Beating the winter cold in Massachusetts doesn’t take much—just layers, a warm hearth, and an even warmer drink. For those in possession of layers but lacking the crackling fire and the necessary skills for making hot cocktails, there’s the Tavern on the Green up in Salem, where you’ll find a fireplace and accommodating bartenders who’ll mix you a hot toddy with whatever liquor suits your fancy.
A constitutionally cozy establishment, Tavern on the Green is itself snugly nestled in the heart of the historic Hawthorne Hotel, just a few blocks away from the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Witch Museum. Many visiting Salem will likely be drawn to both as the PEM is a world-class museum and the latter delves into the city’s bewitching past.
However, a trip to the Tavern for a drink offers soothing and comfortable respite once the thirst for knowledge of the city’s grim witch-hunting past is slaked. Exposed beams, forest-green carpeting, and a finely-appointed wooden bar top complemented by wood paneling on the columns lend the space an old-world tavern vibe, like you’re in your rich uncle’s study, free to reflect on life while partaking in drinks to wind down the day. The best part, of course, is the Tavern’s centerpiece, a handsome stone fireplace.
The Tavern’s tap list is strong and the food options varied—a hearty winter salad of kale and butternut squash makes a particularly delicious cold-weather option—but you should go right for the cocktail menu, and from there, the hot toddy.
This lovely beverage derives from an Indian drink, the toddy, concocted from palm sap; the hot toddy as we know it first came into style in the late 1700s. Toddies are typically mixed using alcohol as the base, with hot water, some form of sugar or another, and spices to bring it all together. For most people who have had the drink, “hot toddy” is synonymous with “whiskey, water, lemon, and honey,” and there’s nothing wrong with that list of ingredients, especially when the result is a tonic to stave off the season’s chill.
But Adam, one of the Tavern’s bartenders, has other options in mind and on hand for customizing the hot toddy to one’s liking, punching it up to match the tastes of the drinker. His personal liquor of choice for the hot toddy? Rumson’s Spiced Rum, distilled in the Salem’s Point neighborhood. Rumson’s imparts smoothness as the drink’s foundational element, not to mention a note or two of vanilla and butterscotch, a little kiss of sweetness added to the honey. To Adam, the key to a great hot toddy is “not too much sweetness;” that’d throw the drink out of proportion, which is why he uses black tea rather than just hot water alone. The tea equalizes the sweetness from the rum and the honey, and he finishes it with a pair of cinnamon sticks and anise cloves. (The anise is important. That licorice note does wonders to add depth to the hot toddy without making it saccharine.)
The pleasure of a hot toddy with the right ingredients is the way its flavors intensify over time even as the body remains mellow. There’s harmony in the glass. Each component gains strength as the hot toddy is sipped, but none of them dominate the experience, even as their individual essences clarify. Whatever you put in your hot toddy, the key is maintaining balance.
But if a hot toddy on its own is good, a hot toddy enjoyed by a fire is extraordinary. Seats around the Tavern’s fireplace are limited; to state the very obvious, they’re the best spots in the house. But is there a more quintessential New England picture than folks wearing cozy sweaters by a thawing fire, each holding a steaming mug of warm drink? Waiting for the fireside tables to open is worth it. However, you like your toddy served, the Tavern can provide, and makes beating the Massachusetts cold that much easier. (Just bring your own sweater.)
The Port Tavern’s Hot Toddy
The Port Tavern, located on State Street in Newburyport, serves a terrific hot toddy with this preventive aspect in mind. Better still, it’s the classic recipe, with ingredients that you should have in your home. Want to mix yourself a hot toddy? Try this prescription:
1.5 oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey
6 oz. hot water
1 lemon wedge
1 tsp. honey
Spoon honey into a mug, add hot water, and then stir until the honey dissolves fully into the water. Stir in the Jameson until blended. Finish with cloves and a lemon wedge. Enjoy!
For more information, visit hawthornehotel.com.