Drink This Now: Cocktails at Tavern Road

With Tenzin Samdo newly at the helm, a refreshed drink program honors opening bar manager Ryan McGrale's legacy.

Madam Madeline at Tavern Road. / Photo provided.

Madam Madeline at Tavern Road. / Photo provided.

You’d never know by looking at the always-packed bar, but Tavern Road was without a beverage director for several months this year. The position has been vacant since the fall, after opening barman Ryan McGrale was killed in a tragic accident that left the city’s restaurant industry stunned.

But about a month ago, well-known mixologist Tenzin Samdo (Trade) took on the role at the industry favorite.

“We kind of got to a point were we had to turn the page, as hard as it’s been,” chef/co-owner Louis DiBiccari told Eater Boston after he made the new hire. “We knew it had to be somebody the industry would get behind 100 percent.”

And as Samdo rolled out his new drink menu on July 5, he kept in mind the legacy he was succeeding. 

“Once you sat at the bar [with McGrale], you just became best friends,” Samdo says. “You could ask him something, and he always had a genuine and wisdom-filled answer. But he’s also one of the goofiest guys. He was known for throwing some of the best industry parties, and at the end, he would jump on the bar, put on a cape and sing ‘I Believe I Can Fly.'”

On the new list, Samdo pays homage to the late bartender with McGrale’s Bullhorn, a spirit-forward mix of bourbon mellowed with cardamom and honey lemon. Samdo carefully chose the ingredients that would carry McGrale’s name, deciding that a balanced cocktail best represented McGrale’s deft hand. The “bullhorn” in the cocktail’s name refers to just such a tool, which McGrale used to address patrons on particularly loud nights. The bullhorn remains at Tavern Road.

“When he used it, people just listened,” Samdo says. “Every time I see that, I think about those amazing memories. It’s a sad story, but I don’t want people to bring back those sad memories. I want to remember what a fun time we had, and honor him.”

Ask Samdo what his favorite cocktail on the menu is, and he’ll compare it to picking a favorite child. His drinks span a number of styles and riffs on classics, while matching DiBiccari’s eclectic cooking. New drinks include the low ABV Madam Madeline, with crème de menthe, Jägermeister, and pineapple, and the shareable Wun Wun the Showstopper, a massive mix of rum, passionfruit, and sparkling wine that serves six. And, yes, that’s a Game of Thrones reference. A few cocktails are even inspired by Samdo’s childhood in Northern India, like the Limbu Pani cocktail, a gin and lime libation with with Indian masala.

The restaurant’s beer list has changed, too. Look for more local brews from the likes of Mayflower, Notch, and others, plus more domestic craft beers, and imports from Germany and Belgium. If you’re especially parched, there are large-format bottles, too, something Samdo is especially excited to offer.

“Whenever I go out after work, I usually drink beer,” Samdo says. “And when I go to a bar, I hate drinking a beer and asking the bartender for another one. Sometimes I want to make it easier for them.”

The Stay Classy cocktail is the only drink that endured the menu revamp, but just about everything else is new. Fans of the old Tavern Road cocktail menu need not fret, though: Samdo plans to bring some favorites back as part of a tribute menu in the coming weeks. Until then, he’s focused educating the staff on his new program.

“Not just a bartender or waitress: I want the entire Tavern Road family to be aware,” Samdo says.

Once he and the team get settled in, Samdo also plans to bring back former bartenders for guest stints behind the bar, so keep an eye on Samdo’s Instagram for updates—and mouthwatering teasers. In the meantime, stop by and sip his work for yourself.

Tavern Road, 343 Congress St., Boston, 617-790-0808, tavernroad.com.