The Cocktail That Will Get Me Through COVID-19
I’ll be sipping Northern Standards at home until I can return to my favorite bar.
“It’s like a Manhattan but better,” the bartender said.
It was a chilly fall night at a New Hampshire inn, and a drink called the Northern Standard caught my eye, a concoction of Knob Creek Rye, sweet vermouth, and a trio of bitters—the differentiator from a Manhattan. A plump maraschino cherry dangled on a toothpick like a tightrope walker, dripping juice onto the bottom of the chilled coupe glass. Smooth and wonderfully strong, filled to the brim.
James, the bartender, had invented the drink when he moved to New England from New Orleans, where bourbon-based Manhattans were the norm. Earlier that day, I had moved, too, from New York City to Hanover after my divorce. I couldn’t have chosen a better spot to have my inaugural drink than Pine, the bar at the Hanover Inn, which felt more like a ski lodge, with its cozy fireplace and thick wooden beams. One sip of the Northern Standard, and all of the stress and uncertainty of starting over dissipated into a warm fuzzy feeling. New town, new cocktail, new life.
Many nights after that, I wandered into Pine from my house down the street, quickly becoming a regular. I was a freelance writer gigging my way from paycheck to paycheck and could really only afford one Northern Standard, which was perfect because the drink was so strong that one was all I needed.
I had gravely underestimated how easy it would be to start over, especially in a town where I didn’t know many people. The Northern Standard helped me get through it all. I ordered one after I had a job interview at Dartmouth College across the street from Pine. (When I didn’t get it, I ordered two.) I ordered one when the brakes on my 2002 Toyota Corolla made an odd squealing noise, then died. I ordered one when a blind date didn’t show up to meet me on a bustling Saturday night.
“Do you know anyone single?” I asked Frank, the bartender.
“I don’t,” he said, sliding a Northern Standard across the bar. “But don’t worry, I’m keeping my eyes open for you.”
That’s all I needed, to know that someone was looking out for me, and to have someone to talk to. That was always the case at Pine. Even if I opened my New Yorker magazine to get some reading in before the Northern Standard mussed up my concentration, I couldn’t get through more than a page without getting drawn into someone else’s conversation. Bars take on more meaning in small towns, and Pine was like a lively town square, where flannel-wearing locals gathered and gossiped about who was doing what (or who was doing whom).
Anytime someone near me ordered a Manhattan, I winced, then interjected myself into their conversation and convinced them to order a Northern Standard, promising to buy it for them if it wasn’t up to par. No one has ever returned one to me, but I’d be delighted to drink it for them if they did.
One night I met a man at the bar who was nursing a cider and going through a divorce. “You need to be drinking these instead!” I said. Now my boyfriend, the bartenders greet us by saying, “Two Northerns?” when we walk in the door.
When I moved to Hanover, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay. This is just temporary, I told myself on moving day, driving north on a deserted I-91 in the rain in a rental car. Two and a half years later, I’m still here.
When COVID-19 arrived in Hanover, Pine was the one place I wanted to weather it out, but the bar closed its doors along with the mom-and-pop shops on Main Street. I never thought I’d see a college town without students, but the town emptied out when Dartmouth College sent students home for the semester. I long for the days when Pine was open. I used to love driving by and peering in the windows for a glimpse of who was inside, but now there’s nothing to see, no fire keeping the inn warm. Someone even turned the chairs upside down on restaurant tables and removed all the liquor bottles behind the bar.
There was only one solution. It was time to make a Northern Standard at home. I prepared it just as my bartenders told me to. I dusted off my cocktail shaker, bought Maraschino cherries, and placed a coupe glass in my freezer to chill it in advance. The result? Strong and smooth, just as I remembered, but it wasn’t quite the same without the familiar camaraderie.
I dream of returning to my favorite seat at the bar, in the far-right corner by the fireplace, the best spot for people-watching and gossiping with the bartenders. Until then, I’ll make my Northern Standards at home. They’ll get me through like they always do.
Get the recipe: Northern Standard