When sipping a cocktail, flavor is the focus — unless you're drinking out of a decapitated bluejay, huge horse head, or delicate vintage glassware from a flea market. “It makes the experience a little more personal,” explains Will Isaza, "spirit whisperer" at Fairsted Kitchen — proving that the cup is an important cocktail component.We visited 10 Boston-area bars with unique glassware and discovered where they find it, who gets to use it, and how Austrian monks factor in to your drinking.
"Everyone on the bar staff contributes in one way or another," says Mike Wyatt, general manager at Ward 8. "A lot of people keep their eye out for this stuff when they’re out, and we reimburse anyone who brings in a cool glass."
"Generally you find them anywhere there’s glassware," he continues. "We’ll go out and look at Salvation Army or Goodwill stores, or on Etsy — there’s some cool stuff on there." Ward 8's Park Slope cocktail is pictured above (Rittenhouse Rye, Punt e Mes, Apry).
"It’s a nice part of the experience and a good talking point," says Wyatt. "It gets people interested, and everyone has something to say about it."
"This glassware is all handblown Austrian crystal, and the company that produces it is Zalto," says Menton general manager Michelle Pane. "It’s actually handblown by monks. It sounds like a lie, I know, but it’s 100 percent factual."
Pane names the glasses, from left to right: "Champagne, white wine (at Menton we call this glass "citrus" as it correlates with the "citrus" section of our wine list, lighter white wines), universal (at Menton we call this glass "structure" as it is intended for more full bodied white wines), Burgundy, Bordeaux, dessert, digestif, beer."
"That’s the digestif glass [pictured above], and we use it to feature our chartreuse milk punch, which originated at Drink, our sister cocktail bar downstairs," says Pane. "The chartreuse milk punch is super balanced and serene and perfect in the glass; behind the scenes it’s a labor of love, for sure."
Wink & Nod
"We get our glasses from a couple of different companies," says Mike Sheridan, Wink & Nod's former general manager (he departed the restaurant and bar in the time between when this story was reported and published.) "The company that we get most of them from is called Tiki Farm, and they’re actually based out of Hawaii. They’re changing their selection constantly and always coming up with new stuff."
"I just came back from a trip to Mexico and picked these up at a market in Puebla called Mercado Depido," says La Brasa chef/co-owner Daniel Bojorquez. "There is some really great stuff there, but it's kind of a shady place; like, you had better be Mexican, or you might want a body guard with you."
"They're hand-blown and not really everyday glassware, but we don't hesitate to pull them out for people wanting to try some of our top-notch tequilas and mezcals," says Bojorquez.
"All of our fun, interesting glassware comes from thrift shops," says Backbar co-owner/beverage director Sam Treadway. "I recognize that glassware is going to break, so I try not to spend too too much on it. Every one of my pieces is less than two dollars."
Pictured above, bar manager Melinda Maddox and Treadway drink a ginger whiskey sour from Bambi glassware. "If you want a Manhattan poured into a tiki mug, I’ll do it for you, I don’t care," says Treadway. "But there is a little bit of history behind tiki culture. Is there history behind drinking out of a Bambi sculpture? No. But drinking’s supposed to be fun. It’s alcohol. It’s silly."
"My friend was moving and emptying his house of all sorts of knickknacks and things, so I took this," says Treadway, referring to the bluejay above. "It adds a sense of surprise, first of all, because it looks like it’s a sculpture or something, and then take off the head and throw a straw in there with a cocktail — it’s a lot of fun. Any time someone orders this classic tiki drink called a Jungle Bird, oh man do I have fun. I shake that up, nice and frothy pineapple juice in there, and then garnish it elaborately with all these pineapple fronds and mint leaves coming out of the neck of a bird."
State Street Provisions
"We’re slated for an early November to mid-November opening," says Kyle Powell, bar manager and head bartender for the upcoming State Street Provisions. "It’s a 22-seat bar, and as a guest at my bar, you know, glassware’s always really fun; it works in a lot of different ways. Aromas for certain cocktails, as well as the overall feel. Sometimes it’s nice just to have a fun, elegant piece of glass in your hand. The larger pitcher [pictured above, in the background], I got that in Virginia at this antique place. And a couple of these pieces are from Maine, where I’m from. My mom is really good about going to flea markets and picking stuff up for me. I’m a bit of a nerd that way."
