A Look at Celebrity Chef Ming Tsai’s Blue Dragon Beverage Program

Blue Dragon Thai Basil Cocktail

Located in the heart of Fort Point Channel area of Boston, MA, Blue Dragon is a comfortable, neighborhood place to simply hang out, have a drink and enjoy some incredible food. The tapas-style menu adds Celebrity Chef Ming Tsai’s East West twist to many pub favorites; while the bar is well-stocked with a number of craft beers, worldly wines, premium sakes and signature cocktails. This funky, casual space features an open kitchen and draw folks for anything from lunch and dinner to sippable nightcaps.

Nightclub & Bar caught up with Head Bartender John Drew to get a glimpse into the concept and structure behind Blue Dragon’s beverage program.  

How did you come up with the concept and structure for the bar/beverage program?

I came in to the picture only about a month before Blue Dragon opened.  The staff had already been hired and they were working on cocktail menus but I was more focused on overall concept and service protocols.  I wanted to make the bar a warm inviting place where you could get anything from a great Tiki cocktail to a proper old fashioned as well as something creative and Asian inspired.  It wasn’t so much about opening with an awe inspiring cocktail menu as it was about getting the staff up to speed on the classics as well and creating a culture of consistency and genuine hospitality. And of course the small opening menu had to be both intriguing and perfectly executed.

Who has had an influence on your craft and helped you become the bartender you are today?

I helped Gary Strack open Firebrand Saints in Kendall Square along with Morgan Bigley who’s now the GM of Highland Kitchen.  Firebrand was a great experience as far as opening a new place; everything from the staffing aspect to bar setup and service procedures.  I also worked at Eastern Standard which was a great experience for me as far as the level of service at such a high volume. Jackson Cannon, Kevin Martin, Bob McCoy, Hugh Fiore, and Naomi Levi taught me an amazing amount about hospitality as well as the beverage aspect of a bar program, and there are no better consummate hospitality professionals than Garret Harker and Andrew Holden.

What were the challenges you faced making a beverage program match an Asian infused menu?

I had no experience with Asian food at all so for me it was a steep learning curve.  In the same way however it was great because I had all these ingredients and flavors to work with that I had never experienced before.  After I tasted through the menu with the Chef and the staff I had a pretty good idea of what would work flavor wise and what would be completely lost because of either spice or bitterness. 

You have an extensive bitters collection. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

One of the best things about the last decade and our "cocktail renaissance," if you will, are the bitters.  There is such a diverse array of bitters available today that would make people like Harry Craddock and Jerry Thomas so jealous.  We make/have made several types since we first opened, Ras el Hanout, hibiscus, Thai chili, Mole, meyer lemon, and key lime to name a few and I must thank Sam Olivari one of our chefs for his expertise and guidance in this respect.  One popular cocktail is The Mezcal Cocktail I make. It’s a twist on a classic Bonecrusher; a little of our house Thai chili bitters, lime, vida, and coconut cream garnished with a little shaved nutmeg.

In addition to the cocktail program can you tell us a little bit about beer, wine and non-alcohol selections that you offer?

I love beer so when we opened I was determined to have a list that was both diverse and also featured some rare things from all over the spectrum.  Our General Manger however takes care of our wine program which is really great value to be honest.  The whole mission of our beverage program was to be affordable and to offer things that are typically for a special occasion. As for mocktial’s we are also happy to accommodate any requests from a guest. We also offer some very cool sodas from Block Island and England.

What makes your bar and beverage program stand out from your competitors?

I am particularly proud of the level of hospitality offered by both our barstaff at Blue Dragon.  We strive every day to make people feel like they are in our home and feel as welcome as possible and I think no matter how busy we are we never lose that mentality.