If you think of Allston’s Deep Ellum as simply a great beer bar, you’re missing half the picture. It’s true: they have an incredible selection of craft beers, but one look at the impressive array of spirits behind the bar, including six housemade bitters, and you know they’re just as committed to their cocktails. Their drink list contains an impressive collection of classics–they have no less than ten different Manhattans–but all with their own unique interpretation. This is serious stuff.
Bartender and co-owner, Max Toste, is one of the driving forces behind Deep Ellum’s unique mix of hophead haven and cocktail lounge. He’s the type of bartender that, with a minimum of pretension, can not only help you navigate the beer menu, but also find and mix just the right drink to suit your individual taste.
Though he’d worked in restaurants from steak houses to high-end French places for a long time, Max started tending bar only seven years ago. He manned the bar at Bukowski’s in Cambridge. And while the bar had a solid beer selection, when he and partner Aaron Sanders decided to start their own bar, they wanted to up the ante, to create what he describes as “an artisanal bar.”
“The idea behind Deep Ellum was simple,” he says. “We wanted an awesome bar. At the time, I was tinkering around with bitters, making my own grenadine, so I wanted to make everything from scratch. I wanted to have the best beer I could get and the best cocktails with the best ingredients I could find or make.”
Now, with the cocktail revival in Boston in full swing, such an approach is not all that unusual, at least not for any bar worth its salt. But at the time–this was 2007–the cocktail scene was in its infancy. Eastern Standard had just opened. Drink didn’t yet exist. So Deep Ellum was out in front of the pack. Max sees that as one of the reasons that they were able to establish themselves and do so well.
But there’s more to Deep Ellum than simply great ingredients, mixed well, in classic formulations. The drinks may be inspired by classics, but Max is no purist. “I wanted to have a signature house character to our drinks. All of our drinks are reworked. Just because there’s a classic cocktail recipe doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just an idea for me for a flavor profile. People will argue with me, but I don’t like to make drinks the way they’re supposed to made. I like to make them the way they taste best. So we always take things apart and put them back together again.”
One of Max’s current favorite drinks, a subtly powerful margarita, is a case in point. Here’s what he says about the drink:
“I’ve been on a margarita kick, but I think the way I make my margarita is different. I use a little bit of mezcal, it’s sweetened with agave, and there’s no orange in it. It’s as close as you can get to a straight spirit margarita, but with lime juice.”
1 1/2 oz Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz Mezcal
1/2 oz Agave Syrup
3/4 oz Fresh lime juice
Shake and serve in a chilled, double old fashioned glass. No ice. No salt.