In one of the more iconic scenes in “Mad Men” (2007–2015), Don Draper encounters Conrad Hilton (yes, from the hotels) behind an unstaffed bar, searching in vain for a drink. Don vaults over the bar in dramatic-yet-awkward fashion and begins deftly crafting an Old Fashioned as a clearly impressed Hilton looks on. Don wields a muddler and a bar spoon as he assembles the drinks in a pint glass filled with large ice cubes. The scene is designed to introduce Conrad Hilton, a character whose eccentricities define much of the show’s third season, but it also demonstrates the romance of the crafted drink that suffuses the show.
That same romantic spirit is behind The Boston Shaker, a small shop on Holland Street filled with books, cocktail supplies and bar tools (but no alcohol). All soft lighting and glittering glass and metal, The Boston Shaker’s mission is simply to “Make cocktails. Better.” The store carries a curated selection of merchandise in a space that exudes craftsmanship, with carefully arranged shelves of glassware, cocktail books and bar tools lining the walls. On one wall, above a charming wooden bar bedecked with all manners of syrups and bitters, hangs a copy of John Coakley Lettsom’s 1797 “Moral and physical thermometer,” a poster extolling the virtues of temperance.
The Boston Shaker began a decade ago, and the store grew out of founder Adam Lantheaume’s affection for the B-Side Lounge, a now defunct cocktail bar in Cambridge.
“Adam was a real cocktail savant. [He] was basically going to the B-Side Lounge … [He] loved Eastern Standard, Hawthorne, Number 9 Park, our first real cocktail bars … and he started wanting to recreate the cocktails he was getting,” Store Manager Lonnie Newburn said. His first Boston shaker came over the bar … and he started looking into how to find tools and the specific ingredients — mostly bitters — to make the drinks. At the time, you couldn’t get orange bitters, so he would reach out directly to either the manufacturer or a distributor, and he’d order these bitters, and bartenders would be like, ‘Hey can you order us a case?’ and he was like, ‘How am I supplying you guys? You’re the ones who taught me this.’ So he realized that maybe there’s something here.”
Lantheaume’s cocktail supply hobby eventually grew into a Union Square pop-up shop in 2008, which grew into the present, permanent Davis Square location of The Boston Shaker in 2010. The shop also has an online store that serves both individuals and businesses across the country. The Boston Shaker does a brisk online trade in glassware.
Beyond simply stocking sometimes hard-to-find books, bitters and bar tools under one roof, the store aims to carry a curated collection of high quality items to serve its customers, whom Newburn calls “savvy sippers.” The Boston Shaker’s staff is also knowledgeable and thus able to help customers navigate the sometimes-intimidating world of craft cocktails. It’s this dedication to quality items and service that Newburn believes keeps The Boston Shaker competitive with larger online stores.
“For the people coming in, what we offer — beyond just the retail and the products — is the service or the education,” Newburn said. “The bonus of coming in here is not only are you going to get what you need, but you’re going to have a really good staff, a friendly, hospitable staff that is going to be able to walk you through the process and leave you with the techniques and education on how to make that drink.”
But despite the edge The Boston Shaker’s human touch and careful curation gives it over its larger competitors, Newburn does worry that Amazon and other large online retailers may more aggressively pursue the cocktail supply market and thereby threaten both The Boston Shaker’s online and brick-and-mortar operations. If such a thing were to happen, Newburn again plans to rely on The Boston Shaker’s human touch.
“In that world, I would start reaching out to bars and restaurants to get a better connection with [the] industry. We’re trying to keep our clients happy, and obviously we want to keep consistent orders,” Newburn said. “We would [also] offer as many classes as we can … [and] keep a core, constant mix of products and then keep our website finely tuned, so that people looking for specific ingredients, or unique ingredients, find them here.”
Cocktail education is an essential part of The Boston Shaker’s human touch, and for those looking for more instruction than an informal chat with a staff member, the store offers bimonthly “cocktail techniques classes” that teach small groups of attendees the rudiments of mixology.
“[The class] is basically getting the tools in your hands, and we go over how to measure, how to pour, but we [also] go over how to shake, how to stir and the difference between the two,” Newburn said. “There’s an opening drink and then [the attendees] make two of their own … We sample all of the spirits individually, including the vermouth, and then everybody gets a discount at the shop. It’s like teaching them how to fish: Take this technique and this recipe that we broke down for you, and these can be applied to all these shaken and all these stirred drinks.”
For those looking to begin making their own cocktails immediately, without taking a class, Newburn recommends purchasing the store’s namesake: a Boston Shaker.
“If you’re just getting a general setup, we would do the Boston Shaker, and we would include a Hawthorne Strainer with that and that would be just under 20 bucks,” Newburn said. “Twenty dollars gets you all the core tools you need to make any cocktail, shaken or stirred.”
Newburn doesn’t see any new locations in The Boston Shaker’s future. He is focused on improving the store’s education offerings — including a potential permanent class at a local distillery — and maintaining a high-quality web store.
Newburn and the staff at The Boston Shaker were kind enough to design a seasonal cocktail for Daily readers. It’s a twist on an Old Fashioned, which we’re calling “The Weekender,” and the recipe is as follows:
- Fill a mixing glass with ice.
- Add 2 oz of rye, bourbon or dark rum.
- Add 1/2 oz of maple syrup, such as Boston’s Cask Force.
- Add 2–4 dashes of black walnut bitters, such as Fee Brothers.
- Stir for 20 seconds.
- Strain and pour into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.
- Garnish with an orange twist and serve.
Interested readers can find The Boston Shaker at 69 Holland Street in Davis Square. Store hours are between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.