Are we dreaming? The nighttime jaunt north to Woburn—yes, the town with the water contamination story that inspired your favorite 1998 John Travolta drama—seems random enough already. But it gets weirder upon exiting the freeway, where we’re met with a towering historic mansion crowned with a sign in Chinese. Cautiously approaching the host stand of Sichuan Garden II, we bypass the temptation to dine in the restaurant. Instead, we request entrance to the Baldwin Bar, the wallpaper- and dark-wood-lined, candlelit den to the right.
When it comes to Chinese restaurants, beverage decisions usually go something like this: The more authentic the food, the better off you’ll be just ordering a Tsingtao. Aside from the occasional ironic scorpion bowl—and its requisite sugar highs and headaches—it’s best to steer away from the tiki genre altogether. But in the bar of this dreamy mansion, you’ll find the best of both culinary and cocktail worlds. The kitchen is equipped to handle the sprawling menu of Sichuan Garden II, the huge restaurant. But the Baldwin benefits from another menu: slimmer and more curated, but with the same overwhelming layers of spice and umami that characterize real Sichuan cuisine. Only powerful drinks can stand up to this food.
Enter Ran Duan, tiki revolutionary, who created The Baldwin in the restaurant started by his Sichuan-native parents. Elevating the drink selection to match (and surpass) the splendor of the mansion, he’s now snagging awards left and right. Gone are the days when banana liqueur made us cower in fear—the elegant Stack Banana mixes it with pineapple rum, turbinado sugar, lime, mole, and bitters for a caramel-acid balance with tropical backgrounds. The sweet-herbal Dame en Rouge, which looks kind of like a lady in a fabulous hat, is the perfect aperitif. On nights when we’re seeking comfort over extravagance, we order the subtler, boozier Rumble Bee (think caramel, grape, nuttiness, and a hint of spice). The verdict: If this is a dream, please don’t wake us up.
You’ve left the city of small plates in the rearview mirror: Here at Sichuan Garden, these dishes are family-sized. Takeout containers are, however, plentiful.
No, that door does not lead to a “Trading Company.” It’s a second lounge—Baldwin & Sons—open only from Thursday to Sunday. To guarantee a spot either in either space, make reservations ahead of time.
Upstairs you can also order from the “Book Club” menu—large-format drinks for the whole group.
We can’t help but wonder what Henry Baldwin himself might have thought knowing the mansion he built in 1661—now the oldest house in Woburn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places—would one day become a Chinese restaurant.
Tastes of The Baldwin Bar
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