Getting the tone of a cocktail bar just right
As the recent Ken Burns documentary Prohibition revealed, the woman-led movement to eliminate alcoholic drinks was fueled by a desire to eliminate a certain kind of masculine behavior — loud, abusive, irresponsible loutishness. The long-term failure of this effort is on display every weekend in the Old Port, as is Prohibition's legacy of allowing young women to indulge in some loutishness of their own. Gingko Blue, a jazz and cocktail club just adjacent to the Old Port's bar crawl strip but run by the owners of neighboring Walter's, seems intent on minimizing loutishness themselves. They have found an effective strategy: charge $12 or so for cocktails.
Those cocktails are so handsome they nearly seem worth it. The thick-stemmed martini glasses seem almost sculptural, and they arrived brimming with gorgeous varieties of liquids — some spookily luminescent, others intriguingly cloudy and dark. The whole space is great-looking, starting with a blue glass rendering of a gingko tree in the front window. A curving bar dominates the front half of the space. Plush blue chairs face the stage in the back, where bands play every night but Wednesday. The high backs of the chairs make it pretty hard to see and hear the music from the bar side of the room — something that seems to have been done by design. In the back folks attend to the band; in the front they drink and talk.
Patrons don't seem to do too much eating in either back or front. But Gingko Blue does offer a menu of small plates and slightly larger ones, and they are mostly more reasonably priced than the drinks. In the Jazz Age bars kept a jar of hard-boiled eggs on hand for hungry patrons, and our favorite snack at Gingko was an upscale version: a trio of deviled eggs — one with a vinegary tuna, another with a sharp creamy curry mustard, and a sweet/hot sesame sriracha. The cheese plate, with variety-box crackers, was pretty pedestrian. Truffled popcorn comes at movie-theater prices. Its salty-musky flavor called to mind an upscale version of those strange flavored powders they have at the Nickelodeon Cinema up the block (which are apparently addictive — I saw a woman huffing the cheese flavor from a paper cup after a showing of Tree of Life).
It would be easy to get addicted to the well-rendered cocktails at Gingko. A drink called the "noble experiment" combined whiskey and limoncello to create something like a sublime whiskey sour. Honey dripped down the rim at a calming glacial pace. A French 75 — gin, lemon, and champagne, was light and refreshing. The wine list has some nice glasses to go with food, like a dry, peaty zinfandel by Project Paso. We enjoyed it with a panini that was a bit too dry. It was filled with a nice fatty bratwurst and a kraut that could use more zing. There was plenty of kick to the étouffée. It was the culinary equivalent of the fire scene in The Little Mermaid: a few sweet white shrimp in front of a wall of red fire.
: Restaurant Reviews
, Ken Burns, drinking, Prohibition, More