The bar scene in Boston has definitely evolved since the iconic 1980s sitcom Cheers, no doubt due in part to Paige McGroarty, who has elevated both the drinks and the naming of them to new heights. With her encyclopedic knowledge of ingredients and the inventive combinations of flavors that are a signature of Paige’s cocktails, it actually comes as no surprise she trained as a scientist before pursuing her passion for mixology as a career. We chat with Paige, to learn more about her career journey from waitress to architect of the menu at The Fed, the acclaimed new bar at The Langham, Boston, where she is now a food and beverage manager for the hotel.
How did you get into hospitality?
To earn money for college, I started working as a hostess when I was 18. I worked part-time while I was in college in New Hampshire and summers on Martha’s Vineyard. It was fun! I started bartending when I was 21. I graduated from college and went to Florida for a graduate degree in Environmental Science with a focus on water quality. I enjoyed my program, but I really loved hospitality. I loved the energy and the opportunity for creativity. I love making cocktails, mixing flavors, building unique guest experiences. Guess that is the scientist in me. Now I've been in the business for ten years!
You’ve worked in some amazing places, Alchemy Bar in Martha’s Vineyard, and your last job was at Yvonne's in Downtown Crossing, which is a beloved speakeasy-style Boston bar known for creative cocktails?
Yes, we had a lot of freedom to create unique drinks there. I was lucky enough to have been surrounded by many experienced and renowned beverage people who helped me. These individuals shared their wealth of knowledge and passion with everyone who was willing to listen. In addition to the beverage industry, the clientele at Yvonne’s was always pushing our creative side as bartenders for new and innovative beverages. Being immersed in that environment not only keeps you up to date on the latest trends but puts you in the position to set them. I have met lifelong friends that exist on both sides of the bar, largely due to Yvonne’s.
What is your process for coming up with delicious cocktails and clever names for them?
For me, it isn’t always the same process. Sometimes it’s a lyric in a song, an item in a grocery store that I have never seen, or a dish from a new restaurant. Typically I start with one flavor and then I figure out the complementary palate. I often use the Flavor Bibles–cooks use it, it’s two thick textbooks. For example, we have a drink called “Rhythm of the Night,” which combines the orange notes in the amaro, cinnamon to go with the fresh pineapple juice, and chocolate bitters with smoky mezcal to balance out the sweetness
Love your drink names!! "Maized and Confused", also “Citrus Got Real”, and your holiday drink “All The Jingle Ladies” – How do you come up with the clever names? Are you just "wicked smaaaht" as they say in Boston (or is that just in movies about Boston with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon)?
LOL. I wish there was a clear science to this. Many of the cocktail names come together organically out of laughter while working with my team. They seem to have caught on to my sense of humor; and while some of the names are quite funny and cheesy, many others do not make the cut.
What trends are coming up in drinks?
Sugarcane spirits are back and popular, gin and whiskey that are small batch. We use a small batch gin that is made exclusively for the hotel from Bully Boy in Roxbury called Celebration Gin. Agave spirits are really popular now too.
There seems to be a trend towards low and no- alcohol drinks, what are you seeing?
Attention to the low and non-alcoholic drink trend is integral. Drinks like these extend the length of time that a guest will stay at a bar or restaurant. I spend just as much time, if not more, designing low ABV and non-alcoholic drink options. My dream cocktail list would have all non-alcoholic options with recommended or suggested base spirits.
You manage a staff of all men, how’s that?
Works well! A female touch is great because everyone has different attention to detail. Unfortunately, we didn’t have many women apply for bartenders or servers when we opened last summer. The gentlemen that I work with are all amazing, but I would also love to have a woman behind the bar.
What do you think needs to change to see more women in bartending and management?
This is a tough one. In some ways, I love that we have created specific programs and competitions that have given us the opportunity to support and shed light on strong women in powerful roles within the food and beverage industry. As women, we have been pushing one another to talk about our successes and remind each other that we are allowed to feel prideful about our accomplishments. I also wish that we didn’t need to have female-only sectors. I yearn for the day when we have to move towards being seen as great bartenders/managers, without the added descriptor of our gender.
Three things everyone should have in their home bar?
Hmmm. I have four.
Good quality whiskey ie Rabbit Hole Bourbon
High-end bottle of champagne, and sparkling wine for mixing drinks
Porch beer - something to sit around with friends. Hell or High Watermelon by 21st amendment (SF)
Quality gin - I like Botanist and Monkey 47
What is your favorite cocktail to drink and why?
Sherry pina colada. The saltiness and nutty flavors of the sherry pair so well with coconut and pineapple. It makes me feel relaxed just thinking about having one.
What are your top three tips for providing quality service?
Listen to customers. I enjoy making individual people’s experiences unique. When I worked at Moo at 15 Beacon, there was a guest who had been living Qatar he asked for a donut 🍩 because he hadn’t had one in 15 years. So, I bought him donuts. Overhearing guests, eavesdropping is a master skill.
Remembering is a great skill to make people feel special. I am often taking notes to remember people. I make notes on my phone. If you can’t remember the name, to be honest sometimes I forget a name, but I remember what they like to eat and drink. Introduce them to the team, naturally, people say their name.
Having great fresh ingredients. Use quality alcohol and mixers that are without any additives, we make most of the mixers we use at The Fed.
Paige, thanks for your time and for sharing your story. Now, we're thirsty, will you please share one of your clever cocktail recipes with us?
Sure, here's a recent addition to our menu, inspired by the Spice Girls.
1.5 oz Bribon Tequila
0.5 oz Pomegranate Juice
0.5 oz Ginger Syrup
0.25 oz Cinnamon Demerara
0.7 5oz Lime Juice
2 Dashes of plum bitters
Garnished with the used lime half-filled with flaming overproof rum, mint top, and dusted with cinnamon.