With a twist of kitsch
Treading the line between funky vintage furniture store and rockabilly diner, The Friendly Toast fills every square inch of space with kitsch. From lusty pulp novel covers papering the walls and mannequin heads presiding over the bar, to the hundreds of product labels inlaid under the glass of the bar, it’s a retro sensory onslaught.
“The look is a little overwhelming, yes,’’ says owner Melissa Jasper. “That is simply because I always have too many things to buy, then to hang.’’ When she opened the original Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, N.H., fifteen years ago, she decorated it the only way she knew how: “With the goofy stuff from the ’40s and ’50s I’d been buying since I was 15 and discovered the Salvation Army.’’
That sense of playful discovery (and randomness, quite frankly) carries over onto the drink list as well. You won’t find many bars with a carafe of maple syrup resting next to a well-made gin cocktail, but that’s part of the “whatever aesthetic’’ here. Spellbound (Bombay, Triple Sec, lime juice, pear puree, $10) is a light floral mix garnished with a beautiful purple orchid. It may well be the first instance we’ve seen of a bar coordinating its garnishes with the tattoos you would expect to find on its servers and clientele.
Like all the drinks on the list, Spellbound takes its name from a Hitchcock film. The concept began with the recipe for Frenzy (Absolut Citron, Chambord, Sprite, blackberry puree, Pop Rocks, $10). We’re used to using our senses of taste, smell, touch, and sight to evaluate cocktails. Here, the crackle of the Pop Rocks candy on the rim brings sound into the mix. It’s a fun idea and gets points for originality.
“I was looking for a word that would convey the chaotic twitching of the Pop Rocks, and when ‘frenzy’ came to mind, I thought of the film,’’ says Jasper. “After that, I recruited several employees to help me think of the ingredients that embodied the particular Hitchcock titles I was fond of.’’ Many of them, like Blackmail (Jägermeister, coffee ice cream, Coke, peppermint schnapps, $10) use blended ice cream to draw on the old-timey soda shop vibe at play here.
Strangers on a Train (below, Jack Daniels, Kahlua, Red Bull, $10) is aptly named, but surprisingly the sugary metallic flavor of Red Bull, cut with the hangover taste of Jack and a dollop of coffee sweetness, is just out there enough to make sense. Suspicion (Jägermeister, Coke, cherry puree, $10) is an odd, playful mix as well. “Suspicion was just called that because no one thought it would taste good,’’ says Jasper. It’s like the type of stuff you’d mix at random from your parents’ liquor cabinet when you were young. It doesn’t sound like it should work at all, but drinking it - and drinking here - sure is a lot of fun.
The Friendly Toast, 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge. 617-621-1200. www.thefriendlytoast.net
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