Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vodka Class at ArtBar

Across the Charles River lies Cambridge, which can sometimes seem like the other side of the world to those of us who live in Boston.  However, it turns out that ArtBar at the Royal Sonesta is a quick 15 minute walk from Beacon Hill.  And, located right along the river, it's a beautiful spot.  The reason for our adventure was a surprise opening for Nick and I at the Vodka Cocktail Class at ArtBar.  I had tried to sign up two weeks earlier but they were booked solid, so I jumped at the opportunity.  

We arrived about 20 minutes early (we seriously thought the walk would take us longer!), so they brought us back to one of the best kept secrets - their huge patio, with fantastic views of Back Bay!  The bar back there is full service and there are plenty of tables.

View of Back Bay
Patio Bar

After a drink at the bar and talking about how amazing this patio is, the hostess brought us to cocktail class where we were immediately greeted with the house French Standard Punch, made with Ciroc Vodka, Lillet, St. Germain, Lemon and Grapefruit Bitters.  This punch is actually the creation of the Head Bartender, Elizabeth Powell, who won a St. Germain cocktail contest with it.  Trust me, this alone was worth the price of admission!

French Standard Punch
After taking a couple sips of the punch we looked around at the set-up at each of the 16 seats; vodka for tasting, mixers, ice, and plenty of glasses and tools to create some cocktails!

Our teacher for the evening was Troy Clarke, Director of Food and Beverage for all of the Royal Sonesta (ArtBar and the hotel in general!).  Troy has only been at the Royal Sonesta for a little over a year but has dramatically changed the place, and his first target was ArtBar.  The place is hardly the same when he first walked through the door, but if the cocktail and food menu changes at ArtBar reflect the changes they are definitely for the better! (read more about the transformation here.)

Teaching Station!
One of Troy's main goals is to develop some repeat customers and make ArtBar a place where locals want to go for a good drink and/or meal.  One way to get people into the door is cocktail classes (sounds like a pretty good way to me!), and with your $20 admission you get some food in addition to the drink (thank goodness!).  This evening we were treated to a steak tartare cone and two types of bruchetta.  One was a duck confit and almost thanksgiving-style.  I really have no idea what the second one was because we forgot to ask but it was creamy and sweet and AMAZING!

Pretty Plating
OK, so back to the cocktails!  First, Troy took us through vodka - where it comes from, the different varieties, etc.  In order to show us that all Vodkas are not the same (even though rules say it should be), we tasted and compared a Ciroc (grape based), Classic Ketel One, and newbie Reyka from Iceland.  I must say, I did not smell too many differences, but I did taste them.  After some explanation from Troy it was interesting to compare these three very different vodkas (Ketel was definitely the smoothest and my favorite!).

After tasting, it was onto actually making some cocktails!  The first was your classic cosmo, which was actually brought back into to popularity because of Madonna and the Rainbow room, not Sex in the City as many people believe - go figure!  I have had more than a few cosmos and while some were great, others are just terrible!  Troy gave us this recipe for the classic cocktail:

  • 1/4 oz Lime Juice
  • 1 oz Cranberry Juice
  • 3/4 oz Dry Curacao
  • 1.5 oz Ketel One
To begin, we added the lime juice, cranberry juice, dry curacao and vodka to the glass of a Boston shaker.  Then we filled the glass with cubed (not crushed) ice and placed the shaker securely over the glass - tight enough that you can pick the glass up just holding the shaker.  I then proceeded to shake (with some effort) almost over my shoulder (in theory, so the glass wouldn't fly off and hit any of your guests).  You shake enough so that the ingredients start to foam and froth a bit and the ice dilutes the drinks.

Secure Shaker!
Once it's fully shaken, we used the heel of our hands (not the edge of the table) to break the seal of the glass and shaker so that it popped right off.  I placed the strainer over top and filled my martini glass.

A proper pour...
Very own Cosmo!
To garnish, we had some orange peels, that we squeezed over top the drink (so the juice spritzes out).  I must say - this drink was delicious!  I love the citrus, and the orange and lime balanced well so that it wasn't overly sweet or sour.  Perfect - now I see why the drink is so popular - when done right, it is good!

Perfect Cosmo!
Next up was the Moscow Mule, a drink I always really wanted to love but somehow couldn't get on board with.  I was hoping this experience would change my mind!

  •  1/2 oz Lime Juice
  • 2 oz Chopin Vodka
  • Crushed Ice
  • Ginger Beer
This is a stirring drink - no shaker required.  First we poured the lime juice and vodka into the tall glass.  Then we filled it up with crushed ice and proceeded to stir in a "push and pull" motion (a lot harder than you would think!)  Afterwards I filled the glass up with the ginger beer and stirred again.

Making a Moscow Mule
I loved this drink!  I love vodka and lime, so the reason I have always found this drink lacking was the ginger beer.  Turns out though, I LOVE this ginger beer.  ArtBar makes theirs in house.  Fresh and its delicious - I would just drink it straight.  It's amazing how great ginger beer is without all the added sugar.  Seriously, we thought we thought about buying a Soda Stream to try and recreate this ginger beer at home!

Moscow Mule and Cosmo

After class, with some full drinks in hand, Nick and I hung around and chatted with Elizabeth and Troy about ArtBar, their cocktails, and food.  It was amazing to see how passionate they were about the topic.  They had no problem just hanging out with us and showing us what they can do - like making this Smoked Cherry Fiz!  I mean, look at this contraption and methods.  The bartenders seriously do this behind the bar when someone orders this drink.  The tool below filled the glass with this great smelling smoke, which completely permeated the drink.  When you tried it, you definitely got the smokey notes with the cherry flavor.  Topped off with bruleed cherries, this is a drink I'd go back for again and again.

Making some magic!
ArtBar's cocktail list is the most impressive I have seen in this city, and it's completely seasonal (a new Summer cocktail menu is on the way).  This cocktail class series is a great way to get people through the door and see what they can do!  After showing up even to the patio, I was ready to come back for more, but seeing the cocktail list I definitely can't wait to go back and experiment.

I have already signed up for the next 2 classes: the Bitters/Shrubs/Syrups class followed by a class on beer cocktails, featuring Sam Adams beers that are only available in Massachusetts.  Check out the schedule here.  I can't wait to go back!

Artbar at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Urbanspoon


  1. What a fun class! I love vodka :) I actually have never been at ArtBar but I really should go soon, since it's so near me!

  2. This looks like a dangerously fun evening. ;) I'll have to sign up for one of their upcoming classes!

  3. Isn't the patio at Art Bar great?! I love the addition of dried curacao to the cosmo!

  4. This looks so fun! I love their patio. I got to meet Elizabeth when I had dinner there last month, she's great.

  5. I love ArtBar! Their classes are super fun too. I am looking forward to going there this weekend.

  6. Ahh I wish my work schedule allowed me to go to one of these classes. This sounds so fun!

  7. You look so cute mixing up that drink! I'm going to ArtBar tomorrow and am going to have to try that French Standard punch!


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