One of Boston’s most renowned cocktails teams has done it again. Owner Ran Duan and his band of award-winning bartenders have added another bar to their growing portfolio of cocktail showstoppers: Birds of Paradise, an ode to travel and escapism, is now open at the Charles River Speedway in Brighton.
Duan presided over the bar’s buildout, but the creative leads for the cocktails at Birds of Paradise were Will Isaza and James Sutter, who have worked at the company as bartenders since the launch of acclaimed Brookline spot Blossom Bar in 2018. Both are part of the company’s core management team now — Isaza oversees operations, while Sutter is a production specialist in charge of recipe development.
At Birds of Paradise, the cocktails unfold over two separate menus designed to look like boarding passes. On one page, there’s a “destination” collection of five cocktails that are inspired by a trip that Sutter and Duan took to Guadalajara, Mexico. The pair brought back a barrel of El Tesoro tequila that shines in Pare de Sufrir, a martini that incorporates the tequila alongside tomatillo, soursop (a slightly tart tropical fruit), and génépy (a herbal liquor). The ingredients are reflective of the trip and also nod to the group’s bar lineage; soursop has made its way onto many of the company’s menus over the years.
The cocktail is named after Pare de Sufrir, a renowned mezcal bar in Guadalajara, Mexico. “The minute me and Ran got there, we were like, ‘This is where we want to be every night,” Sutter says.
Also on this menu, the Big Apple in Lil’ Jalisco is a force-carbonated drink made with clarified green apple juice, tequila, and Calvados, a French brandy. It is inspired by another Guadalajara bar that Sutton and Duan visited where customers were served tequila and fresh green apple juice on ice. “You had three without noticing you had one,” Sutton says. The end result tastes like champagne made with tequila and green apples. (The team plans to refresh the destination menu likely once a year depending on their travels.)
On a second page, there’s another selection of five cocktails that riff on global destination pairings. Rio to Tokyo blends Japanese ingredients into a tropical flavor profile: Green shisho (a mint herb), wasabi coconut, fresh pineapple juice, and white miso paste meet Brazilian liquor cachaça in the glass. A splash of sherry ties it together “to amplify the ingredients and kind of bring them down a little bit so that you’re actually having a tasty tropical drink instead of drinking a meal,” Isaza says.
The Kingston to Milan is the team’s spin on a Kingston Negroni using Jamaican rum, passionfruit, Italian vermouth, and Castelvetrano green olives from Sicily. “We wanted to do a bit of an homage to [the Kingston Negroni], but bringing it down a little bit — not a punch-in-the-face bitter after-dinner drink or an aperitivo-style drink,” Isaza says.
The food menu at Birds of Paradise is more pared down than the company’s other bars, largely because of the kitchen restrictions in the space. The team isn’t allowed to cook with anything “that makes grease,” according to Isaza, so they turned to sushi. Chef Robbin Qi oversees a menu of temaki, or hand rolls, with fillings including salmon tossed in spicy kewpie mayonnaise, seared scallops with both yuzu dressing and shredded yuzu, and Maine uni and salmon roe.
The idea for Birds of Paradise originally started as a pandemic-era traveling bar to be used at outdoor events, according to Isaza and Sutter. That never materialized, but the Speedway spot became a grounded home for the travel-themed bar. The space is designed to mimic an airline traveling lounge, complete with suitcases placed behind the bar and QR-code menus printed on luggage tags. The bar is currently open seven days per week until 1 a.m.
Isaza and Sutter view the bar — from the cocktail development to the daily, late-night hours — as their effort to help rebuild Boston’s cocktail scene, which enjoyed plenty of industry recognition a decade ago but was decimated during the pandemic. “I don’t think I ever thought [pre-pandemic] that we were going to be in a position of bringing a resurgence back into the city,” Isaza says.
Now, they say that they are responsible for training new bartenders and joining fellow cocktail newcomers like the Wig Shop and Offsuit in sparking a revitalization of high-end cocktail culture in Boston. “If you’re in it now, and you’re doing something like this, you’ve got to do it right,” Sutter says. “You owe it to everybody — to the public and to your peers.”
Birds of Paradise is open seven days a week, from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. Reservations are available here.