Just beyond the hustle and bustle of Boston’s Downtown Crossing and Financial District, you’ll find something rare in the city: open space, greenery, and glistening water. You’ve arrived in Boston’s Seaport District, a booming gem in recent years. This is the area that we at BevSpot are proud to call home, and it’s also home to many of Boston’s newest and trendiest restaurants.
Among these vibrant restaurants, just across from the Greenway on Atlantic Avenue, you’ll find Trade—the large corner restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows, yellow embellishments, and a patio that can’t be overlooked on a sunny day. Even inside, the light streams through the windows, bringing a bit of the city right up to the bar. It was an absolutely perfect day when I popped in last week to chat with Bar Director Tenzin Samdo, better known to most as @BostonMixDrink.
Being that we’re both heading to Chicago this weekend for the BAR at NRA Show, we had a lot to discuss. We got right down to talking shop:
Favorite cocktail to make?
“It depends on the season, but I always enjoy making tiki drinks because it puts on a good show, and they’re delicious; they really allow bartenders to showcase their character through a fun drink with elaborate garnishes.”
Favorite cocktail to drink?
While Tenzin can’t resist a quality-made Negroni or Sazerac, his go-to is usually a beer.
“Notch Brewing’s Session is my favorite right now…there are certain bars that I go to frequently, and before I even sit down, there will be one in front of me.”
Must-have bar tool?
For someone who uses incredibly elaborate and creative garnishes, a high quality garnish knife is a necessity for Tenzin, but this question hits home as he grabs his personal favorite bar tool—his own personalized, hand-blown mixing glass, “I always scare my team because things break a lot around here, and I always say ‘you guys can break anything, but not this one. This is one of my most prized possessions.’” As he shows me the letters ‘BMD’ etched onto the glass, I know there’s a story here…
“Stirred cocktails will always be around, so it’s nice to have your own personalized mixing glass. Mine says BMD for Boston Mix Drink. I got this through a Highland Park sponsored project when they picked 12 bartenders in the city for a glass blowing seminar. We were all educated on single malt scotch and then initiated into a scotch society. All of us have rings to show we’re part of it!”
Favorite behind-the-bar story?
As they say, your bartender can often times tell more about your relationship than you can, and Tenzin himself has been responsible for quite a few “hook-ups” amongst his guests. His favorite story is of a female regular who used to come into Trade about twice a week, “we would always chat and she was just really great, so one day I introduced her to another one of my regulars and they started talking quite a bit. A few months later, they came back in…and she had a ring on!”
Tenzin takes pride in really getting to know his regulars, and it’s a mutual connection: “when you open up about yourself, your guests do, too, and you create this bond.”
All-time favorite food/drink pairing?
“A really, really good Rye Sazerac with a heavy, fatty rigatoni—lots of carbs, skip the apps and dessert.”
Tell me about your personal journey. What led you to bartending?
Being behind the bar for at least 16 years at various establishments around Boston, for Tenzin, it was always about getting things done. Originally just a way of making money, it has grown into so much more.
“At this point, this is my passion. No matter where my future takes me, you will always see me behind the bar in some way.”
A big turning point came about 4 years ago when Tenzin began focusing on the real craft of making drinks, using the freshest ingredients, not just opening something from a package, and focusing on really creating things: “I kept going back to a classic again and recreating a spin on it…. people really started to appreciate it much more.”
How do you keep a fresh spin on what you offer?
As the smell of fresh basil fills the air in the restaurant, Tenzin tells me that Trade’s entire menu is inspired by local vendors. Even every garnish is local, “as a bar program, we go along with that,” says Tenzin, who creates every cocktail ingredient from scratch.
One example? Right around the fall season last year, Trade debuted a salmon dish with a local cranberry chutney. Tenzin took the compote from that chutney, made a syrup, and created a drink inspired by that very dish.
But Tenzin’s inspiration stems far beyond the food offerings at Trade, “I take inspiration from everything I see,” he explains, saying that sometimes he even wakes up in the middle of the night to jot down a recipe that came to him in a dream.
“Fantasizing is the greatest thing. You can think about a vodka soda, but you fantasize about something much crazier.”
What is your biggest piece of advice for aspiring bar directors?
“It’s ok to play dumb. Listen and learn and say, ‘I don’t know.’”
For Tenzin, staying humble is incredibly important. As @BostonMixDrink on Instagram, he has over 12,000 followers, all admiring his beautifully creative concoctions. He’s been featured in top publications from Zagat to Thrillist, competing in and winning cocktail competitions, but you would never know. “When you stay humble, there are always people who can teach you. My mom used to say, ‘you can learn something even from a snail crossing the road.’”
Any books or other resources you would recommend to aspiring bar directors?
“Death and Co is the best cocktail book ever published!” he says, grabbing his trusty copy from behind the bar to show me, “it’s a bar bible.”
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in this role?
“You have to have passion and love what you’re doing.”
Tenzin’s sentiment is that no matter what profession you’re in, you have to constantly do your research and strive to be better every single day. It is this emotion that allows Tenzin to enjoy every day he spends behind the bar, constantly pouring humor and elegance into every cocktail he makes.
We’re extremely excited to be exhibiting at the BAR at NRA Show in Chicago this weekend. One thing we’re looking forward to? Seeing Tenzin compete in the Star of the Bar Mixology Competition, where six mixologists from across the country will compete for the title.
While sipping a couple of Tenzin’s delicious creations, we chatted about Chicago and mixology competitions:
On Chicago and cocktail competitions:
Although he used to participate in a lot more competitions when he was younger, he now does a few every now and then to promote his own brand, Boston Mix Drink, “I feel blessed to usually be selected when I submit my recipes.”
For Star of the Bar’s Boston competition, Tenzin was not informed that he was selected until the night before he had to compete on stage. The very next day, he was up against two other Boston mixologists, vying for a spot on the Chicago stage.
“It’s a huge honor to represent this city.”
On the cocktail:
This year, the Star of the Bar competition is sponsored by Jägermeister, so his creation had to feature the German liqueur.
His winning cocktail in Boston, titled “56 Secret Admirers” for Jägermeister’s 56 ingredients, features a mix of Jägermeister, mezcal, ginger beer, bitters, and a candied ginger garnish. The result is a smoky and refreshing cocktail, with a great balance of herbs and a little spice from the ginger beer.
He’ll be competing with this same recipe in Chicago, though he may need to make a few tweaks in order to batch it out for 300-400 people. Hopefully we’ll get a taste!
Heading to Chicago this weekend? Stop by our booth!