The Saigon Cigar Club is a gorgeous cocktail. Tropical yet also warming, the mix of bourbon and banana syrup, scented with cardamom and cinnamon, then enhanced with a smoky banana leaf, defies the seasons, making it perfect to sip in high summer or in the depths of winter. So perfect, the drink became an instant classic on the menu at Nightshade Noodle Bar in Lynn.
The cocktail is also insanely complicated to make—you need to simmer Thai bananas with a bunch of spices then strain to make a syrup and chill that down ahead of time, and you also need a banana leaf to torch as a garnish. And bourbon, of course.
If you have the time, the patience, and the ingredients, Catherine Norton, bar manager at Nightshade, was kind enough to tell us, she’ll explain how to make it at home. But if you don’t, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it in the comfort of your own living room. Heck, you can even serve it at a holiday event—socially distanced, of course—and pretend you made it yourself. Because, along with every other drink at Nightshade, it is available to go.
In what is likely the only positive thing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it is currently legal for restaurants to sell cocktails to-go alongside food orders. Meaning that customers can enjoy the full going-out experience, from drinks to dessert, without shivering through a dark November night, bundled up under a heat lamp.
“I like to try new places, and my impression [always] begins with a good cocktail,” Norton says. “At Nightshade, we want our customers to enjoy the fullness of the experience—even if they are doing that at home.” To that end, the restaurant has worked to create cocktails that are fresh, travel well, and are relatively easy to serve at home—even including the signature garnishes, she says.
They’re not alone. The top craft cocktail places in Massachusetts have put a lot of thought into making sure that the at-home experience is just as good as the one inside the restaurant—albeit without the charming banter and the slick glassware.
“We’re trying to simulate the cocktail as best we can, so it’s the same when you pour it over ice when you get home as in the restaurant,” says Beau Sturm, who co-owns Paddle Inn in Newburyport with Suzie Maitland and Joshua Childs. Because of this, a few to-go drinks include an extra touch of water, to simulate the amount that would come from bartender-quality shaking in a cocktail tin.
The to-go cocktail bill, signed by Governor Charlie Baker in July and in effect for the duration of the pandemic emergency, has provided a welcome additional revenue stream at a time when most area restaurants are operating at less than half capacity, but Sturm says it comes with a benefit for dine-in guests as well.
“It gives you a safe option to have that last cocktail,” Sturm says, noting that many restaurants are limiting the amount of time patrons can stay at a table, because of reduced capacity. So, offering the opportunity to grab one more drink to enjoy at home—maybe with a to-go dessert—has become a popular option.
To make things even easier, Paddle Inn is offering some of their cocktails like the Painkiller—a blend of rum, Coco Lopez and fresh juice—in bottles. “Especially the bottled cocktails can sit in the fridge for a few days,” says Maitland. “If you’re having a bad day, you can just crack one open, and all of a sudden you’ve got a Painkiller.”
Not only does it boost local restaurants, but to-go cocktails also support local distilleries, which have taken a hard hit from bars being shuttered since March, says Erica Yeomans, bar manager at Kokeshi in Salem. “We work with most local distilleries, so for us, being permitted to sell cocktails to-go was very important."
"We need to support them as much as we can,” says Yeomans, who notes that spirits from Deacon Giles, Privateer, and Rumson’s are among their favorite North Shore brands. “We are constantly changing up the menu offerings, in addition to offering two to three specials each night, to highlight local distilleries while staying focused on the current season.” To-go cocktails also give guests a chance to try a new spirit or mixer that they ordinarily wouldn’t purchase for their home bar, she adds.
No matter what you are drinking, the only thing that’s certain about the coming season is it will be cold, and dark. And to-go cocktails are likely to be a critical component in helping local restaurants survive the long winter ahead.
“I think people are wildly well intended,” Sturm says. “Everybody’s fiercely loyal and protective of their restaurants and their retail places.” But realistically, he admitted in early October that in-person customers were already dwindling. Paddle Inn’s indoor space is tiny, leaving few tables available inside while social distancing is required. “You know, I don’t blame them. I don’t want to sit here when it’s 40 degrees either.”
Luckily, no one has to. Dial up your favorite restaurant, order a couple of cocktails with your dinner, and chill at home.
Drink and Dine on the Couch
Here are some great pairings for your at-home meals.
Paddle Inn, Newburyport
To-Go Drink: Rocking Chair
Tea-infused bourbon, lemon, and mint, it’s easy drinking anytime.
To-Go Food: Baby Octopus and Croquetas.
Guy Fieri recently enjoyed this dish of deep-fried potato fritters studded with chorizo and topped with baby octopus when Chef Suzi Maitland was invited to appear on his Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” The complex mix of flavors from romesco sauce, cippolini onion, tomato, Castelvetrano olives, shaved asparagus and celery is ideal for a winter night.
To-go cocktail: Crown of Thorns
This tiki-style drink with accents of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves pairs perfectly with the season.
Any of their ramen bowls are perfect in the fall and winter months. Try the Pork Belly, with Kokeshi Broth, noodles and a soft boiled egg, or the Farmers’ Market, made with vegetable miso broth, noodles, corn, bean sprouts, and carrots.
Nightshade Noodle Bar, Lynn
To-go cocktail: Saigon Cigar Club
A slow-sipper made with sultry bourbon, Thai banana, black cardamom, Viet-coriander, and lime.
Start with the Warm Sesame Olives (order double, trust us) then get the #7, Mi Xao Don crispy egg noodle and scallops.