The South End has long been home to some of the city’s best restaurants, and for neighborhood residents (must be nice), there’s no shortage of options for bars in walkable distance. However, one thing the South End hasn’t been known for is cocktailing. While The Franklin has been a stalwart, Toroupped the game for the competition, and Wink and Nod has led the charge in the last year, by and large, craft cocktails worth traveling for have been in short supply. The recently opened SRV from Coda Restaurant Group, the folks behind Salty Pig, among others, has the potential to change that.
While the Venetian-inspired cuisine here (SRV stands for "Serene Republic of Venice," which is probably a disappointment to anyone hoping for a blues-theme) from chefs Michael Lombardi and Kevin O’Donnell is clearly the focus, there’s a lively, stylish bar program at play as well. It’s not only a breath of fresh air for the block, but also for the style of cuisine; Italian restaurants aren’t exactly known for their cocktails, despite the culture having such a wide variety of amaro and vermouths to work with.
The bar program, headed up by General Manager Ted Hawkins and bartenders John Benevides and David Spielburg, aims to defy that expectation, while also highlighting the things that Italian restaurants are known for — wine, of course, being a natural point of emphasis. But lesser known spirits are the truly interesting draw here.
“One thing that David and myself wanted to focus on was the traditional Italian beverages, vermouths and amaros,” Benevides says. “If a cocktail is delicious, why not embrace more refined, hand-crafted ingredients?”
One example comes in the form of their house Negroni, made with Death’s Door gin, Alessio Chinato vermouth, and Campari. Using higher quality spirits “can elevate a cocktail a little bit more from a beverage that people are very familiar with,” like a Negroni, he says.
The Alessio Chinato, from Tempus Fugit Spirits, is a bolder, more herbaceous vermouth that takes its more bitter character from Cinchona bark. The result is a wintry-season Negroni with a darker, richer color than the light and crisp style you might associate with warm days on the veranda, or wherever it is people drink Negronis in handsome advertisements.
That’s just one of the options that you might find on their rotating list of vermouths of the day, an offering the group is particularly proud of. At the moment, they carry about a dozen. Hawkins favors the Sutton Cellars Brown Label Sonoma County Vermouth of late. “It’s a nice, lighter, slightly sweeter vermouth,” he says. “We did it on the rocks with a grapefruit twist, and although it’s colder out, it’s a great, light refreshing way to get things started. Another big one is the Cocchi di Torino, more winter driven, a darker vermouth, with heartier notes.”
“It’s been really fun seeing Martini and Manhattan drinkers who know vermouth is in there, but have no idea what it tastes like on its own… to open people’s palates and eyes to showcasing how complex a beautiful vermouth can be,” Hawkins says.
Elsewhere on the menu, Kina L'aéro d’Or, a quinquina apertif flavored with orange peel, wordwood, and cinchona, with a golden hue and bittersweet complexity, shows up in the "innocents abroad," mixed with Fighting Cock bourbon, Nonino amaro — a grape-based digestif that tastes of rich, dark fruits and spices, and Gran Classico.
“Dave wanted to do a take on a paper plane, but much more spirit-forward,” Hawkins explains of this recipe. “It’s got a little richer body, and has been going over really well. We’re going back to the basic, beautiful classics that people know and love, and adding a twist.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, "Nonno’s sigaro" shies away from the bitterness, taking Privateer silver rum, Old Monk, pear, caramel, lime, and mint.
“When we started doing pop ups for SRV, that was one of the first we came up with,” Benevides says. “One thing we wanted was a cocktail with a great flavor to it, but not overwhelmingly sweet. The privateer with Old Monk has dueling characteristics: something brighter and tropical, but then Old Monk gives it a bolder texture.” To that they add some fresh mint to emphasize the brightness, and roasted pears blended with house made caramel and sugar to add sweetness.
“I think we’re making a lot more headway with people becoming more interested in learning about those things,” Benevides says of their emphasis on Italian ingredients. “It’s gives us a little leeway to use Italian influences and incorporate them into classic cocktails.”
SRV - 569 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA 02118, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com