Birds of Paradise, the Latest Escape from Bartender Ran Duan, Arrives in Brighton
The cocktail bar at the Charles River Speedway takes visitors on a trip around the world.
Some people make a scrapbook for vacation photos and mementos. For restaurateur Ran Duan, travel inspires more than just a staid visual keepsake: The award-winning bartender’s recent trips set the scene at Birds of Paradise, opening Friday, December 16, at Brighton’s Charles River Speedway, an open-air marketplace with restaurants, bars, shops, and more.
Boston’s newest cocktail bar is the latest from Duan and his team, which already operates three of the area’s most innovative venues: craft-cocktail suburban stunner Baldwin Bar in Woburn, plus the tropical oasis Blossom Bar and self-described “seafood emporium” Ivory Pearl, both in Brookline. “Our [bar] programs rely heavily on escapism,” Duan says. Birds of Paradise is of the same feather, taking cues from a bygone era of jet-setting and making unexpected routes around the world.
In a stylish, mid-century-meets-cave-like barroom with 45 seats, Birds of Paradise calls to mind a vintage Pan Am plane cabin, or maybe a members-only airline terminal. In the basement of an early-20th century former police station, the space has some original windows and gray stone walls, which Duan’s design preserved. He added a wall of sleek wood paneling, along with warmly bright lighting and curvaceous, Art Deco details. Blue-upholstered banquettes and marble-topped tables run parallel to the 20-seat bar.
Think of the drink menu as a travel itinerary. Centered on a particular destination, half of the cocktails evoke flavors from that area. Other libations represent journeys between global destinations, such as Rio to Tokyo, or Kingston to Milan. Birds of Paradise bartenders are the stewards navigating the connection between cultures via taste, sight, or feeling—and it may not be in ways you expect.
The opening menu visits Mexico, where Duan and back-of-house manager James Sutter traveled this past summer. Their main mission was to taste dozens of barrels of El Tesoro tequila in Jalisco and select a single reserve to feature at Birds of Paradise. But they also sought out indigenous fruit and other ingredients—and enjoyed the Guadalajara dining scene.
A dessert from Restaurante Alcalde, for instance, inspired the drink Parsnip Alejandro, which riffs on the creamy classic Brandy Alexander by using a base of salted parsnip and what Duan is calling “macadamia mist.” It’s spiked with vodka, not a Mexican spirit such as sotol or mezcal, but “it has all these ingredients that really made that experience memorable for me,” Duan says. He intends to make more barrel-selection trips with other key managers—to France for cognac, Martinique for rum—to inspire future cocktail menus.
Birds of Paradise also has a boba tea machine, which will be the cornerstone of a selection of non-alcoholic drinks. The bar will serve a small menu of snacks including a “really elevated” version of the packet of nuts you might be served on a plane, and temaki, or sushi-style hand rolls. The menu will evolve as the team learns what customers want, Duan says, though it will be limited to what can be made in a cold-prep area at the back of the bar; there’s no kitchen. (Visitors can bring in food from other Speedway vendors, though.) Birds of Paradise will also offer its entire menu to go, including bottled cocktails (through at least March 2023).
The bar is situated down a paved path, past the main courtyard of the Speedway, and will have outdoor seating in the warmer months. The Speedway has a small parking lot off of Western Avenue, where there is also ample street parking; rideshare users can use the address 1440 Soldiers Field Rd. to be dropped off directly at Birds of Paradise.
The location befits the concept. “We’re very close to Harvard and to a lot of people that travel,” Duan says. These are curious, educated drinkers. “People are seeking that cocktail that they can’t make at home,” he adds, noting how much at-home cocktail culture has evolved since the onset of the pandemic. Customers are constantly asking his team for recommendations, and travel gives them stories to bring back to the bars. “You can only make it authentic if you experience it yourself,” Duan says. “In order for us to really wow the guest we really have to think outside the box.”