By Angie Ye
Boston University News Service
Everyone knows the tart combination of whiskey and lemon juice in a traditional whiskey sour, but forgets about the rich mouthfeel it can have. Not every Boston-based bar makes a whiskey sour properly: with a dash of egg white and Angostura bitters. Backbar is one of the few proffering a true “Boston Sour.”
In Somerville’s Union Square, the bar with a Prohibition speakeasy vibe created a throw-back menu for its 10th anniversary.
Behind a red door in an alleyway near Sanborn Court, a winding hallway leads guests to Backbar. Bar owner Sam Treadway describes Backbar as “a diamond in the rough.” The process of finding the place is like cracking hidden passwords.
“It’s hard to find, but hopefully once you do, you’re welcomed into this amazing cocktail destination,” Treadway said.
The walls inside are packed with black-and-white murals and framed paintings by Treadway’s artist friends. A huge old-school Ford car mural, adorned with Hawaiian tropical flowers, opposes the bar. (The first Ford dealership in the neighborhood was built in 1921.) Fittingly, “the Model T” has always been the bar’s signature cocktail.
Treadway has updated the decor through the years to make it more enjoyable and cozy. The graffiti aesthetic combined with industrial vibes gives a trendy impression.
“At the start, we only had bricks, and it’s almost like a stark industrial vibe without the warmth of putting up a bunch of art,” Treadway said.
The cocktail menus often revolve around playful themes, like “Harry Potter,” “Seinfeld” and Disney villains. Drinks are uniquely designed to fit each theme. During “Encanto” week, a bittersweet drink called “We Don’t Talk About Braulio” was offered on the rocks. Now a solar system menu takes center stage for the following weeks.
Star Wars memorabilia lies on nearly every surface. “Backbar just sounds like Admiral Ackbar, right?” Treadway said. In the past, the staff has designed a calibrated cocktail menu and thrown a Star Wars-themed week.
“We have a lot of fun with the menu coming out very soon,” Treadway said. He believes that if customers can connect with the creation of the drinks, it gives them a more fulfilling experience beyond the flavor of a drink.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Backbar is offering a throwback menu of featured cocktails from the past decade and invited old bartenders back to bartend for a couple of hours and celebrate together. According to Treadway, he had been planning to throw a big birthday bash for the bar when the pandemic stopped haunting them.
Alexis Vazquez, a regular customer at Backbar, is now behind the bar as Backbar’s new bartender. Through conversations with Backbar’s staff, he discovered his interest in mixing drinks and kicked off his bartending career in his beloved bar seven months ago.
Vazquez said bartending is hectic but rewarding. He talks to customers frequently with a smile as he mixes the drinks for them.
“I like it, and I like the intimacy here. I want to try to make sure that everybody has a good drink and a good time,” Vazquez said.