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Liquid masterpieces

An MFA exhibit inspires a host of beautiful cocktails
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  June 23, 2006

BRAVO: The three cocktails offered at the MFA's restaurant.

Sophisticated. Elegant. Stylish. Cosmopolitan. Bohemian. Romantic. Inspirational. Artists have been long drawn to Paris, a city of superlatives. And this summer, the Museum of Fine Arts celebrates 19th-century American painters who traveled to the French capital and then made their mark on the art world at home and abroad — a mark undeniably influenced and inspired by the Parisian spirit. "Americans in Paris: 1860-1900," which opens on June 25 and runs through September 24, includes work by John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Winslow Homer, and Mary Cassatt. The paintings range from the formal (Whistler’s Mother) to the languorous (Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Armchair) to the dreamy (John White Alexander’s Art Deco–influenced Repose, in which a woman in a long white dress sprawls across a couch). In honor of the exhibition, a number of bars and restaurants around Boston are offering drinks inspired by the art, the artists, and la Ville Lumière.

Inside the museum, Bravo (Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston; 617.369.3474) is offering three cocktails for the duration of the exhibit. "So many restaurants look for inspiration — oh, it’s Valentine’s Day, oh, it’s Christmas — we’ve got built-in inspiration right across from our front door," says Anthony Sosa, the MFA’s director of restaurants and the mind behind the cocktails. The John Swinger Sargent ($8.50) is a creamy, sweet kick of a drink made with Knob Creek bourbon, Starbucks cream liqueur, and splashes of cream and sour mix, served in a snifter rimmed with chocolate sugar. "We wanted to make a fancy French drink with a bourbon base — because there’s nothing more American than bourbon," notes Sosa.

Bravo’s Pink Madame X with a Sapphire Ring ($9.50) is inspired by Sargent’s masterpiece of the woman in the long black gown. Made with Bombay Sapphire gin, orange curaçao, pink-grapefruit juice, and garnished with a festive wedge of star fruit, it’s fresh, light, and summery. "A good drink for the patio," says bartender Gilberto Lopez, gesturing outside to the patio overlooking a courtyard.

Mary Cassatt was the most "French" of the American painters in Paris, so it makes sense that the drink she inspired is Champagne-based (and by far the most festive). For Ms. Cassatt’s Champagne Cocktail ($9.75), a strawberry soaked in bitters and dipped in strawberry sugar is dropped into a glass of Champagne for a bubbly, fizzing sweetness.

The Oak Bar (138 St. James Street, Boston, 617.267.5300), the ultra-plush bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, is also offering a drink inspired by Sargent’s Madame X — and like the drinks at the MFA, it captures the essence of the exhibit. The luxurious Madame X ($25) is made with 150th Anniversary Grand Marnier and a splash of orange bitters, topped with Deutz Champagne, and garnished with a twist of orange. It’s light, dry, and elegant in its simplicity. Sip this drink with jazz — the most American music — playing in the background, and you’ve got both spirits of the exhibit embodied.

No. 9 Park (9 Park Street, Boston, 617.742.9991) salutes the exhibit with a combination of Plymouth gin, orange juice, Cointreau, and a dash of Pernod ($11). Tryst (689 Mass Ave, Arlington, 781.641.2227) mixes the all-American Jim Beam with Cointreau Orange, Chambord, Champagne, and cranberry juice ($9). UpStairs on the Square (91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617.864.1933), in all its stripes, plaids, and pinks, has a feisty "Americans in Paris" cocktail ($14). The drink combines Citron vodka, Chartreuse, and Champagne — its light green color complements the colorful restaurant.

It’s 33 Restaurant & Lounge (33 Stanhope Street, Boston, 617.572.3311) that nails the bold and sophisticated decadence of Madame X in liquid form. 33’s drink ($12), also the namesake of Sargent’s famous portrait, involves fresh blackberries muddled with Lillet (a light, medium-dry French apéritif), Belvedere Pomarancza vodka, a splash of simple syrup, and lime.

The cocktail at Clio ($13; Eliot Hotel, 370 Comm Ave, Boston, 617.536.7200) echoes the look of Virginie Gautreau, the subject of Madame X, whose pale chest and shoulders spill out of a deep, dark gown. Clio mixes dark pomegranate liqueur, cognac, and lemon juice, and then floats Champagne on top.

A number of restaurants are also offering exhibition-inspired prix-fixe meals. Brasserie Jo (Colonnade Hotel, 120 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617.425.3240) has a three-course dinner ($32) that features Bavette grillé. At Aquitaine (569 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.424.8577), you can get a three-course lunch ($20) of classic Parisian-bistro fare. Les Zygomates (129 South Street, Boston, 617.542.5108) presents a prix-fixe menu ($29) as well.

  Topics: Sipping , Mary Cassatt , Museum of Fine Arts , Culture and Lifestyle ,  More more >
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