Five minutes on Brookline Street got me from the BU Bridge into Central Square. I pulled my bike up in front of the bright yellow awning that crowns the entrance to Rendezvous. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows I could see Scott Holliday slicing limes behind the bar. Of the three names Paul O’Connell had given me, Scott was the only one who had still been at Chez Henri during my time in Boston.
I took a seat at the bar and the hostess put a stack of menus in front of me. The eight-drink cocktail menu has turned over a number of times since Scott took the reins as Rendezvous’s bar manager in 2008. The Periodista’s never been on it.
I ordered one.
“You got it,” said Scott. He went immediately into action. Scott has an economy of movement and speech that suggests a quiet delicacy, but he’s a gunslinger behind the bar. I’d never seen him without a vest and tie, and his cuffs are always buttoned.
Scott set an empty martini glass in front of me and poured my drink from the shaker. The amber liquid hugged the lip of the glass.
I took a drink, then explained why I was there.
“Chez Henri was the first place I ever saw it,” he said. “I remember Joe McGuirk would tell me that back when they opened, the Periodista was more popular than the Mojito. It was the big thing.”
Scott disappeared for a moment to fill some orders from the dining room. Ray Walston looked down at me from the flatscreen mounted high on the back wall and said something I couldn’t hear. Scott set two shakers down and continued talking as he fixed the drinks.
“In a lot of ways Chez Henri was my ideal job,” he said. “Every night had kind of two separate shifts. There was dinner service, which was busy and sometimes frustrating—you know, everything that working at a restaurant bar should be—but then late at night the bar became its own thing. All of a sudden it would be like I was hosting a party. Most nights I knew over half the people in the room by name. I could play the music I wanted to play, people would ask me what they should drink. It really made me fall in love with the idea of a good, simple neighborhood bar.”
I asked if that was when he started to get serious about cocktails.
“I’d say I started approaching cocktails a lot more seriously in ’02, ‘03 maybe,” he said. “I think a lot of it had to do with my friendship with John Gertsen and other people in the industry. John was pushing hard to do good things at No. 9, and I’d apply a lot of what we would talk about in a version that would work at Chez Henri. Jackson Cannon worked in the neighborhood, and he would come into Chez Henri for a drink after work. Jackson was super fanatic about it—he got the cocktail religion hard—and I would say to him, ‘You have to meet John. You have to meet John.’ I wanted to be there when it happened, you know? It was going to be like when Jung and Freud met. That’s how the Jack Rose Society came together.”
Scott delivered his drinks and went to pour wine for some customers at the other end of the bar. You could tell the regulars from the newcomers by the way Scott’s demeanor shifted—switching from casual to formal and back again like clockwork. When he came back I asked him about the Jack Rose Society.
He smiled. “Me, John, and Jackson. I think there may have been three actual meetings in total—back in ’04, ’05—and I only went to the middle one. But we’d often end up at the same house together, late-night. Jackson would bring a mini-suitcase with a portable bar kit and some bottles in it. And we’d make drinks and talk about, you know, ‘Cocktails are becoming important in Boston. We want to help make Boston a great cocktail town.’”
Not long after that John and Jackson would be running two of the most important bars in Boston, Drink and Eastern Standard. I knew there was a Periodista on Eastern Standard’s menu. Drink, of course, doesn’t have a menu.
Scott disappeared again. It was beginning to rain. I watched drops of water trickle down the slanted glass overhang at the front of the restaurant. Scott returned with a set of fresh shakers.
“So, if you’re talking about whether Boston is a great cocktail town,” he said. “John and I actually went to a cocktail show in Paris last week. And there were these amazing bartenders from all around the world doing all this phenomenal stuff. Molecular mixology, using really hard to source liquors, vintage glassware. It was all very impressive.”
He paused. It’s not something Scott often does.
“But,” he said, finally. “What impresses me is that at Highland Kitchen in Somerville you can get a properly-made Sazerac, at the Independent you can get a properly-made Sazerac—without anyone blinking an eye. It’s not just cocktail bars. And that to me is really is exciting, because it means that there’s a critical mass of customers, of the public, that know what these things are, that know when they’re good and when they’re not. It means it’s really gotten out in the culture of Boston.”
That was nice, but it didn’t get me any closer to the Periodista. I said as much.
“Well, it makes sense that Joe McGuirk would have brought it to the B-Side,” Holliday said, “and a lot of people passed through there—Dylan, Misty—but that’s not me. Joe’s worked everywhere. Basically, you open a new bar in Boston and Joe comes and works for you for a while.”
I nodded. All signs seemed to point to McGuirk, but I was intrigued by the Cannon-Gertsen connection.
“Did you ask Robby about it, at Chez Henri?”
Rob Kraemer. He’d made my drink but I hadn’t asked for his take. I’d been too focused on O’Connell.
“It seems unlikely,” said Scott, “But I’d be curious if Rob ever had a Periodista while he was in Cuba.”
So would I.
Scott Holliday’s Periodista
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin disc of lime.
Tasting Notes: Scott calls this the anti-Chez Henri Periodista. “I wanted to achieve a balance that was more on the boozy and tart end of the spectrum,” he says, “rather than the rich and sweet end. That would be the Chez Henri version.” Scott’s is a cleaner, lighter version of the drink. He loves Barbancourt, but you could substitute any white rum to cut the Gosling’s. The Orchard apricot is a little less sweet, and arguably more apricot-tasting, than Bols. On the other hand, both it and Cointreau are substantially more expensive than Bols brands. If this version is too tart for your tastes, you could always consider the split shot of Rose’s and fresh lime, à la Rob Kramer’s recipe.