar maestro Nick Korn. Instead, Erbaluce offers Italian-style sodas using fresh ingredients. Sounds good, but why should the average imbiber care? 

After 10-year hiatus, Cibo Matto meets expectations with exuberance

CIBO MATTO At: Brighton Music Hall, Wednesday

Ten years is a long time to wait, so it’s no surprise that the sold-out crowd for the first local Cibo Matto show in a decade was anxious to get the party started. At Brighton Music Hall Wednesday night, fans were yelling out the names of songs from the New York Japanese-American duo’s era-defining 1990s albums before they even took the stage.

They didn’t leave disappointed. Yuka Honda, whose reserved demeanor contrasted with the noisy squalls of horn blasts and thick bass and beats she manipulated from behind her keyboards, and Miho Hatori, the brash, stylish exemplar of both hip-hop swagger and romantic crooning, ran through an hour and change of their greatest hits.

The tasty return of Cibo Matto | Back on the menu

cm main

There's been a lot of talk recently about how the '90s are back, much of it by me. One thing I've forgotten to mention in my hasty excitement for a return to the days when my man crush on Jared Leto wasn't creepy was that the '90s were pretty much a complete bum-out. Everyone was stomping around all day in gross boots and giant socks, and we all had our hair tied up in tight scrunchies that constricted blood flow to the brain. No wonder the music was so grim.

Somewhere around the middle of the decade, bands in New York City remembered that music was supposed to be fun. Chief among them were Cibo Matto, the Japanese-American duo who popularized the polyglot fusion concept that was also, coincidentally, sweeping the restaurant scene. In fact, they actually were singing about food most of the time, on songs like "Birthday Cake" and "Know Your Chicken." (Cibo Matto means "crazy food" in Italian, I'm obliged to point out). They were brash, ballsy, fun, cooler than hell, and surprisingly funny.

Thursty: Pleased as a Pig


If you’re eating at a restaurant called the Salty Pig, you’d better figure you’re going to work up a thirst pretty quickly. True to its billing, the menu at this chalkboard-walled and industrial aesthetic space (more funky Somerville than Back Bay in appearance) is broken up into “salty pig parts,” “stinky cheeses” and other Italian-style items like the outstanding pork and garlic meatballs. Fortunately, unlike many other Italian restaurants, beer and cocktails aren’t just an afterthought. The beer offerings run the gamut from thematically appropriate —with cans of Butternut’s Porkslap Pale Ale and Cisco Sankaty Light — to on-trend session ales, West Coast IPAs and local brews. 

An oasis of cocktails

'American Seasons’ Grapefruit Basil.

You know how when cartoon characters are lost in the desert and little oases of water and palm trees start popping up in thought bubbles over their heads? It’s about 100 degrees while I’m writing this and that’s basically me right now, except I’m imagining these drinks instead while crawling across the vast expanse of the workday waiting for cocktail o’clock. I asked a few bars to torture me with visions of refreshment.

Forum: A promising thing happened at this restaurant


Considering Vox Populi was the name of the restaurant that once occupied this space on Boylston Street, it’s logical to consider Forum, which just opened last  night, as another nod to the bustling plaza and political center of ancient Rome. No politics at the bar these days of course, and no gladiatorial contests, although this Forum is meant to attract a broad citizenry. There’s a large 45-seat bar downstairs, a small cafe area leading to the street-side patio and additional lounge seating. Upstairs is a more elegant experience, with a 10-seat bar better suited for intimate conversation. 

Legally drunk: A look at the curious laws that govern how we guzzle


It's funny: nationally, Massachusetts has a reputation of being the bluest of "blue states," thanks to our progressive politics. But not a single local has grown up here without encountering "blue laws," antiquated regulations (often related to alcohol) that are anything but liberal - more like straight out of our buttoned-up, buckle-shoed Puritan past. The origin of the colorful term is subject to speculation: it's a reference to either an old definition of "blue" (which meant "rigidly moral" during Colonial times), the color of the paper that legal documents were once printed on, or the color of everyone's balls at the time, since these folks were definitely as repressed in the bedroom as they were at the bar. 

Such laws are hardly ancient history, as anyone who has tried to buy booze before noon on Sunday (you know, the day when God pays attention), attempted to restock during a Memorial Day barbecue, or run out of wine during Thanksgiving dinner can attest. But there are even less obvious and more egregious prohibitions on the books that are a pain in our collective alcohol-loving ass. So I asked a few sin purveyors for their thoughts on Massachusetts's most annoying, curious, or downright weird laws regarding the sale of alcohol - laws that can impact exactly what, how, and when we drink in unexpected ways.  

