Jackson Cannon's reach keeps expanding. Now the Boston bartender has opened his own space, The Hawthorne. Cannon's Eastern Standard previously has been named one of USA Today’s Top 10 Hotel Bars and Nightclub & Bar's Hotel Bar of the Year while Cannon himself was Nightclub & Bar's 2011 Bartender of the Year. So why not rest? Here's why:
Mix: Your new bar, The Hawthorne, is a different sort of venture for you in that it's a "drink first, food follows" concept. How will that affect, or inform, the cocktails?
Jackson Cannon: It doesn't inform the crafting of cocktails all that much for me, really. They still exist in the same larger cultural and gastronomic context. I'm from the school that preaches a well-made cocktail before dinner, wine and beer with food and straight spirits after. So if it's 6 p.m., and you’re having an aperitif cocktail at The Hawthorne before going on to dinner somewhere else, the same rules for how that drink should fit into your experience apply. As far as how it affects other parts of the programing: Since it's not a destination restaurant, my wine list is pretty tight (except for the baller Champagne bottle list, I know... because I can!) with three sparkling, four reds and four whites by the glass or bottle. Because I have that few I can open some pretty luxurious glass pours. I also have a carefully selected and robust set of Cognac, Scotch and agave spirits, if you’re coming in after dinner.
Mix: The "pantry" menu concept is intriguing. Can you explain it?.
Cannon: The pantry program grew out of two converging elements: 1) the residential aesthetic and how that informs decor, drink choices and possible point-of-sale items as take aways and 2) the acknowledgement that a robust "housemade" approach is no longer a necessity, in that there are amazing small producers of an array of items from around the world. While of course we squeeze fresh juice, make our own syrups, bake bread in-house, etc., we don't have to make our own bitters anymore, as there are a hundred on the market to choose from. And when we fall in love with something like Katz's Viognier Honey Vinegar from California or some small-production Sicilian rose petal jam, we can stock that and also share those things for sale through the pantry menu.
Mix: Is there a particular aspect of bar life that you'll be able to feature here that was missing or under-developed at your other places?
Cannon: We were able to install a legitimate ice program and tailor the stations and gear sets to do cocktails at the objectively highest level with no compromise. The DNA of The Hawthorne is very much the same as Eastern Standard, but with just a couple of tweaks we are able to take our practice a bit further. The exciting thing for me will be when and how these evolutions influence our other programs to keep pushing the envelope of what we can do in the restaurants. It will be like our own internal benevolent arms race.
Mix: What most excites you about opening a bar like the Hawthorne?
Cannon: I have loved bars my whole life: drank in them, played music in them, ran them. To now own a bar that combines my fealty to the new golden age of bartending with a space so remarkably designed for physical comfort and intellectual stimulation is a dream come true! The staff that I’ve been able to gather together is some of the finest people I've ever worked with; I'm humbled daily by their commitment to each other and our bar.
Mix: What do you mean, when discussing the different sort of craft cocktail bar you hope Hawthorne will be, by creating for guests an "experience of quality?"
Cannon: Why take the time to make a great drink instead of a good drink? Some of us are so hardwired to push to do that, but often can't articulate why. It's like, do you play music so you can hear it or so that people dance? My point is that once you establish that all the extra effort in crafting a great drink is for a person’s enjoyment, why would you stop at the drink as the beginning and end of their experience? How you are greeted, served water and talked through choices all require attention and devotion to be done with real intention and the guests' pleasure in mind. Likewise, the comfort of a seat, the touch of marble, choice of glassware for each beverage and all the details that flow and repeat through service are equal to good recipes, solid technique and quality ingredients.
Mix: Is this the next step for the craft cocktail movement — out of the speaks and into the living room?
Cannon: Hell, yes, it is! I had a surprising reaction by a guest to how incredibly homelike one of our backroom spaces is. We have a mobile-type bar set up in a room that feels like a man cave before the invention of the television. The bar itself is pretty cool, but it's not commercial from a technological view. It's within the grasp of a motivated young professional to build one of these for their house. This fella was like, "I have a basement, I could do this at home. You guys are basically doing these drinks in a home!" I set him up with some websites for gear and books and a couple of good local liquor stores. Anything that helps people understand that cocktails are easier than a lot of what they already do in the kitchen, the more penetration this renaissance will have.
Mix: What's your favorite drink these days?
Cannon: Back on the Vieux Carré again. There's just something about the way they are spinning at The Hawthorne that has me in love again.