When a film is in preproduction and initial feedback is poor, studios will typically bring in script doctors to revise the direction of the story. The same is sometimes true of bars and restaurants. After opening with high hopes, The First Printer, the vaguely Southern Harvard Square spot that opened in the old Herrell’s space earlier this year, found itself in need of an overhaul in both the kitchen and the bar. For the latter it’s enlisted the deft editing pen of Brother Cleve, the Aaron Sorkin of Boston bar menus.
Although it opened with a fine beer list and a decent enough menu, the vision wasn’t being acted out believably here. Along with a new menu, Cleve says he’s been giving direction on the basics of building a quality cocktail.
“That’s the problem with a lot of places that try to implement a cocktail system,” he says. “They just do it the same way with people throwing stuff into cocktail glasses, shaking martinis, not using top quality spirits. We’re slowly but surely trying to change things around.”
To that end his new list features a blend of thematically appropriate classics, and Cleve’s trademark crate-digger spirit curation. The former group plays off the bar’s name and décor theme (this was supposedly the spot of the first printing press in America) with recipes like the Journalist and The Correspondent, including their first known mentions in print.
“I’ve got something like 300 cocktail books at home, I figured I might as well exploit them somehow,” he says.
The latter is a bar historian’s dream, pulled from the 1891 book The Floating Bowl, and made with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Green Chartreuse, and the newly available Liqueur de Rose. The Boulevardier (Barflies and Cocktails, 1927), is a golden, lightly bitter bourbon Negroni.
For more seasonal sipping, try an original like the Rock Steady, made with Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, Allspice Pimento Dram, Orange Curacao and aromatic and Angostura bitters. It’s a more complex, vanilla-forward option for drinkers who’ve overdosed on Dark and Stormys. Also consider the Tomata du Plenty, made with Crop tomato vodka, basil-infused French vermouth and smoke and celery bitters, which is a clear, smooth and smoky Bloody Mary minus the juice.