Naomi Levy may have studied art in college, but her true calling goes back to middle school, when she’d make dinner menus and drinks for her family. “The restaurant industry is where I was meant to be all along,” Levy says. The Maryland native has worked in hospitality ever since her first job at a local Ruby Tuesday, but it wasn’t until she helped open Hungry Mother in 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that she got serious about cocktails.
In January 2010, Levy joined Eastern Standard in Boston’s Kenmore Square neighborhood, where she got her chops as a bartender. This past summer, she took over as bar manager and has cut down the cocktail list from 55 to 22 drinks ($10 to $13). “The new menu stays true to the feel of the restaurant, but it’s a natural evolution,” Levy says.
Eastern Standard’s drinks list is now divided into three sections: “Rediscover,” “Redevelop” and “Redefine.” The first features classic cocktails, the second offers riffs on classics and the third highlights more innovative concoctions like The Phoenix, made with Bols Barrel Aged genever, Santa Maria al Monte amaro, burnt sugar syrup, lemon juice and lemon ash. “My inspiration for cocktails mostly comes from food,” Levy says. “I had a salad in New Orleans with this aromatic vegetable ash. So I thought, ‘Why not put an ash in something that people are inherently going to have right next to their nose?’”
Levy also created the Vélo, which means “bicycle” in French. Meant to be a more leisurely take on the Sidecar, the drink comprises Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, Henri Bardouin pastis liqueur, lemon juice, tarragon syrup and Peychaud’s bitters. “It’s like riding your bike through the hills of Provence,” Levy explains.
The drinks menu also has two regularly rotating featured sections—one that focuses on seasonal ingredients and one that pays tribute to a person or place of historical significance like New Orleans. In addition, Levy oversees Eastern Standard’s beer list, which offers a dynamic selection of rare, small-production and unique brews ($5 a 12-ounce can to $53 a 750-ml. bottle). While Boston is primarily a beer town, Levy has seen a shift in consumers’ willingness to try more cutting-edge cocktails. “Would we ever surpass New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles?” she says. “I don’t know. But when it comes to hospitality, I think Boston sets the standard.”