Return to blender

Whether we're talking music, fashion, or cocktails, accurately predicting trend cycles is really quite simple. Here's the formula: 1) remember an old trend you haven't seen in a few years, and 2) wait until it seems ironic enough to be hip again. The end. Consider, for example, the saxophone, which has been popping back up everywhere in music of late. Same thing with the blender, which is pretty much the saxophone of the bar world: oft-maligned, generally misunderstood, and apt to appear whenever someone's dad is grooving in the general proximity of a boat. 

Rave On Buddy Holly

Various Artists
Rave On Buddy Holly

Tribute compilations come with an inherent high degree of difficulty. There’s a tricky balance to land between paying homage and reinvention. Too often these things end up sounding like a lazily plotted Pandora station with a tenuous through-line. In the case of Buddy Holly, the proto-rocker without whom none of the acts on “Rave On’’ would exist, it’s further compounded. It’s a testament to the consistency and strength of his voice that Holly manages to assert himself throughout in a rock ’n’ roll seance that utilizes the musical medium talents of disciples like Paul McCartney (who Paul-McCartneys his way through “It’s So Easy’’), other veterans like Lou Reed (whose “Peggy Sue’’ is a typical bum out), and Patti Smith (who gets spooky on “Words of Love’’). Perhaps it’s a generational bias speaking, but indie rockers like Modest Mouse on “That’ll Be the Day’’ and My Morning Jacket on “True Love Ways’’ come closer to capturing the lovelorn essence of Holly’s originals. Not all of them, though. The Black Keys are uncharacteristically boring in the barely there “Dearest,’’ while Julian Casablancas tosses off a muddy “Rave On.’’ No surprise that Cee Lo Green and Florence and the Machine pick up the pace and sing the lights out, or that Kid Rock seems like he showed up for an Aerosmith tribute. Forget about considering the album as a whole and figure out which of the 19 translators here appeal to you. The originals will always be there waiting. (Out now)

How to be a bad customer

via Tips Comics

With all the attention paid to chefs and bartenders in the media lately, and the explosion of quality restaurants using lovingly prepared, high-end ingredients, it comes as no surprise that the level of culinary knowledge among the average diner is at an all-time high. And yet for some reason, that sophistication doesn't apply to dining manners, particularly when it comes to our interactions with the help. (If you've ever called them "the help," then you're way ahead of the game and probably don't even need to read this list).

The Yelp-ification of America has turned us all into entitled, whiny babies, and the level of self-awareness among customers is worse than ever. As a restaurant and bar writer, and someone who's spent over a decade in the industry trenches off and on, I've got experience from both sides of the battle lines. Here's some expert advice in case you want to jump on this hot new trend of being an insufferable prick at a restaurant.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Boston hearts the 9tz: Today's hot new crop of local bands have (sorta) old souls


Check out this piece I wrote for Stuff Magazine Boston <3s the 9tz: Today's hot new crop of local bands have (sorta) old souls about how the nineties are the new eighties in Boston, and probably everywhere else too but who cares. And while you're there go read this piece in my usual Liquid column about how being in a band and being a bartender are the exact same thing and the rest of the cool stuff in the Music Issue here.

I was walking down Boylston Street a couple of months ago, past the spot where I used to smoke cigarettes (and try to get people to notice me smoking cigarettes) back in my days at Emerson. And I realized all the kids were wearing XXL flannel shirts, cut-off corduroys, and giant socks billowing out of dirty Doc Martens. I thought to myself, "Weird, I guess we're doing this '90s nostalgia thing already." Then I got depressed about my inevitable mortality, but that's pretty standard. 

Getting a sonic high with Ringo Deathstarr

No offense to sex, but I've always been more preoccupied with the drugs and rock-and-roll part of that equation. Historically speaking, there has never been a shortage of songs about drugs (or songs written while on drugs, or of musicians taking drugs to make songs to take drugs to), but actually capturing the feeling of space angels tickling your brain stem while swimming through gently swaying fields of purple grass isn't so easy to accomplish. That's why the songs from Austin noise-pop trio Ringo Deathstarr — in particular, the devastating dopamine rush of "So High," which features a string of effects pedals marked "MBV" and "J+MC" and twitchy, whorling waves of feedback and call-and-response male/female vocals — have me pressing the play button on my computer repeatedly, like a lab monkey waiting for the cocaine pellet to pop out.

Part of the dilated pupils and elevated-heart-rate blast of that song and others on Ringo debut Colour Trip (Sonic Unyon) is the nostalgia triggered by hearing it done so well. Not only does it sound like drugs today, it sounds like drugs gone by, and the music that we took drugs to listen to back then. Be right back, got to go make a call.

