Bars, Serves /

Backbar, Somerville

Backbar is not the most obvious place to find. Located in pleasant Somerville, Massachusetts, you can find the small sign, next to a regular door, in an alley servicing a few restaurants. You’d think this bar was for some in-the-know elite. But then you enter this cosy, bright space decked out in kitsch, cushions, and an impressive array of Star Wars décor, and you know this cocktail bar is a cocktail bar for the people.

We’re here today to speak with bartender Matthew Conner. But first, we must know what’s with all the Star Wars stuff.

Backbar in Somerville, Massachusetts.

“A little bit after opening, one of our bartenders noticed that ‘Backbar’ rhymes with ‘Ackbar,’ the name of an admiral in Star Wars,” chimes in owner Sam Treadway. “We started joking around with it, then customers started bringing in memorabilia. It sort of exploded after that.”

This is a bit of an understatement, as the place has some serious toys—giant Lego ships, replica helmets, a Jabba the Hutt mug that holds straws. The bartender, Matthew, even has several Star Wars pins on his flair-speckled apron. But his expertise extends far beyond that. You may not guess from his  straw fedora, colorful shirt, and playful smile, but Matthew is ex-military.

“My specialty was fixing radar jammers on army planes,” he tells us, smiling. Perhaps he enjoys surprising people with that information. We ask him if he was able to transfer any of those skills to bartending.

Matthew Conner builds his "Berries and Cream" at Backbar in Somerville, Massachusetts

“I definitely think so. I was an engineer in the military, and I was able to find the solution for any problem because I always had access to everything I needed. It’s the same thing here at the bar. If a drink isn’t working, I can find the solution; I have access to everything I need. Our backbar here is insane.”

For a bar called Backbar, we’d expect that.

As Matthew begins to make us his Brockmans creation, the “Berries and Cream”, he tells us of his journey from fixing planes to crafting cocktails. Largely self-taught, he owes a lot of his beginnings to an ex-girlfriend, a bartender, who got him a bartending kit for Christmas.

Matthew Conner garnishes his "Berries and Cream" at Backbar in Somerville, Massachusetts

“The rest I read in books, picked up at bars, learned from friends,” he says. “But it certainly helps to work in an environment that encourages us to keep learning.” To that end, explains owner Sam, the R&D process is completely collaborative. The reasoning is simple.

“If I were a cook, I wouldn’t love walking into work and having to make someone else’s food every day,” Sam says, from behind the “desk” he’s made for himself along the banquette. “So we really want every bartender to take ownership of at least one drink, to have something they’re proud of on the menu.”

Needless to say, we’re honored that Matthew has chosen us for one of the drinks he’s proud of, the “Berries and Cream.”

The "Berries and Cream" at Backbar in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Berries and Cream

by Matthew Conner

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz/50 ml Brockmans Gin
  • .5 oz/15 ml mixed berry syrup
  • .5 0z/15 ml cream sherry
  • .5 oz/15 ml lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • dash Peychaud’s bitters

Method

  1. Add all ingredients into a shaker.
  2. Dry shake (without ice) vigourously to emulsify the egg white.
  3. Add ice to the shaker, shake again.
  4. Double strain into a chilled coupe.
  5. Garnish with a skewer of fresh berries, a lemon peel expression, and a few drops of Peychaud’s bitters (to make a design, drag a toothpick across the drops).

While Matthew’s “Berries and Cream” isn’t on the menu at Backbar (yet), he is more than willing to make it for anyone who asks. Coming from one of the least pretentious bartenders we’ve ever met, we’re keen to believe it. When you do, tell him we say hello.