Ah, the sparkling promise of a New Year! The bright dawn of 365 days of personal and professional reinvention! The creeping, dreadful imperative to be a better, brighter, more authentic and original you! … Shit. Okay, wait—better idea. Before we dive into calendar-dictated personal transformation, what say we start with some much-needed fueling? And what better fuel than a coffee cocktail pick-me-up from a guy who makes newness his professional m.o.?
That guy is Bartender Lêe, a mysterious and happy fanatic on the Philadelphia bar scene who traveled the continental United States to find inspiration (by exclusion) for his own bar. “I promised myself I would not do [a bar] that had been built already,” says Lêe. “I do not wish to copy someone else.” The result, after about 33,000 miles of education, is Hop Sing Laundromat, where the common mixo mise en place (syrups, prepped juice, rainbow bitters) is abandoned for what Lêe calls “the most expensive well-liquor program in America,” an emphasis on fruit-to-order, and a conscious choice to run at half capacity for quality of experience. There are drawbacks, inevitably. “Our fruit cost is off the chain,” says Lêe. Not to mention the kind of liquor costs that accumulate with a well of El Dorado 15-year, Jameson Gold, and Glenlivet 15-year.
But those expenses (and exclusions) are calculated, part of Lêe’s formula for stand-out drinks like the Boston Healer—our spirits-coffee-and-cream New Year’s motivator of choice. Even the name entices. (Who doesn’t yearn for a liquid nursemaid to revive aching head and liver?) "Boston Healer" actually honors Rebecca Lee Crumpler, caretaker to freed slaves in Civil War-era Richmond and the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. Lêe—who names all of his drinks after American history and culture—was taken with Crumpler’s dedication to healing, and did what he could, in cocktail form, to honor her. “Someone who helped other people, this is the type of drink they would drink,” he says. “She would drink this and think ‘now I can get back to work.’” While most of us don’t have the pressing moral obligations of Rebecca Crumpler, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t self-administer The Boston Healer in preparation for New Year’s self-improvement (a slight corruption of ‘Physician, heal thyself’).
Especially motivating, a flavor base of strong Vietnamese coffee and cream (ingredients Lêe doesn’t shy away from; of the other drinks we tasted, the Nevermore gets a heavy dose of coffee and the Give Me Shelter is rich with cream). The rest of the Healer is built with the kind of spirit-centric architecture Lêe prefers. Instead of simple syrup, he uses liqueurs: the light-bodied citrus and vanilla sweetness of Liquor 43 and the soft honey of Barenjager Honey Liqueur. Those are dosed into a generous two ounces of Johnny Drum Private Label Bourbon, which has the added historical value of being a Southern ingredient named after a Civil War drummer. More importantly, however, it provides a smooth, buttery—and, for Lêe, fairly affordable—backdrop for the creamy coffee, all sparked to life by a couple sprigs of freshly muddled mint. “It’s like a physician offering healing to their patient,” Lêe explains. Best part, no insurance required.