Some things are tried and true; some things have never been done before. But one thing is certain: There is nothing, *nothing*, on Alden & Harlow’s menu that’s ‘been-done-before,’ yet somehow, everything has become tried-and-true (in a good way). It’s a recipe for success that not many other Boston area restaurants have figured out, which is precisely what makes this one so unique. And at the helm of the bar program is Greg Bergeron, who works mainly at Alden & Harlow, but designs the bar programs for its sister restaurants, The Longfellow Bar and Waypoint. This past year has been a difficult year for the restaurant industry, but it’s bringing out creativity and pushing Alden & Harlow’s bar program in a new direction. Find out from the bar-master himself where his inspiration comes from and how he incorporates the classics without losing sight of what’s absolutely new.
What have been the Pre and Post-pandemic trajectories for the bar program at Alden & Harlow and its sister restaurants?
I started working at Alden & Harlow shortly prior to their reopening in August. From day one, my focus was on maintaining the standards and quality of the pre-pandemic bar team, albeit with significantly fewer resources. Alden has always been market and produce-driven, and the continuation of this aspect of the bar program was the easiest to maintain. We have all of these connections with farms and small, local producers and those relationships have benefited the bar as much as the kitchen.
The Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow is focused on more unique and innovative cocktails incorporating chemistry, allowing us to have fun behind the bar and continue pushing the envelope in the Greater Boston area cocktail-scene. That spirit is alive and well but the execution has been difficult without patrons being able to sit at the bar, and while important, some pretty crippling capacity limitations for such an intimate space.
Waypoint is known for its fresh take on fresh seafood, and the drinks reflect that. There’s an emphasis on lighter drinks – floral, herbal, citrus… things you’d expect to pair with oysters or crudo.
So the core values and points of emphasis for each restaurant haven’t changed, but we’ve just had to get a little creative regarding how we pull it off.
How long have you been back behind the bar? Have you returned to in-person bar service?
I have been tending the bar since I came to Boston, about ten years ago. We’re still waiting with bated breath for the day we can return to in-person bar service. It’s a distinct experience from sitting at a table and ordering through a server, and we can’t wait to get back to it.
Is there an interesting invention or new idea that you or the team at Alden & Harlow created in the bar-sphere to get through the pandemic?
We’ve really reinvented the service bar. We’re making drinks for almost as many guests on busy days as we were in the pre-pandemic era—but we’re doing it with one person instead of a team of five or six. That has certainly required some creativity and hard work. We took our cues from the chefs, since the bar is currently operating a lot more like the kitchen with a focus on tight expediting and execution.
Has social media contributed to your pandemic bartending experience? How so?
The best way to drink a cocktail is “quickly– while it’s laughing at you,” as Harry Craddock used to say, and that doesn’t leave a ton of time to take a picture first. Dinner should be a shared joyful experience between you and the people you’ve sat down with to dine.
Do you see it becoming an even larger piece of the restaurant and bar puzzle in the future?
Truthfully, I’ve never really been interested in social media. The “restaurant and bar puzzle” is solved, people come in and enjoy food and drinks. That being said, I’m no Luddite. Social media is a powerful tool for communicating with our friends and neighbors and regulars regarding what we are up to including events, specials and the like. A continued presence on social media is essential to keeping our guests informed about what we’re up to here.
Where are you finding creativity these days?
I tend to look to the past for creative purposes. There is a rich and storied history behind tending bar, and looking back, either through literature or conversations, is a great first step in creating something new. We’re not going to push past the horizon with every new drink, but we will see further by standing on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes that means popping open the 1972 Trader Vic’s Bartending guide and finding something to create a modern version of. Sometimes it’s reading about the influence of the spice trade on European cuisine or the medicinal value of Medieval hippocras. There are lots of stories out there and when I find one that makes me say “neat!” then I know I’m on the path to a new cocktail.
That being said, every drink on every menu is a product of collaboration, and we have a great team here with different professional and cultural backgrounds. When we put our heads together we can make something greater than the sum of the parts.
Are there other restaurants or bartenders you’re following for inspiration?
I’m a fan of Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common in Portland, OR. His down-to-earth, simple, non-pretentious approach to cocktails is something I’ve really come to appreciate. Locally, I love Sam Treadway’s Backbar in Somerville’s Union Square and Augusto Lino is doing some really cool things across the Square at the Charles Hotel’s Noir Bar. I also hold great respect for Yvonne’s, Baldwin Bar and Shore Leave’s bar programs.
Pivoting a bit, has the pandemic led you in a new direction, or strengthened the original one?
It has been a really weird year! It’s definitely led me in a new direction. In the specific context of the restaurant industry, I think a lot about the idea of “reinvention.” There was a lot of ontological inertia in this industry—things continuing the way they were sheerly because that’s how things have always been. We had a full stop. There was a chance to reevaluate what we were doing, why and how we were doing it, and what we’d really like to be doing.
I know that for myself, and for the team here, “hospitality” is something worth doing. We are making connections with people, facilitating connections and bringing joy to people—and it’s worthwhile.
Is there a bartending trend you can’t wait to try?
We’re still trying to get back to the point where we can have people sit at the bar, so I haven’t gotten too far ahead of myself. The future is wide, and I know I’m going to be able to get up to some cool things not too long from now, but in the meantime, I’d settle for the revolutionary act of being able to reach across the bar and hand somebody a drink.
What are the best ways consumers can support your business at the moment?
Come out to eat! Let’s bring it all back. There are restaurants all over the city opening up – like new-formed buds opening at the first light of dawn on a dewy spring day, the restaurant industry is coming back to life. That being said, times are tough, so first and foremost, be kind. Being a guest works both ways. We’ve invited you into our “house” to show you what we do. If something goes wrong we will fix it, but there’s never any excuse to treat staff with disrespect.
Any events or special things coming up this spring and/or summer?
The Harvard Square Business Association has arranged to have Brattle Street closed off in front of Alden & Harlow on Saturdays for the next few months. We’re going to get a bit of a block party/ beer garden going out there with lots of local participation. Plus we’ll be partnering with some local breweries and serving bar snacks out of Longfellow. It’ll be great to bring some life back to the Square after so many months in the doldrums.
Waypoint will also be expanding with a patio along Mass. Ave., and Alden & Harlow has secured a larger area behind the restaurant that we’ve been able to make our own. Look forward to some al fresco spirit takeovers of the outdoor areas this summer.
How are you and the team going to bring that to fruition?
It’s all about collaboration and mutual support—whether that’s between local businesses, coworkers or the management team. We’re all learning and growing together with an emphasis on progress. Every day is a new chance to be better and wiser and kinder.
As far as larger plans go, how do you think the experience of the pandemic will have affected the future of bartending, for you, Alden & Harlow and its sister restaurants, and in the greater scheme of the Boston bar scene?
It’s hard to say which aspects of this whirlwind of a year are going to become permanent. There have been a lot of great places that ended up closing. As for me and mine, the plan is certainly a return to normalcy. I can’t wait until bars become the spot de jour to talk to strangers again.
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.