I love tv.
Seriously. I watch it more than I know is healthy. And do unhealthy things while watching it, like drink beer and eat fatty food. But it’s comforting. When I went through a period of underemployment, my tv helped me through it, and despite the personal finance crunch, the cable stayed on. Who needs health insurance? I’m not going to break my leg if I don’t leave the couch.
But I also love to drink. And I love to go places to drink. Most of the time, that’s a bar. And when I’m at a bar, I’m trying to observe and pass judgment on those around me. That woman wears too much lipstick and eyeshadow so clearly she has low self-esteem and is probably a giant whore. Those college kids are all drinking Bud Light despite the fact that they’re in a craft beer bar with over 100 offerings. The guy at the end is trying too hard to look wealthy, and is wearing white socks which effectively ruins his carefully crafted ensemble of “casual opulence.” Even the overly made-up strumpet isn’t buying it.
There’s plenty of judgy entertainment. No need for a tv.
Yet, most bars seem to disagree. Why do bars feel they HAVE to have a tv? I understand it in a sports bar, or even a dive bar, but a place trying to sell itself as a more upscale cocktail-oriented place shouldn’t stoop to that level. I go to a bar to AVOID the tv and get some human interaction… if I wanted tv with my booze I’d drink at home. I can’t not watch it; if a tv is on – and it doesn’t matter what horrible reality program or jocktarded sporting event is shown – my eyes flick over to it like ocular moths to a beckoning flame. They’re even worse now that we’re solidly in the era of flat panels and HD.
Stoddard’s has a tv.
I’m referring to Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale, a restaurant/bar that decided on an early 20th-century decorating theme, located on Temple Place, in Downtown Crossing. They’ve only been open a couple years, and I finally made it into town to check it out. I had a Friday off, and went for lunch with my friend, Leelz, a former coworker. She’s an artsy type (RISD grad artsy) and is much more fun outside of the office. We share the common interests of Photoshop geekery and photography, often launching into nonsense tech talk that few others outside of the photo world can understand. “You might have a CMOS sensor, but my electronic curtain will sync to 1/500, AND I can hack the speedlight control sensors for an FP sync, though that drastically reduces strobe duration, and thus, power output.” Get a few drinks into her and she becomes a chatty, excitable little Tasmanian Devil.
What was I talking about? I’ve got TV ADD.
For a place that styles themselves as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, the monstrous flat panel lurks high above, but thankfully perpendicular, to the bar itself. Their decor of dim lighting, dark solid bar, gleaming chrome taps and ornate bar back is ruined in an instant when a power button is pressed and a Toyota commercial flares to life, searing the dark ambiance with a pixellated harshness. Again, I expect it in lower-end places, but I feel that Stoddard’s is trying to give themselves a little street cred among cocktail and craft beer enthusiasts with their retro styling, which is dashed to pieces when you turn on that tv. On the other hand, it helped me get some low-light shots, no easy feat since the place is mostly dark wood. Just have to wait for that Camry spot to play again and snap like crazy.
So, Leelz and I met for lunch and drinks. The cocktail list at Stoddard’s is full of classics, and very impressive. They do things the old-school way here, with quality ingredients, and have a number of originals as well. I opened with their Temple Smash, a conglomerate of bourbon, lemon juice, ginger beer and a king’s ransom in mint. It came very highly recommended by a coworker, whose brother works as a bar back at Stoddard’s. I found it well balanced: there’s a nice bourbon flavor, though the ginger beer spice is quite mellow, and lemon citrus lurks happily in the background. Everything is intensified by the minty forest poking out of the mason jar giving your nostrils a menthol blast with each sip. Leelz started with a Planters Punch, and seemed to enjoy it. While sipping, I watched the bartender work over a Lewis Bag with a wooden mallet to make some fresh crushed ice, and was pleased at the extra effort. (Note: a Lewis Bag is a small sack made of canvas. You put ice into it, and smash it with a hammer or mallet to make crushed ice. The trick is that the canvas absorbs the water created from the friction, and gives you a very nice, dry, ice. Not dry ice.) Moving on, it was a Jack Rose for me, which was a much deeper shade of red than my homemade versions have ever been. It didn’t taste too heavy on the grenadine, however, as the apple flavor of the spirit still shone through nicely. [UPDATE: They make their own grenadine, as do I.] Leelz, after much deliberation, went with a Bronx with Bitters, and reluctantly followed my insistence that she order it just that way. The bartender came back a moment later after taking the order to confirm that she wanted an “Income Tax,” which is indeed the name for a Bronx cocktail with a few dashes of bitters added. Bonus points, and bully for you, sir!
It was about here that some food arrived, though I don’t remember much about it other than it was excellent. I munched on some tastily battered fish n’ chips (though the chips were tater tots) and the cocktails started hitting Leelz, who got very chatty after seeing a commercial for A Christmas Story (told you that TV was distracting). Apparently her feelings on that particular film are quite intense, as she chittered:
You either love it or hate it.
My best friend and Tom [her boyfriend] hate it
and I said ‘Join the tradition or DIE!!’ “
Luckily, Stoddard’s has a craft beer list equal to their impressive cocktail menu, and the chromed taps run the entire length of the bar. There are also a large number of bottles available, so making another decision took some time. In the end, it was a lovely Left Hand Milk Stout for me, and a Coney Island Lager for she, though her lager tasted much hoppier than expected. She calmed considerably, and swayed slightly on her bar stool, sipping quietly at the brew while I shot a few pics of the gloriously-styled bar. I came back to collect Leelz, and we eased into the street, where the sunlight caused her much distress. She’s not used to daytime boozing and reacted as if she was Dracula’s niece, hissing and cursing at the sky, scalded by the bright yellow orb. The Lady Friend came to collect me, and Leelz went on her way through Downtown Crossing searching for a last-minute holiday gift, with a slightly tilted gait.
[UPDATE: After writing this, I have been informed that the tv at Stoddard’s does indeed get turned off “after the local sports team is on.” Good to hear!]