For bars in the shadow of Fenway Park, the keyword for how they operate is “volume,” but this isn’t so with The Hawthorne. “The Hawthorne is a little bit more unlikely of a lounge space and has great scalability for events,” says Jackson Cannon, Co-Owner & Bar Director of The Hawthorne. “So I was able to put the cocktail first—70% of our business is bespoke, handcrafted cocktails. I didn’t need to make a determination based on quantity or speed; all of the decisions that we made were purely based on which turns out the absolute best version of a cocktail. I was able to bring the rigors of ice and technique, the equipment we use, and the complexity and depth of the [cocktail] lexicon.”
This focus on cocktails comes as no surprise to cocktail connoisseurs who hear the bar’s name, which is a nod to the Hawthorne strainer as well as the Boston bar, The Hawthorne Café, that inspired and registered a patent for it. The Hawthorne’s logo includes the coiled spring from the strainer, and the bar also borrows the original café’s font and styles for its logo and menus.
When designing the actual space of The Hawthorne, Cannon aimed to create a comfortable atmosphere where guests could enjoy quality cocktails alongside quality artwork and music. “I knew what I wanted from the cocktails, and I knew that I wanted to execute a space that elevated where you could get those quality cocktails,” he says.
Part of that desired ambience was achieved by The Hawthorne’s status as
a hotel bar, as it is a tenant in the Hotel Commonwealth. “The reason I’m so proud of being considered a hotel bar is probably for the nod to a very luxurious, comfortable, welcoming experience,” says Cannon. “I’m trading a little on the ethos of grand, old hotel bars. Having said that, we’re bustling and busy with the city and neighborhood business that doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with the hotel.”
(Note: The Hawthorne recently won the 2017 Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards for Best American Hotel Bar. “It means a lot to have those plates on the back bar,” says Cannon. “Because everyone knows how stiff the competition is for that sort of thing.”)
For the bar’s design, Cannon called on husband and wife designers Alison and Stephen Sheffield to bring his vision to life. The result was a contemporary space with a palate of soft grays and blacks featuring textures that are plush and rewarding to the touch. Intersecting themes of usefulness and home are evident throughout and especially in the design of the back bar.
“We did a kitchen cabinet motif, and it speaks to two things: a sense
of the place being homey even though it’s high end,” says Cannon. “Also that there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. It has a very clean, clear working environment.”
The cabinets work to conceal the clutter of a commercial bar—pens, check presenters, etc.—for a more streamlined presentation.
The layout of the multi-leveled venue includes a few semi-private lounges as well as a very private back room used for events. Low chairs surround a communal table in the center, which is also used to seat larger parties. Most of the room’s 60 seats have a view of the bartenders at work.
To round out the space, Stephen Sheffield curated 40 pieces of artwork in a myriad of mediums, which are hung throughout.
The Hawthorne’s focus is on the cocktail, and its menus don’t disappoint. Selections are a mix of nouveau classics and rediscovered gems. A “bookmark” of cocktails is changed out weekly, and the bar also offers the ability to curate individual menus for parties in the private and semi-private lounges. “The whole team is really adept at creating menus,” says Cannon. “It’s gotten to the point where they react with that alacrity that I was hoping for when I first thought that I might be able to change the menu everyday in a similar way to the way chefs approach what they offer for the night based on what they can get.”
” I wanted to execute a space that elevated where you could get quality cocktails “
Cannon also has extensive book-style menus divided into sections for each spirit. These are not circulated as a part of general service, but he keeps them on hand for guests interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of cocktails.
There is also a highly curated selection of the rarest in cognacs, tequilas, whiskey, and well-aged rums. “We’re fortunate being in a hotel,” says Cannon. “We have a bit more storage area than we might have if we were a standalone bar.”
Cocktails may be king at the Hawthorne, but that doesn’t mean the bar has snubbed beer and wine—quite the opposite, in fact. “Just because we’re more into cocktails doesn’t mean we don’t hold all the rest of beverage in very high regard and interest,” explains Cannon.
The wine program includes a selection of unique and rare wines by the glass, which are typically only available by bottle elsewhere. Cannon knew the role of wine at The Hawthorne wouldn’t be about selling volume or fitting in with a certain cuisine. Instead, it was about the experience of enjoying the wine in a luxurious environment. “People will see it as a treat to have a more luxurious glass pour,” he says. “It’s about that sense of attainable luxury and being a little bit surprised by the quality of what’s being offered, the care of which it’s being delivered, and the accouterments of it.”
The Hawthorne also carefully curates a list of rare ciders and a variety of imports and craft beers.
The cocktail menu changes weekly and includes options like the Red Maple
Cabinets behind the bar give the space a homey feel and hide clutter
The food menu is made up of à la carte options designed to accentuate the guests’s drinking experience. Small plates, finger foods, a variety of cheeses, and a few dessert options round out the menu.
For private events, The Hawthorne can craft custom menus and offers everything from carving stations to a raw bar. “When we do private events, we’re very fortunate to be able to draw on the power of the restaurant kitchens both at Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard. At that point, we can do anything and everything,” says Cannon. “That’s one of the great advantages of being related to the restaurants in our building.” (Note: See sidebar for more information on The Hawthorne’s affiliation with nearby restaurants.)
What pulls everything together at The Hawthorne is the level of service, and Cannon carefully trains all of his staff. He says that a strong knowledge base of what spirits and ingredients are used and where they come from is important in conversing with guests who are looking for an experience when they go out to drink. It’s also important in satisfying those guests who are more and more interested in the “provenance of things.”
“Everyone at The Hawthorne needs to be very conversant on what’s behind the spirits,” says Cannon. “We make a lot of our cocktails off of spirits that are a reach above what one might call well or even call spirits. So knowing where they come from and why, and knowing who created certain cocktails and where and when, gives the server confidence to discuss that with a guest if that’s part of what a guest is looking for. If they’re not looking for that, then that kind of disappears.”
Cannon says training and continued education are especially important when working with Millennials. “To be competitive in employing Millennials, you have to offer dimensions to the workplace. There’s a baseline amount of education a bartender needs to function, but there are all other kinds of avenues of specialty that they may not need that it’s up to them to self direct,” he says. “We pride ourselves on being ready to help them go on in their education in whatever direction they’re interested in.
“Probably my favorite part of this generation is that sense that they have of making whatever work that they’re doing have more components to it than just the transactional component of employer/employee and guest/bartender. There’s a real sense for them that the more I learn and the more I apply myself to it, the richer the environment, the richer my experience will be in service.”
When Jackson Cannon pivoted from music to bartending, he became a bit of a cocktail historian and helped to preserve and elevate the legacy of American cocktails just as the craft cocktail movement was getting underway. He opened Eastern Standard in Boston in 2005 as Bar Manager under Owner Garret Harker. From there, he continued to work with Harker on other restaurants, eventually partnering with him to launch The Hawthorne in 2011. The Hawthorne and Eastern Standard are part of a network of eight affiliated restaurants, and Cannon currently works on bar programs in six of them. “What’s inspirational about it is that you really get to focus on each of the programs from the perspective of if that was the only concept that you were working on,” says Cannon. “I like to think that there’s some unity in the warm-heartedness of the service that we’re going for everywhere, but each restaurant’s program is so unique, and I find that to be really satisfying.”
Photos (top to bottom): Sam Grey, Emily Hagen, Gustav Holland, Emily Hagen, Melissa Ostrow.