RumBa – Boston, MA

I finally got a chance to visit Rumba, the “Rum and Champagne Bar” located in the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston Massachusetts. This bar, with it’s attraction of numerous rums, had been on my list of places to visit for some time, but I had never felt like dealing with the lack of parking (or paying for the garage there). Earlier in the week I attended a company meeting at the Marriott Long Wharf and had a couple hours to kill so I walked the 3 blocks to try a few rums.

The bar itself is a somewhat well-done but rather typical hotel bar, with no endearing feature beyond the bottles of rum lined up in overhead glass-front cabinets. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not a good thing, and simply feels like another anonymous bar just off the lobby of a large fancy hotel. The rums are fairly obvious, if you quickly recognize rum bottles from a distance – especially if you recognize the fancy Pusser’s decanters, a dozen of which were placed haphazardly around the place in noticeable places.

The Rum List
I perused their rum menu – labeled Connoisseur Collection – for a bit, noting a few rums here and there. I’d say they had about one hundred listed in the menu, though I did spot some on the shelves that weren’t listed. Overall it was a very good selection, with many of the rums that I’d expect: Pyrat XO, Ron Zacapa (15 & 23), Zaya, Mount Gay Extra Old, Ron Pampero, Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, Appleton 21, many Plantations, and several others of the very good and excellent rums.

Notable rums included Pyrat 1623 ($40), Mount Gay Tricentennial ($75), Clément Cuvee Homere ($20), Clément XO ($28) and British Royal Navy Imperial ($120). As tempted as I was to try the Tricentennial I just had to pass at that price (even though it was much cheaper than an entire bottle).

The selection was very well rounded, sorted by country, and covered a very good selection though (of course) far from complete. I did not feel that they had too many of what I consider to be rare rums – maybe a half dozen. I was depressed by the lack of agricoles (only Clement, though 4 were listed) and a single cachaca (Leblon). I got a surprise from the menu when I noticed that they actually listed Cuba, but then had to chuckle since they listed Ron Matusalem under that heading.

Overall their rum selection is excellent, though I didn’t find too many surprises. I actually struggled to find a few to taste, though if cash weren’t important I would have tried the Tricentennial and the Navy Imperial. I have had the Pyrat 1623, so I wasn’t tempted.

The Bartenders
Though it was quiet when I first walked in around 5:00 PM, the bar got busy around 6:00 PM. A total of 4 bartenders were behind the bar, all but one obviously in their early 20s. These guys were obviously new at the job, and one could easily detect their lack of experience by watching a short while.

I caught one making a Mojito, and noted that the procedure started off quite well, though perhaps not perfectly. Into the glass went half a lime, simple syrup (oh well), a healthy handful of mint and a very large muddler – and then the procedure went to hell as the bartender proceeded to mash and grind this mix with the muddler. He splayed his legs, bent over raising his should high, and then proceeded to “muddle” like he was trying to mash the glass back into sand. He muddled from the shoulder, putting his entire body behind it, and applied maximum pressure. Ouch. He finished with cracked ice, rum – Matusalem Platino – and a healthy presentation of fresh mint. (As a note, a few other Mojitos made that night used Ten Cane.) Perhaps it was an imperfect process, but the Mojito certainly looked good and I’m sure it tasted pretty darn good, too.

A few other things pointed out their lack of experience, like not knowing where many of the rums were (I did try some rums which must have been some of the less popular ones). One customer sitting next to me asked a question about his appetizer, and his bartender hemmed and hawed, trying to make up something reasonable, and finally asked another bartender walking by. What is it with kids? Just admit that you don’t know and that you’ll find out. Making up an answer just makes you look foolish, while offering to get the correct answer makes you look helpful. Try it some time – you don’t need to know everything.

My Bartender
I lucked out a bit and got a bartender (Kevin) who obviously had some more experience. A Mojito that he made was done a bit more correctly – the muddling and presentation were certainly better, at least. He did a decent job explaining some drinks to a couple of ladies and upselling them in the process to one of their signature drinks, and he made them smile and laugh

When he noticed that I was reading the rum list he suggested the Diplomatico. When asked why, though, he said something to the effect of “I dunno. A bunch of us tried it and thought it was excellent.” Though not much to go by, this did give some indication that the bartenders did try the rums, even though it was equally apparent that he wasn’t all that knowledgeable about them.

I hemmed and hawed a bit, looking for something unique and new to try, and finally settled on the Clément XO. It took him a few minutes to find it, even with the help of another bartender. I finally described the bottle and the other bartender clambered up to the cupboard over my head to get it down. A healthy (unmeasured) pour went into a proper rum-sipping glass, a simple thin glass about the size and shape of a double-old fashioned. I spent a bit of time sniffing and smelling the Clément, and Kevin came back with a bottle of Diplomatico in his hand. He then talked up a bit about it, and poured me a small amount for tasting. Kudos for that. And it was excellent, so I greatly appreciated the gesture.

