Citrus & Salt’s Sarah Baker is Back Behind the Bar

Citrus and Salt

Citrus and salt, two pivotal ingredients in any margarita worth drinking…and also the name of the Back Bay’s gloriously Instagrammable food and drink destination, Citrus & Salt, where they’re known for their fun, breathtaking, creative, unique and, of course, delicious cocktails. Plus, they’re not camera shy — the Citrus & Salt feed has a following of 23.6K. So, what does it take to be a beverage trendsetter? Especially in the midst of (or at the tail end of) a pandemic? Get the inside POV from Sarah Baker, Cocktail Director for Citrus & Salt and their sister restaurant Buttermilk & Bourbon. She’s new-ish to the team but has melded right in with the ‘grammable cocktail aesthetic, and she makes the designing, tasting and producing part of the job look effortless. See what she had to say about Citrus & Salt’s post-pandemic trajectory and just how their cocktail trends are set.

What are the pre and post pandemic trajectories for Citrus & Salt – where you guys going before the pandemic?  Has that pivoted?

So I just started a few months ago – I’m relatively new. But when I was brought on, it was to bring in super fresh cocktails. Everything is super Instagrammable, things that you can have and really enjoy. I think right now, especially with a pandemic, that’s really important because people aren’t going out for that long, so if they have one or two drinks, they need to be really spectacular.

Do you feel like that’s a shift from where it was before?

No, I think the drink program before was really great, too. I just wanted to add on to it. Not improve, but just make a few changes. But it was a good change. We’ve been live for a few weeks now. And I think people really are enjoying [the cocktails].

Beautiful recent additions to the cocktail menu: Hot Girl Summer // Grey Goose vodka, strawberries, rhubarb, lemon, egg whites (left) and I Didn’t Text You Tequila Did // Xicaru Silver Mezcal, Altos Plata, passion fruit, dragon fruit, lime, agave, salt (right)

Have you been back behind the bar and in, in-person service?

No, I hadn’t worked since the beginning of the pandemic. I’d stopped working, and then I got a call from here, and it was just too good to be true. A great opportunity; it’s always really exciting to start again.

Here, when you’re behind the bar, you’re just doing service-bar. So it’s a little different; you’re not interacting as much. But I think people are so excited to be coming out, and we’re so excited that people are coming out, that it’s been a really positive interaction. Everybody that I’ve run into has been so happy, like, grateful that we’re open. We’re grateful that we’re here, too. So it’s a good relationship. Not that it wasn’t before, but it seems like people are more like, ‘I’m so happy you’re here!’ It’s like, we took it for granted for so long. And it was so easy to go out. And now it’s like, ‘okay, this is great!’

Were you finding inspiration during the pandemic? Where are you finding creativity these days?

I kind of just took a break from everything. I wasn’t really doing much. I just was clearing my mind and spending a lot of time with my family. So I felt like I had a year of doing nothing, and then when I got here I could be super creative. All of a sudden it was like, ‘Okay, this is what I need to be doing again.’ Because when I was out of it, you just kind of lose your creativity because you’re not really doing anything.

Definitely seasonal ingredients. Here, they’re a big thing. I always look to see what people are eating, or drinking in their normal life, non-alcohol, and then bring that in a little bit, maybe one ingredient to have people try something new, but in a different way. One of the drinks I really wanted to put mezcal in, but I wanted to make it approachable. So I made it with passion fruit and dragon fruit, and it seemed to really work. People are like, ‘yeah, this is actually really good.’ It’s really exciting to try something that I wouldn’t normally try before.

Do you feel like clientele are responding more to one specific drink? Is there one that everyone’s raving about?

‘I Didn’t Text You, Tequila Did’ is one that has a really big wow factor because of the way it looks. We also have a large format drink that comes in a giant skull, and it has ombre. The bottom is white, but then we add Butterfly Pea Tea, so it’s white on the bottom purple on the top. And we really go over the top. We put butterflies on it and orchids; it’s really a showstopper. 

What are your thoughts on the role of social media in the bartending profession? Has that changed since the pandemic?

It was pretty strong before, but now everybody, before they go to a restaurant, they look on their social media and are like, ‘that’s what I want.’ It’s so important that the drinks grab you by the way they look. Same with the food. If you see something you like – I don’t think there’s been a restaurant I’ve been to in a long time that I haven’t looked at on social media before, just because I get so excited about it. So it definitely plays a huge, huge role.

