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#OnLocation is a new section where I check out local craft cocktail bars and share an intimate look at their operation; From the influences, flavors and styles, I’ll showcase aspects of the bar that make it special and their drinks unique.
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Located in the historic Baldwin mansion in Woburn, Massachusetts, sits a restaurant that many have known for the past decade as Sichuan Garden II, a restaurant with an excellent pedigree in Chinese cuisine, but seemingly hidden within is The Baldwin, a craft cocktail bar of the highest caliber. The bar shares the same roof (and proprietorship) as the restaurant and gets its illustrious name from the same historic walls that house it.
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The mood: You walk into a dimly lit room to the right where a multitude of vintage decanters, candles, fresh citrus, an ornate register from an era long gone and a colorful tiled bar set the stage. Not a single part of it feels industrial or quickly manufactured; Instead, you are greeted with an intimate environment with antique touches peppered throughout that yields an experience that is more than the sum of its parts.
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A pleasant surprise that you wont notice until after you finish taking in the sights is just how harmoniously quiet the room is. Sure, there’s some music in the background, but I’m there to imbibe and have a great time, not test out the range of my vocal chords and yell “I’M GONNA GO PEE” into someone’s ear.
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A bar is only as good as its bartenders. You can have all the pieces needed but knowing what to do with them is a whole other story; Enter Ran Duan. The Baldwin is Ran’s baby since its inception 3 years ago and it doesn’t take long to notice the absolute attention to detail in every inch (even the bathroom. It’ looks like a sauna in there) of the bar to know this place was meant to be something special. You may know Ran as the bow-tie wearing, ink loving, cocktail shaker-extraordinaire in various competitions all over the place; A self proclaimed “cocktologist” and proprietor of The Baldwin.
When I asked him about his influences in creating The Baldwin’s bar program, one that boasts a cocktail menu that changes every 2 weeks, the focus is on seasonal flavors, an “everything goes” kind of attitude towards ingredients when making cocktails and a deep-rooted desire to always keep things fresh.
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Vannaluck Hongthong & Joel Atlas (pictured above) make up the rest of the dapper bar crew at The Baldwin. Van, being the newest to the Baldwin team, is the nicest guy you’ll meet, but can shake up a drink like it owes him money. Then there’s Joel (who unfortunately was gallivanting elsewhere the day of the shoot) being Ran’s long-running ‘cocktologist’ at the Baldwin and a crucial part of the team.
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Not all ice is created equal. At The Baldwin, great care is placed in the way their ice is crafted, as a paramount component to their cocktails. From an initial 300 lb block of ice, which is then broken down into more manageable 50 lb blocks, to witness their ice being prepared before opening their doors was a treat in itself. From the use of chisels, chainsaws and butter knives, it’s a complex process that yields the ideal ice for a variety of drinks (more on that later).
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You can see more of the ice crafting process in the gallery below:
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And now onto the cocktails! As I mentioned before, they have a cocktail menu that changes every 2 weeks, along with a dedicated Mai Tai section but the real fun lies in having them make you something per your request. The team here really has an ability to craft a delicious cocktail every-single-time that had me wondering a) how can I make love to this right now? and b) what the hell is in this that’s so damn delicious? Weather its citrus or spirit based, a classic or something completely random (like drinking out of a whole pineapple), they never missed the mark.
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The team from The Baldwin were kind enough to share a couple of their cocktail recipes, which you can find below.
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1 1/2 oz. London dry gin [Beefeater 24] 3/4 oz. lemon juice 1 oz. earl gray tea syrup* 1 bar spoon of Greek yogurt 10 drops orange blossom water shake vigorously with ice. Double strain into a glass & garnish with a cherry. *make some concentrated dark Earl Gray tea and while still hot, add an equal amount of sugar.
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No Stone Unturned
1 1/2 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth 1/2 oz. Pedro Ximenez Sherry 1/2 oz. Absinthe 1/2 oz. Fernet Branca Pour all into a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with a bit of salt on the cube.
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A bit of sage advice from Ran came towards the end of the day, when I asked if he had any tips or advice for someone making a cocktail [at home] or perhaps looking to discover something new at a bar, to which he answered with a question:
“Do you drink for the taste or for the feeling?”
…I’ll leave you with that to ponder.
A big thanks to the The Baldwin for being so a accommodating in the process but above all, for making it clear that it is possible to make inspired craft cocktails outside of Boston city limits.
The Baldwin is located at: 2 Alfred St, Woburn, MA 01801
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