After drinking about half of the XO – I was looking to taste, not get drunk – I placed it to the side and paged through the rum list again. I quickly settled on the Plantation Barbados Grand Reserve, due to a recommendation from Angelsword on the Ministry Of Rum forum. It, too, was excellent, and will most definitely appear in my rum collection along with the Diplomatico.

By the way, I’ll review these rums separately in other posts.

A Cocktail
After 3 rums, I grabbed the drink list and flipped through it a bit. I must have grabbed the list that simply contained their “signature” cocktails since they only listed a dozen, but there were some fine drinks listed.

After a bit of thinking, I finally settled on two, but couldn’t really decide. One choice was a “Between The Sheets” made with Pierre Ferrand Ambre cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. (Strangely, the menu did not list rum as an ingredient.) I love Cointreau, and the Pierre Ferrand Ambre is an excellent cognac. My other choice was a Mai Tai, which was made with “Appleton Reserve (15 years old)” and “Barbancourt Estate Reserve” (which is the 15-year-old), DeKuyper Orange Curacao and of course Orgeat and Rock Candy Syrup and lime. They had a proper recipe, and the rum combination certainly seemed like a decent, though not perfect, pairing. (I figure that they used Appleton Extra, a blend containing rums up to 18 years, but I’m still wondering where they come up with “15 years old” in the description.)
Kevin walked by and asked if I had made a decision. I listed my two choices as a question and he immediately said “Mai Tai” so that was the final selection, and he walked off to make it. Since I had a good seat showing both mixing stations, I watched him make it. I had immediate fears when he failed to measure the rums, and then he walked away leaving the drink half-made. After a good 2 minutes he came back with a fresh bottle of Appleton and poured some more into the glass. He finished pouring the other ingredients, shook it properly in a Boston shaker as he walked to my seat, and poured it into a DOF glass and finished with a fresh sprig of mint.

The Mai Tai was a bit flat, and did not contain the subtle complexities for which the Mai Tai is noted. It was good – certainly a lot better than most Chinese restaurants and much closer to the original – but it simply wasn’t near the near-perfect blend of a Beachbum Berry $100 Mai Tai. But what was I thinking?? I always make my Mai Tais to Beachbum’s recipe, and it’s a bit foolish to order something that I make nearly perfectly at home. While I was a little disappointed at the time, in retrospect I set myself up for disappointment, and it really was a damn fine Mai Tai. Though I wish that he had measured.

Of course I had been scribbling a multitude of notes while I was there, and when Kevin came back he remarked on it with some curiosity. I explained that I liked rum a lot and took tasting notes on the rums so I’d remember them. We spent a few minutes chatting about that, which he found very interesting. I mentioned that I was a local and had been meaning to come here for months and finally made it. He seemed somewhat surprised, since I’m sure that he generally got visitors from out of town. After a few minutes of chatting we shook hands and introduced ourselves, and he mentioned that he hoped to see me again.

And I must be reading too many bartending blogs, since I left him a 50% tip in cash after signing the credit card bill. Even though he didn’t measure my Mai Tai and didn’t know all the rums by heart (that was sarcasm), he did a damned fine job of bartending and keeping the customers happy and ensuring that they enjoyed their time at his bar. Whether he loved his job or not, he certainly appeared to like it and that attitude carried through to his customers, including me.

Though not perfect, the RumBa is certainly a good place as far as a bar goes. In many ways it’s a typical hotel bar, but the Intercontinental is fairly ritzy and it shows in the bar and its fixtures. The bartenders were at the very least decent, even if some were young and somewhat inexperienced at mixing drinks. My bartender Kevin was a very good bartender and he made me feel welcome and pleased that I had shown up. In any case, all were extremely professional.

The rum list is very good indeed, and that comes from someone with a pretty decent rum list. They have over $100 rums, and though many were general run-of-the mill rums most were not. Anyone looking for a taste of some excellent rums could easily spend a night sampling through their selection.

I thought the prices where quite decent really. I’ve seen the Pyrat 1623 around here for $235 a bottle, so at 2 ounces a pour this is just over twice what you’d pay if you bought a bottle yourself. The Mai Tai, at $12, contained some fine rums and mixers so this is also a decent price for a bar, particularly an upscale hotel bar. I quickly came to at least $5 in ingredient costs, so $12 really is a good price. I really had no complaints about the prices at the RumBa.

For the cons, I have to say that I always like to see bartenders measure, especially in a drink like the Mai Tai which requires a careful balance of ingredients. I also wished that the bartenders knew more about the rums. Though I could be wrong, or maybe I got the least-knowledgeable bartender, I just did not get the impression that they were all that knowledgeable. I really wish that one of them had seen me studying the rum list and offered to make some suggestions.

All in all, I’d have to recommend the RumBa. The rum list alone is enough to warrant a visit, and even though it’s not perfect it all very well done. Definitely recommended.

Note that I’ll review the rums separately, and possibly not immediately. I sampled the Clément XO, Plantation Barbados Grand Reserve, and the Diplomatico.