Summer and fall on the North Shore are indisputably spectacular, thanks to the beaches, festivals, foliage, and so much more. But winter has its charms, too, and for us, one of the best is the chance to get cozy, especially after spending a chilly day outside. Instead of simply going home and making a cup of tea, head to one of the North Shore’s best restaurants and indulge in something cozy with a kick—spiked hot chocolates and sweet, boozy coffees that’ll warm you right down to your toes—at locations that’ll give your living room a serious run for its money.
Gulu-Gulu Café is the kind of eatery that defies easy explanation, and that’s part of its quirky, bohemian charm. Its board game nights, drag shows, open mics, and musical performances make it so much more than just a place to eat and drink. In addition to its eclectic craft beer menu and excellent food, Gulu-Gulu Café has a full menu of cozy drinks, and a wintertime favorite is an absinthe-laced hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, dubbed John Denver’s Breath.
“It’s definitely a very unique kind of drink. I don’t know where else you can get that drink in Salem or even the North Shore,” says bar manager Zakk Nix.
It combines savory dark hot cocoa with the sweet black licorice kick of absinthe for a warming drink with a “really deep bold flavor profile,” Nix says. Not only is it delicious and rich, but it’s also the perfect introduction to absinthe for the uninitiated.
In addition to John Denver’s Breath and spiked hot coffees, Gulu-Gulu Café is adding to its winter warming menu with a riff on a hot toddy called a Todd Hotty, which mixes maple bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari with hot water steeped with vanilla rooibos tea and orange bitters.
Mile Marker One Restaurant sits at the edge of the Annisquam River in Gloucester, and whether you choose to eat inside the restaurant itself or in one of its colorful, heated, nautical-inspired igloos that seat four to six people, don’t miss their 4 Pepper Tequila Double Hot Chocolate with Shaken Cream.
The restaurant infuses tequila with four different kinds of peppers—three spicy, one sweet—to make its four-pepper tequila and mixes it with a double hot chocolate for a warm dessert cocktail that’s ultra-rich with a spicy kick.
“We basically double the amount of chocolate and then we add the spicy pepper tequila on top of that,” says Patrick Hurd, general manager of Mile Marker One Restaurant and Cape Ann Marina Resort.
As if that weren’t enough richness, the drink is also topped with a generous dollop of super-chilled thick shaken cream, which packs a wallop of flavors, temperatures, and sensations with every sip.
“It’s really fun because when it touches your lips, the cream is really cold yet smooth…the heat of the hot chocolate, and the sweet, and then the spice hits,” Hurd says. “It’s kind of a one-two-three experience.”
For those looking to sip on less spice and more “nice,” try the Proper Irish Coffee: A piping hot coffee mixed with one cube of sugar and good Irish whiskey, and topped with thick shaken cream.
Elm Square Oyster Co. is an unpretentious Andover neighborhood favorite, and after a day of snowshoeing on one of the Andover Village Improvement Society’s trails or ice skating at the Phillips Academy rink, warm up with one of its sweet hot coffee dessert drinks.
“It’s a scratch kitchen. Everything’s made in house,” says bar manager and bartender Colin Welch, and likewise, every drink that crosses the bar does so with this personal touch and oversight.
Case in point: Elm Square Oyster Co. boasts its own take on the classic Irish (Jameson, Baileys Irish Cream, and brown sugar); Italian (Disaronno, Frangelico, cinnamon, and sugar, plus a bonus biscotti); and Spanish (Kahlúa and brandy) coffees that are all topped with house-made whipped cream, says Welch.
The restaurant also serves Welch’s own version of the hot toddy, with bourbon, honey, fresh lemon juice, cinnamon, and sugar mixed with hot water and swizzled with a cinnamon stick and a twist of lemon.
But Welch and his team are also always adding new items to the bar menu, including a sweet hot coffee for warming winter nights called the Dulce de Leche, in which semisweet caramel is melted into hot coffee, mixed with Kahlúa, and topped with whipped cream and shaved cocoa nibs.
And to satisfy your sweet tooth even more, Welch recommends pairing the coffee cocktails with one of Elm Square Oyster Co.’s desserts, especially the chocolate and espresso, with ice cream and cake crumbles or the sticky toffee pudding, which is the perfect pairing with the Dulce de Leche coffee, thanks to its hot toffee sauce, chopped hazelnuts, and brown butter ice cream.
John Denver’s Breath
Makes 1 drink
1 oz. absinthe (Gulu-Gulu uses Absinthe Ordinaire)
1 oz. dark chocolate syrup
6 oz. steamed milk
1. Combine Absinthe, chocolate syryp, and steamed milk
2. Top with whipped cream and cocoa powder
4 Pepper Tequila Double Hot Chocolate with Shaken Cream
Mile Marker One
Makes 1 drink
2 packets of hot chocolate
1½ oz. 4 Pepper tequila (Mile Marker One makes its own infusion of silver tequila, habaneros, California pepper, sweet red pepper, and jalapeños)
1. Fill a tall glass with hot water to heat the glass. After one minute dump the water.
2. Combine two packets of hot chocolate and fill the glass halfway with hot water and stir well.
3. Add 4 pepper tequila and stir again.
4. Add more hot water leaving half-inch room at the top and stir a third time.
5. Pour cold shaken cream over the back of a spoon so it floats on top of the hot chocolate.
6. Sprinkle a combination of brown sugar and cayenne pepper over the cream
Dulce de Leche
Elm Sq. Oyster Company
Makes 1 drink
1 tsp. caramel
1 oz. Kahlúa
Sweetened whipped cream
Small piece of chocolate bar
1. Stir caramel into hot coffee until dissolved – the hotter the better.
2. Add Kahlúa
3. Top with whipped cream.
4. Finish by grating chocolate over the top.