Brick & Mortar
"A lot of people give these to us," says Brick & Mortar bar manager Paul Yem. "A lot of us, too, when we're out in shops and see cool barware, we bring it in. It adds to the personality of the bar." Pictured above is The Temporary Fix — gin, cassis, lemon, and some sugar.
"This is for friends, VIPs, I guess," says Yem. "People who want have fun. The horse head’s great because it’s unique. I’ve never seen this anywhere else. So when people come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s my birthday and we want this kind of drink,’ and we drop this on them, they’re always super psyched about it — which is great."
According to legend, the horse head mug — called Ponies in the Surf — is stolen by different bars and always returned to Brick & Mortar. It passes around the city in no particular order and with no particular destination. "I have had people ask for it," says Yem. "They’ve seen it. They’re like, 'How do I get the horse head?' Well, if you’re cool, you get it." (Pictured above, from the left, are Babisa Adumbire, Jessica Reynolds, and Paul Yem, drinking from the horse head.)
"The general philosophy that we like to maintain is that nobody gets the same glass, even if it’s the same drink or the same style of drink," says Fairsted Kitchen spirit whisperer Will Isaza. "We want people to have a personalized experience, so they all have different glassware, whether it be a cocktail glass, highball, lowball — as long as we have something that’s different than the person right next to you." Pictured above, The Hayward Highball — Privateer Silver Rum, kiwi, thyme, lime, black sesame tincture, and ginger beer, garnished with a lime wheel with charred za'atar.
"Most of it came from Brimfield’s," says Isaza. "Both of our owners went out and went on essentially a buying tirade and just bought as many things as possible. And then once we were open we actually had a lot of people who came in kind of contribute and say, ‘Hey, I have this cool glassware that I never use; you guys should use it.’"
"I went on a trip to Chicago, and there’s a really cool tiki bar out there, Three Dots and a Dash," says Isaza. "I sat at the bar and and had a conversation with the bartender — he kind of figured out that I was a bartender. He asked me where I worked, where I was from; he had a lot of friends here, and this is actually the mug that I was drinking out of while I was there. He just said, 'You know what, take that with you.'"
"I don’t think I’ve had anything stolen, to be honest," says Isaza. "We’ve given away a couple. We’ve had people come in saying, 'You know, my grandmother had this entire set of glassware,' and they’ll take one just as memorabilia."
"These sorts of things are highly desirable collectors' items by bar-goers, so it doesn’t really see a whole lot of use," says The Hawthorne bar manager Jared Sadoian. "It’s mostly for folks that we know that have been coming in for a while and love tiki cocktails. It’s also a really big glass, so only a particular type of drink will fit well in that. But it’s fun; it always draws laughs, and you get to drink out of his head, which is kind of odd."
"We have a great friend of this bar and Eastern Standard and Island Creek, and he was coming to one of our tiki nights and he is — from what I understand — a very big Star Trek fan," says Sadoian. "So [we] set out to make sure that every drink he had would go in a Star-Wars-themed vessel. I think he got a pretty big kick out of that, and so did we."
"Those two little vintage glasses, Jackson [Cannon] found those," says Sadoian. "Sometimes if we are sending something nice out to some friends of ours, it might be a little half-sized cocktail that fits pretty neatly in these glasses. They’re fragile and not dishwasher safe, so we don’t use them too often, but it makes for a pretty special moment when we do get to put them into play."
"We like to split cocktails in a lot of specialty glassware," says Hugh Fiore, former senior member of the Eastern Standard bar staff (he departed in the time between when this story was reported and published.) "We certainly like to give people a taste of something maybe that they were curious about in just a small, non-threatening style."
"My mom has a small business in Central Wisconsin where she rents out sort of found furniture for weddings and events, and she also has a glassware obsession," says Eastern Standard wine director Colleen Hein. "There’s a lot of treasures to be found in that part of the world. When I told her that we love to use small specialty glassware that adds a little bit of an additional flair to the program, she got really excited. So I no longer ask; we’ll just receive packages at Eastern Standard from my mom."
"When we see something that we like, we’ll shoot a quick picture to someone and say, ‘Hey, I found these; I’m on a trip, and I’m gonna have a couple shipped back. What do you guys think?’" says Fiore. Pictured, a punch mug in "Glass Heaven," a backroom at Eastern Standard where glassware is stored.