The December Sound drop a sonic boom

Order out of chaos. If making music is all about conjuring brief moments of something-ness out of the void, it's no wonder that it speaks to us on such a primal, biological level. What are our lives, after all, beside sad little symphonies, one part layered on top of the next — occasionally harmonious, more often discordant. And human civilization, just a really long EP. Houses are songs and cities are, too: songs that stave off the nothingness of the lag time between tracks.

A grandiosity-minded outfit like the December Sound cut through to the core of that metaphor by digging down past a few layers of artifice and erecting walls of noise that could be the soundtrack to some creation myth. Consider the track "Massed Senses," from their still-in-production second album Beneath the Ruins of Me — with its giant vistas of celestial feedback and colliding asteroids — or the planet-sized buzzsaw of "Never" from their 2005 homonymous debut. Or, if that comparison doesn't work for you, let's leave deep space behind and try deep ocean. To wit, what does the ominous drone of an expanse of underwater mountains eroding over a millennia sound like? That's the idea they're going for.

Nightlife: the week ahead

PHASE EFFICIENCY This new night brought to you by Basstown and the newly formed electronic arts community ElecSonic, pulls together a lineup of audio and visual talents on both floors of Good Life. Techno from Ecuador’s Balian, tech-house from Colombia’s Lu Saldarriaga, and live drum and bass from Chicago’s Sigi Mueller are just the tip of the electronic iceberg. July 1, 9 p.m. Cover: $5. 21+. Good Life. 617-451-2622,

PICÓ PICANTE Organizer Sara Skolnick describes Pico Picante as “the first of a series of nightlife events that pay homage to emerging genres that celebrate staples of Latin American music through electronic reworks, such as tropical bass, Moombahton and digital cumbia.’’ DJs Pajaritos and Oxycontinental, perform, along with live electro act PC//MM. July 2, 7 p.m. No cover. Lily Pad. 617-395-1393,

Nubar still acts like a new bar

Nubar, you’ve got a lot to learn, but your heart is in the right place.
Traditionally, hotel bars are situated at either pole of a spectrum that runs from the lively and boisterous center of a neighborhood’s culture to a purgatory-like holdover for weary travelers.

Naturally, every hotelier strives for the former, particularly in the past few years, where the success of pace-setters like Eastern Standard have revitalized the concept of what a hotel bar is supposed to be. One suspects that’s what Nubar in the Sheraton Commander outside Harvard Square hopes to replicate, albeit on a more intimate scale.

There’s green in ‘Whitey’ tees

‘‘Whitey’’ Bulger’s arrest sparked the printing of dozens of ‘‘Free Whitey’’ T-shirts.

Shirt makers capitalize on fugitive’s capture

It’s hard to say how long after reputed Boston mob boss James “Whitey’’ Bulger was apprehended last week that the T-shirt presses started running, but it must have been soon. Now, a simple online search turns up dozens of different “Free Whitey’’ T-shirt designs on eBay and on apparel sites like Zazzle, including one that echoes the poster for the film “The Departed’’ and others that incorporate mug shots and sports team logos.

“T-shirts are in, gangsters are in, it’s a win-win idea,’’ a Boston designer who goes by the name Megatrip wrote in an e-mail. He’s printed up shirts with a Bulger mug shot on them and is selling them for $24.94 at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not Me Dot Com

Harry Campbell for The Wall Street Journal

Want an Internet that doesn't know your pant size? A guide to regain your privacy

Those Home Improvement tools you bought on Amazon? They know about them. The vacation to Ireland you researched on Expedia, too. Not to mention the fact that you "liked" the new Taylor Swift single. (Did you? Really?)
On the Internet, nothing you say or do ever really disappears. We leave behind a trail of digital breadcrumbs everywhere we go. The fact that your behavior on the Web is being monitored by companies who want to utilize that info for their own interests isn't a big surprise, but the sheer size of the data footprint each of us accumulates may give you pause. In the end, they're using it to tailor-make a just-for-you Web experience that you're supposed to like—whether you like it or not.

The Intrigue of Chartreuse

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal

French monks. Secret recipes. An otherworldly color. Belly up to a most mysterious liqueur

While we're certainly appreciative of all the efforts various sects of monks have made in the advancement of knowledge throughout history, how about their work in the time-honored tradition of throwing one back? Praise be to the Carthusians then, a French sect responsible for the distillation of Chartreuse for over 400 years. The most notable variety, Green Chartreuse, is a liqueur made from some 130 herbs and plants, the full extent of which are only known by two or three people at any given time (although the exact recipe has changed once or twice). It's kind of like "The Da Vinci Code" of drinking.

Pitcher perfect


I've done a lot of thinking about this lately, and I may have finally figured out the best part about going out to a bar: drinking. You know what the worst part is? Standing there not drinking. The latter scenario happens with surprising frequency. Maybe it's too busy and the beleaguered barkeeps are in the weeds. Or maybe they're taking their goddamned time worrying over your cocktail like a surgeon doing a delicate booze operation. 

