27 March 2013

From the Archives: Five-Drink Minimum at Vinalia

Courtesy of Boston's Weekly Dig
Once again, I'm reprinting an ancient piece of mine from Boston's Weekly Dig that disappeared when its online archive went kablooey sometime in the summer of 2007. Five-Drink Minimum is an annual Dig feature series that sends local writers to one or more Boston bars to document a brief binge. 

My assignment in March, 2006 was to bottom-up five drinks  one of the bartender's choosing, the rest mine  at Vinalia, a bygone, fairly fancy restaurant and wine bar in Downtown Crossing that sat in the spot currently occupied by Petit Robert Central.

I think this piece demonstrates that our drinks scene has made some progress in seven years: few Boston bartenders in 2013 at this price level would have no idea what American straight rye whiskey is, and the Sex and the City-style oversized cocktail glass is thankfully on the wane.

By MC Slim JB
101 Arch Street, Downtown Crossing, 617.737.1777, www.vinaliaboston.com 
From the March 15, 2006 issue of Boston's Weekly Dig

Vinalia is determinedly modern, chicly spare and hard-edged, a polished black-granite bartop reflecting a glowing, cobalt-blue wall. Bartender Christine says, “Vinalia gets insanely packed on weeknights with after-work Financial District types. We pour many specialty cocktails, but we’re a serious wine bar. Weekends are calmer, mostly couples on dates and event groups.”

Drink 1, Christine’s choice: dreading the kind of candy-flavored fauxtini they concoct for rookies, I’m relieved instead to get a Sidecar up ($9), a grownup’s drink. Successful Sidecars hinge on fresh lemon juice: fortunately, the centerpiece of Vinalia’s bar is piles of fresh fruit. Yikes, is that a 14-ounce cocktail glass? Five of these will coldcock me.

Drink 2, (the rest are my choices): Manhattan up ($9). At most joints, asking for rye – the original Manhattan base, not bourbon (look it up) – creates confusion. “I don’t think we stock rye,” says Christine. “Canadian whisky* comes close,” I offer. “Use Crown Royal.” The result sports just the right Angostura accent: smooooth.

Drink 3: Time to switch to wine, or I’ll be stumbling into the path of a Silver Line bus. The by-the-glass list is diverse and sensibly priced for a bar this swanky. Feeling magnanimous after two birdbaths of fancy hooch, I order a 2004 Contratto Panta Rei Barbera d’Asti ($11), a complex, hot Piemontese red served in a quality balloon wineglass. Under the eerie blue lighting, it looks like chocolate syrup. Drinking rich sure is easy when the boss is paying.

Drink 4: The bar is full of witty, gorgeous young devotees of Bacchus, or so the knots of friends at the lounge tables appear to my lubricated senses. I’m ready to jet to Tuscany with a 2004 Villa Vignamaggio Chianti ($10), from a winery I once visited on a holiday stopover in Greve, the very spot where Mona Lisa sat for Leonardo. Overcome with nostalgia and the realization that I haven’t had a real vacation in years, I decide this wine is both awesome and a little sad. 

Drink 5: The homestretch calls for something short and sweet, an Austrian dessert wine, a 2005 Weinlaubenhof Alois Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvee ($11), which I mistakenly fancy I can actually pronounce. It’s a viscous, flowery, golden little cup of nectar, and I feel ever-so-worldly for knowing about it. Pretty soon it’s done, and so am I. I grip the handrail tightly on the long escalator ride down and out of the bubble of ease and savoir-faire that Vinalia creates, emerging unsteadily into the windblown trash of Downtown Crossing.

* I included this aside to my editor: “Please note the spelling ‘whisky’ (no ‘e’) for Canadian and Scotch, not ‘whiskey’, the spelling used for the American and Irish spirits.” He ignored me.