When you step into cocktail bar Hecate, opening April 7, you might as well be crossing from Back Bay’s Public Alley 443 into a new realm. Fitting, considering the namesake: the Greek goddess of magic, boundaries, and necromancy — among other things — who even Zeus “honored above all,” according to Greek poet Hesiod. And per Virgil, in the Aeneid: “Hecate whose name is howled by night at the city cross-roads.” The goddess was also associated with mystery cults, where the rites were known only to initiates, which is to say, howling too loudly about the bar’s secrets is snatching much of the fun from its visitors.
What pre-opening prophecies to offer, then? “It’s a very intimate, mysterious, sexy vibe that we’re going for, more of a European cocktail bar,” says Demetri Tsolakis, who co-owns the spot and its upstairs sibling, Greek restaurant and wine bar Krasi, with Stefanos Ougrinis, Tasha Breshinsky, and Kayla Padilla.
Folks might be tempted to dismiss the psychopomp and circumstance and the “cocktails as magic potions” concept dreamed up by beverage directors Lou Charbonneau and Aliz Meszesi as gimmicky, but there’s a sincere dedication to both a unique environment and the craft of cocktail making. Plus, it’s just fun. And, in our oversharing world, maybe a little playful secrecy is right on time.
Spirit seekers will spot the inconspicuous black door in Krasi’s back alley. From there, stairs lead to what Tsolakis calls “the Threshold,” or the four-person waiting area where customers can sip from a limited menu as they wait to cross into the bar proper. “If you’re in the threshold already, the most you’ll probably wait is about thirty minutes,” he adds.
The main bar’s vibe is underworld-chic: dark and, at first, almost disorienting — by design. Panos Efstratiou of RCON composed the space, which seats two dozen. It’s cozy, but not claustrophobic, as there’s no standing allowed and parties are capped at six.
Cocktails are detailed in the Book of Hecate, which features illustrations by Wyoming-based PM Creative. “Do not walk away with the menu,” Tsolakis notes with a laugh; each takes several hours to make by hand.
In addition to original cocktails (“rites and rituals”), there are alcohol-free drinks (“dry spells”) as well as beers and wines; drink specials called “invocations” will soon roll out. The bartenders — known as “spirit guides” — can also whip up an on-the-fly “conjuration” based on your preferences.
Hecate isn’t just going Greek for the themes of the drinks. “Everything hails from some tie to the occult and/or mythology,” Charbonneau says. “That corresponds to some of the builds of the drinks, as well as their respective cultural heritage.” From Morgan le Fay to Severus Snape, from a seer to Santería — all of them make cameos in some way here — mysticism is an art of cross-pollination. “This gives us a great springboard and an infinite body of source material to draw from in the future,” he says.
And the team dives deep into the source material: Take the Feast of Gévaudan, a pun on the beast of Gévaudan, an animal that sparked a werewolf scare in 18th-century France. Served with a mini charcuterie garnish, it features Cadenhead’s Old Raj dry gin, Double Zéro eau de vie de cidre apple brandy, Brovo lucky falernum, mustard, horseradish, and honey. “The majority of the ingredients we used for this one are prominent in French cuisine, which is why we leaned in that direction,” Charbonneau says.
Drinks highlight house-made ingredients and rare spirits, from Nixta (a Mexican liqueur made from corn) to juices made daily and clarified in the kitchen’s centrifuge. “We thrive on unusual flavor combinations and combining items that you wouldn’t think of,” Meszesi says.
For further alchemical evidence, seek the Strophalos, which features Junmai Ginjo sake, Bénédictine herbal liqueur, Cassis Noir de Bourgogne, a touch of bergamot, and green apple verjus. For the latter, the team rests green apple slices in a vacuum-sealed bag with unfermented wine-making grape juice, then cuts the liquid with fresh-pressed Fuji apple. Everything goes for a spin in a Perlini cocktail shaker, which is then charged with carbon dioxide to carbonate the whole cocktail, instead of, say, adding a non-carbonated liquor to tonic water.
As for the food, it’s a collection of bar snacks meant to “complement the awesome cocktails,” says Krasi executive chef Valentine Howell. “I just really wanna have some fun with things that we do down here.” That means options like deep-fat fried shrimp toast on thick country bread with gochujang-spiked sauce, or popcorn tossed in tzatziki spices and powdered yogurt. “I think we need to start bagging and selling [the popcorn],” says Howell.
But maybe most magical of all is Hecate’s time-warping abilities. The space strips away outside distractions, and don’t be surprised if hours zip by in a flash. Don’t bother taking photos in this shadowed sanctuary (alright, snap away in the funky bathroom if you must, and be sure to inspect a small black statue there for a surprise). Here, it’s as much about in-person connection and storytelling as it is about cocktails. For that, hail Hecate.
Hecate opens at Public Alley 443, Back Bay, Boston, on April 7, 2022; it will operate from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Walk-ins only.