Dive and sports bars solved this conundrum years ago by serving beer in pitchers, but they forgot to account for the fact that a giant vat of warm, watery beer is gross. Cocktails in pitchers then! It's a eureka moment that more and more bars around the city have been having of late. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Red Lantern: A beacon of hope


When is the last time you walked into a restaurant and were really impressed? Not by the food or drink, I mean, but, like, literally struck by how it looks. Been a while, right? If so, then a trip may be in order to Red Lantern, the new Asian-themed restaurant and lounge from the folks behind the stylistically similar Shrine at Foxwoods. With its distressed, exposed white brick, dozens of Buddha statues, paper bird cage lanterns and towering ceilings, it looks like an artfully crumbling temple that doubles as a sleek nightclub come sundown. You’d never know it was once a Bertucci’s chain franchise.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Death Cab’s back, mellower than ever

Codes and Keys

One of the most anticipated indie rock records of the summer is neither indie nor particularly rocking. The genre-defining band that rose to fame on the brush-stroked teardrop verses of singer Ben Gibbard’s epistolary romances has long since graduated from its humble indie origins, where deft, keenly observed albums like “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes’’ established its bona fides among the sad young literary men and women. Here on Death Cab for Cutie’s seventh record there’s little guitar to speak of, resulting in a more docile affair, even by the band’s already mellow standards. For the most part, demure keys and light atmospheric touches stand in for guitarist and sound architect Chris Walla’s traditionally vibrant (albeit measured) rock production, as on the title track and the piano meandering of “Some Boys.’’ On the latter, Gibbard offers a recurring motif, singing “some boys don’t know how to love.’’ Gibbard has proven he can lay waste to hearts sans guitar with his work in the Postal Service, but on prior Death Cab records the band’s interlocking layers of nervy riffing have undergirded his wistful lyrical sentiment and plaintive vocals with something the less swoon-inclined could sink their teeth into. The immediately engaging songs on “Codes and Keys’’ where this approach stays intact — like “Doors Unlocked and Open’’ and “You Are a Tourist’’ — are conspicuously rare. 

Cults, 'Cults'

The New York duo Cults’ short history provides a handy primer for the way this blogwave trend of bands works now. The first single from the nascent act was promoted on the taste-making Gorilla vs. Bear site in April 2010, and met with rapturous approval from the downloading cognoscenti. Fawning praise followed. To record their debut LP, they enlisted Shane Stoneback — the engineer behind the eminently bloggable forerunners Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells — and were signed to Lily Allen’s imprint of Columbia. Next stop: minor fame! Their music perfectly encapsulates the dark, ’60s-style girl pop of the current nostalgia-mining, romance-hardened zeitgeist brought on by bands like Vivian Girls and Best Coast. “You Know What I Mean’’ is a swooning waltz set to weeping strings and echoing finger-snaps — a “You Don’t Own Me’’ for the Flip-cam generation. True to the early pop blueprint, even the happiest of the crushing-out, hand-holding soundtrack stuff here — like potential Song of the Year contender “Go Outside’’ — is couched in a bitter, familiar sentiment: Love rules. Love hurts. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Guide to Happy (and Legal) Tumblr-ing

Blogging without 'stealing' is much easier than you think

Information wants to be free. At least that appears to be the sentiment among bloggers, the majority of whom subscribe to a what's-mine-is-yours-and-what's-yours-is-mine policy (but mostly the latter part). By this point, the blogoverse has become a lot like what Picasso supposedly said about inspiration: A good artist copies, but a great artist steals. 

Of course, back in his day you couldn't exactly right click on a canvas in a gallery and drag it over onto your bedroom wall, so what did he know? 

Whether or not information should be free is a different matter altogether. On popular blogging platforms like Tumblr, the point is moot. For the bloggers who use these sites, the exchange of copyrighted material and intellectual property—other people's photographs, music, lists of all the amazing things you ate for lunch—isn't just an aspect of the form, it's practically the entire business model.

Festival bound? Plan ahead

Over the next few months, thousands of concert-goers will herd into dusty fields and pass out from a combination of heat exhaustion and alcohol poisoning. To help you avoid this, we consulted with Frank Bombaci Sr., the organizer of the third annual B.O.M.B. Fest, taking place this weekend in Hartford, Conn. With acts like Weezer, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Best Coast playing, we figured we could trust his tips.

» Don’t lurk by the main stage
“Pay attention to all the stages and really give those artists the opportunity to be heard. At the smaller stages, the music is phenomenal — even if lots of times people don’t really know who they are,” says Bombaci. “They might be headlining next year, so now’s your chance to see them up close.”