Do you have a lot of activity from your clients and customers sharing, too? 

Yes, definitely. There’s constantly people taking photos here. We actually love it when people do that, because it means that they love the way it looks, so they want to share it with their friends. And there’s not one space in here that is the prettiest. There’s so many opportunities. Then at night, it’s completely different. It’s darker and has a really positive vibe. It’s fun. Plus music makes a big difference, too. 

Cocktails and Citrus & Salt’s fairy-light-studded interior (left) Queen Bee // Açai honey cocktail with a sugar bee and honey-stick garnish (middle) An assortment of Capri-Sun-style pouches for to-go cocktails (right)

Are there any creators that you follow that you really love? 

@nailthecocktail is really good. She does an awesome job. I follow a lot of bars throughout the world, just because I think it’s interesting to see what they’re doing in other countries. But I always see what other people are doing, and I try to do my own thing but take a little bit from what everybody else is liking.

Where do you find inspiration when it comes to cocktails? Do you have examples of some of the most outside-the-box ones you’ve done?

I’ve always been good at putting ingredients together, so I like to challenge myself and think of an ingredient and then see how I can make it taste good and interpret it into a cocktail. We had one for Mother’s Day that was an açai honey drink which was cool because I hadn’t seen that in a drink before. That’s the thing – first you find the flavors, and you make it taste good. Then the fun part is making it look good. Amazon is like the best resource right now, so you can get really fun and creative. I wanted to call it the “Queen Bee.” We got these really cool honey sticks and then there are little bumblebees made of sugar which I put in the drink. I always make it three or four different ways to find the one I like the best.

Was there an interesting invention that helped Citrus & Salt make it through the pandemic?

The most interesting thing to me is the to-go. People love the to-go drinks. I’m hoping that that’s something that they let us stay with because it’s great. Like you’re leaving, you’re going home, you want one more drink, but you’re closed out, so you can take a drink home. I think that’s a really cool thing. 

I would love to always offer [to-go cocktails]. Especially if it’s last call, to always have that option; it’s great for the guests, and it’s great for us. We do really cute ones that look like Capri Sun pouches. And we also have the bikini bottles and the palm tree bottles, which people can take to go – everyone loves those. 

Is there a bartending trend you can’t wait to try?

I don’t know. It’s tough to pick one particular trend, because everybody’s been kind of out of it for a while. Once things are completely opened up, then you’re gonna see a lot of really cool things. People are gonna really try some different things. What makes it so fun here is that you can use crazy garnishes, because it’s not a classic cocktail bar. We have great cocktails, but they’re not your run-of-the-mill kind of thing.

An array of summer cocktails at Citrus & Salt (left) The large format cocktail Tequila On My Mind // Herradura Silver, St. Germaine, Butterfly Pea Tea, white cranberry, lime, agave (right)

What would you say are the best ways consumers can support Citrus & Salt going forward? 

Just come in. Come in dine with us! Take cocktails to go. Visit as much as you can. Yeah, that’s all. We’d love is to have everybody come in, and we’re ready! I feel like when you’re here, you feel like you’re on a bit of a vacation. It’s like a nice break to come in and be like, ‘okay, I can take my hour and a half and kind of forget about everything.’ 

Are there any events coming up that you guys are really excited about?

We’re just looking forward to getting back and having people back here. I think that things are opening up more so once we can do that, we’ll have more things going on – on August 1st, we’ll be able to go full capacity. But for us, we do a drink special every week, which keeps people coming in and trying new things. 

As far as larger plans go, how do you think the pandemic experience will affect bartending in the future for you, Citrus & Salt and the Boston bar scene?

I think it’s definitely gonna make people more grateful for being able to go out and have those interactions with people. Especially for me, I always felt like bartending – you make connections with people. And that’s why a lot of people go out; it’s because they want that connection, and they keep going to the same place. So I think that’s going to be important moving forward, once we do get more back to normal. Either making new connections, or remaking the ones that we haven’t had in a year and a half. People will see how important it is, because you saw how much you missed it over the year and a half, not seeing those people. It’s not just somebody that you go and get a drink from, or somebody coming in to get a drink from you – it’s somebody that you build a relationship with. So it’s a bummer when you haven’t had that relationship for so long. I think we’re all gonna take a step back and be like, ‘yeah, this really is important.’ It’s part of our culture; it’s part of who we are. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
Back Behind the Bar is four-part series that shares the stories of beverage professionals as they reemerge post-pandemic and get back behind the bar.

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